Zatanna and Zatara

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Zatanna #1 © 2010 DC Comics. (Cover art by Stephane Roux.)

Zatanna and Zatara

(pop culture)

In the same comic book in which Superman first appeared, Action Comics #1 (June 1938), another long-running DC Comics character, Zatara the Magician, made his debut.

Created by writer/artist Fred Guardineer, Zatara was clearly inspired by Mandrake the Magician, the costumed crime fighter created by Lee Falk (who also created the Phantom). Mandrake made his debut in his own newspaper comic strip on June 11, 1934. Like Mandrake, Zatara was a stage magician who wore the traditional costume of top hat and tails. Whereas Mandrake usually created illusions through hypnosis, Zatara had actual magical powers. What really made Zatara stand out, however, was his trademark method of casting spells by pronouncing words backward. Zatara was featured on a few Action covers before Superman was clearly established as the book’s star, and Zatara continued to appear regularly in Action and World’s Finest, through the 1940s.

Editor Julius Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox, and artist Murphy Anderson introduced Zatara’s daughter, Zatanna, in Hawkman #4 (October-November 1964). The premise was that Zatara had mysteriously disappeared, and that Zatanna had embarked on a quest to find him. Like her father, Zatanna was a stage magician who had real magic powers, which she too utilized by speaking words backwards. She wore a sexy variation on her father’s costume of top hat and tails, substituting fishnet stockings for her dad’s trousers, making a memorable impression on the male readership. Zatanna’s continuing quest led her to make guest appearances in The Atom, Green Lantern and the Elongated Man features, in Detective Comics, before she finally found her father in Justice League of America #51 (February 1967).

Later stories established that Zatara’s full name was Giovanni (anglicized to John) Zatara, and that he had married Sindella, a member of Homo magi, a race of humanity with magical abilities; Zatanna Zatara is their daughter. After making various guest appearances with the team, Zatanna finally joined the Justice League in 1978. For a time she wore costumes that more closely fit the superhero mold, before resuming her iconic top hat and tails. More recently, Zatanna was a member of writer Grant Morrison’s new version of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

Zatara sacrificed his life to save Zatanna’s in Swamp Thing #50 (July 1986), although his ghost has made subsequent appearances. Zatara’s nephew, Zachary Zatara, who is Zatanna’s cousin, also possesses magic powers and works as a stage magician as the new Zatara. He debuted in Teen Titans Vol. 3 #34 (May 2006) and was briefly a member of that team.

Zatanna appeared in a 1993 episode of Batman: The Animated Series, which also featured Zatara in a flashback. Both this episode and the comics have established that he had taught the young Bruce Wayne to be an escape artist, and that Bruce and Zatanna have been friends since before he became Batman. Batman and Zatanna also teamed up in a 2004 episode of the Justice League Unlimited animated series, and in a 2010 episode of the animated TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. All three episodes were written by Paul Dini, who has also guest starred Zatanna in Batman stories in Detective Comics, and wrote the 2010-2011 Zatanna comic book series, drawn by Stephane Roux. Zatanna had also appeared in episodes of the live action television series Smallville, in which she was portrayed by actress Serinda Swan. In September 2011, Zatanna became a member of the title team of the new series Justice League Dark. —PS