Monday, April 11, 2005

SEVEN SOLDIERS: ZATANNA #1

And so begins the third miniseries of the Seven Soldiers project. As with Jake Jordan (Guardian) and Sir Justin (Shining Knight), Zatanna is about to embark on a quest as a form of penance -- she screwed up, so she's got to fix it. And by the time she realizes that it's not really her fault, it'll be too late to turn back.

... The real title of this is What If Zatanna were John Constantine.... With her mysical associates dropping off at a rate familiar to those who read Hellblazer and all from Zatanna's it-was-a-good-idea-at-the-time doings, well, she's a trenchcoat and a pack of Silk Cuts away from the life and times of a certain ex-lover of hers.

I exaggerate, of course. John-boy wouldn't be caught dead in a self-help meeting unless he was pulling a scam. But Zatanna has often had a touch of LA-style New Ageism about her and it doesn't seem that odd for her to be turning up in a group therapy session for wannabes and never-wases, although I wouldn't call her a spellaholic in light of what she's done -- which is incinerate her friends, set loose a world-destroyer, and acquire a creepy sidekick. While running to her buddies in the JLA may have been the wise idea, it's also the most embarrassing one.

Zatanna has always been one of the most accessible of the DCU's mages -- endless legs in fishnets aside, she remains charmingly human whether she's trading barbs with Aquaman in JLoA or slinging spells with other mages. Despite personal tragedy, there's none of Dr. Fate's remoteness or Jason Blood's eternal torment or any of the awesome psychological screwed-up-ness of the Trenchcoat Brigade. Zatanna can pull off a guest-appearance in a Green Lantern annual without making readers' eyes cross. Morrison gets that -- this Zatanna is alternately irrepressibly eager, acutely self-conscious, supremely competent... and letting loose world-eaters because she tried to conjure up a stud for a night of meaningless sex.

The opening premise of Seven Soldiers: Zatanna feels a bit like a highlight reel of some of Vertigo's best magic stories -- plenty of Hellblazer as well as of the several versions of Books of Magic (the Gaiman mini, the Reiber series, the current Spencer AU series), among others. But it doesn't feel derivative or predictable. While we have the first appearance of a character from the Zero issue (Gimmick Girl, in a cameo that doesn't require having read the Zero issue), the Sheeda have not been introduced and two bits says that those voracious aliens -- along with her father's books -- tie into Zatanna's dream fellow. Although it would be kind of funny if the "man of her dreams" turned out to be Constantine instead of an avatar of her father.

Now this is the point where I pause and exhort everyone who didn't pick this book up to flip through it at the shop on Wednesday just to get a gander at Ryan Sook's art. Which is gorgeous. Sook has a wide range of scenes in this assignment -- alternate realities and magical realms, dingy church basements, fire-lit studies in old mansions, rainy streetcorners in run-down neighborhoods -- and a varied cast of characters. And it all comes out vivid and just stunning; Sook's eye for detail is striking, but never so particular that an element or two of the fantastic can't sneak in.

Overall, I'd rate this above the Guardian mini and perhaps even the Shining Knight story, although that one is most definitely blessed with some achingly lovely art.

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