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.|
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|
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: "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?"
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|
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.|
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."
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|
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."
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.
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.
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...|