Of "Zatanna" #6 I said, "This is just about as perfect as a single issue that is the third installment of a story in an ongoing series can get." That was completely true. The only way it could get better is more Cliff Chiang. Like parmesan cheese on Italian dishes, drop shadows on retail print advertisements, or bacon on a cheeseburger, Cliff Chiang makes everything better. As good as Saiz's art was in the issues he handled, Chiang elevates this title just that much more. A great portion of this issue deals with Zatanna in her everyday life, and Chiang can draw everyday people like nobody's business. He's the Norman Rockwell of modern-day comic books.
Chiang plays around a bit in this book, with some panels looking more like woodcut prints than hand-drawn panels. The signature starkness is present in his work, but the linework seems more organic. Chiang fills the book with detail and subtleties.
Subtleties like the stained glass over the doorway that leads into the museum are the charming little extras that Chiang brings to Dini's already strong story. Dini projects this character throughout the series, but when the artist is dialed in, Zatanna comes across so much more dynamic. Dini makes Zee relatable, Chiang makes her human. It's a stunning synthesis that makes for a nice countermeasure to the fear Zatanna feels.
This issue lets us in to see what Zatanna is afraid of, and Dini does so in a manner that is instantly familiar. When pressed to describe our own fears, who hasn't first discussed those of others prior to his own? In this case, it is revealed that Zatanna is afraid of puppets in general and Oscar Hampel's Merry-O-Nettes in particular. Dini doesn't just throw it out there as a laughable fear, nor does he use it as a crutch, but Dini takes this fear and allows Zatanna's world to grow around it.
That world involves a fun little cameo from Bobo, also known as Detective Chimp, but that quick glimpse of his path crossing with Zatanna's is soured a bit by poor dialog or poor editing. That lessens the appearance a bit, but not enough to make it dismissible. Continuing with the evolution of Zatanna's world is a glimpse into her past as the daughter of a world famous magician and the return appearance of Fuseli, lord of night terrors. These are nice additions that breathe fresh continuity into Zee's story.
While accepting an award for Show of the Year at the Magic Palace Museum with her stage manager, Mikey Dowling, Zatanna takes in the sights of the museum, but not before crafting the proper attire for the event. Despite being Zee's stage manager and having seen unrevealed numbers of tricks from Zatanna, Mikey is still amazed by her boss' abilities, a fact that Dini plays up as Mikey wonders over the stars Zee incorporates into her own dress for the evening's festivities. At the awards, things go bad as one of Hampel's puppets makes an appearance. On the surface it seems silly, but Dini and Chiang sell it as creepy and frightening.
I've been effusive in my praise of this title with each issue that I have reviewed here at CBR, but with this issue the bar has been raised. Zatanna has really evolved from her first appearance alongside Hawkman back in the 1960s, and at this point she is at a pinnacle. This is as strong a female lead as comic books have to offer today. I've recommended it a time or two, but after reading this issue, I simply cannot recommend this book enough.