Elusive and Scattered Narratives in Mata Hari 3

by Mark Mitchell

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Mata Hari continues to be an interesting but ultimately elusive book in its third of five installments. Margaretha Zelle’s life is clearly worthy of examination, but the book itself is hamstrung by the extremely limiting nature of this mini-series’ run.

Trying to compress the life of a woman who was constantly reinventing herself into five comic book issues is a thankless task, and in Mata Hari 3 the storytelling fatigue begins to set it. Because writer Emma Beeby is dealing with at least three different timelines in order to accommodate the scope of the story, every check-in requires a steady stream of exposition.

Jumping to new times and places on every subsequent page begins to deliver diminishing results by this third issue; we should be nearing the climax of Mata Hari, but it still feels like we’re in act one. The issue contains moments of triumph and heartbreak, but the lack of focus undermines the emotions. I’m impressed by the sweep and the spectacle of Mata Hari 3, but unmoved by its drama. Ariela Kristantina and Pat Masioni (on art and colors, respectively) make the disparate timelines work visually, but they too are hampered by the necessity of staging important moments in cramped corners of busy pages.

Unfortunately, given the constraints of its format, Mata Hari 3 ends up being a handful of stories told shallowly, rather than the one bold story it needs to be. That Zelle’s life is one the creative team feels passionately about is clear; I only wish they had the time and budget to tell it properly.

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