Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chronic Review: Mata Hari Radical Premiere!

Mata Hari Radical Premiere
Radical Comics

Script: Rich Wilkes
Art: Roy Allan Martinez/Darzenka Kimpel
15 main feature pages + 6 extremely helpful bonus pages for $1.00

This is a shockingly good concept for a comic book. Did you know that the Mata Hari was executed by the French as a spy in 1917? I didn't. I'd heard the name before, of course, but all it conjured up for me was exotic dancing.

This is going to be quite a shot more interesting than following the exploits of Cinnamon at the Sugar Shack, my friends. All Cinnamon brings is Hepatitis and some pedestrian daddy issues. The Mata Hari brings stunning good looks, world class celebrity, and WWI conspiracy theories.

She's probably not as important as Rich Wilkes believes she is. I'm no history scholar, but Wilkes has her trial and subsequent execution as the turning point of the war, and by extension Western Civilization. Apparently, French soldiers were abandoning their posts and refusing to fight because things were going so poorly. The Mata Hari provided them a scapegoat for their troubles. It's infinitely more inspiring to believe that the whole thing went pear shaped because a dancer sold secrets than to imagine the more likely possibility that sometimes French generals just suck.

This is all fleshed out in the text-heavy bonus in the back, as good if not better than the comic stuff at the front. And while I think Wilkes overstates his case for the Mata Hari's importance a little, the good news is that it doesn't matter. What's important is that there's a really good story to be told, and this guy is way passionate about it.

There's going to be political intrigue, creative historical research, and I dare some sex as well. I like all those things. Somehow all this spy business has something to do with a 16 year-old Russian girl carrying around a jar with a severed head! How fun is that?

The comic looks fantastic, as all Radical books seem obligated to do. Wilkes can carry his own as a writer. When I read through the comic portion of the comic, I had some difficulty figuring out transitions. I would wonder why I was being plopped into a scene, or watching a particular character. The text at the back solved all of those problems and really stoked my intrigue about the project, though.

I wouldn't mind if that text continued throughout the series, actually. Wilkes obviously knows a great deal more detail about the history involved than he can reasonably fit into the comic. I think a "director's commentary" adding depth to the action would be warranted and appreciated for a book like this. We'll see.

In case you were wondering, this is not strict biography. The details of Mata Hari's interrogation were sealed as a matter of French national security for 100 years. (7 years to go before they become public) So what she actually did or sold to the Germans is a matter of speculation. But there are clues. Rich Wilkes has obviously studied that historical bread crumb trail, and is going to weave them into his own fictional tapestry.

Hey - if you like your history with a twist, this looks like your book, kids! Plus, there's going to be a hot naked war criminal dancing in her jail cell by the end of it. What's not to like?

- Ryan

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