I’m always excited to read about a character that I have no prior knowledge of. In this day and age, it’s so easy to have something spoiled for you before you get the chance to enjoy it for yourself. Comics, and especially comic book characters, are notorious for this. Even the most devout non-fan knows what happened to Bruce Wayne’s parents, or what substance is Superman’s weakness. It’s a rarity to go into a comic completely blind, but when you’re able to it’s an entirely unique experience.
The next trade I tackled from “the shelf” centered around a character I knew almost nothing about: Zatanna. I had had a brief encounter with her in DC Bombshells #2 a month ago, but her appearance there was very brief and didn’t provide any information about her origin or the real extent of her powers. All I knew from her short scene in that issue was that she was able to perform magic; nothing more.
I opened this trade eagerly. After all, this is only the second female-centric trade I’ve encountered on the shelf so far (Wonder Woman Chronicles: Volume One being the first). Wonder Woman has made various appearances throughout the Justice League and trades, and characters like Black Canary and Hawk-Girl will make an occasional appearance, but I was very excited to read an entire collection of stories focused on a brand-new female character.
To my great enjoyment, Zatanna did not disappoint.
The central plotline of the stories collected here is that Zatanna’s father, Zatara (a minor Golden-Age comic book character) disappeared twenty years ago and hasn’t been seen since. Zatanna has made it her mission to locate her missing father, and enlists the help of various Justice League members in her quest. Each story pairs Zatanna with a different JLA member and she searches various worlds to discover the mystery of her father’s disappearance.
The stories themselves are engaging enough to keep me interested, and I was especially happy to see that a single storyline was being carried throughout numerous comic publications. It must have been exciting at the time, never knowing when or where Zatanna’s story would continue. Her tale is woven throughout a random assortment of comics spanning more than two years. It may not be finely polished, but Zatanna’s story definitely hints at a more complex form of storytelling that could (and it’s my guess, will) permeate comics in the decades to come.
Now, if only for my own selfish reasons, I must turn to Zatanna as a character. I still find myself skeptical of female superheroes. I constantly worry that they’ll be depicted in a stereotypical fashion that I’ll find distracting and even downright annoying. I really ought to banish those fears from my mind, because every time it seems that they’re unfounded. Zatanna is no exception. In fact, depending on where her storyline goes and how her character develops, I could easily see her becoming one of my favorite superheroes.
Even labeling her as a superhero feels like a misnomer. I’m not questioning her abilities in any way; she’s an eerily powerful magician who seems to practice the strongest forms of magic almost effortlessly:
In this scene, The Atom has shrunk Zatanna down to a sub-atomic size. He warned her that it was impossible to return her to her normal size after that, noting that every single attempt to do so with another object in the past had resulted in the object’s destruction.
Zatanna miraculously returns to her former size, not only unharmed but seemingly unfazed by the whole ordeal. She’s waiting patiently while The Atom is completely dumbfounded.
No, her powers are not in question here. I hesitate to call her a superhero though, simply because she seems to embody an entirely different type of character. Whereas other characters are all about over-the-top displays of their strengths, Zatanna is more of the calm, cool, and collected sort. Her powers don’t explode out of her; they’re more of a slow burn, extremely powerful but in a quieter, more reserved way. This makes me like her character even more. She provides a nice balance to all of the flashy behavior of some of the other heroes, and I already suspect that of all of them she may just be the most powerful.
Question her abilities?
This is just one instance of Zatanna calling out members of the JLA, acknowledging that she knows their secret identities. Luckily for them, she chooses to use her powers for good rather than evil. If she really wanted to, I get the feeling Zatanna could put up a good fight against all of the Justice League combined.
Not only is she a total badass, but she’s given actual emotions in her stories, breaking up the monotonous righteous heroism that seems to be the only acceptable emotion given to superheroes in this time period. She cries, she despairs over ever finding her father, and when met with happy news, she expresses her joy in the best way possible:
…No? Just me?
I suppose I should have written *Spoiler alert* before that, but honestly, these comics came out over 50 years ago and are well-established facts of the DC universe.
(Hey, look at me talking like I know stuff. I should make a second blog called “Mistah J’s Footnotes” in which I list all of the interesting factoids he fills me in on, because honestly, I’d be a bit lost without that extra help.)
Anyway: Yes, the trade ultimately ends with a happy reunion between Zatanna and her father, as the members of the JLA who helped her in her journey look on happily.
It’s not a surprising conclusion: these Silver Age comics tend to heavily favor the happy (though sometimes open-ended) ending. Knowing that it took over two years for this reunion to take place, however, makes the ending that much sweeter. I’m enjoying seeing the progression away from open-and-shut single-issue stories into more complex, multi-issue storylines. I’m finding that tracking the progression of character development as well as methods of storytelling is equally interesting, and makes me double excited to keep reading.
I can only hope that Zatanna and her impressive powers make repeat appearances in trades to come.