Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson and originally introduced in 1964 in “Hawkman” #4, Zatanna has enjoyed a long and important history within the DC Universe. And yet she has never had her own ongoing series. Until now.
Fan favorite writer Paul Dini (“Streets of Gotham,” “Gotham City Sirens”) is launching “Zatanna” in May, in a new series that will feature art by the mega-talented Stephane Roux (“Birds of Prey”).
Zatanna Zatara is the daughter of famed magician Giovanni “John” Zatara and Sindella, a member of DC’s mystical Homo Magi race. Zatanna’s father, Zatara, first appeared in “Action Comics” # 1 and was created by writer and artist Fred Guardineer.
Additionally, Zatanna is a direct descendant of the artist and magician Leonardo da Vinci, and is related to Nostradamus, Alessandro Cagliostro, the noted alchemists Nicholas Flamel and Evan Fulcanelli and Lord Arion of Atlantis. Her cousin, Zachary Zatara, who is also a magician, will also be featured in the new series. As will her dear old dad.
The “Zatanna” ongoing series was first teased back in 2007 and Dini told CBR News what took so long for the project to come to fruition while also sharing details on what type of villains Zatanna will be facing each month, what rules of magic he’ll be implementing and why his real-life wife is such an inspiration for the Mistress of Magic.
CBR News: This project has been discussed openly at cons for years. Was there a specific reason it was held back or was it just announced too early? What happened there?
Paul Dini: I was busy on a number of other projects around [the initial announcement], and it was something that we all wanted to get to but we didn’t want to do it before my schedule freed up to do it, and also, until we found the right artist. And when Stephane Roux became available, that was quite obviously the right person at the right time.
Despite being a staple of the DCU for decades, this is the Mistress of Magic’s first shot at her own ongoing series. How did the project come about? Was it your pitch?
She was always a character that I liked for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I find it interesting that she can work miracles and yet, at the same time, is pretty much grounded in the everyday world. She also doesn’t have much in the way of a secret identity. I think the world recognizes her as a phenomenal magician, but whether or not they make the connection between her and actual wizardry is another matter.
I don’t think it’s a secret, but I don’t think that in a world that has a Superman and a Martian Manhunter and a Wonder Woman and phenomenal beings like that, people pay magic much mind. Also, when a magician is on stage doing things, people just sort of accept it as some sort of trick or another. So even if she does wizardry in front of other people, they chalk it up to it must be some sort of stunt or illusion – their mind rationalizes it in some way. Not everybody does that. Some people gravitate towards her as this all-powerful being, and they either want to have her solve their problems or take advantage of her in some way.
So, as somebody who is split between worlds like that, I find her very interesting. Also, her life involves various elements of show business. She is kind of unique in that she is a celebrity. To some degree every superhero and villain is a celebrity within the DC Comics world, but I think that she, more than any other, is sort of known for being of the show business world. So it’s sort of fun to do something that has a bit of a backstage feel to it, and a show business feel to it.
Zatanna was first introduced in 1964 in “Hawkman” #4 and has made hundreds of appearances in the DCU over the past 45 years, yet we don’t really know that much about her. As a creator, do you find that clean slate a hindrance or is it liberating?
That was another reason that the character was attractive to write, in that she does not come with a lot of history to her. Yes, she’s been a member of the Justice League. Yes, she has had various attachments and falling outs with different members of the superhero community. She was really on the outs with Batman for a while. Now they’re more or less friendly. She was briefly involved with The Flash, and that seems to have ended. There are really bits here and there, but because she never really had a book of her own – other than a miniseries that was about 20 years ago called “Come Together,” and then there was her turn in Grant Morrison’s “Seven Soldiers,” she has mostly been a supporting character in a lot of books, and that’s where her history has been told. I find that kind of liberating in that I can go in and create new things for her. It’s also very challenging in that there is a lot of history to draw on. I think when somebody takes on an established character, such as Batman or Superman or whoever, they go, “Oh, good. Now it’s my turn to tell the ultimate Batman or Superman story. It’s my turn to have a battle at the Fortress of Solitude.” And there is not as much with Zatanna.
On the other hand, that put me in a unique position where I can take a character that everybody knows and then just craft this world around her. And I’m having a lot of fun creating a supporting cast for her, some of whom has been seen before at various points in the DC Universe. Also, there are some brand new characters, and also what’s been a lot of fun is creating a brand new rogues gallery for her.
I have kind of a unique take on this, where it’s almost like a crime book except the criminals are all magicians or magic users or evil witches or wizards. My take on the world is that the evil magic users victimize normal people as much as normal criminals in The Flash’s world or Batman’s world would victimize ordinary people. Unlike supervillains, there are no legal forces that can stop anybody from hitting anybody else with evil magic. You pick up a gun and you go and shoot somebody, at some point the cops are going to come and grab you. If you’re an evil wizard and you’re putting spells on people, or cursing them or destroying them through mystical means, how are ordinary cops going to cope with it? They can’t. So what I’ve done with Zatanna is create this great, mystical underworld of vile creatures that purposely prey on ordinary humans, and the only person standing between the villains and innocent people is Zatanna, who has sort of appointed herself to be the de facto peacekeeper between the two worlds.
One of the new rogues you’re introducing is Brother Night. At least, I believe he’s an original character…
He is an original character. He kind of came from a couple of things. I imagine him as somebody who would have been a kind of self-styled guru or a religious cult leader about 40 years ago, maybe during the height of the hippie movement in San Francisco, and he would have been the guy that would have gone from the ideas of peace and free love and everything like that into a darker area because he realized that he could maximize more power over people. And the more he got into dark forces and dark magic, the more he realized that it was fun to traffic in human souls and he could gain a lot of power by doing that. So the “Brother” in his name is sort of like a nod to the quasi-spiritual origins he might have had as a guru or a holy man of sorts, but he’s not that now. In fact, he runs the underworld in San Francisco – the mystical underworld in San Francisco – and he wants to take over the regular underworld as well, because if he controls the criminals of both the magic world and the human world, then he can basically rule them all.
Will Brother Night feature prominently throughout the series, or is he the first of many villains that Zatanna will be facing?
He’ll be an ongoing one. The first story arc explains who he is and where he came from. He’s sort of like the Kingpin of that world, but there are plenty of other menaces that have either allied themselves with him or operate independently of him. He does call in allies at various times and some of them are equally powerful, if not greater, than he is but they all share a common hatred of Zatanna.
Is your plan to tell stories in arcs, or will these be “done-in-one” adventures?
To establish the world, I’m going to do shorter story arcs of three and four issues that will set up her world and also the various villains in it. Not every villain is going to be tied into Brother Night. There are plenty of evil characters out there who either have a grudge against Zatanna, or new enemies that she is going to face. In some instances, they will be established ones from the DC Universe, whether they are mystic based or one of the more traditional supervillains.
I have a new iteration of the Royal Flush Gang showing up in #4. That was a lot of fun. Somehow, the card motif seemed to work very well with Zatanna.
Will you be telling a Zatanna “Secret Origin” story early on to flesh out her background for new readers?
Her origin will be sprinkled in here and there. In the first issue, there’s not a lot of it. That will come up a bit more in the second issue when I introduce a character who is a sinister demon who haunts nightmares. He gets into Zatanna’s head and makes her relive a few incidents from her past as a girl that she’d rather forget. Even though not a lot of that is made in the second issue, that will have repercussions in stories down the road. We’re going to learn a lot of her past, but it’s going to be sprinkled in here and there. Some of it was already alluded to in some of her appearances in “Detective Comics.” So when some things pop up, people might say, “Oh, I remember. She talked about that a few years ago.” It’s all part of an ongoing tapestry.
Recently, in an issue of “Justice League of America” that crossed over with “Blackest Night,” Zatanna had to confront her father, Zatara, who had returned from the dead as a Black Lantern. Will that be dealt with in “Zatanna”?
I plan to touch on that a bit in the first three issues. Her father is going to come up in various other forms too – either in her memory or in flashbacks or certain other ways – throughout the series.
Also, her relationship with her cousin, Zachary Zatara, is going to be a big part of the book. He doesn’t start off as a regular character, but around the fourth issue, he starts showing up to a greater degree. I had some talks with Geoff Johns about Zach because he created the character. I ran some ideas by him that he was pretty enthusiastic about.
One of the ideas that I liked is that, apart from each other, they don’t have much in the way of family. And yet they are kind of contentious with one another, because growing up, I think Zach kind of idolized because she was just starting to make a career for herself and just started coming into her own with her powers. I think he grew up as kind of a lonely kid, so Zatanna was kind of all he had, and yet, he kind of lives in her shadow because she’s the more established magician. So there are times when he has felt that she has not been there for him, which kind of explains, to a small degree, why he is the punk that he is.
Another character mentioned in the solicitation for “Zatanna” #1 is Dale Colton, who is described as “a hunky detective.” Will he be a recurring character in the series? And if so, what do we need to know about him?
He is a San Francisco police detective who calls Zatanna in to help out the police department from time to time. He’s kind of a renegade cop who is assigned to the superhero/metahuman beat. You figure that there are so many superheroes running around the DCU, cops have to kind of deal with them from time to time, and I figure in San Francisco, Colton is the one that is assigned to deal with the superheroes and things out of the ordinary. He doesn’t necessarily like it. He prefers to deal with regular criminals, like street thugs. Stuff he understands. But he seems to have drawn duty on this and he’s trying to process it as best he can.
He tells Zatanna, “I barely even recognize the fact that magic exists. I don’t know how it works. I need to come to you as a resource.” So they are sort of thrown together out of necessity. A working bond forms between them, and we’ll see if that turns into something.
Is there any chance that we’ll see any of the DCU mainstays that Zatanna has bumped into over the years, like Batman or Catwoman, in the series? Or will “Zatanna” crossover with your other Bat-books, “Streets of Gotham” or “Gotham City Sirens”?
I’ll probably keep her away from Batman for the time being. The whole relationship between her and Batman kind of flared up, so I’m going to keep away from that for right now.
They’ve sort of made their feelings clear for each other, and should the need for the two of them come up, it will happen, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
Well, and I guess, Bruce Wayne needs to return first?
Until the Bat-Universe sorts itself out, so at least for a couple of years, I don’t think they’re going to be much involved in each other’s lives.
Her world is split between the supernatural and the superhero world, so I’m not going to rule anything out. My primary goal with at least the first year or so of stories is just to establish her world, her powers, her motivation and her supporting cast and her villains. And sprinkle in whoever I can, here and there.
Actually, I take that back. In the second issue, we do see her with the Justice League. It’s her, Black Canary and Vixen taking care of a big problem.
Good, so she will continue to work with the Justice League?
Yes. That is a part of her world as well, so, occasionally. The only thing she wants to do some nights, she’s done performing, she’s fought some mystical enemies, she just wants to go to bed and relax and the Justice League calls and says, “Oh, guess what? There’s been an invasion. Can you come and help out?”
“Let me get my tights, all right.”
Are we going to see Zatanna off the clock? Maybe out on a date or buying groceries?
Oh, yeah. Well, that’s the thing. She doesn’t have the greatest luck in love, and that may change, because the more I delve into her character, I think that always been the trade off. She’s had these great powers but it does come at a price. And that price may be that kind of remains alone. She can help out everybody else, but she can’t really bring a little of that magic to herself. Whether that’s the price of magic or that’s just the way she looks at life, that’s just sort of the way it is now.
And also, she tends to be the focal point for a lot of her friends and associates that either gravitate towards her because she is a celebrity or because they perceive that she has the power to help them out. That tends to wear on her a little bit. If you are the one person who has true magical powers, a lot of people are going to come up to you and try and take advantage because they figure, you have the key to solve whatever is wrong with their life. And quite frequently, she has enough to figure out in her life.
Magic has always been a tad difficult to define within the DCU. What’s the power level of magic within the DCU and where does Zatanna fit into that scale?
I don’t try to set anything in stone, because it’s magic. You can say, yes, anything goes, but on the other hand, there have been books that very clearly state what magic is in the DC Universe. So you ask yourself, “is Zatanna beholden to those rules?”
Well, yes and no. I tend to think of Zatanna and the people she descended from as sort of magic as an ability that they all had and were able to do it naturally, like another sense. Whereas other magic users have to traffic with demons or have to offer demons their soul, or study or use certain items of magic, Zatanna can do fairly easily. That’s not to say there isn’t a price involved. I tend to think that when she uses magic in a selfish or unwise or a spiteful way, it always comes back on her. That’s one of the more common rules of magic that applies to her. It’s a violation of karma. On the other hand, if somebody is using magic that is an actual threat to people, it’s no hold barred. She can use her magic to solve whatever that problem is without fear of repercussion. Or if somebody attacks her, she’s able to defend herself. But the more gratuitous use of magic, the more the chance it may have a boomerang effect on her.
Also, as a stage magician, stage magicians have complete dominion over the realm of the stage. When they are on stage, they control everything. I think to some degree, and this is pretty much my own theory, Zatanna’s power is stronger when she has an immediate effect over something. Things that she can see, touch, directly effect, the power is greater. If she has to extend her power to someplace she’s unfamiliar with, she needs something to ground the focus of her magic.
If she’s looking for someone, she can’t say, “Take me to where they are,” because she may not know where they are. She might have to get a little bit more specific. But for the most part, she’s pretty formidable.
You’re a magician and you’re married to a magician, Misty Lee. Where did your love for magic originate?
I just wanted to escape from straitjackets [laughs]. People were always putting me in them, so I figured I better learn how to get out of them. In high school, I was in a play and I had to play an escape artist, but somebody who wasn’t very good at it. So, in order to play somebody that wasn’t very good at it, I had to become extremely good at it. I had a teacher, named Biff Smith, who I had in high school, who was a phenomenal English teacher and a jazz musician, and he was also a magician. So he taught me how to get out of straitjackets, handcuffs and a bunch of other interesting tight places. And he also taught me a few illusions and sleight of hand tricks. So I’ve always liked it, but I’ve never had the stick-to-itiveness that a lot of magicians have to just sit there, hour upon hour, with a deck of cards or coins or cups and balls. My wife Misty definitely does have that. She runs the whole gamut, from grand illusion to splitting boxes into three pieces to doing amazing sleight of hand and card tricks.
Misty has been a fabulous resource for me and a great inspiration with her knowledge of magic. Anything I need to know, I’ll say, “Is it impossible to do something like this,” or, “How do I construct a trick for her to escape like this?” And she knows. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of magic.
“Zatanna” #1, featuring art by Stephane Roux, hits comic book shelves across North America on May 19.