Zatanna by Paul Dini

Zatanna by Paul Dini
Zatanna by Paul Dini review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC - 978-1-4012-6882-4
  • Release date: 2017
  • UPC: 9781401268824
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Superhero, Supernatural

Zatanna has been fetishised by successive generations of superhero comic fans, but until Paul Dini no actual writer seemed greatly interested in the character. She spent well over forty years in guest slots, team membership and the occasional one-off solo outing, strangely mirroring the career trajectory of Marvel’s equivalent Scarlet Witch as always the bridesmaid.

Dini changed that, first with the one-shot ‘Everyday Magic’, then by shoehorning Zatanna into Batman continuity, and finally promoting her into a solo series. Zatanna is a magician saddled with the 1960s gimmick of speaking words backwards to make nearly anything happen, but that 1960s heritage also provides the timeless ensemble of top hat, waistcoat and fishnets. She hides in plain sight by touring a stage magic act.

The collection opens with ‘Everyday Magic’, which following the introductory sequence concentrates on what happened to John Constantine during casual sex and how it might be rectified. It’s entertaining, but not enhanced by the art. Rick Mays frustrates, laying out a page well, but not as talented when drawing the people on it. He establishes an exploitative art style, somewhat diminished by those on the following material.

The best of those is Stephane Roux (sample art left), whose contributions are largely early in the book and supply an illustrative glamour, while the likes of Jesús Saiz, Cliff Chiang, Jamal Igle (sample right) are all good, but their pages are more traditional action art. Other listed artists draw fewer pages, but all improve on Mays.

Because Zatanna has always been the guest star or team player she’s not built a selection of enemies, but from the start Dini supplies viable threats, varying between powerful demons and their pawns. He spends time building them up, adding suspense, and bulks up the supporting cast with Zatanna’s cousin Zach, also a stage magician accessing real magic who has a complicated envious relationship with her. Different forms of magic are investigated, as is the past, with Chiang’s three chapters about a puppet the creepiest inclusion.

Well over a quarter of the content written by people other than Dini is a distressingly high percentage for a collection with his name on the cover. Matthew Sturges delivers a repulsive villain with a clever gimmick for a Zatanna appearance, and has the benefit of Roux artwork. Derek Fridolfs also manufactures the trap of Zatanna not being able to speak her spells, and both supply good solutions. Adam Beechen matches the prevailing mood of supernatural drama with a slight comedy touch over three creative stories and a short about Zatanna being fitted with braces when younger.

Collectively, despite the fair amount of creative staff, this collection shows Zatanna can be a headliner, and while the comics might not have sold well enough to sustain a series, the current prices demanded for this collection are eye-watering. Just in case you expect completion, if you want all Dini’s work on Zatanna you’ll have to pick up Bloodspell separately. Dini’s earliest Zatanna solos are also found in The Mistress of Magic.