Zatanna was announced as the next Injustice: Gods Among Us DLC character, so you know what that means.
Alias: No, that’s her actual name!
First Appearance: Hawkman #4 (1964)
Powers: Skilled in all sorts of magic
Other Media: Appeared on all sorts of cartoons, Smallville
Zatanna is one of the earliest legacy characters in comic books. Her father Giovanni Zatara was a crime-fighting magician who appeared all the way back in Action Comics #1 (the comic that debuted Superman). Zatanna lived as a stage magician and illusionist for years, leaving it to search the world for her lost father. Over the course of her journey, she discovered that she was a special kind of human called “homo magi” that made her able to control magic. No longer would she rely on sleight of hand. She was the real deal. Like her father before her, she is able to project spells by speaking backwards. When her ability to speak is removed, she’s still able to project her spells by writing them out in her own blood.
Her search for her father took place over the course of various comic titles, culminating in the Justice League helping her. She worked with the League a handful of times before becoming a full-fledged member. During the 80’s, she got rid of her more memorable fishnets and top hat look for something incredibly generic and had some romantic tension with Barry Allen Flash (he was a widower at the time). She left in the middle of the ill-fated Justice League Detroit era.
For a while, Zatanna would usually team up with fellow magic user John Constantine, who she had an on-again-off-again relationship. She also had something going with Doctor Thirteen, a detective known for being the last skeptic in the DC Universe. What I mean is that he believes that everything from magic to Superman sightings is smoke and mirrors and ravings of lunatics. His daughter Traci doesn’t have the nerve to tell him that she too has magical powers.
The retcon introduced in Identity Crisis brought Zatanna back into the forefront. Years ago in the Justice League, the team found supervillain Dr. Light raping Elongated Man’s wife Sue. As voted by the League, Zatanna mindwiped Dr. Light and made it so that not only could he not remember the act, but she rewired his head so that he wouldn’t do it again, forcing him into the role of an inept comedy villain. Then she mindwiped Batman because he saw what she did. Then she mindwiped Catwoman to be nicer as a way to make Batman feel better. Then she mindwiped Flash villain the Top into being good, who in turn also mindwiped other Flash villains into doing the same. All of that exploded in her face over time.
This led to a sweet-ass story by Grant Morrison called Seven Soldiers of Victory. It was 30 issues where the first and last were bookends and the other issues were split into 4-issue miniseries about seven different characters. The characters included the C-listers (Zatanna and Mr. Miracle) as well as the reimagined (Frankenstein, Guardian, Klarion the Witch Boy, Bulleteer and Shining Knight). The seven different miniseries would show the different characters fighting different aspects of the same major threat while never crossing paths until the end. All of them intertwined in really cool ways.
In Zatanna’s story, she dealt with her problems with using magic too much for her own ends, including the mindwipe episodes. She ended up fighting against Zor, an evil magician who was meant to represent both writer Alan Moore and the idea of a comic book writer (or “Time Tailor”) going out of his way to shit up a superhero’s life because darker = better. This made thematic sense as years earlier in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing series, he proceeded to kill off Zatanna’s father and end the Zatanna/Constantine relationship in one fell swoop.
Against Zor, Zatanna was able to break through reality and reach out through the panels and towards the reader, wishing for forgiveness for all the bad things she’s done. In a nice touch, she said she could feel thousands of pairs of eyes looking at her all at different times. The other Time Tailors (the other DC writers) saved her by removing Zor from the equation and allowed her a brief reunion with her late father. During the story’s big finale, Zatanna magically set all the players into the correct positions by shouting, “!EKIRTS SREIDLOS NEVES”
What I mean to say is that Grant Morrison’s writing is fucking weird, but also fucking awesome.
Seven Soldiers also gave us the Frankenstein Monster as a grim, sword-swinging slayer of all that is wicked who works for a secret government organization and OH MY GOD WHY AM I THE ONLY PERSON ON THIS EARTH WHO IS RALLYING FOR FRANKENSTEIN AS A DOWNLOADABLE CHARACTER FOR INJUSTICE WHAT THE FUCK?!
Anyway. Zatanna has remained a bit of a supporting character in the DC Universe since then, briefly being a member of the Justice League again and having a bit of a fling with Batman at one point. She had her own ongoing series that didn’t last long, mainly because it’s really, really hard to get behind a magic-based superhero. I mean, Superman has to actually punch a villain, easy as it is. It’s hard to write a story where a magic-user doesn’t just snap his or her fingers and wish the bad guy away.
That series was written by one Paul Dini and I suppose I should talk about him. Paul Dini is known for being one of the big wheels in the creation of Batman: The Animated Series and all of its spinoffs. Dini is also known for being a little TOO into Zatanna. Just off the top of my head:
– Did a Zatanna-centered episode of Batman despite her not really having much to do with him in the comics. Not that that’s really a problem in itself, but he later went on to force a romantic relationship between the two when he was writing Detective Comics, going so far as to retcon in a childhood friendship. This was kind of weird because the main Batman book was playing up Bruce Wayne’s relationship with then-girlfriend Jezebel Jet as being seriously serious.
– Before Zatanna had made a single appearance anywhere outside of comics, Paul Dini wrote an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures where recurring character Batduck was invited to join the Just Us League. This included an appearance of Fifi the Skunk as Scentanna, whose sole screen time was dedicated to having Hampton bust a pig nut over how hot she is.
– Dini married a Zatanna lookalike who is also a stage magician. Artist Alex Ross began using her as a model for whenever he’d include Zatanna in his realistic-looking comics.
Since New 52, Zatanna has appeared as a member of Justice League Dark, an offshoot team of magic users who take on mystical threats that the regular Justice League are ill-equipped to face themselves. The team includes the likes of John Constantine, Dead Man, Shade the Changing Man and FRANKENSTEIN WHO SHOULD BE IN INJUSTICE I SWEAR TO GOD GOD DAMN IT!