Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Seven Soldiers of Victory: Zatanna (#1-4)

"You want guilt?  My names Zatanna Zatara. I'm a spellaholic" - Zatanna

Of all the minis that make up this maxiseries, Zatanna's was the one I was actually dreading trying to write up.  It's no secret that Grant Morrison like Alan Moore is a practicing mage, and Zatanna is an overtly magical character, a female sorcerer of some considerable power who casts spells by reciting them backwards.  A somewhat goofy conceit dating back to her first appearence in 1964 during DC's Silver Age.  It becomes inevitable that, like Alan Moore with Promethea, Morrison obviously saw Zatanna as a way to get across some of his ideas about magic, throw in his love of meta as well, and you end up with four issues that are difficult to summarise clearly, although reading them directly does make more sense.  Nevertheless I shall try my best.  It helps that the one of the artists is inker Mick Gray who was JH Williams III's co-artist on Promethea so he has experience with this kind of weirdness and it looks fantastic, although just as much credit should go to penciller Ryan Sook.  This is a story bursting at the seams and would have benefitted from a few more issues to be truly brilliant, especially as it introduces a new character to the Sheeda narrative and deals with those events too, on top of Zatanna's other problems in the story.  But enough excuses, let's get started.
Zatanna at the self help group.
It starts with Zatanna at a self-group for heroes with low self-esteem.  Although it's only alluded to in the story, it's worth knowing the recent history of Zatanna which was that she, under orders from the Justice League had been magically wiping villains minds to help keep things secret from them, and this had been revealed in the previous years crossover event Identity Crisis.  Also present at this therapy group is Gimmix, the heroine who goes on to be killed in Seven Soldiers #0 and appears to be here because she suffered some unwanted monster sex at the start of her career. Gimmix rather bitchily calls her "Little Miss I'm-a-Justice-League-member" and says she is giving the group even lower self esteem.

Zatanna: "Look we just spent an hour listening to the most lurid account of monster sex I can imagine outside of Starro The Conqueror's porno stash.  Can I have a moment of your time to talk about why my self esteem is the lowest of all?"

The group leader, Etta Candy (a friend of Wonder Woman) asks her about her father Zatara.  He was killed during Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run, he burned alive helping to fight the forces of evil.  Anyway what has pushed Zatanna's self esteem into the pits was an incident where she took four people on a magical tour.  She conducts it at Baron Winter's house (which is a magical place in itself).  As they sit at the table Zatanna says:

Zatanna: "My dad saved all his secrets of his art in four books but he died here, in this chair.  And the books were never found."

They then begin the journey at the interreality of Ra and they meet King Ra-Man.  He opens up the cellars of the Buddhakhamun that leads to the infrastructure below.  We then get some lovely two page spreads depicting their journey.
A magical plane of existence
They finally arrive at the realm "where all thought is remembered".  There are books everywhere, but something is wrong.  Back with the group Zatana confesses that three nights before when she should have been purifying herself, she got lonely after yet another failed relationship and cast a spell:

Zatanna: "gnirb em eht nam fo ym smaerd"

She says she didn't really think it through, but she didn't expect him to be the herald of the apocalypse.  A flaming man appears in the magical book realm then the comic cuts abruptlly back to Zatanna at the table, surrounded by four smoking skeletons. "Oh not again my dear" snarks Baron Winter.
Zatanna's boyfriend is hot!

Zatanna then concludes her story to the group by saying:

Zatanna: "My ideal man is a monster I set free to destroy the world.  Spellaholic.  It's a problem, right?"

Even Gimmix agrees it is.  Later when the session is over, Gimmix mentions she is going on a "gig out west" (and we all know how that ended).  Then one of the other group members, a young teen girl called Misty asks Zatanna to sign one of her books.

Misty: "I love the way you talk about magic.  It's so, like, down-to-earth and non preachy."

(I have seen people online say this is a diss aimed at Alan Moore's Promethea, I would hope it isn't.  Not very classy of Morrison to do it in a book being part drawn by one of Promethea's artists). Misty then asks to be taught by Zatanna, who intially says no and that she has lost her powers.  Misty then says this won't be a problem and summons a taxi by talking backwards.

Misty: "You got me now. Sorcerer's apprentice.  Deal?"
Introducing Misty
Zatanna accepts and she and Misty go to a magic shop run by a blind friend of Zatanna's called Cassandra Craft, who knows all about magical artifacts and the "shadowy, bohemian underground" that uses them.  The shop is closed to Zatanna's surprise, but Misty magically unlocks it.  They go inside and Cassandra appears with a flaming, magic crossbow.  When she realises it's Zatanna she is relieved saying she thought it was the "shapeless one", who is following Zatanna and "wants her".  Zatanna sarcastically says it's "nice to be wanted".  The Shapeless One is what the local occult circles are calling it.  Zatanna says it's a shape shifter called Gwydion.

Cassandra: "The name Gwydion is an early form of Merlin. I checked.  It refers to a royal were-dragon from Celtic mythology.  Or it might just be something a minor demon decided to call itself.  In fact it could be anything."

Zatanna asks her to narrow it down, but Cassandra says she can't because it could be anything.  Zatanna plans to take Gwydion on in her shop to prevent loss of civilian life.  Misty starts to pet Cassandras gorgeous black cat.

Zatanna: "Cass, meet Misty Kilgore.  Runaway.  My 'apprentice'"

Cassandra: "His name is Prowley.  I think he likes you too.  But if he turns up and pees all over your dreams, send him right back home."
In Cassandra's shop
Cassandra questions why Zatanna would take on an apprentice when she can barely run her own life.  Zatanna deflects by asking about the Phantom Stranger.  Apparently Cass last saw him when he went out to buy bread two years ago.  Zatanna says they need something to bind Gwydion with and she needs to be armed now she lost her powers. She picks up a top hat.  It was left by a mysterious old guy who left a message for Zatanna saying "I have come for the books."  Msytified Zatanna suddenly notices a cabinet wrapped in police tape.  It was Ali-Ka-Zoom's old magic cabinet, he was a member of the Newsboy Army, a teen superteam of the 1940's who story was related in the Manhattan Guardian mini.

While Zatanna prepares herself for battle, Misty read her book.  Suddenly the letters melt and fall out of the book.  "Shapeless thing alert!" yells Misty.  Zatanna fires the magic crossbow into the book, but Gwydion has moved on.  Cassandra can feel him in the room, and she hugs Prowley.

Misty: "Excuse me.  If that's your cat.  Whose cat is that?"

A second black cat has appeared and it snarls and leaps at Zatanna who grabs it and flings it into some glassware.  It disolves into smoke:

Zatanna: "Who sent you when I called 'Gwydion'?"

Gwydion: "I serve the new supreme architect of the universe whose name is yet hidden".
Magical fighting hat.
Using the magic hat she scoops up the smoke and forces him into a magic mirror.  Using a magic die she has, Misty commands him to become solid so he can't escape.  Zatanna fires the crossbow at the mirror, shattering him into pieces.  Finally they get a magic jar and put the now tiny, man shaped Gwydion inside it.

Zatanna: "I wish I felt a sense of closure."

Then the Phantom Stranger turns up on the doorstep, with a couple of loaves of bread and a portent of doom for humanity.  Ho ho ho. The next issue begins with Ali-Ka-Zoom on a bus of the dead picking up ghosts of the recently departed.  He says they have one last stop to make.  Then we join Misty and Zatanna with Zatanna overseeing Misty's first exorcism.  Later Misty asks why she does it, going from place to place fighting ghosts and demons for no reward.  Zatanna replies that she makes her living from the stage, fighting crime is what she does because her father believed it to be right.  She finally admits to having used her powers to change lives and memories:

Zatanna: "I'm a lousy, no-good spellaholic and as far as I'm concerned I can't suffer enough."
She sees Misty as someone who can avoid all her mistakes and regrets.  Suddenly Ali-Ka-Zoom appears in the road.  Zatanna has his cabinet in the boot of her car.  He chuckles that they sent a dozen cops in there and none ever came out.  He wants to burn it.  Zatanna says it cost Cassandra twenty-thousand dollars. Ali says she can make a better one for three bucks.

Ali: "There is nothing in that box but a big deep hole where we dropped a poor foolish boy once.  And you know why?  Because he did something we thought was wrong."

As the box burns on a beach he recounts the story of the Newsboy Army and "The Terrible Time Tailor" who sealed their fates.  They then all drive, under Ali's instruction to Don Vincenzo's mansion in the immediate aftermath of the battle against the Sheeda that took place in Shining Knight's mini where the Sheeda were trying to get back a magic cauldron that preserves life and resurrects the dead.

Zatanna is concerned about bringing Misty to a place filled with human and giant insect corpses.  Misty ignores her and goes to one of the dead Sheeda spider mounts.

Misty: "It's been all the way from the dawn of time to the last days and back... and it won't ever get to do it again.  I feel so sad."
Vanguard under Sheeda attack
Then more Sheeda appear, attempting to capture the flying horse mount of Justin, Shining Knight, called Vanguard.  Misty commands the Sheeda to stop and they do, much to Zatanna's bewilderment as she wasn't casting a spell.  Misty thinks they are afraid of her die.  Misty then uses it to translate Vanguards speech.  Vanguard mourns Vincenzo.

Vanguard: "He showed me kindness in this dark age and died a warrior, slain by the celestial huntsman.  Now I must find Justin, for war is upon the world."

Ali takes Vincenzo's soul away and as he leaves he tells Zatanna to go see the Seven Unknown Men Of Slaughter Swamp, who we met in Seven Soldiers #0. Zatanna and Misty go and look for the cauldron and find that Neh-Buh-Loh has got there first.  Misty says she knows him and her memories start to return.  She is Gloriana's (the Sheeda Queen) stepdaughter.  When Gloriana decided she was going to use the Cauldron to stay alive forever, she wouldn't need an heir and she told Neh-Buh-Loh to kill Misty.

Neh-Buh-Loh: "But your symmetry.  Your grace and laughter.  I could not kill you.  I was weak."
Misty remembers she was kept in the Castle Revolving, spinning cobwebs.  The more she span the less she remembered. Neh-Buh-Loh tells them to run and they summon Vanguard to make a hasty escape.

Zatanna: "Okay.  You have some serious explaining to do."

Zatnna returns home to get outfitted for what might be a dangerous confrontation.  Zatanna's always enjoyed wearing cheesecake style outfits (more fun to draw as well!) and picks a particularly revealing one. Though the nature of the art is such that it comes across as playful rather than objectifying.  Misty says her sense of dress is "part of her magic."  They then fly to Slaughter Swamp on Vanguard.  He says he plans to go on to Gorias to make his stand.

Inside the shack they find a cobwebby spinning wheel which Misty says looks familiar.  Zatanna then decides it'll be safer to send Misty away with Vanguard for now.

Zatanna: "Misty.  I don't think I ever really lost my powers.  I only lost my faith in myself.  But this last week you've kinda helped me remember who I am."

As Misty and Vanguard leave a magic door opens and a man in a top hat steps out.  She realises he is evil incarnate and he dramatically introduces himself as "ZOR!"  He claims he made himself look like her dad to "Set her up for this cruel disappointment" while flicking a bullet at her which nicks her arm.  He then says he can make her his daughter and goths her up.  But she casts a spell and restores her appearance. She then opens the jar containing Gwydion to aid her in her battle, boosting her power by becoming what Zor becomes.  Zor and Zatanna then face each other down, not speaking, two wills locked in combat.
Yes, ZOR!
Zor: "Zor's will be done.  But first you Zatanna.  Pretending to be a superhero.  Your father would be ashamed of what you've become.  Pretending to be special"

Zatanna: "Ptooy!  And you have a stupid beard!"

Zor: "Liar!  It's a magnificent beard and you know you want one! Hahahaha!"

They begin to battle phsyically and in a meta style as well, with Zatanna pulling the very comic panels Zor is on down around him.  Finally back in the swamp Zatanna ends up on top of Zor throttling him.  She then senses something and reaches out towards the reader to help her, but instead comes face to face with the Unknown Men.
They are impressed with her for subduing the "renegade".  They say that they are "time tailors" who patch and sew fabric of the universe, but he rebelled and took it too far and tried to change the pattern.  He introduced the Sheeda threat to the world and they must be stopped.  As a reward for Zor's capture, she is allowed access to anything in their records.  She wants to find her father's four books.  Zatara then appears before her and tells her:

Zatara: "The book of water is a kind heart.  The book of earth is a graceful body.  The book of air, a keen mind.  The book of fire is strength of spirit.  I wrote my books in you Zatanna.  You were my greatest spell.  My gift to the world."

Overwhelmed, Zatanna embraces him while the Unknown Men prepare to deal with Zor.  Later in the therapy group room, Zatanna is chatting with just Etta about all the things that happened. Etta says that whatever Zatanna blamed herself for before, she has redeemed herself and that makes her a superhero again.  Outside Zatanna ponders what to do next.  Suddenly Misty and Vanguard appear.

Misty: "Zatanna!  My step-mother is about to invade earth.  I thought of you."
The climatic showdown awaits...
And that's yet another cliffhanger into the final issue of the maxiseries.  This mini overall was very enjoyable.  Zatanna has always been one of the DCU's more interesting and powerful female superheroes with a rich background in both the superhero strand of comics and the more magical ones as well.  Just as at home rubbing shoulders with Batman as she is with The Phantom Stranger. Having her suffering a crisis of confidence post-Identity Crisis and the lethal magical ceremony and yet still able to kick magical butt without her powers was very good to see.  And her mentor relationship with Misty is very well written and sympathetic.  Misty adds another layer to the Sheeda plot, a fairy tale princess escaping a wicked step-mother.  How much power and control she can exert over them herself remains to be seen.  The art is lovely with every character having a distinctive look, and the magical landscapes being stunningly rendered. So with her mojo returned, Zatanna looks to be one of the more powerful of the Seven Soldiers in conflict with the Sheeda. Once again, join me at the end of the month for the final issue of the series which ties of the ends of every mini.


  1. I thought that was Etta Candy! Only she isn't a superhero... is she?

    That trip through a magical realm was not down-to-earth, and I don't see how that comment was a dig at Promethea, but if it was... well, that sort of thing happens all the time in comics. Like, John Wagner seems to have been unhappy with Peter Hogan's take on Feral Jackson, so when Wagner was writing Feral again the narrator (ostensibly a computer who is an archivist) makes a dig about the unreliability of "the fantasist Ho Gan." And then Wagner made Feral morbidly obese and cut off his nose and had him burned alive, all illustrated very graphically by Carlos Ezquerra. All's fair in love, war and sequential art, right?

    I guess in the Great Mage War you're on Moore's side. So that'll be you, Tony and me, then. Tony'll bring booze and an encyclopaedic knowledge of comics; you can bring Biff (attack cat!), drugs and irrepressible optimism; I'll bring words.

    Shadowy, bohemian undergrounds are all very well, except when they're filled with sleaziness and crime and people who never clean their houses. People tend to glamorise them. I mean, remember that creepy old guy who had sex with Promethea? *shudders*

    At least somebody feels sorry for the giant spiders now.

    Oh wow, Zatanna is a spell! And she is definitely more powerful than Sir Justin or the Manhattan Guardian. She could even defeat Superman if she wanted to.

  2. Etta isn't a superhero, but she's the sort of person who's kindness and experience would be ideal for leading a group.

    I guess I am more for Alan Moore basically because he doen't actually care about other writers, I've never seen him make a dig at one in print. This feud between him and Morrison is fairly one sided, I think Grant tries poking the bear for a response then gets pissed when he doesn't get one. Considering Moore doesn't use the internet and has everything relayed to him via people wanting to stoke up a war between them, well, it's just daft.

    But I would place Morrison as my joint second favourite writer after Moore and tied with Garth Ennis. Also Morrison is a huge cat lover and has immortalised many of his cats in his comics, his final issue of Animal Man had a blurry photo of him holding his beloved ginger cat on his lap and so I couldn't set Biff on him!

    Cassandra's shop was definitely a classy joint. Definitely prefer a hot blonde woman with a magic cat serving me than a creepy old dude :D

    Yeah, Superman's one weakness is magic, and she even magically wiped memories from the Goddam Batman (another reason she feels so shitty at the start of the comic). In Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, she and John Constantine have a sort of on-off relationship that gets permanently set to off when John gets her dad killed. I think they are both in Justice League Dark now but I heard so many bad things about that comic, I haven't checked it out.. may have to now.

  3. he loves cats which is cool. but he seems too hate beards!

  4. Do you have a beard, G? :-)

    Zatanna probably feels guilty about wiping Batman's memory because, like, she and Batman were actually friends.

    Somebody who likes cats is an ailurophile :-)

  5. Ailurophile, I shall remember that cheers Lucy. You never know when these things come in handy I got a question right on University Challenge knowing what phobia of clowns was.

    Identity Crisis was a horrible series, but I have to admit, Morrison made lemonade out of lemons using it here.

    Zor, declaiming about his amazing beard and Zatanna being jealous is the funniest bit of the mini, but yes, put it together with the villainous All-Beard from Manhattan Guardian and it could look like Morrison is anti-beard. But... I just checked the photo of him on the back of Supergods and he is sporting a light goatee, so I think he's just being playful :)

  6. no i tried to grow a beard lucy, but it was too blonde and wispy :( but i don't mind morrison hvaing fun with beards really :)

  7. I'm a woman and I totally have beard envy. If I was a man I'd definitely grow one. When I make customisable avatars in games like Fallout 3 I put beards on them and don't wear helmets just do-rags and the like :D

  8. I didn't know a lot about Zatanna (other than that she was a comic character) but that was really interesting.

    I wonder if the Misty character has a throng to do with the 80s comic (which you know I love). It's an obvious name for such a character anyway, but Grant Morrsion is mates with Dez Skinn, and he was on the Misty staff. And if you had any sort of 'occult' leanings back in those days you read Misty.

    Probably Morrison just used it because it's a cool name but I'd like to think that subconsciously at least Misty is still influencing comics today.

  9. Knowing Morrison and how much he loves to reference and pay tribute to the minutia of comics past, I am going to choose to believe Misty the character is representative of Misty the comic!

  10. I've sent my first ever Twitter! (Well I think I have) to Grant asking him.

  11. Excellent! I hope he responds in the affirmative :)