Review by Troy Mayes
In anticipation of Rich Wilkes’ Mata Hari graphic novel Radical Publishing have released a preview comic for the paltry price of US$1. The preview comic gives you an insight into the story of Mata Hari in Wilkes’ novel and the artwork of Roy A. Martinez.
The issue is much shorter than the standard Radical book but it’s the typical length of any other publisher’s comic and it’s only US$1, bargain. The issue introduces us to the story and the legend of Mata Hari, possibly the most famous spy of the 20th Century. Her ‘exploits’ and subsequent trial and execution during World War I are the stuff of mystery and intrigue as it’s not actually clear what Mata Hari did (her files are locked until 2017). Wilkes blends this fascinating fact with fiction in this story involving a Russian family and their relation to Mata Hari. A young girl is found mutilating a corpse. Arrested, she recounts her story to a female clerk, in classic style, establishing why she did what she did and the relationship her family has to Mata Hari.
The blend of fact and fiction was really good and this sort of thing is right up my alley. Wilkes starts off by informing you of the assumed facts in regards to the Mata Hari affair during WWI. As the story goes on though the fiction is skillfully weaved into the tale through the inclusion of Lieutenant Maslov, a Russian photographer with the Storks. It creates, so far, a wholly believable narrative where you aren’t sure where Wilkes has taken liberties and where he speaks truth. I do have a few questions about the narrator (the clerk) and how much they know and why they have chosen to tell this story years after it’s happened.
The issue was too short and too grand to begin to feel attached to any of the characters but I already think General Nivelle is a colossal pompous idiot who couldn’t command his way out of a paper bag, which I feel is an adequate way to view such a figure from history. Also Wilkes does manage to nail the dialogue for the Stork pilots (Lieutenant Maslov’s squad) and you have to laugh at the comment from the driver when the driver zings Maslov for not knowing the true stench of war due to his flying up in the sky. It sets Maslov up as a bit of a half-hearted and naïve revolutionary, especially when you compare this scene to his diary entries.
Martinez’s artwork invokes a real pulp feel in design and composition except the focus is on more natural colors instead of extreme pinks, yellows and greens. This palette change, painted by Drazenka Kimpel, is a wise choice for such a serious story as it feels like the images have more weight and meaning due to the combination of the pulp style and the natural, more muted colors. The pulp style also fitted the mystery theme that seemed to be coming through the comic that is what actually happened with Mata Hari. Close ups offer some incredibly detailed faces, especially in the older characters, and there’s generally a high level of detail throughout the piece ranging from threads in clothing to dents and cracks in background walls. The comic also contains a few thought provoking pages that invoke symbolism or metaphor with one particularly powerful page involving a meat grinder. The technique is good but careful and restrained use will enable it to have a greater effect over the course of the full graphic novel. It was also refreshing to see Radical tackle an art style that looked decidedly different from their usual digital artwork and show that their people can do ‘traditional’ just as well as they can digital art.
Overall, Mata Hari is an easy comic to recommend, due to its price and so far impressive artwork, but it’s hard to score because it’s not a finished article. This is just a sample of the coming graphic novel and it’s hard to tell how well it will please history and mystery fans as a complete package. Still, I’m interested to see where Wilkes is headed.
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