ZATANNA THE MAGICIANMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1964
Creators: Gardner Fox (writer) and Murphy Anderson (artist)
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In the 1940s, Mandrake-like magician adventurers, often with real powers of one sort or another, were all over comic books, their stage tuxedos distinguishing them as a sub-genre of costumed superheroes. Zatara the Magician was a
prominent one, debuting alongside Superman in Action Comics #1 (and even grabbing a couple of early covers from Supes). He outlasted most, but by the end of 1950 even he had disappeared.
Fourteen years later, a young woman named Zatanna turned up in Hawkman #4 (November, 1964), which was written by Gardner Fox (The Ghost Rider) and drawn by Murphy Anderson (Captain Comet). She used a couple of Zatara's schticks, including performing miracles by speaking backward and wearing a female version of his stage outfit (complete with fishnet stockings). She turned out to be the famous magician's daughter, searching for her father, who had disappeared in a magical adventure.
Zatanna continued to seek Zatara in guest shots with several other DC characters, including Batman, The Elongated Man and The Atom. The quest ended successfully three years later, in the 51st issue of Justice League of America.
After finding her father, Zee (as she is addressed) went on to become a minor but steady player in the DC Universe, with an occasional guest shot, special, or brief series in the back pages of one comic or another. After more than a decade of this low-key existence, she surprised everyone — especially editors — by overwhelmingly winning a 1978 fan poll to decide who would be the next character to join The Justice League of America. One theory has it that a lot of girls voted for her as a strong female role model; another is that a lot of boys liked the idea of having another woman wearing fishnet stockings in the JLA (Black Canary was already making that fashion statement).
If the latter is true, they were disappointed, because when Zee joined — just as soon as feasible after the closing of the poll — she'd traded in her shortie tuxedo for a more conventional superhero suit.
And she herself became a more conventional superhero, as well. It was during her long JLA tenure that her back-story began to be filled in. She had even more magical forebears on her mother's side than her father's. In fact, she turned out to be enmeshed in that arcane-type stuff up to her eyebrows — the stage magician act was sort of a way of hiding out in the open. She's not quite a female equivalent of Marvel's Doctor Strange, but in the same ballpark. Since leaving the JLA, she's become involved with John Constantine, The Spectre, Tim Hunter and several of DC's other heavy hitters of the mystical realm.
She still does the "Zatanna the Magician" stage magician routine, by the way — at least, when she happens to be located on our Astral Plane. And when she does, she still wears those fishnet stockings.