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Zatanna finally gets her own book

Zatanna #1 has finally just been released. It is the first time this popular character has ever had her "own" book. The character of superhero sorceress Zatanna Zatara first appeared in 1964 as a back page story in Hawkman #4. The character, created by Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson, is the daughter of Golden Age comic superhero John Zatara (usually just referred to by his last name). In comic lore, the Zataras are descendants of several factual prophets and visionaries including Nostradomus and Leonardo da Vinci. This connection figures into a bit of a footnote regarding Zatanna’s origin since the Phantom Stranger gave her some of da Vinci’s notebooks.

These were, of course, written backwards, and through these Zatanna somehow was able to focus her powers in such a way that she could cast powerful spells by speaking backwards (she can also cast spells through regular speech and even telepathically but it is rare for her to do so). Zatanna’s search for her father helped introduce the character to comic fans. This effort was connected to a then rare crossover event where the Justice League became involved. Zatanna had a chummy relationship with the JLA for many years and finally she got full membership in 1978.

Zatanna is an interesting character in DC’s pantheon. For one, she is one of the first legacy characters with a father who was a very visible part of DC’s first group of superheroes (he made his debut with Superman in Action Comics #1). Second, Zatanna is a performer and entertainer; again, a bit of a rarity with most mainstream superheroes (Dick Grayson/Robin has this as part of his history as does Ghost Rider-can’t think of any more). She also met Bruce Wayne long before he became The Bat (in some narratives her father and Bruce Wayne's father were friends).

Zatanna’s character has changed and evolved a bit during the last decade or so as it seems she has gone from being a curiosity to becoming DC’s female sex symbol in chief. To me, she has surpassed Catwoman in this role, who has become much more of an action hero of late (seemingly modeled on Trinity in The Matrix?). Why is this?

Well, her outfit is a good place to start. Catwoman, Wonder Woman and even Supergirl have had significant outfit changes through the years, but not Zatanna. Zatanna’s outfit of a modified man’s tux, top hat and fishnet stockings with boots is fairly close to what she wore during her debut over 40 years ago. The combination of her outfit with its tension between masculine and feminine (along with her fishnets and boots) is the stuff that fanboy fetish worship is made of. Another aspect of this is the popularity and efficiency through which she (and other DC femmes) are portrayed by the artist Adam Hughes, whose talents really capture every erotic detail of this sorceress/heroine.

I also think that there are more romantic possibilities for Zatanna in the scope of the DC Universe. Catwoman often treads the line between superhero and supervillain and is fairly screwed up (rare in the DC universe), so it makes romance with anyone else like, say, the Green Lantern, tough. Wonder Woman is royalty and a god so that limits her, Supergirl continues to give off a vibe that renders her too youthful for romance with a grownup (still Supergirl after all these years). Black Canary and Hawkwoman are pretty much yoked to Green Arrow and Hawmkman and it would probably be too much heavy lifting to separate them in any permanent way.

This leaves Zatanna a full bodied female character that may have some daddy issues but who is not screwed up in the way that Catwoman is. Zatanna is undeniably a superpowered being, but her superpowers are of a different ilk than say Wonder Woman or Supergirl, who of course have physical superpowers. Interestingly enough, she has been particularly close to two of DC's popular high test males (both quite unalike); John Constantine (with whom she fathered a child- John Zatara Jr. -seen in Kingdom Come and more recently Teen Titans) as well as Batman with whom she has a close relationship but no romance (as of yet).

Will Zatanna succeed as a comic? It is far to early to tell, but the book has some very fine talent working on it, including Paul Dini and the fine artist Stephanie Roux. Apparently, Dini has long been fond of the character and managed to sneak her in an episode he penned for Batman Beyond ("Out of the Past") and the Justice League ("This Little Piggy"). So, it is probably something more than just an assignment for Dini.

In addition, I think that Zatanna could actually be great for film and especially television. Probably better than in the comics. The character made a couple of nice appearances on Smallville (played by a particularly well cast Serinda Swan), which were much more effective than the show's attempts to float a Green Arrow, Supergirl or most other members of the JSA. In the unlikely event of this happening, Ms. Swan probably deserves a shot at the role in episodic TV. In film? As with many of these things, I see Rebecca Hall in the role (for her father? either Mad Men Jon Hamm or John Slattery). She would fill out the fishnets quite nicely...