Magic Words

Despite often facing mystical foes throughout its history, the Justice League had always been lacking in any sort of sorcerous firepower, not having an in-house wizard or sorcerer among the membership. This would change in 1978, when Zatanna the Magician was inducted into the JLA. Zatanna was no stranger to the League, having guest-starred in many of the Leaguers’ solo books throughout the 1960s, in an unprecedented magazine-spanning storyline in which Zatanna appeared in various cities throughout the DC Universe searching for clues to the location of her missing father, the Golden-Age DC character Zatara the Magician.

Over a three-year period from 1964 to 1967, Zatanna searched for her father in the pages of HAWKMAN, DETECTIVE COMICS, THE ATOM and GREEN LANTERN, before finally being reunited with him in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #51. (These comics, by the way, were collected in the trade paperback JLA: ZATANNA’S SEARCH, if you can track one down.)


Zatanna would occasionally appear in a guest-starring role in various DC comics over the next few years, utilizing her trademark backwards-speaking magic spells against the forces of evil, all while wearing her original costume: top hat, tuxedo and tails, with high heels and fishnet stockings, an outfit which has still remained her most popular to this very day, for fairly obvious reasons.

That, however, was not the costume JUSTICE LEAGUE readers would see when Zatanna was finally made a member of the team, in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #161 (December 1978), “The Reverse-Spells of Zatanna’s Magic,” by writer Gerry Conway and artist Dick Dillin.

The tale begins with the League casting ballots for the election of their newest member, having apparently realized following the election of Shayera that maybe a little new blood wouldn’t be a bad idea. Just as the votes are about to be counted, Zatanna appears in a burst of light (and sporting a new costume, a low-cut skintight number complete with high-collared cape and ponytail), and haughtily refuses membership, setting the ballots aflame with a wave of her hand and a rhyming spell (curiously, not spoken backwards…) , further telling the League that she doesn’t want to follow in her father’s footsteps, that she doesn’t want the League’s help, and that she particularly doesn’t want Green Lantern’s help.


It takes a bit of deduction by the Atom to realize that Zatanna wasn’t casting her spells backwards, and that accordingly, everything she said was the opposite of what she meant. I know, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s the kind of crystal-clear logic that only seems to make sense in comic books. After an attack on the Atom by a Green Lantern imposter, the League follows the trail to Cambodia, where the ersatz GL is revealed as the Warlock of Ys, Zatanna’s deadliest foe, who had planned to use Green Lantern’s ring to free himself from his mystical prison. Or something like that. Honestly, it’s all a little unclear. Zatanna, meanwhile, has traveled to the mystical realm of Ys, where she manages to free the real Green Lantern, and the two swiftly travel back to Earth and kayo the Warlord before he can do the League any permanent damage.


With everyone safe and sound, League membership is proposed to Zatanna once more, and this time she accepts, becoming only the fourth woman on the team, and the first member with a distinctly non-science-fiction background.

Zatanna took center stage in the series for the next few months, kicking off a multi-part story involving Zatanna searching for her heretofore never-discussed mother. After a brief distraction with a truly cheeseball supervillain named Anton Allegro (who, and I swear I’m not kidding, terrorized the innocent with a magical accordion), Zatanna and the League (with the help of Zatara) finally discover Zatanna’s mother Sindella, a sorceress from a hidden race of sorcerers known as Homo Magi, who had magically transformed Zatanna’s costume as a means of calling Zatara for help. By the time the League arrives, Sindella is enmeshed in a power struggle among the Magi, and winds up dying to save her daughter’s life.


Wanting to emerge from the shadows of both her parents, Zatanna would later give up her Homo Magi-inspired costume for a third design, one uniquely her own, a combination of flowing robes and thigh-high boots, which she would continue to wear throughout her tenure with the original JLA.

Zatanna served with the League until its dissolution in 1984, and then served with the team’s short-lived Detroit-based follow-up, but soon departed from that group as well. In the ensuing years, Zatanna hadn’t been utilized all that much, appearing primarily in DC’s Vertigo imprint in series like SWAMP THING and THE BOOKS OF MAGIC. About the same time, writer Paul Dini and artist Rick Mays produced an excellent one-shot Zatanna special entitled EVERYDAY MAGIC that’s well worth picking up. However, the blockbuster DC miniseries IDENTITY CRISIS  catapulted Zatanna back into the spotlight in 2004, with her controversial actions as a League member serving as a prime catalyst for the series.

Zatanna finally got her won ongoing series in 2010, written by Paul Dini and drawn by Stephane Roux, an excellent series that unfortunately only lasted 16 issues before being upended by the oncoming locomotive that was the new 52.


As for the new 52, Zatanna can be seen these days in the pages of Justice League Dark, even if she is wearing her fishnets on her arms.


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