"Zatanna" has been a fun but not in any way exceptional comic in its first year, but having Cliff Chiang on board is a game changer. Chiang brings a level of excellence in the visuals that really raises the book to a level worthy of taking a serious second look.
In this issue, Zatanna takes Oscar Hampel to her ancestral home in an attempt to get to the bottom of Hampel's claim that her father imprisoned him mistakenly into puppet form years ago. The premise is a little on the weak side; It's unclear why Zatanna would so openly trust Hampel, or underestimate him when he had her tied to a bed and was threatening her with a knife just an issue ago. However, the story is pretty fun and quick moving and delivers a solid twist as we head into the next issue, which mostly redeems the story's failings.
Though Paul Dini's writing has been fairly consistent throughout this series, Zatanna's adventures against Hampel are a bit more engaging than the oh so scary Brother Night, who she always seems to end up defeating fairly easily, despite the hype. And for this reviewer's money, the puppet is probably scarier anyway. Sometimes the classics work the best. Possessed puppets? Sign me up.
However, Chiang is the star here, delivering a gorgeous issue in which every page is simply stunning. As always with Chiang, he never sacrifices storytelling and clarity for pretty pictures, but then again he never has to. The man can seemingly deliver the best of both worlds without a thought. Chiang inhabits Zatanna with such a definitive sense of style and personality - from her body language and facial expressions to her clothing choices - that you end up with surprising depth, without her ever needing to say a word. When the writing and the art work together so seamlessly, toward a common goal of fleshing out a character, as Dini and Chiang do here, it's amazing how much more you can get from a 22-page comic. It's only since reading this latest arc with Chiang on board that Zatanna as both a character and a book has risen up to something worth watching.
For those that might have bailed on "Zatanna" or never tried it out, this arc (starting with issue #9) is worth checking out, thanks to a fun villain and gorgeous Chiang artwork.