Hot Ink Review – Zatanna #1
NUF, TUB MA I EHT YLNO ENO DERIT FO GNIDAER SIHT? - Zatanna 1
The first issue of the new Zatanna solo series is out this week, marking a return to the spotlight for the stage musician with the power to bend reality and an outfit that would make a cartoon wolf's heart jump three feet out of his chest after his head turned into a train whistle.
"Zatanna" is written by Paul Dini, who openly professes that she's one of his favorite characters in the DC Universe. Often limited to a role as a supporting character whose magical abilities solve some important plot point, after which she's once more gently nudged into the background, Dini gives Zatanna a starring role here. We're given an extended look into the not so pleasant aspects of magic's underworld as Zatanna gets called in to investigate a brutal mass murder. Which tips off the police's weird sensors when one of the victims is a pig in a tuxedo and another is a human sized frog in a cocktail dress. Stephane Roux's pencil work portrays magic ranging from the grotesque to the weird to the adorable to the terrifying, not to mention taking several opportunities to show off Zatanna's more mundane charms. It all comes together to give the new series an enjoyable start. Dini is quick to establish Zatanna as more than capable of handling herself in a fight as he pits her against Brother Night, a sadistic wizard crime lord with the sort of face only a mother could love, provided that said mother is fond of the image of dead human skin stretched over a Terminator exo-skeleton's skull. Night's tired of only having control over the magical half of wrong-doing in the San Francisco underworld and decides to go all avada kedavra on the rest of the city's crime bosses so he can move in on their turf.
He brings several minions along, each creepier than the next, with the top of the skin-crawling hierarchy occupied by Teddy, a little boy fiercely clutching a small, ordinary wooden box. The box continues neither music nor any other kind of whimsy, but Teddy still enjoys sharing its contents with highly unfortunate strangers. Zatanna confronts Night and his henchmen directly and makes it clear to them that she will not stand for their crimes, warns them to never bring their magic into the world of ordinary humans, and shows them she's capable of backing up all her threats quite well. This is exactly the sort of strong first issue the series needed, demonstrating that Zatanna can be a powerful leading lady as well as introducing a charismatic villain for her to fight.
Zatanna's confrontation with Night is an opportunity for Roux to show off and have fun as much as it is for Dini. When first shown, the club where Night's spending his post-crime evening appears to be your standard, run-of-the-mill bar and demon S&M club. But as the scene goes on, Roux plants several cameos into the background worth watching for. The version of Merlin from Disney's "Sword in the Stone" was the first to catch my eye, but also be sure to watch for what appear to be Siegfried and Roy, David Copperfield and a small rodent-like creature in a red robe and blue pointy hat, among many others. When Roux included a bar patron with an uncanny resemblance to Morn from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it capped it all off and this book earned a special spot in my heart, or at least in the especially nerdy part of my brain that my heart annexed.
Which isn't to say I didn't have a problem or two along the way. Right at the start, actually. The book opens with Zatanna doing a stage trick where she's chained to a wooden frame and gagged while the Joker and Dr. Light point a massive drill at her from behind. Of course these aren't the actual villains, merely actors in costume performing as part of the finale to Zatanna's show. But, and this is the second time I've had this problem with a DC book, while those characters are fictional to us, the reader, Dr. Light and the Joker are very real people in the world Zatanna inhabits. Both of them are mass murderers. One of them crippled Zatanna's friend. The other raped Zatanna's friend's wife, which led to Zatanna wiping his memory in an act that did severe damage to her own psyche and to her personal relationships to several other heroes. So you'll pardon me if it takes me out of the moment to see her be totally okay with two actors pretending to be these people as part of her show. Maybe the day I see Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney include actors dressed as Mark David Chapman and Michael Abram as part of a performance it won't seem quite so odd. But I get the feeling that's not going to happen.