Review: Zatanna #1

Published on May 26th, 2010

Words, words, words. I’ve been thinking a lot about words this past week. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the words used by comic book characters, but I’m getting ahead of myself. What got me thinking about words was Zatanna #1 so let’s talk about that.

Zatanna is a new series starring Zatanna Zatara, sometimes member of the Justice League, she’s a magician with actual magical powers. That’s really all you need to know about the character in advance. Oh, and of course, the words. Zatanna  casts spells using words, words that she says backwards to achieve a desired result.  So if she wants to turn someone into a rabbit she simply says “NRUT OTNI A TIBBAR”, follow?  Great!


This being the first issue of the series we need to consider what we look for in a first issue.  To start we want an introduction to the main character, a little bit of set up, and we get that.  We learn that Zatanna works as a magician and outside of fighting crime lives a relatively normal life, she’s comfortable in her civilian identity. In fact all she wants to do after putting on a show is go home to a bubble bath and a glass of wine,  kudos for making this character relatable. We also learn through non-forced conversation that she’s a vegetarian and that she’s the daughter of John Zatara a character dating back to 1938 when he made is first appearance in  Action Comics #1. I think they are setting up Zatanna to face enemies from her father’s past, which certainly could work.

Speaking of enemies, the next thing we’re looking for is a conflict. Is there a story being set up? A villain? In this issue a Detective, one Dale Colton comes to Zatanna looking for help with a crime scene that has a supernatural element to it. Zatanna goes with the Detective to what ends up being the scene of a mass murder of the major players in the underworld of San Francisco (the setting of the comic). The supernatural element is that a number of the victims have also been transformed into animals. By reading the mind of the only survivor of the attack Zatanna learns that this was the work of Eldon Peck a villainous, mystical powered man who calls himself “Brother Night” and wouldn’t you know it, used to know Zatanna’s father. Brother Night is trying to assert his dominance over both the mystical and typical human underworld.

Also in any comic we have to take note of the writing and art. Written by Paul DIni it’s a solid first issue. It doesn’t have me raving and I also didn’t lose interest. Like most of Dini’s work I found it inoffensive but not great. What did get me excited was the art, in fact part of the reason I picked up this book was the promise of excellent art. Pencilled by Stephane Roux with Inks by Karl Story this comic is quite lovely. Roux’s dynamic pencils along with Story’s slick lines made this comic above average in art.  If there is one thing that makes this comic a must buy it’s this.

Overall this was a well made comic, i tend to suspend judgment of a series until about issue 5 but for now I’ll be picking up issue 2.

At the start of this I mentioned the words of a comic book character and if you’ve stuck around this long I’d like you to join me on a tangent so we can discuss my random thoughts.  In reading this comic I had to read a number of speech bubbles filled with backwards words and while this is not the worlds greatest hardship I had to take a second to do so. And so I wondered, about characters and the way they speak. There are characters whose words take extra care from the writer to the letterer to the reader. There are characters with accents (like Gambit) and odd vernacular (like Thor) and elaborate text and speech bubbles (like the Vision). While I certainly agree that all these things help more uniquely develop a character, often for the best, it does take a bit of an effort to enjoy.  The different ways a character talks and slang can take getting used to and make you have to re-read a bit here and there. And specialized speech text while helping distinguish the character can also be an eye strain.  I’m not on one side or another on this issue but I feel like it’s something that is worth considering. I know people *cough Simon cough* that hate reading Thor comics because they don’t want to deal with “Thor speak”. The closest thing I can equate this to is watching foreign films with subtitles or an American trying to decipher Welsh accents on Torchwood. Personally I stay away from foreign  films and got used to the Welsh. How about you guys?


~Dana Shukartsi