It was a hundred years ago last October when Margaretha Geertrulda MacLeod stood before a French firing squad. She was an exotic dancer and courtesan – a modern woman who challenged not only the lingering conservative values of the Victorian era but also the patriarchal order that was in crisis in the aftermath of World War I. The year was 1917, and in that early October morning outside of Paris, the 41-year-old woman more famously known by her stage name, Mata Hari, was shot dead.
A controversial personality in life and death, Mata Hari is the subject of a new comic book series going on sale February 21. Mata Hari is a five-issue miniseries from the new Berger Books imprint from Dark Horse. For those not familiar with the name, editor Karen Berger is a three-time “Best Editor” Will Eisner Award winner and former editor at DC Comics. She brings an impressive pedigree of editorship that includes Fables, 100 Bullets, Preacher, and Y: The Last Man, and her attachment to Mata Hari is a testament to this title. Berger is joined by a stellar creative team comprised of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd), cover/interiors artist Ariela Kristantina (InSEXts), and colorist Pat Masioni (Unknown Soldier).
The first issue opens with that fateful last morning at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris, and then flashes back to the beginning of Mata Hari’s trial three months earlier. Readers with any familiarity with courtroom dramas will quickly deduce that her trial was riddled with issues. Beeby writes beautiful, lyrical lines in Mata’s memoirs of a woman who is not ashamed of the life she led; she is confident, yet as the trial unfolds, she is also marked by a naïve sense of innocence. In Behind the Veil, Beeby described how she discovered Mata and revealed that while many facts of her life have been corroborated in the available documents, Mata represents an utterly fascinating and mysterious historical individual. As many questions are answered, just as many or more questions are left unanswered. Just as Mata did not shy away from her sexuality or exposing her body, Beeby explains that Mata’s story “exposes our biases and those of Western culture that, a full century on, we still carry around.” Is history repeating itself?
From Mata’s enticing invitation on the cover of this issue to the interiors that capture the mesmerizing beauty of Mata, Kristantina’s illustrations are nothing short of gorgeous. She captures the art nouveau style in the décor that resonates with the famous artists of the time, including Mucha, Degas, Morris, and Toulouse-Lautrec. At the crux of the issue, though, Kristantina conveys the spirit and complexity of Mata in lush detail. (Note: There is nudity, hence the mature audience rating.) Masioni’s color palette brings Kristantina’s illustrations alive with the decadence of the time period leading up to the war and then uses muted colors to convey the somber tone of the trial. Not surprising, Mata is represented with splashes of greens, red-oranges, and soft purple flourishes that cannot be contained by the oppressiveness of the browns and black colors of the men in the story. Additionally, the panel and lettering layout on each page flows well. The judicious use of circle frames is a very nice touch to spotlight Mata’s unique position as the main character.
Mata Hari incorporates a number of elements which should attract readers that enjoy stories about early 20th century Europe, spy/espionage, courtroom drama, and, of course, an intriguing and hypnotic female lead. While waiting for the first issue of Mata Hari to go on sale on February 21, for those interested in reading more about this controversial woman, History Magazine ran a lengthy article by Don Hollway in their January 2016 issue. (The article included several photographs.) And, for fans of Karen Berger, this series is one of four initial releases from the Berger Books imprint that includes Hungry Ghosts (on sale January 31), Incognegro Renaissance (on sale February 6), and The Seeds (on sale March 28).
Creative Team: Emma Beeby (writer), Ariela Kristantina (interiors / cover artist), Pat Masioni (colorist), Karen Berger (editor)
Publisher: Dark Horse / Berger Books
Click here for a preview page of the comic book.
Publication Date: February 21, 2018
Format: 5-issue Miniseries
Final Order Cutoff for Pre-Orders at Your Local Comic Book Shop: January 29, 2018