Neil Gaiman and John Bolton introduced DC Comics’ own bespectacled boy wizard, Timothy Hunter, before J.K. Rowling put pen to paper, but it was probably only a matter of time until the publisher leaned hard into Harry Potter with something like Mystik U. Twenty years, more or less.
To their credit, writer Alisa Kwitney and artist Mike Norton don’t shy away from the obvious comparisons as a young Zatanna heads to the titular college with a veritable who’s who of the supernatural corners of the DC Universe: One student describes another a “leather pants Draco,” and the convocation is held in a great hall straight out of the cinematic Hogwarts. But there’s a good in-story explanation for the introduction of the never-before-mentioned Mystik U, with all of its familiar trappings, and the youthful ages of long-established characters: It’s all the result of a reality-altering contingency plan by Rose Psychic to save the world by discovering which magician betrayed the others and became the powerful force of evil known as the Malevolence.
Who’s Rose Psychic? She actually predates Superman, perfectly illustrating why DC is able to pull off something like Mystik U when other publishers might not be able to: It has a long history of supernatural characters — a hodgepodge of stage magicians, paranormal investigators, sorcerers, professional skeptics and otherworldly monsters — that stretches back to before the Golden Age of superheroes. Part of the fun of the miniseries, which debuted this week, is determining who’s who, and what’s what, on the campus of the university for young magic users, and how they fit into the larger story. So, let’s do that.
Zatanna Zatara and Giovanni ‘John’ Zatara
OK, these are easy ones, as Zatanna has been a mainstay of the DC Universe for five decades, serving as a member of Justice League and Justice League Dark, and appearing in animation and on live-action television. Both a stage magician and an actual magician, she’s the daughter of Golden Age hero Giovanni “John” Zatara. Father and daughter famously perform incrediblefeats by speaking incantations backward.
In Mystik U, Zatanna allows Rose Psychic to tap into her power to cast the spell required for their “contingency plan,” which appears to create a new reality in which a young Zatanna works on stage as her father’s assistant, completely unaware of either his powers or her own. When she says “And you can just go to hell,” backward, demons appear and whisk her father away to a fiery netherworld, and then Rose Psychic takes the shaken teen to Mystik U for training.
Rose Psychic and Richard Occult
Rose Psychic is a bit more obscure, and a lot more confusing. When we’re introduced to her on the second page of Mystik U #1, she has taken the place of Doctor Occult, who was lying injured on the steps just two panels earlier. Their relationship is a little complicated: Created in 1935 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, paranormal investigator Doctor Richard Occult and his assistant Rose Psychic appeared together in their first story, and then she disappeared for three years. When she returned, Rose was viewed more as an ally and an equal.
In the 1990 miniseries The Books of Magic, in which Gaiman and Bolton introduced Timothy Hunter, Rose was reimagined as the female identity of Doctor Occult, with the two representing the feminine and masculine aspects of the same person. That’s why in Mystik U Rose exchanges places with Richard, and later, as the head of the university, she talks to him in the mirror (note in the image above they’re both holding a cup of tea).
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