WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Justice League Dark #3 by James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson and Rob Leigh, in stores now.
The new iteration of the Justice League Dark team came to be as a direct result of the ending of Justice League: No Justice. The sprouting of the cosmic Tree of Wonder, located in Salem, resulted in Earth’s magic becoming unbalanced, leading Wonder Woman to put together a new team comprised of Zatanna, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing and Detective Chimp to deal with a new, ancient threat from the darkness: the Otherkind.
In the pages of Justice League Dark, we learned that the Otherkind, who are led by the frightening Upsidedown Man, were the first originators of magic. Essentially, long ago, magic was theirs, and eventually the humans borrowed it from them for their own personal uses. Now, they’re coming back to take what was once theirs, unleashing death, destruction and terrifying nightmares upon the world.
In the span of just three issues, Justice League Dark has added numerous new layers to the mystical side of the DC Universe. And now, we learn the real reason Zatanna’s magic works the way it does.
Zatanna is one of the most recognized and powerful magicians of the DC Universe. The fan-favorite character has appeared in comics, live-action, video games and animated series, exposing her trademark backwards speech to a legion of fans. For years, it was believed that her backwards spells were simply meant to honor her father and teacher, John Zatara. However, Justice League Dark #3 reveals that there is a lot more to Zatanna’s unique form on incantation than we realized.
The issue begins with a flashback that takes us to a time when a young Zatanna was being taught how to harness her magic by her father. One night, she asks him why she has to learn all of her spells backwards; after all, she’s reached a point where she can feel the magic in the air, magic that she could simply reach out and grab without speaking backward. Zatara explains that he, too, could reach out and take the magic for himself — but he doesn’t. The mystical energy can be harnessed by all manner of tricks: magical wands, cauldrons, backwards spells, etc. Their family, however, has to use backwards speech in order to maintain their — and reality’s — safety.
Speaking backward, using wands or cauldrons, are all tricks that are meant to hide the magic from the Otherkind, keeping them locked away in their dark realm. The backwards spells are not only a way for Zatanna to harness her magic, but to protect her — and us — from these monstrous beings. However, with the arrival of the Tree of Wonder and the breaking of the Source Wall, the first owners of magic are finally back to take what they believe belongs to them.
This doesn’t change everything we know about Zatanna’s magic — instead, it adds a whole new wrinkle to it. Yes, it was how she was taught to harness her magic, and she still uses it as a means to honor her father. But, we now also know that Zatara taught his daughter how to use magic so that she would remain protected from the Otherkind. However, now that these powerful, frightening beings are finally coming, one can only hope that Zatanna has even more magic tricks up her sleeves.
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