DC Histories: Zatanna

We’re back once again with another DC History. In the wake of the New 52, we’re looking at the history of some of the people and groups in the DC Universe. Only by looking back at what came before can we understand where we’re going.

This week, we’re talking about everyone’s favorite stage magician and superhero, Zatanna.

Zatanna: Everyday Magic (2003) Cover

Zatanna Zatara is the daughter of the golden age hero Giovanni Zatara, who first appeared along with Superman in Action Comics #1. Just like her father, Zatanna uses a magician’s stage act to cover her true knowledge of the mystic arts. Thanks to her stage show, she’s adept at both slight-of-hand trickery and actual magic. While magic has saved her and her comrades’ bacon for years, those close-up skills have done their fair share of work.

The Zataras’ magic works in a very specific way. They speak words backwards, which allows whatever they’re saying to happen. As Zatanna would later describe, speaking words backwards is a way for her to focus on her magic. It’s a concentration aid, but she uses it as a crutch. When she loses the ability to speak, she loses the ability to make magic. But when Zatanna’s on fire, she can take criminals out with aplomb.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #355 (1966)

In a rare feat of 1960s comics, Zatanna first appeared in a series of crossovers. She debuted in Hawkman, where she had an adventure with the Hawks. Later, she fought alongside the Atom, Green Lantern, and Elongated Man in their separate titles. Each time she appeared, she explained to that series’ protagonist that she was looking for her lost father. Each issue gave expository text defining Zatanna’s mission in case you missed her previous appearances, but this was all very rare for a silver age story.

From Hawkman (Vol. 1) #4 (1964)

Each time she showed up, Zatanna would slightly narrow down her search just a little. Since she only appeared in about two stories a year, this search took a while. After three years and one final adventure with the entire Justice League, Zatara was found.

From Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #51 (1967)

The best way to get your hands on this entire story is to track down the out-of-print JLA: Zatanna’s Search. That’s the only way I’d know this story, as I don’t think these issues have been reprinted anywhere else.

After Zatara was brought back to Earth, he mostly went into retirement with the rest of his generation. Zatanna, however, joined the Justice League. With her addition into the League, she also gained a new costume. It would be the first of several wardrobe changes for Zatanna.

From Secret Origins (Vol. 3) #37 (1988)

When Zatanna was an active member of the Justice League’s first “Satellite Era.” During this time, the League was housed in a massive space station which orbited the world. For this crew, Zatanna worked as the League’s resident magic expert, doing her fair share during adventures but also being the League’s primary source of arcane knowledge. For instance, when Dan Cassidy asked the League for help in removing his Blue Devil suit, Zatanna was called in. Once again, she was sporting a new costume.

From Blue Devil #4 (1984)

Things would start to go bad for her when the Crisis on Infinite Earths started. During that event, occultist John Constantine gathered together some of the most powerful magic users to help combat a mystical evil which had been unleashed due to the cosmic turmoil. At Constantine’s insistence, these magicians got together and preformed a seance. Among the magicians summoned were Zatanna and Zatara.

Everything started to go wrong rather quickly. A few magicians started flaming out from the evils they were combating. When Zatara noticed that Zatanna was the next to be targeted by their enemies, he drew their attention his way. He would quickly be enveloped by flame.

From Swamp Thing (Vol. 2) #50 (1986)

The surviving magicians would be victorious, but the price paid by all was high.

Zatanna would eventually forgive Constantine, knowing that he had done what had to be done in order to save the world. Later, the two would be shown to have had a relationship at some point in their past, though whether or not this was before her father’s death isn’t stated.

From Books of Magic (Vol. 1) #2 (1990)

For much of the next two decades, Zatanna would appear as a guest star in both Vertigo titles and regular DC books. She was one of the few characters who could freely walk between the pages of each imprint. Even Swamp Thing and John Constantine, both originally DCU characters, were regulated to only being in the pages of their Vertigo titles. It was as normal to see Zatanna helping Constantine celebrate his 40th birthday as it was to see her fight alongside Batman.

During the Blackest Night event, Zatanna had to confront the body of her father, which had been possessed by a Black Lantern ring. The Black Lantern version of Zatara retained all of the real Zatara’s magical abilities, which forced Zatanna to go all-out during the battle.

From Justice League of America (Vol. 2) #39 (2010)

Later that same year, Zatanna would go up against a demon who had perverted Zatara’s spirit. Thanks to a tricky bit of spellcasting, he’d managed to turn Zatara into a tool without free will. This proved to be even more trying for Zatanna as this truly was her father she was fighting against. After a fierce battle, she managed to free Zatara and finally let him get to his final resting place, 24 years after he’d died.

From Zatanna (Vol. 2) #3 (2010)

So where is Zatanna in the New 52? She’s in the pages of Justice League Dark where she hasn’t really done a whole lot yet aside from get another new costume. The story is still getting rolling over there and I’m sure that sooner or later, she’ll unload on the Enchantress, an insane magician who appears to be the villain in the story. Here’s hoping it happens sooner, because I can always go for more awesome Zatanna action in my life.

Justice League Dark #2 (2011) Cover

Wollof Ffej Dier no Rettiwt. Cigam!


  1. Those old costumes are so awful…. but changing it again this time was a crime against god. Please let it go back to the top hat, fish net, tux shirt…

    Her solo series was great, but it was doomed anyway. So my only single complaint about the new 52 is her new costume. I took it hard as you can see.

  2. yeah her old costume (the top hat and leggings) had the distinction of being one of the only costumes on female superheros that didn’t show off their chest. And it was great.

    always wondered why Z hated constantine so much in Books of Magic, thanks for the info!

  3. I agree with Blue Devil. She is rockin’ the bug-on-head look.

  4. I’m currently reading Swamp Thing by Alan Moore…didn’t think I’d have a spoiler for it here hahaha. Oh well.

  5. *sigh* and the mind-bending Seven Soldiers: Zatanna!

  6. Well that does explian those bad vibes in Books of Magic . . .

    Boy that black outfit with red cape was ugly . . .

    Another good article — keep ’em coming.

    • That’s the first outfit I ever saw Zatanna in, I think it was in the DC Dictionary.

      I always thought the blue and white outfit was pretty cool, but it seems like anytime Zatanna wears anything except the fishnet stockings, all the horny fanboys fly into a rage. Let the girl have some variety!

      Besides, high heels and stockings are not exactly the most practical for someone in the superheroing line of work.

    • I like my pretend imaginary women to be sexy and I make no apology for it and feel no shame.

      Not to mention that Zatanna performs on stage in Vegas, so it’s not like her outfit didn’t make sense. We aren’t talking about Star Sapphire here (I would welcome a costume change there).

  7. Superb article, more like it please!

  8. Thanks for this! I am enjoying JLD, but was a smidgen unfamiliar with some of the characters histories. Cheers.