Saturday, 22 May 2010

New Beginnings - Zatanna #1

Zatanna’s a character that’s always walked a fine line between out and out super-hero and a slightly more down to Earth, if not realistic, magical fantasy character. She doesn’t operate like a traditional super-hero, even if she is a member of the Justice League of America, she doesn’t have a secret identity (her real name is just Zatanna Zatara) and she doesn’t wear a super-hero costume – just a stage outfit.

As such, it’s always kind of hard to pitch the tone of stories for her: having her do traditional, big super-hero stuff seems rather inappropriate and yet the direct opposite, gritty, grounded fantasy like you’d find in Hellblazer, is too dark for her.

Enter Paul Dini, who takes a middle-ground approach for this latest Zatanna solo series, taking her appearances in his run on Detective Comics as a starting point. Zatanna is off earning her living with her stage show, a blend of traditional stage illusions and her own real magical abilities, when she’s asked to consult on a magical crime scene by a San Francisco police detective, complete with horrifically murdered and magically altered corpses. Dini’s placing Zatanna on the fringes between those two worlds of super-heroes and fantasy, a buffer between the real world and the realms of magic waiting to sweep in.

The other notable aspect of Zatanna’s character is the iconic, fetishistic costume – top hat, fishnet stocking, boots and showgirl suit. It’s not exactly subtle day-wear and it’s hard to use it without falling into the murky realms of cheesecake art. Artist Stephane Roux does well to stay away from that pitfall. Although Zatanna is drawn to be attractive, there are only a few panels where the cheesecake gets too obvious and in your face, notably towards the end. Largely Zatanna’s drawn like a real human being rather than a purvy fashion model and even gets to wear normal clothes for a while.

This issue seems to be setting up the San Francisco location as a steady base of operations for Zatanna, which is a fair choice, it’s a very attractive city, but not quite enough is made of it in the art – there’s nothing that really makes you stand up and say ’that’s San Francisco’. In fact the location isn’t entirely clear until it’s off-handedly mentioned half way in.
I get the feeling that we’re going to be seeing more of Detective Dale Colton as Zatanna’s main supporting cast member, which is fine. He’ll make a good everyman foil to Zatanna’s magical knowledge as long as Dini resists the temptation to oversell his “down to earth, ordinary cop” nature.

Zatanna’s a pretty encouraging #1 – new readers can jump in without fear of being lost – though the final page reveal will probably mean nothing to those that aren’t hardcore DC readers, it’s functional regardless – and existing Zatanna fans… well, they’re probably just going to be happy that she’s got a new series; that’s it’s good is just a fringe benefit.
Martin S Smith is an author and blogger. He’s just released his first book, The Redundancy of Flightless Birds, and reviews stuff every week over at The Taste of Rising Bile.

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