“Zatanna” gets a new regular penciler in this issue. It’s the formidable Jamal Igle, who brings serious heft to the title, which is exactly what it needs.
This issue, Zatanna, still trapped in marionette form by Oscar Hampel, tries desperately to escape before Hempel has her sealed her up in a museum exhibit for puppets. Zatanna’s pal Mikey comes to her rescue and together they’re able to free her and re-imprison Hampel. The issue ends with Zatanna coming to grips with her fear of puppets in therapy, and an encounter with Brother Night in the “safe zone” that is Dr. Bodie’s office and waiting room.
There’s nothing terrible about the resolution to Paul Dini’s story, but it’s pretty unimaginative, and any sparkle it has is due to Igle’s fine illustration work. It’s fun to see Mikey, a character that makes a good “sidekick” of sorts for Zatanna, show up, but Zatanna is pretty powerless and ineffective in this issue overall (and in this arc as a whole). It feels counter to the goal of Zatanna engaging and overcoming her fears. The story is a good idea and was fun from the get go, but there needed to be more zing in the climax. Instead, it fell flat and almost felt as if Dini was just going through the motions to get back to Brother Night (a mistake in this reviewer’s opinion). Additionally, the revelation that Zatanna was trapped as the puppet Zee for months seems really off, both from an emotional point as a reader, and just from a practical standpoint for the character. It’s a case where Dini might have been better off just glossing over the time period a bit and not nailing it down.
Igle’s work on “Zatanna” here is exceptional, superior even to his excellent work on “Supergirl.” It’s the kind of exceptional work that “Zatanna” needs desperately and regularly. Just coming off the heels of two strong issues, with a fun story and brilliant pencils by Cliff Chiang, Igle steps up to the challenge and delivers his best penciling work to date. Not only does Igle have a fine handle on characters Zatanna, Hempel, and Mikey, but he gives a richness to everything from backgrounds to extras. His expressions and figure work are pitch perfect, and his storytelling is both functional and beautiful. The best thing about Igle’s work, beyond just being beautiful, is that it always feels well considered. The choices he makes are never arbitrary, from Mikey’s wardrobe in this issue to his decision to break a panel border. When Igle breaks the panel border he does so with purpose, to make the page better and more beautiful than if he hadn’t; when Igle draws Mikey in heart shaped sunglasses, he does that with purpose as well. It’s fantastic work, and though I have been on the fence about “Zatanna” as a comic, Igle’s presence convinces me to stay on… even if Brother Night will be making a return in short order.
A not so strong ending to an otherwise fun arc is ultimately saved by Igle’s superior artwork, and the book overall is similarly saved by the promise of Igle’s continued presence. It’s great when a strong artist is so perfectly paired with a comic, this is a match made in heaven for fans.