DC Comics Zatanna: Far Too Powerful For The Heroes Around Her
LUOF NOMED EB ENOG
If that doesn’t make sense to you, give me a minute and it will.
Zatanna has been a valuable member of Justice League Dark, the Justice League, Sentinels of Magic, and the Seven Soldiers of Justice. She is a member of the sub-race of DC magic users known as Homo Magi. And on top of those, are widely considered one of the most powerful users of magic the publisher has to offer.
Of all the characters that DC has, none are arguably more recognizable than Zatanna. In fact, if you’ve ever attended a Comic-Con of any kind you’ll surely have seen someone cosplaying her. Zatanna has a costume that leaves very little to the imagination. Although her costume isn’t without controversy, she has stood by it for almost all of her history.
Before being known as a powerful magic user, Zatanna was (and still is) a stage magician. This is something she got from her father, Giovanni Zatara. What makes Zatanna unique in the realm of magic users is that unlike most others, to use and control her incantations she recites the words backward. This means that LUOF NOMED EB ENOG translates to Foul Demon Be Gone. Even though it seems strange to recite spells backward, Zatanna does this by choice.
For two reasons.
First, by reciting the spells backward she pays homage to her father who did the same. And second, spell casting this way forces her to concentrate thereby making the spells all the more powerful.
But before before we really delve into Zatanna…
The DC Comics Zatanna character began inside the pages of Hawkman #4 back in November of 1964. She was created by all-time great Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson. As mentioned, she is the daughter of Golden Age of Comics character Giovanni Zatara and a member of the Homo Magi race of species.
As a member of the Homo Magi, Zatanna is capable of casting spells that control the Earthly elements, is able to heal wounds, and manipulate the minds of others. Zatanna is so powerful that Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow has claimed that she is the most powerful member of the Justice League. When you think about it, it’s quite the compliment. Remember, this is a group that includes both Martian Manhunter and Superman.
Zatanna calls Shadowcrest home. Inside the walls of Shadowcrest lie some of DC’s most powerful books, artifacts, and other magical equipment. Of the books Shadowcrest is home to, many are hundreds of years old and house the most powerful spells in the world. When it comes to outward size, Shadowcrest is as large as a mansion. However, it’s impressiveness does not lie in its outward appearance. Instead, it’s impressiveness lies in the fact that it is actually bigger on the inside than the outside. If you’re wondering how this is so, many of the rooms in Shadowcrest are portals and gateways. Finally, the home is not for the faint of heart as it has a failsafe if intruders somehow found their way in.
And what is the failsafe?
It has the ability to do terrible things to any who enters including but not limited to leaving the intruder stranded in other areas of the world.
In her first appearances, the DC Comics Zatanna character fed off the oft-quoted idea that women are merely used as a plot point for men…
…Women in Refrigerators, if you will.
After all, Zatanna walks around in a skimpy costume complete with fishnet stockings, more cleavage than necessary, a top hat, and a bikini bottom. However, after remembering that Zatanna was a stage magician before a powerful spell caster, it’s understandable why she dresses as so.
If not, keep in mind that 1) what she wears has been the wardrobe of magicians for generations and 2) like the backward way she casts spells, her costume pays homage to her father.
Unfortunately, when we look at the DC Comics Zatanna character, it shows that she has all the right attributes to be a big player in the world of DC…but she isn’t.
But before I explain why…
The world of DC Comics sees magic and science as separate entities. Whereas science sees the creation of items that allow a user supernatural abilities, magic users are inherently gifted with magical abilities. This means that items or not, magic users are capable of magic.
Confusing as DC continuity has been over the last many decades, magic users have been able to cast magic based on biological skill and with a few notable exceptions, not that of craft or learned practice. Many of DC’s magic users carry some sort of magical artifact. In the instance of Alan Scott, for example, he carries a Green Lantern Ring. Of the magic users, most are born with the power to wield magic…like the daughter of Trigon, Raven.
This, however, doesn’t mean that those born without the ability to use magic can’t do it. For those characters, John Constantine and Anton Arcane for example, magic comes at a cost.
A I said, Zatanna is a Homo Magi. Well, not exactly. She is half Homo Magi. Her father is of Earth while her mother, Sindella is of the Homo Magi species. According to Dr. Most, the Homo Magi are a species that evolved in a parallel, yet separate line to the Homo Sapiens. Homo Magi are naturally good at magic and often require very little to use it. Because many Homo Sapiens carry some degree of Homo Magi in them, some can learn to use magic, albeit in the form of rituals.
Although Homo Magi have been around as long as Homo Sapiens, they did not expand as rapidly or as widely. This is primarily due to their innate abilities. Eventually, as in the case of Zatanna, many Homo Magi began breeding with Homo Sapiens. Of course, as is the case with Zatanna, many of the offspring are gifted magic users.
Which brings me back to explain why the history of the DC Comics Zatanna character isn’t littered with stories that elevate her to being a top tier DC character.
Zatanna suffers from the same problem that other powerful characters suffer from…what does a writer do with someone who can easily defeat any who oppose them? I mean, Zatanna has the power to take down and destroy any that she chooses and can do so in a matter of seconds. This sort of power is the same power that’s hurt the development of Swamp Thing, Deadman, Madame Xanadu, June Moon, and others like them.
This is why they often get relegated to a tier of character, not on the same level as The Flash, Green Arrow, or Green Lantern.
If you’re not with me, let me further explain.
While the DC Comics Zatanna character is over 50 years old, the handful of important things that she has done has practically amounted to nothing. Most of Zatanna’s existence has been spent either piecing together the history of her parents and/or coming to terms with how powerful she really is.
This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been a Zatanna development of note. Quite the contrary. In the 2004 story arc, Identity Crisis the Justice League learns that Dr. Light is responsible for the rape and murder of Sue Dibny. When they find him, the group must decide exactly what to do with him. Their discussions lead to having Zatanna wipe his mind. After being mind-wiped, Dr. Light’s actions were erased from his memory and his personality was changed.
In addition, the mind wipe changed DC in two important ways.
First, by erasing his memory and changing his personality Dr. Light’s intelligence was left a shadow of itself. Basically, by having Zatanna mind wipe him, the Justice League lobotomized Dr. Light…a step some considered to have gone too far. Second, and arguably more important, seeing and disagreeing with what was happening, Batman tried to intervene. Not wanting to stop Zatanna from lobotomizing Dr. Light, the Justice League asked that she erase Batman’s memories of the event…so she did.
Zatanna has been closely linked to fellow magic user John Constantine. Like she and Batman, however, their relationship has been far from perfect.
Just look at this…
In one instance, John Constantine called upon the most powerful magic users in DC to perform a seance. Along with Sargon the Sorcerer, Dr. Occult, Baron Winters, Mento, and her father Zatara, the group attempted to fight the Great Evil Beast who was trying to threaten Heaven.
After the group locked hands and began their assault, the Great Evil Beast turned its attention to Sargon. Unable to take the full force of the Beast, Sargon screamed for help but before any could do anything to help, he exploded. Just as the group began to gather themselves, Zatanna started to feel her body heat up. Without thinking, Zatara (her father) drew the fire onto himself. Fully aware of his fate, Zatara turned and whispered to Constantine that he’d better take care of his daughter or he’d haunt him for all of eternity…and then blew up.
This event was one that Zatanna never truly forgave Constantine for. Not only did her inclusion help kill Sargon, but it also cost Zatanna her father.
So, let me double back…
Zatanna is simply too powerful for DC Comics to explore. Short of shaming DC, she is a magic-user in a brand that simply hasn’t explored magic to its full potential. This makes her incredibly difficult to write for.
Unlike Dr. Strange over at Marvel who has an entire realm fleshed out, Zatanna really doesn’t. Sure, she’s popped in and out of Earth and battled demons on other grounds like Epoch, but the extent of those worlds pales in comparison to what Dr. Strange has over at Marvel.
Maybe I’m out of line but I dare say that because Zatanna could crush the likes of Superman, she is DC’s lost cause. She has all the tools to become a flagship character but will never be one because the stories and ideas that could involve her would be immensely boring stories. If you’re thinking that Superman is immensely powerful but has some of the greatest stories, remember that he also has some of the most iconic enemies in existence.
I mean, what do you do with a character that has healed Selina Kyle after Hush removed her heart, is able to cast spells simply by writing them in blood, survived and was the only to return after trying to take Epoch, brought down the Time Tailor, and sent Magical Gods to their knees?
The answer is simple.
Keep her as a third tier character.
What do you think? Am I wrong or way off base? Should I be looking at the DC Comics Zatanna character in another way? Let me know.