Zatanna #1 (2005)

Sometimes it seems like there are two Grant Morrisons. One is the fairly straightforward comics writer who brought us comics like JLA and the Seven Soldiers of Victory: Guardian comic. Then there is the mystical Grant Morrison, who brought us Vimanarama and the new Seven Soldiers of Victory: Zatanna comic. The straightforward Morrison plays the traditional comics game beautifully, but the mystical Morrison can sometimes get a bit obscure. That’s definitely the case with Zatanna #1. The earth-bound scenes in this comic are wonderful, but the mystical scenes are much harder to follow.

It starts out beautifully. Page one shows Zatanna slouching, in ordinary clothes, in a crappy chair at a meeting of a twelve step group. She looks down on her luck, as if the weight of the world is on her shoulders. It’s a stunningly ordinary scene. Every writer is told to grab their reader with a mystery on the first page, and in comics that often amounts to starting with a fight scene or dilemma for the hero. Here, though, Morrison is counting on a vague feeling of uncomfortableness among the readers to bring us along. Nice touch.

The comic then moves into a flashback. We see Zatanna helping her dad at a magic show. He’s in control at the show while her father is a master at his art. In that short scene we learn all about the connection between the father and daughter, and get an idea about why Zatanna wants to pursue magic as a big part of her life. We then go back to the self-help group and learn a little about who they are, in a cute scene (they are all super-heroes who suffer from low self-esteem). I was completely caught up in these first few pages. I was hooked. The straightforward Morrison was in control, spinning a wonderful yarn. Then the mystical Morrison takes over.

A group of magicians gather together to celebrate a mystical holiday at the home of the mysterious Baron Winters, who lives forever. Logically enough, the group undertakes a mystical endeavor, and odd and bizarre things happen to them. The problem for me as a reader is that it all seems cool and weird but doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense. Who or what is the fire demon, and why do the other magicians seem to have such a bad end come to them? I’m sure this all makes sense to Morrison, but as a reader, I just found myself confused. And right there much of the goodwill he had built up evaporated for me. I realize that Zatanna is a magician, but I was hoping that her magical life could be explored without a ton of mystical mumbo-jumbo. The mystical Morrison just loves to be obscure. But when he does that, I feel my grip on the reality of his stories slip away.

I don’t think I’ve seen Ryan Sook’s art before, but he’s really talented. I love the way he draws characters’ faces, and how he uses body language to show moods and emotions. He does a great job here.

Overall, this comic is a mix of the two sides of Grant Morrison: when it’s based in real life, it’s wonderful. When it’s based on mystical magical realms, it’s very hard to follow.


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