Over the years, Paul Dini has written John Zatara’s daughter Zatanna, the highly-powered magician created by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson in 1964, in a number of series including “Detective Comics,” “Gotham City Sirens” and her own solo series, “Zatanna,” which Dini launched in 2010. The animation superstar also wrote the magical character on series like “Justice League Unlimited” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” With every appearance, Dini’s depiction of Zatanna has thrilled readers and viewers thanks to her confrontations, alliances and relationships with DCU’s most powerful magic users.
Dini’s pedigree and history with the character was why fans were so excited in 2006 when it was announced that he was penning an original graphic novel for DC Comics featuring Zatanna, along with her fellow fishnet stocking-wearing Justice League of America teammate Black Canary.
Various TV projects, both animated and live action, delayed the OGN over the years, but last month, “Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell,” written by Dini and featuring art by Joe Quinones, was solicited for May 2014.
CBR News connected with Dini over the holiday season and the veteran writer shared some key plot points from the much-anticipated story, teased which other JLA members make appearances in the graphic novel and revealed that he runs all of Zatanna’s magic tricks past his wife Misty Lee, a real-life magician in her own right.
CBR News: We heard whispers of this project years ago, and now it’s finally ready to be released. What’s the secret origin of “Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell?”
Paul Dini: It was one of those projects that I always wanted to do. And we kicked around the idea way back when. Seven or eight years ago was the tail end of when I was doing the big books with Alex Ross, because the last one of those came out in 2003, which was 10 years ago. I guess after a year or two, I was looking for something to fill the gap. We had kind of dealt with Zatanna and Black Canary a little bit in the “JLA: Origins” and “JLA: Liberty and Justice,” but I wanted to do more. At the time, I was freelancing some episodes on “Justice League Unlimited,” which was the one with all of the additional DCU characters, and I was thinking that it would be fun to team them up for an episode because they had been in the League together for a long time. They certainly had been on adventures together. They are two very different types of women, but it’s not too difficult to think of them as becoming friends at some point.
The graphic novel really is an exploration of that friendship and how these two diverse personalities interact. In some way, this goes back to a panel or two of Brad Meltzer’s “Identity Crisis.” The two of them are on stakeout on a rooftop, and they’re just sort of talking a little bit about what’s going on with Ralph and everything and I thought, “You never really see superheroines making that much small talk together.” I guess in certain books you do, but it’s not the norm.
I thought those two characters had an interesting dynamic, and I wanted to play with that a little bit. Some of what we see in the story is a bit apocryphal. I go back and restructure or reinvent things or kind of deal with things that were never said before but are certainly plausible given the history of the characters. Some people will read that and say, “Hey, wait a minute. I don’t think that ever happened like that or ever happened at all.” But when they read the book, they’ll say, “Oh. That kind of made sense.” If I’ve done my job correctly, I’ve added things that, once people read them, they will think they will have always been there.
When you think of the women of the DC Universe, first and foremost, you think of Wonder Woman, but I can’t see her sitting on a rooftop making small talk with Zatanna or Black Canary. They do need each other in that respect.
That’s exactly what this is. There’s a little bit of them letting their hair down and enjoying the day together while discussing how they’ll stop this threat. I thought it would be fun to pair them up for an afternoon and see what they do.
A year or two ago, you shared a few pages at Boston Comic Con featuring young Zatanna and Dinah Lane meeting atop Mt. Everest. Is that scene still featured in “Bloodspell?”
Yes, that’s the first time they meet. Zatanna is taking part in a mystic ritual and proving to her parents that she’s learned how to summon and control magic. And when she gets to the top of the mountain through magical means, Dinah is there doing t’ai chi. She just scaled the thing herself because she wanted to prove that she could so it.
My version of Dinah is a very scrappy, very determined young woman who was always been that way, even from a very young age of 14 or 15. She ran away from home and just wanted to prove that she could do things. She’s in the middle of this quest to basically conquer the world when she runs into Zatanna, and they have a brief meeting and a brief discussion about which is more powerful, relying on one’s self or relying on magic. They kind of change each other’s point of view a little bit.
We have seen Batman and Superman together countless times, of course, so can you talk about what it means to have two female characters headline their own graphic novel?
For the hardcore fans that have been following these characters for 15-20 years, or however long they’ve been reading comics, they will be able to see that there is a reason that these characters become friendly. Their stories, in their own way, are just as compelling as a team-up of Batman and Superman, or Superman and Wonder Woman. And even though they’ve held their own solo series at various times, it is fun to team them up and play them off each other. Certainly, Black Canary is well-versed with team-ups, with Ollie and Birds of Prey and books like that, but it’s also fun to take two members of the Justice League and show them off on their own adventures. And other members of the League filter into the story here and there too.
A lot of the story is told in flashback, from when they were kids to when Zatanna first joined the League to when they’d been with the League for a while. It really is a fond look back at the DC Universe, pre-New 52.
It’s a one-off graphic novel, so I realize you don’t want to give too much away, but can you set up the story of “Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell?”
With this version of Black Canary, I play her as sort of a special operative for the Justice League. She is very valuable to them as someone that can do covert ops. She can disguise herself and go undercover to infiltrate a gang, and when things go down, she’s the ace in the hole that they have, to be the inside woman and shut things down. As the book starts, she is very much being used in that capacity. She’s been alerted to a situation in Vegas where a vengeful woman is about to bring down an entire casino in an “Ocean’s 11”-type heist. But once she infiltrates the gang, she finds out what’s really going on.
In addition to being very powerful physically, and also very determined, [the villain] is also a sorceress, and she manages to trick the other women in her gang to take a loyalty oath, which turns out to be a spell that gives her access to their souls. Even though the leader of the gang dies during the heist, she is still able to come back as a ghost and have access to all of the girls. She decides to punish them all for betraying her, and saves Black Canary for last. Her power over Black Canary isn’t all that great at first, so Dinah has a bit of time to seek out help, and goes to Zatanna and tells her, “I’m marked for death. And she’s taking us down one by one and by the time she takes down the last girl, she’ll be powerful enough to have power over my soul. So, can you help me?”
It’s the two of them coming together to combat this problem. During the course of that adventure, we have flashbacks to different times in their lives and we get a bit of their history over the years.
Which other members of the Justice League are featured in “Bloodspell?”
Let’s see: Plastic Man has a pretty interesting cameo at one point, Wonder Woman is there for a page or two. Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter — pretty much everybody is seen, at least in the background. There is one sequence that takes place on Apokolips, which is in the Justice League heyday.
Green Arrow is in it, too. He actually has a pretty big part to play at the beginning of the book. We get right into Ollie and Dinah’s relationship. We couldn’t leave that off to the sidelines.
In every flashback, Joe Quinones outfits the girls in the costume of that era. When Zatanna first shows up in the Justice League satellite, her look is very much like her look in her first “Hawkman” appearance, where she has weird little curly hair — even to the point that her style looks older than Black Canary’s. It like it’s her first grownup haircut. Later on, when they’re fighting on Apokolips, she has the traditional George Perez flowing sorceress-type outfit with the little weird scarab — or whatever it was — in her hair. And so it goes. We just pick them up at different, odd times with different looks.
I first saw Joe’s work, which is awesome, a few years back in “Wednesday Comics” when he drew Kurt Busiek’s “Green Lantern” story. What does he bring to this particular project?
He’s terrific. I would work with him again if I could. He’s just amazing. Not only does he make the girls look wonderful, his sense of action and pacing is terrific, also. There is a fight, at the beginning of the book, between Black Canary and this gang leader, and it goes all over Las Vegas — up above and around and through Las Vegas — and it is just tremendous. All of the fight sequences are amazing. The character work and the personality in the characters’ faces when they talk to each other are just terrific. He really has an eye for action and comedy and emotion that is absolutely wonderful. It was just a joy working with him on this project.
What does your wife Misty Lee think about all of this?
I got her thumbs up, but only after I made a few adjustments. [Laughs] She actually did provide some very good consulting, especially in one scene where Zatanna summons the spirit of her father Zatara. At the moment Zatanna summons him, he was working on the some tricks in the afterlife with Harry Houdini and had mystified him with a certain card pass. Originally, it was something else, but [Misty] said that he wouldn’t know this one certain card pass that always mystified him. The trick was created by Dai Vernon, and she said, “This is how you put it in here, like this.” She was the consultant on that. Every time I have Zatanna mentioning something that is a magician skill or trick, I run it by her and she’s the one that always goes, “No, no, no. It’s like this.” [Laughs]
You were recently interviewed by Kevin Smith for his “Fatman on Batman” smodcast, and you shared your thoughts on how Hollywood execs weren’t concerned about gaining young girls as viewers for animated projects. Writing an OGN featuring two powerful women, do you think female readers will give it a chance or do you not write with that in mind?
I just hope everybody digs into it. I think that these are fun characters, and you can choose to look at them as role models. They are generally positive and upbeat. There is a lot of fun to be had. People might roll their eyes here and there and go, “Oh, boy,” but that’s all part of the fun of doing superhero comics. They do tend to go a little bit over the top and larger than life. I just think it’s a lot of fun. If you know the DC Universe, and if you have any interest in these characters, I think they come across as strong, funny, appealing, emotional characters.
Recently, you’ve been working on Marvel TV properties like “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.” Are there any DC projects forthcoming or any other comic book projects?
I haven’t been doing a lot of comics. There is one project that I have in the works that I can’t really talk about much because it hasn’t been formally announced, but you can look for that about a year from now. It will probably be in the graphic novel format too.
And I am having a lot of fun working with Joe Quesada, Henry Gilroy and Jeph Loeb on “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.” That’s been a very fun world to investigate after spending several decades in the DC Universe.