By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, Pat Masioni, Sal Cipriano
The historical fiction comic, Mata Hari #1, is deep. It pulls from the earliest parts of the comics’ titular character to the most recent in an examination of the psychological and societal aspects of her story. At first, the intertwining of events out of chronological order seems overwhelming, but as the first issue reaches its end, Beeby and Kristantina’s story becomes clear and compelling;the cloudy introduction is similarly impacted through a second reading. Mata Hari’s memoirs are implied to be the way which the reader is able to consume the story, and the Kristantina’s art takes inspiration from this. The entire book feels like an aged tome, but is being looked at with modern influences.
Other than a few instances when facial expressions seem clunky, Mata Hari is beautiful. The layout leaves interpretation up to the reader. It’s refreshing to see a series tell the reader to take a moment and examine the page instead of simply reading the text and moving forward, Because of this, Kristantina is able to make those pages worthwhile. Her attention to detail in the environments and costume design gives the historical setting depth. Her partner, Masioni, on colors pulls some narrative weight as well. Flashback panels are easily juxtaposed with present-day panels thanks to muted tones, and Mata Hari’s most true moments are, rightfully, those with the most vibrant shades. If Mata Hari kept a graphic novel as a journal, this would be it.
Because of the more interpretive layouts, the plot takes some time to get off the ground. Once the reader is oriented, though, the importance of the style is recognized. Beeby’s intimate knowledge of the character’s history seeps out of each line on each page. Her passion for the character is evident and infectious, and, after some sifting and reorganizing of thoughts, Mata Hari becomes a truly intriguing character. Beeby’s afterword also helps frame this first issue and the reason for its existence concisely. She wisely asserts in this message to the reader that our modern day judgement of Mata Hari’s crimes reveals more about ourselves than of the woman herself. The story explores, as Beeby puts it, “what happens when women are without power”.
Good storytelling doesn’t always necessitate good theme, but Mata Hari #1 is an intersection of the two. The themes are just as interesting as the character. Mata Hari’s story, despite having occurred years in the past, is fresh and full of intrigue. The question of how she will be judged alone is enough, but the corruption alluded to and the issue’s implications for women today makes Mata Hari unique. The deck is being stacked against Mata Hari and it seems that she has no allies or even family left. Come to think of it what exactly did Mata Hari do to end up in this position, if anything? The series cautiously poses question after question, lighting a fire of curiosity, satisfyingly filling the niche of historical fiction.