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CSBG Archive

The Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – Z

We continue our tour through the alphabet, with a different cool comic book item each day, from A to Z!
Here‘s an archive of A-T.

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Zatanna was created by Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson. She first appeared in a cool storyline which was one of (if not the first) multi-title crossover (where the titles were not all directly connected to each other) where she visited a number of DC books looking for her lost father, Zatara.

Zatara was a famous magician, and his daughter followed suit (Zatara made his first appearance in some lame comic called Action Comics #1).

Zatanna is a world famous stage magician, but that belies her real power, which is as one of the most powerful magicians on Earth. She casts spells by saying words backwards.

Zatanna spent most of her time in this state – doing stage work and occasionally doing some hero work,

After her initial appearance, she did not make many appearances, until a decent run as a back-up in Adventure Comics…

But that changed when she joined the Justice League for a long stretch (almost 100 issues worth!).

She also got a really ugly costume at this point (as you can see).

She eventually got a better costume after awhile and wore that for the rest of her tenure with the League…

Sadly, she had a pretty weak departure from the League (one of those “Writer B comes in and has to finish Writer A’s plot, and doesn’t really do it the way Writer A intended, whether Writer A’s intentions were good or not).

After she left the League, Zatanna basically went back to relative obscurity, even though she actually got a one-shot soon afterwards.

After that, though, her most significant appearances were in Vertigo books like Books of Magic…

Although she DID have another mini-series in the early 90s.

Also, Paul Dini used her on the Batman cartoon. Dini LOVES her, and did a one-shot featuring her…

Then came Identity Crisis, where Zatanna suddenly was a major figure again, as it was revealed that in the past, she magically lobotomized the Justice League villain Dr. Light (and also used her magic powers to brainwash some other criminals into becoming good)…

Around the same time, she also was part of the awesome Seven Soldiers series of mini-series!

Most recently, Dini has succeeded in working her Batman cartoon appearances (where she and Batman seemed to have a thing going on) to the comics themselves…

Beyond that, she’s been working with the Justice League again recently…

plus she had a trip to Hell to try to save her father (who died awhile back)…

Otherwise, she seems to be basically back in her “Break Glass if Magic Expert Needed” box.

Too bad, as she’s a great character!

35 Comments

Justice League of America 51 was a Zero Hour crossover? Boy, that’s *really* foreshadowing!

Zatanna is one character who remains awesome no matter how hard any writer tries to permanently wreck her.

And as for the Batman/Zatanna hook-up, I’m with Dini on this one. They are awesome together. They just look right as a duo, whether it’s on the page, or on the screen. And Zatanna’s comic book craziness defuses Batman’s brooding bastardness. I remember watching the Batman TAS show with her in it, and thinking “Why hasn’t this been done before?”

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Dammt, didn’t work.

She also got a really ugly costume at this point (as you can see).

Not as hideous as that Supergirl costume on Adventure #413… yikes!

You could do “A Month Of Bad Costume Designs” and designate an entire two week period on some of Supergirl’s.

There’ll be a new “Month of” debuting today. I think you’ll dig it!! Well, I mean, I think most people will dig it, not, like, you personally. ;)

McK beat me to it. What’s with that Supergirl costume?

Great finish to the month! Did you mention the Herograsm Easter Egg ;) ?

A year of “Month of…” specials and a year of cool comic moments? You spoil us!

Everything wrong about the current JLA can be summed up by that JLA #25 cover – ye gods, that’s a lot of characters. At least McDuffie was trying to thin the herd a bit (and editorial was “helping” out) before his termination.

Everyday Magic’s a real good story. Too bad DiDido hates the idea of DC and Vertigo characters interacting, because that shows that there’s a lot of room to work with that idea.

Brian, as much as I love seeing old comics covers posted, some of those didn’t even mention the character (For example, Zatara in Action Comics#1) Was posting it necessary? Especially given it’s such a famous cover.

If Zatanna’s origin crossover wasn’t the first, it must certainly have been the lengthiest until then! That’s worth researching, I think.

As for Zatanna’s costumes, none of them were bad, per se. I liked all of them, even the second one (Look, kids! Cleavage! :D ) Though the Stage-Magician one is definitely the best for her.

Supergirl went through a phase of changing costumes a lot during the 70′s, possibly looking for a definitive “look”. I’m sure Brian has/will cover it someday.

The only Zatanna series I have not studied personally was the early 90′s mini. What was it about?

Ethan Shuster

June 1, 2009 at 7:52 am

I knew that Zatanna first showed up to search for her father, but never realized it was a story that crossed over to so many different series. Imagine it being done so subtley, too! Today, every comic would have a big “The Search for Magic” logo above the title.

I wonder if this was some experiment, or if it had been done sometime in the past. Sorry to get off the subject, Brian, but your suggestion that this crossover may have possibly been the first of its kind is something that can’t be ignored, considering DC and Marvel are now all about the crossover.

Did you catch her on Smallville? I stopped watching it a few years back, but tuned in expressly to see how they pulled off Zee, and yowza was the actress perfect.

Ethan Shuster

June 1, 2009 at 8:34 am

Her Smallville appearance even involved the loss of her father.

Seven Soldiers is really the only time I’ve enjoyed a Zatanna appearance, but I could see that portrayal carrying its own series. I think Dini’s planning an ongoing. We’ll see.

i would agree Zartana is not being uses the way she should be for she is such a cool character and her one costume would make fashion makers scream. also loved her on the batman cartoon.

The Supergirl costume was because of a “Hey kids! Send in your ideas and we’ll use ‘em!” initiative that worked so well on the Dial H for Hero feature.

Also, Paul Dini loves Zatanna so much he has, in fact, married her.

Zatanna and John Constantine seem to be the two characters who can freely hop between the mainstream DC universe and the Vertigo universe. I guess that makes sense, what with them being magicians and all.

I think Zatanna as a character is great, but her power makes her kinda difficult as a hero. Theoretically she can make anything happen by saying it backwards, right? Having that sort of power makes it kinda difficult to write plots around her, as she could basically solve any problem on page 1 by just saying the right words. So the writers have to either come up with ways of restraining her power, or use her as a supporting character who isn’t involved in the action, like John Ney Rieber did in Books of Magic. Has it ever been established if there’s some sort upper limit to her power, or will *anything* she says actually happen?

I thought it was kinda cheap how she was used as a plot device in Identity Crisis, though Morrison found a nice way of making lemonade out of lemons in the Zatanna mini, when he used what happened in Identity Crisis as means of solving the “limitless power dilemma” mentioned above.

Tuomas, it seems it was explained somewhere that speaking backwards is just her doorway to accessing the source of magic, the same way some magic workers use a wand or a staff or other talisman. I may be making that up.

As far as the limits of her power, it’s probably not any different than Superman, Prof X or the Scarlett Witch. They have as much power as the writer wants them to have. She’s been a powerful member of League, but I don’t know if she’s single handedly taken out Darkseid or anything like that.

In any case Batman will always have a way to defeat her.

“Tuomas, it seems it was explained somewhere that speaking backwards is just her doorway to accessing the source of magic, the same way some magic workers use a wand or a staff or other talisman. I may be making that up.”

I thank you’re right, but the specific way her power works makes it seem like she can do pretty much anything. With other powerful characters like Superman or Professor X, the nature of their powers still limits what they can do, but with Zatanna’s power there’s not such an obvious limit. Any extremely character is bound to be kinda dull if there’s not some inherent constraint to her powers. Otherwise the conlicts she faces will feel kinda pointless, if she could basically just wish them away with a wave of her hand. I guess Zatanna’s powers are limited in some way, because I’ve never seen her use them for some massive, universe-changing spell, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how powerful she is. Hell, in the Seven Soldiers mini she even broke the fourth wall (twice) to draw the reader into her spell, which means she has some serious skills! And speaking of Seven Soldiers, I liked Morrison’s idea that her ability to cast spells is affected by whether or not she believes she’s doing the right thing. I think future writers could use that as sort of an organic limitation to her powers, instead of coming up with something arbitrary (like the Green Lanterns’ yellow weakness) or too obvious (like making her lose the ability to speak).

Sorry for the typo, I meant to write “any extremely *powerful* character”.

Some important appearances that got skipped: Swamp Thing 49-50 (reveals her past romance with Constantine; Zatara dies); early issues of Moench’s Spectre (the Search for Zatara’s Soul, more or less).

The 90s miniseries followed on Books of Magic vol. 1 (back when that was in DC continuity), centered on a struggle with Phantom Stranger villain Tannarak, and culminated in the adoption of yet another bad costume, the acquisition of a Wizard’s Staff, and the (very temporary) end of backwards-speak.

The later Zatanna issues of Books of Magic vol. 2 include one of the best Zatanna stories ever, with Tala and Tannarak. (Tim Hunter is only a bit player in that issue.)

When she was in the JLA her powers were limited to manipulation of earth, fire, air, and water. She’s often shown as subject to exhaustion based on the magnitude of the magic being attempted; somehow she draws energy from herself by working magic, and she has limits, though they’re not well-defined.

My perpetual question about Zatanna: doesn’t being a super-heroic member of the world-famous Justice League, using her name and often her stage costume, completely defeat the “hide in plain sight” secret identity of a stage magician? What do average people in the DCU who allegedly think of Zatanna as being like David Copperfield think she’s doing on the membership of the JLA?

I think you’re right, but the specific way her power works makes it seem like she can do pretty much anything.

Yeah, as I was writing that, I made the connection to Scarlet Witch. I think that in a similar way, her powers are limited by her definition of wrong and right. If someone decided Zatanna should go a little nuts, one “on erom stnatum” later, DC would have a nice little House of Z to shill for a summer.

Someone send that to Didio. See if BMB would jump ship for a summer.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

June 1, 2009 at 4:57 pm

It’s weird how a character can be in something, presumably popular, like Justice League for a hundred or so issues, and then written out and just ignored.
You’d think they’d at least take a stab at seeing if she was part of the success.

Zatanna and John Constantine seem to be the two characters who can freely hop between the mainstream DC universe and the Vertigo universe.

And each other’s beds– a surprising detail Brian forgot from this! (That and her appearance in Swamp Thing 49-50 that led to Zatara’s death)

I do my best to ignore Zatanna’s relationship with Constantine. Really, I can hardly think of two characters less suited for each other.

Zatanna isn’t really that much more powerful than other sorcerers; it’s just that among superheroes, she’s usually comes across as more versatile. For example, recently she tried to use her magic against the African god Anansi, and was just no match. Besides, the League already has plenty of similarly uber heroes without magic (Green Lantern, for one.)

Zatanna’s identity is not secret. Maybe she was believed to be just a stage magician by the public at first, but after years with the League, that’s not likely. Note also that her name IS Zatanna, it’s not a stage name.

Oh, and the backwards-talk thing? It’s just a gimmick. It’s been shown (and not just in the comics) that she can cast spells normally if she wants to. She’s just honoring her father, who also cast magic that way for years because he discovered his magic by reading a book from his ancestor -Leonardo DaVinci!- that had been written backwards to hide its secrets (That was historically true btw.)

-”In any case Batman will always have a way to defeat her.”

Granted, Batman has plans for beating everybody. But what do the rest of the heroes do if BATMAN goes evil?? O_O

Another point: because Hawkgirl wasn’t deemed to have enough value as a playable character, Zatanna got elevated to “big seven” status in Justice League Heroes. She got quite a bit of face time in the cinema scenes (which were the best thing about that game, Batman not being voiced by Kevin Conroy notwithstanding)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

June 1, 2009 at 7:38 pm

I do my best to ignore Zatanna’s relationship with Constantine. Really, I can hardly think of two characters less suited for each other.

That’s probably why she’s always shown to regret it.
The fling with a guy who seemed great, but turned out to be a prick.
Seems to be the way it goes wth most of Constantines girls, so seems pretty right.

I think Zatanna as a character is great, but her power makes her kinda difficult as a hero. Theoretically she can make anything happen by saying it backwards, right? Having that sort of power makes it kinda difficult to write plots around her, as she could basically solve any problem on page 1 by just saying the right words.

Zatanna is a great, great character in large part because she is one of the those rare superheroes who acts like someone you might actually meet. She is one of those semi-hippie chicks that knows way too much about chakras and tarot cards. She has made some really bad relationship choices in the past and is just flirtatious enough to cause almost anyone to think they’ve got a shot. However, the vast majority of them don’t. She knows all kinds of famous and/or semi-famous people, but really isn’t impressed with any of that anymore. Instead, she is trying to get her messy life together.

Nearly everybody has met some version of that person. It is a total type.

Sadly, her powers really need some further definition. Zatanna doesn’t have a hook like “will power” that limits her basically limitless abilities. There is no built-in reason to say that she can’t do something. That leaves the writer with too few options beyond stupidity and laziness for her to not solve any problem in, like, 45 seconds. It is a shame, because from a personality perspective she could totally sustain an on-going.

An “alternate” (and almost unrecognizable) version of Z also appeared in the shortlived Books of Magic: LIfe During Wartime.

And yeah… the actress who played her in Smallville was perfect.

Zatanna’s okay. I do get annoyed by her backwards talk – the way she reverses the letters in each word, but doesn’t reverse the order of the words.

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“You could do “A Month Of Bad Costume Designs” and designate an entire two week period on some of Supergirl’s.”

AKA George Perez Month.

Personally I always preferred the red cape costume to that weird red thing on her head in the other one.

Of course you can’t beat fishnets :)

What IS that thing on her head? I was introduced to the character when she had the white cape, the hip boots and that thing on her head. I think its some kind of alien head dress. To me, it just made her seem more exotic, and I used to assume she was a sorceress from another dimension or something.

It just seems to be another comic book oddity, like wings on Namor’s feet or Amazon dressed in a patriotic American themed costume, though she currently claims no loyalty to any nation.

If anyone has a valid reason for two costumes, then it is Zatanna.

The top hat and fishnets look is for her job as a stage magician. It is like Clark Kent wearing glasses, Hal Jordan wearing a flight suit or Barry Allen wearing a lab coat. It stands to reason that she might have a different costume for her work as a superhero.

Speaking of Zat’s costumes, her first was based on her father’s and her second was her mother’s. It was from the third on that she started making her own. Draw your own conclusions.

Oh, and they actually made fun of her third costume in an issue of Blue Devil:
Blue Devil (hitting in her) “You know, not a lot of women can get away with wearing a bug on their head.” (I think.) And she apparently didn’t mind! Then again BD was quite dashing even as a blue demon. They might’ve made a nice couple had BD not already have a love interest.

Damn, that was such a fun comic. Yet another great character ruined by DC. :(

Love Zatanna.

Hated the Red Mind Worm Hair comb thing… To much Klingon…

The Seven Soldiers story arc, where she “lost” her powers after the events in Identity Crisis was a nice touch.

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