Black Magic Woman
Get it? Get it? Like Carlos Santanna. Which kind of sounds like Zatanna. I know, I’m a literary genius.
Anyways, today’s article is a suggestion from reddit user u/Blugeek! Here’s your article about a semi-obscure magic lady, Blugeek! Hope it was worth the several month wait!
Zatanna has always been a really fun character to read, in my opinion. I love magic and mystical characters in general, but Zatanna was usually the fun, lighthearted one that I would come back to after binging on Hellblazer or Swamp Thing. Sometimes you just need a lady in an old school magic show outfit to show you a good time. I phrased that real poorly, didn’t I? Moving on. Everything about Zatanna kinda screams Silver Age cheese, from her outfit to her white-tipped wand to the fact that all of her magic spells are just her talking backwards. And I love it. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy the dark and gritty stuff, but I primarily come to comic books for, you know, a fun time. Of course, she got into plenty of dark situations over her history, but overall, she was still a fun character to read. And then the New 52 happened, and she went from being, at the risk of self-repetition, fun, to being another recipient of the patented Grim n’ Gritty Makeover. Oh, also she was heavily involved with John Constantine, which really just kind of did a disservice to both characters. Also, you know, Justice League Dark, otherwise known as “Wait, who?”.
So, today, we’re gonna cover a lot of nostalgia on my part, and I promise to remain as biased and unwilling to accept change as possible. Let’s fake an education in comics.
Eyo Omoc Av
SCENARIO: You ever think about how superfluous and unnecessary this whole part of the article seems? Like, it could have been a really neat little segment, but honestly, it’s just here to provide the illusion that each one of these has an actual direction that it’s trying to go in. I mean, when you really think about it, the only time I ever gave this segment a fully fleshed out, well developed thing was in the Jessica Jones article, and that was the very first one. I immediately fell off the wagon on that shit. Now I just kind of draw up a semi-strawman and then rant about a comic book character for another 2000 words or so. But I don’t want to drop this segment entirely, because I’m starting to forget how to do any other kind of structure for an article. Also, these are slowly turning into self-satire now, and I feel like I could do that really well, but then I’m just gonna make this about me, aren’t I, and you aren’t reading Who the Hell is: This Idiot who Writes Dumb Things on the Internet. And now it’s just meta self-depreciation. Honestly, it’s all tits up now.
Anyways here’s a couple paragraphs about how little I enjoyed Justice League Dark.
Step One: Harry Potter Can Eat His Heart Out
Before I get into anything else here, I’d just like to point out that Harry Potter is a shitty wizard. That is all.
Zatanna Zatara, easily the recipient of the greatest name of all time ever, is the daughter of Giovanni “John” Zatarra, recipient of the lamest nickname ever. Giovanni was, turns out, one of the greatest sorcerers on Earth, and he had a child with a being named Sindella, a member of the human subspecies known as Homo Magi, because if Marvel can give mutants a fancy scientific classification why can’t DC give magic people one too? Especially since I’m fairly certain that Zatanna predates the X-Men by a couple of years. She would spend a fair amount of time estranged from both of her parents, but was eventually reunited with them both. Of course, they both died later on, because being a superhero is kinda like signing a death warrant for both your parents, but them’s the breaks. She learned magic from them both, and she took those skills and turned them into a lucrative dual career of magic shows and superheroics. Honestly, she’s pretty much overqualified for both of those. The only reason she wasn’t a full time member of the Justice League was because she had more fun doing her own thing.
Now, when I say she’s overqualified, I mean that she is OVERQUALIFIED. You know what her superpower is? Magic. Not like, “Ooh, I’m Madame Xanadu, I can do one specific kind of magic sometimes” magic, I mean all of the magic. Just, all of it. Element control? Check. Object manipulation? Check. Complete mastery over the human mind? Check. Any and every form of conceivable transport, and a few inconceivable ones to boot? You betcha. I could list all of her powers here, but that would, with no exaggeration, be enough content for another article. Let’s just sum it up with “she’s basically a nigh unstoppable god” and leave it there. Really, her only significant weakness is that she needs to say every spell in backwards talk, but once she figures out how to say a sentence backwards, guess what, you have frogs instead of lungs. Reality is her bitch. It is totally within her power to punish you for, say, robbing a bank, by uttering the right phrase and unmaking you from the fabric of space and time itself. She could, with maybe a minute or two of thought, get rid of your mouth. Just, boom, no mouth, and then you starve. Thankfully, she sticks to more whimsical fare than forced Cronenbergian horror, but the fact remains that if she wanted to, she could remove your skeleton from your body, animate it, and have it beat your now gelatinous sack of flesh to death.
Anyways, when the New 52- sorry, The New 52!!- happened, this was all just kinda glossed over in favor of “we need a way to introduce John Constantine to a wider, PG-13 audience”, so Constantine accidentally killed her dad because reasons. Also they dated, which was just… off. I think my biggest problem with Zatanna in the post-Flashpoint continuity is that she stopped being her own character. Most of the time, she seemed to exist for the sole purpose of advancing other characters or books. Need to boost awareness of Constantine? Hey, turns out he dated Zatanna and kind of killed her dad! Need to push the Justice League Dark (which, for the record, is a terribly named team, but a team of characters that I love)? Slap some Zatanna on that shit!
Look, I’m sure some people enjoy that version of the character, but honestly, it just isn’t her. She went from a funny, cheerful sorceress to yet another bland, grim, determined hero. She had no personality, and she existed just to regroup the JLD when they broke up every five issues. God, I hated that comic.
Step Two: The Identity Crisis… Crisis
Ok, so if you’re even vaguely aware of Identity Crisis, you probably know exactly what I’m going to say here. For those of you who aren’t, Identity Crisis was a major DC event that revolved around the murder of The Elongated Man’s wife. It turned out that Atom’s ex-wife did it kind of on accident but not really, in the vain hope that, for some reason, it would make the Atom take her back, despite the fact that she was the one who divorced him in the first place, and that he totally would have given her another chance if she had just told him how she felt. Now you may have noticed that that last sentence was completely retarded. Well guess what! So is Identity Crisis, because the real focal point of that event was that it turned out Doctor Light, perennial joke villain, actually used to be ruthless and raped Elongated Man’s wife. After this, Zatanna and a portion of the JL agreed to wipe his mind of the incident, as well as reach into his brain and fundamentally alter his personality. Now, I can get behind the mind wiping, because it turns out they did that all the time and only in certain situations. Sure, it’s incredibly fucked up if you think about it for more than five minutes, but I can at least see the logic behind presenting it as a good decision. What I can’t accept is that the JUSTICE LEAGUE, the paragons of, you know, justice, would collectively be okay with taking apart some guy’s mind just in case he has a particular thought process again. Especially when said members included Green Arrow, Barry Allen, and Zatanna. Sure, I could see Hawkman doing it, because he’s a monumental cock, but the rest? No way. Zatanna in particular was never really the kind of person who would rejigger a man’s entire life just because she couldn’t take the time to come up with a way to prepared for this sort of situation in the future.
Identity Crisis is, at it’s heart, an example of the dangers of mischaracterization and a desire to be edgy. In the same book, we have lovable jokester Wally West acting as a whiny tattletale, Deathstroke going from “really good for an assassin with no powers” to “A threat capable of dismantling most of the Justice League singlehandedly”, and, above all, we have Green Arrow the lying, manipulative asshole. It’s character assassination on the grandest of scales, unmatched save for perhaps Marvel’s Civil War (the comic, not the movie, dingus). And you know what makes it even worse? It’s that they reveal that all these things had been happening for a couple years now. That means characters like, say, idunno, Zatanna, going about their daily lives, essentially pretending to be better people than they really are. Zatanna, the fun, happy magician who sometimes fights demons. Hey guys, did you like her last story? Well too bad, she coldly obliterated a bunch of minds just off panel. It’s like learning that Batman was secretly, oh I don’t know, branding criminals, which is ridiculous and would never WAAAAIIIIIIIITAMINUTE
Step Three: So Much Drama in the JLD it’s Kinda Hard Bein’ Snoop D-O-Double Zee
For the record, that header is now the worst joke I have ever made on this website. Go ahead and set up a plaque to commemorate that or something. Make it a tourist spot. I’ll wait.
Anyways, Justice League Dark was… well, it certainly happened. Out of all of the comics I have ever read, it was definitely one of them. Anyways, it was a valiant attempt by DC to make a team that represented the mystic corner of their universe, and honestly, I still don’t know what went wrong. It had a ton of awesome characters, and apart from Constantine, they all fit in there pretty well. Plus, seeing people like Swamp Thing and Deadman in a team setting was great. We got tons of cool rosters, but that didn’t really matter when the team seemed to break up after every single story arc, and frankly, nothing interesting ever happened. Constantine was watered down to the point where he was barely recognizable, Deadman just kinda floated around and told people what they should be doing while everyone ignored him, and Zatanna of all people was the serious, boring leader. Also Frankenstein was there, I guess.
Sure, it had its moments, but it just wasn’t meant to be. The only really interesting thing to ever come out of the series was the possibility of a superhero movie directed by Guillermo del Toro, and even then that fell through.
I know I’m not quite in the majority opinion on this one, but I’m sticking by it. I will absolutely apologize for the Snoop Dogg joke though, because it’s fucking terrible.
Anyways, I guess I just think that when your version of Zatanna says things like “We need our team- The Justice League Dark!” on a routine basis, you aren’t doing something right. Fittingly, as the forefront of the team book, she was emblematic of how bland and boring most of the series was.
Step Four: The Reason Why Her Old Costume Worked
Ok, so at first glance, Zee’s costume just seems like another pointlessly sexualized female superheroine, right? Well… This one actually makes a lot of sense for the character, thematically speaking. It’s really just a sort of fusion between the two people on stage during a magic show: the magician (or illusionist or whatever) and the assistant. Now, for those of you somehow reading this from 1756 and hating magic stuff with little to no knowledge of it, allow me to explain. See, the magician’s assistant was always a scantily clad, beautiful woman, meant to draw the eye away from the guy doing the tricks. That way, the audience wouldn’t see any tells that what was happening was fake, and they would be more immersed in the performance. Basically, the magician would pull something out of his trick sleeve or move the two boxes apart or whatever, and the audience would go on believing that that the act of making more than one ping pong ball appear under a plastic cup was the work of ancient Sumatran demons or some shit.
So that’s why she has the fishnets and absurd cleavage.
I have no idea why the one thing consistent across every interpretation of her is “massive breasts”, except oh wait, yes I do.
Anyways, the top hat and formal wear aspects of the outfit are pretty obvious: they’re what the magician would wear. Zatanna is, at heart, a showwoman, and so she can’t really resist a certain sense of flash and style. She gets it from her father. Also, she got her hat from him, which is magical in nature, so it’s semi-practical too. Basically, it’s just a better costume than “high collar cape and piping everywhere”.
Zatanna is pretty awesome, and I’m sure more people know about her than some other obscure DC comics heroes. She’s made it into Smallville, Young Justice, JLU, Injustice, and all kinds of other DC media, and for good reason. She’s just fun and funny, and that’s always refreshing. Plus most comic fans seem to enjoy things when they get into crazy mystical shit, and Zatanna is basically the gateway drug to getting into the deep magic stuff like Etrigan or Swamp Thing.
If you want more to read up on her, her self titled pre-Flashpoint series was pretty good, and almost any team appearance she has is a great time. Also, I know I was pretty hard on it, but definitely give JLD a shot. I know some people who adore that book and I know that I’m probably in the minority with my opinions on it, so if you’re interested in it or any of the characters within, pick up the first trade or something.
As always, leave your suggestions where you found this article, and I’ll see you next week!