Archive for Zatanna

House of Magic

Okay, kids, let’s review another semi-recent graphic novel. This time, it’s the middle-grade comic Zatanna and the House of Secrets, written by Matthew Cody and illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani.

So here’s Zatanna Zatara, a middle-school kid who lives in a big, grand house with her dad, a struggling but enthusiastic and eerily talented stage magician. Zatanna has the usual school troubles, mainly focusing on trying to decide whether she should stay friends with the geeky kid or abandon him for more popular kids.

And then one night, everything goes weird. Zatanna finds a letter to her father from her supposedly dead mother. Then she sneaks out to go to a dance with the popular kids, toting along her dad’s pet rabbit Pocus. And a creepy blue-skinned kid steals Pocus’ collar.

And when she makes it back home, her dad has vanished, her home has turned into an Escher house, and it’s been taken over by the evil Witch Queen, who plans to take control of all the secret magic her father has hidden inside.

And it gets weirder, too. Pocus is able to talk. The house is full of strange supernatural hazards, as well as the Witch Queen’s goblins. The blue-faced kid is the Witch Queen’s son — Klarion the Witch Boy! And Zatanna is able to cast spells by speaking backwards! But it’s hard to think of the right words to say, and how to pronounce them in reverse, especially during a crisis.

Can Zatanna figure out a way to save her father, save Pocus, save her home, and defeat the Witch Queen?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a fun and funny comic with some enjoyably sharp artwork and fantastic atmosphere. There’s not a lot more to say about it — which isn’t really a bad thing, right? Sometimes all you need is an excellent comic with great artwork.

We tend to assume that middle-grade graphic novels are for kids in junior high — it seems to me this one is aimed slightly younger. I think it’d be best for older elementary school kids.

So go pick it up — it’s a fun comic with a good story and seriously fantastic-looking art.

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The Devil, You Say

Daredevil #2

Daredevil finds himself under attack by Captain America, who wants to arrest him for various long-ago crimes. He manages to convince Cap that he was under someone else’s control during that time and tells him he needs to go prove a man’s innocence. Matt’s investigation soon uncovers evidence that all of Ahmed Jobrani’s previous attorneys had been threatened off his case, and when he learns that Jobrani planned to spend his settlement money to buy back his old electronics shop. And when Daredevil goes there to look around, he finds the sonic-powered villain Klaw — but why are there so many of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Top-notch superheroics and freakin’ awesome artwork by Paolo Rivea and Joe Rivera. Love the dialogue and action, love the characterizations. Did I mention how much I love the artwork? I just love the artwork.

Power Girl #27

Final issue of this series. And I like the way we see a lot of elements of PeeGee’s older stories brought back, even if just for one issue. After beating up some robots who had been “programmed to reject stratagems from old “Star Trek” episodes,” (Noice one!) Power Girl discovers a holographic message written for her. It warns that three dangerous situations have been set up — and she has only 60 seconds to deal with ’em. She has to rescue her JSA teammate Cyclone, keep a villain called Typhoon from killing a random little girl, and keep Da Bomb (from the awesomely funny JSA #39 in 2002) from wrecking the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Can Kara save all those people in time and stop the bad guys behind the plot?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not necessarily the farewell for the character and her awesome supporting cast that I would’ve preferred, but the story is good, the humor is excellent, the personalities are fun, and I had a good time reading it. I would’ve liked seeing Terra or Vartox or her horrible, horrible cat — but I liked getting to see Da Bomb, who I always thought was hilarious.

Zatanna #16

Zatanna hasn’t been getting enough sleep lately, thanks to all the shows she’s been performing. When she finally gets the chance at some extra shut-eye, she gets a visit from a magic-using kid named Uriah, from Limbo Town, the same place where Klarion the Witch-Boy hails from. Uriah says he wants to be Zatanna’s apprentice, but when she turns him down, he’s off like a shot exploring his way through Zee’s mansion ’til he finds her library. After he finds the magical Book of Maps, he leads her on a chase through a dozen alternate worlds. Will she be able to stop him before he causes some serious havoc?

Verdict: Ehh, thumbs down. This was really kind of a crummy farewell to the character, with too much emphasis on Uriah and not enough on Zee or any member of her supporting cast. But it looks like this title became one of DC’s red-headed stepchildren when they decided they’d stop supporting it, so it’s been passed around from one creator to another an awful lot…

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Hocus Pocus

Zatanna #15

First of all, ain’t that a gorgeous cover? Seems like nearly all the covers in this series have been really nice.

Our story starts calmly enough — Zatanna is settling in for a relaxing evening after a performance — until someone shoots an arrow through her throat! It missed the jugular, thankfully, or this would be a really short comic — but the arrow was poisoned, and it’s not a wound to laugh off anyway. And obviously, someone is in the theater gunning for Zee. In this case, it’s a bunch of well-armed and organized witch-hunters. Even with a healing potion bandaged around her throat, is Zatanna going to be able to avoid a dozen armed mercenaries without the benefit of her magical abilities?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wonderfully claustrophobic and intense story, with the slow sections devoted to character moments and the rest of the comic dedicated to entirely furious action. Derek Fridolfs’ story was an absolute blast to read, and the art by Jamal Igle and John Dell was really outstanding.

Supergirl #66

Supergirl is disguised as a normal prospective college student as she investigates the disappearances at Stanhope College — and she and another bunch of students are lost in the steam tunnels under campus. Since she’s surrounded by other students, she has to avoid using her powers, or they’ll figure out her secret identity. Lois Lane takes her own investigation into the disappearances directly to the college administration, which just manages to alert the evil Professor Ivo that the good guys are on his trail. And then the robot rats attack. Can Supergirl keep everyone safe and still maintain her secret?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art by ChrisCross and a really fun story from Kelly Sue DeConnick. Equal doses of action and humor, along with some excellent characterization.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Knights of Badassdom” has the most gloriously geeky movie trailer of the year.
  • You like geeky papercraft? Here’s some geeky papercraft for you.
  • The Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s film of “The Shining” had corridors that were literally impossible. Watch these videos to see how they played with set design.

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On the Fast Track

Well, I’m back from my hiatus — and not really feeling real refreshed. In this heat, it’s impossible to get too much relaxing done. But I’m back all the same, and I’ve got two weeks’ worth of comics to start reviewing, so let’s get after it.

Tiny Titans #41

Kid Flash is severely over-excitable, and the only solution has got to be a race, featuring Kid Flash, Inertia, Mas y Menos, Peek-a-Boo, and Jesse Quick. Wrapped among all this is Gizmo working on a pencil sharpener, Wonder Girl getting a mask, and Blue Beetle and his backpack trying to run a lemonade stand (and getting called Cucarachita Azul by Mas y Menos). So who’s going to win the race around the world? Probably someone we wouldn’t expect…

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, lots of excellent stuff here, including an appearance from Coach Lobo, Beetle getting called the Little Blue Cockroach, the lemon-free lemonade, and a quick Flashpoint joke.

Supergirl #65

I think I missed an issue somewhere, but Supergirl is now calling herself Linda Lane and interning at the Daily Planet. After she and the blue-skinned alien Starman save a tram from robot flying monkeys, Lois asks her to go undercover at Stanhope College’s recruitment weekend. The student who was targeted by the flying monkeys was a Stanhope student, and so were other recently-kidnapped kids. Lois hopes Supergirl can find out what’s going on. Once she makes it to Stanhope, Kara meets up with her temporary roomie and the campus weirdos. What’s the connection that all of them share, and what is stalking all of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I always dig ChrisCross’ artwork. The story here seems pretty good, too. The dialogue with Starman is very cool. The campus weirdos are definitely irritating, though — let’s hope they’re all secret supervillains so Supergirl can beat them up later…

Batgirl #22

Stephanie Brown has gotten an assignment from Batman Inc. She has to travel to London to meet with another one of the Dark Knight’s operatives — the Squire herself. In the midst of sightseeing across London, the heroines run across a villain called the Orphan who is planning on stealing the Greenwich Mean. What, you mean like Greenwich Mean Time? Seriously? Yes, seriously, it’s apparently an actual object in the DC Universe. And once he gets it, time gets frozen for everyone in the world except for the Orphan, his henchmen, and Batgirl and the Squire. Can they manage to save time itself and still have some fun at the same time?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Man, am I going to miss this wonderful series. Story, dialogue, humor, action, characterization, art — this one has it all. Best to read it while you still can…

Zatanna #14

Zatanna and her cousin, Zachary Zatara, have just finished a show together, and Zatanna is angry about Zach’s shoddy performance and bad attitude. She pursues him into a trendy nightclub, has to deal with the various indignities and irritations therein, and gets to see him get attacked and possessed by a Japanese succubus who uses Zach’s powers against her. Is there a way for Zee to stop the demon before her cousin kills her?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This was a dull story, seemingly written by people who knew they were about to get cancelled. The art was pretty good, but that was about it.

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Lucky 13

Zatanna #13

Zatanna gets a visit from a magic cat with a crystal eye painted in the fur on its back. It is apparently a regular visitor to her home, as she knows it’s only there to deliver messages about the future to her. And the messages this time indicate that she’s about to have to deal with Brother Night and the Spectre. While Zee pays a visit to the Spectre to see whether he has some sort of grudge against her, Brother Night is making his magic-aided escape from prison, despite Detective Colton’s attempts to stop him. After mind-controlling prisoners, police dogs, and random commuters, Brother Night takes over his old headquarters, making plans for the future.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Brother Night is wonderfully creepy, Zatanna’s back-and-forth with the Spectre is better than I expected, and the revelation about Detective Colton’s past is pretty good, too.

How to improve this series: Believe it or not, less magic. What, less magic in a Zatanna comic? Listen, I really love Brother Night as a villain, but he’s been in almost every issue, and the ones he hasn’t been in have also focused entirely on magic-users. But Zatanna guest-stars in other comics, too — why not start bringing the rest of the DCU, magical, mundane, and superheroic, into this book, too? This book needs a connection to the rest of DC’s heroes.

Herc #3

A supervillain jailbreak sends Man-Bull, the Griffin, and Basilisk to New York, along with a mysterious amnesiac woman. As Hercules meets (and gradually gets frustrated by) his newest neighbors, the villains go rob a bank. Herc shows up to kick their tails — but he switches sides when Kyknos, Son of Ares, and the Ares-worshiping Warhawks show up. It’s not that he’s really on the supervillains’ sides — but Kyknos is willing to kill all of them. And what’s the amnesiac’s secret, and how does it tie in with Marvel’s “Fear Itself” crossover?

Verdict: I think I’ll thumbs this one up. Good dialogue and several wonderful jokes getting tossed off here — the last couple of issues have been much too serious for a couple of writers as wonderfully funny as Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente.

How to improve this series: More humor, for one thing. And fer cryin’ out loud, give Herc all of his powers back. There are more than enough street-level heroes in the Marvel Universe — why add another when Herc makes such a great world-beater?

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Tickled Pink

Tiny Titans #39

Alfred has washed all the Bat-family’s laundry, and he’s washed Superman’s capes with them — so now everyone has bright pink costumes. Plasmus likes it, but he was already completely pink. Robin hates his new all-pink costume, even though he had a pretty brightly colored costume before. And Cassandra hates listening to Robin whine. Superman doesn’t like it, because Supergirl keeps getting the credit whenever he saves people. But is there anything all that bad about pink costumes?

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, everything about this series makes me grin. It may say it’s an all-ages book, but that just means grownups should love it, too.

Zatanna #12

There’s a redneck serial killer named Backslash running around San Francisco. He’s captured a fairy, which gives him the power to see the supernatural elements running around the city, and he’s armed with a magical sword that lets him rewind time to prevent any attacks against him. Can Zatanna stop him when she can’t say her spells backwards and can’t even run away from him?

Verdict: Ehh, it’s not bad, but the palindrome gimmick isn’t nearly clever enough to sustain that ending.

Dungeons & Dragons #6

The malfunctioning portal in the old dwarven fortress has sucked our party of adventurers backwards into their own memories, so we can see how they all came together for the first time. Adric Fell gets hired on to help excavate a lost city — aside from the usual mix of hired soldiers, there’s a wizard and his two apprentices tagging along. They have to escape from an underground monster called a bulette and rescue Khal the dwarven paladin, stranded in the middle of a river. Then they run into the lost city — a magical city that only appears for one night every ten years. The wizard figures they’ll be able to scavenge all the city’s ancient secrets. But they didn’t expect to be ambushed by a band of elves and eladrin, including Varis…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action and dialogue, and it’s fun to see how these folks got together for the first time.

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Zatanna #11

Oscar Hempel, evil puppeteer turned evil puppet has managed to turn himself back into a human while turning Zatanna into a puppet. Hempel has been using her in his show for several weeks, but plans to have her put into a museum so he’ll be rid of her forever. But her stage manager, Mikey, suspects Zatanna has been kidnapped, recognizes “Miss Zee-Zee” from one of Hempel’s shows, and disguises herself as a floozie so she can knock out Hempel and try to help Zatanna regain her human form. The plan mostly works, but Hempel regains consciousness and tries to zap Mikey with his magic trinkets. But Mikey is under the protection of a spell (What? She is? Since when?), and the backlash turns Hempel back into a puppet, and Zatanna back into her fully human form. Also, Brother Night is back and planning more evil stuff.

Verdict: Ehh, a little from Column A, a little from Column B. The art by Jamal Igle is outstanding. The story is pretty much a mess. Zatanna doesn’t really do much of anything. The entire story runs on Mikey’s ingenuity, a lucky magic spell, and Hempel’s general rottenness. Zatanna’s a side player in her own book.

Detective Comics #875

A Batman comic that barely features Batman at all? Well, it actually turns out pretty good. Our focus is on Commissioner James Gordon, who is tracking a recently paroled prisoner who he suspects of being a long vanished child killer — and at the same time, remembering the childhood of his estranged son, James Jr. His son was always a weird, disturbed kid — drastically unemotional, smart, but with a tendency toward cruelty. Gordon has always suspected that his son killed one of Barbara Gordon’s childhood friends — but is there actually a connection between the two cases?

Verdict: A big thumbs up. Outstanding storytelling, outstanding art. The title of the comic is “Detective Comics,” and this one is all about detective work, even if the Dark Knight isn’t the star.

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Puppet Pals

Zatanna #10

Zatanna may be one of the top spellcasters in the DC Universe, but she’s apparently not the smartest person around. Last issue, she was menaced by the murderous puppet Oscar Hempel — this issue, she invites him into her ancestral home, which is stuffed to the gills with magical artifacts. She learns that Hempel is definitely a psycho, but then he gets his wooden hands on a bunch of artifacts and uses them to make things a whole lot worse for Zatanna. Not a smart move, Zee. Meanwhile, the evil Brother Night is stirring up more trouble back in San Francisco.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Paul Dini may be writing Zatanna as uncommonly stupid, but Cliff Chiang’s gorgeous artwork makes it all seem okay.

Batman and Robin #21

This new guy called the White Knight has targeted someone else for a mysterious angel-themed death — in this case, the wife and children of Kirk Langstrom, the Man-Bat. Batman and Robin are able to rescue them, luckily, and they soon learn the identity of the first victim — he was the brother of Batman foe and serial killer Victor Zsasz, which means that the White Knight is targeting innocent family members of Batman’s rogues gallery. Who’s next on the hit list?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great story, fantastic art, a nice mystery, and a neat twist. I’m enjoying this one a lot.

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Agents of Chaos

Chaos War #5

It’s the final battle against the Chaos King. Hercules is very nearly all-powerful, but is he all-powerful enough to take out the much more all-powerful Chaos King? Can Amadeus Cho get a few million humans transported into the artificial replacement universe, at the cost of billions of other lives? Or will he choke and doom all life to extinction? What great sacrifice will Hercules ultimately make to save everything?

Verdict: Thumbs up, with a number of reservations. I thought the solution to the problem of the Chaos King was a pretty good one. Not so sure I like a completely depowered Herc, though. Wait, was that a spoiler? There was also a resurrection of dead heroes — and I really couldn’t tell who they brought back. Was it just Alpha Flight? Or were there more? All in all, it just barely made the grade.

Zatanna #9

This one is vaguely problematic. Zatanna’s been tied up with marionette string by an evil ventriloquist dummy that has the soul of a murderous old puppeteer inside it. Once Zee gets the puppet confined, she… asks him to tell her his life story. And of course, he insists he’s not really evil. And Zatanna believes him! So its off to the family mansion to figure out a way to unpuppetize him. That’s the entire story in just 12 pages, which is kinda short for a lead feature.

The backup is pretty good — it focuses on “Zatanna, Junior Sorceress” — Zatanna when she was a preteen. She’s just gotten braces and she can’t talk clearly, and she has to figure out some way to stop a gunman when she can’t recite any of her backwards spells.

Verdict: I’m still giving this one a thumbs up. The first story is too short and makes very little sense… but the artwork by Cliff Chiang is, as always, fantastic. Much, much better is the backup — Zatanna as a teenager is just plain hilarious.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Wow, Kevin Church has just completely unexpectedly and somewhat abruptly ended “The Rack,” his long-running comic-shop webcomic. “FIGHT!“, luckily, is still going strong.
  • Scott Kaufman has an interesting discussion of race in comics, with examples from “Maus” and “American Born Chinese.”
  • And speaking of race in comics, David Brothers makes a short analysis of the career of George Herriman, creator of “Krazy Kat.”

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Master of Puppets

Zatanna #8

Zatanna confesses to her therapist that she’s had a nearly lifelong fear of… puppets? And this isn’t just some comedic phobia either — she doesn’t remember how the fear started, but for any professional magician working in the live entertainment business, there are puppeteers everywhere. And the ones that bug her the most are the Merry-O-Nettes, the puppets owned by an old vaudevillian named Oscar Hempell. Why do those puppets frighten her so? Is there a way she can get at the truth? And will learning the truth be worse than not knowing?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This was a really enjoyable comic book. There’s some great material with Zatanna’s backstory, some excellently chilling stuff, and, if you’ve got any kind of fear about puppets yourself, the kind of stuff that’s going to give you a serious complex. And Cliff Chiang‘s artwork is, as ever, amazingly beautiful and fun. Any doubts I’ve had about this series are definitely finished — this is a wonderfully fun comic.

Tiny Titans #35

Talon reveals to Robin that he’s actually the sidekick of Owlman, a superhero just like Batman from a parallel universe. Robin doesn’t believe him, despite all their many similarities, so Raven creates a portal to Talon’s world, which promptly leads to a mini-invasion of alternate-universe Titans. But are these evil Titans? Or do they just have funny-colored costumes? And how badly is Talon going to mess things up before it’s all over?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Pretty cool issue, with a lot of clever comedy bits.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Holy cow, Vertigo is finally going to publish Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s famously-trippy “Flex Mentallo” series!
  • David Brothers has another of his great posts on race in comics.
  • Here are some of the highlights of the classic D&D “Tomb of Horrors” module, as enacted by a bunch of cartoon animals.

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