Review: ‘Zatanna and The House of Secrets’
Zatanna and The House of Secrets
Writer: Matthew Cody
Artist: Yoshi Yoshitani
DC Comics; $9.99
One particularly fascinating thing about watching DC Comics’ original graphic novels for kids and teens roll out over the past year or so has been seeing which particular aspects, elements, and versions of the often quite long-lived characters the creators choose to make part of their remixing and reinvention of them for a new audience.
The sorcery-powered superhero Zatanna, for example, is a relatively “young” DC character, having been created in 1964 (young compared to, say, Black Canary, who’s been around since 1947). That’s a lot of time for a lot of different takes on the character. She was introduced as a Justice League character, the daughter of a Golden Age comics character, the stage magician/crime fighter Zatara, and has in the decades since been on various superhero teams and starred in her own comics, some for the main DC line and some in their now-defunct mature readers Vertigo line.
For Zatanna and The House of Secrets, prose author Matthew Cody (best known for his Supers of Noble’s Green trilogy) presents us with a middle school-aged Zatanna, a far younger one than we’ve ever gotten before.
She lives with her father in the titular House of Secrets, itself another, usually unrelated element of DC’s comics universe—it was originally the title of a horror and adventure comic anthology series that launched in 1956, but in more recent years it became a setting as well.
For a villain, Cody chooses Klarion The Witch Boy and his demon cat Teekl, minor characters that Jack Kirby created during his 1970s book The Demon, which have grown increasingly popular since showing up in a 2005 series alongside Zatanna.
The raw material thus chosen, Cody and artist Yoshi Yoshitani craft a new-reader-friendly all-ages comic about a young woman learning secrets about herself and her family as she comes of age…and comes into power.
We first meet Zatanna Zatara on Halloween morning. She lives with her father, a widowed stage magician, and his pet rabbit Pocus in a dilapidated-looking mansion in a fairly typical neighborhood. She’s struggling with fairly typical middle-school problems, like a best friend who is in something of a hurry to grow up, applying make-up for the first time on the bus to school and wanting to be more popular, and a home-schooled neighbor boy whom everyone thinks is her boyfriend just because he’s a boy and they’re friends.
Those ordinary problems will be traded in for far more extraordinary ones as night falls, however.
She accidentally discovers that she has magical powers, and that she can cast spells by reciting them backwards. (This is the very thing that makes Zatanna such an interesting comic book character; here, her backwards spells are always rendered in bigger, bolder, more dramatic fonts than other dialogue, suggesting something of a collage in the panels where she casts them.)
And when the blue-skinned “witch boy” Klarion attempts to steal Pocus from her, she discovers that Pocus can talk, the result of his actually being a pooka. And that her father isn’t just a stage magician but can actually perform real magic, like she can. And that their house is a magical place of great power. And that while her mother is definitely dead, she can still communicate with them.
In other words, the House of Secrets has a lot of secrets, and she discovers them at a quick clip once Klarion and his much more evil mother, the Witch Queen, break in and awaken the house, transforming it into a strange, dream-like house with dangers and strange creatures behind every door, doors that weren’t there when Zatanna woke up that morning.
Yoshitani’s artwork, at first glance, looks like something more appropriate for a story book than a comic book, thanks in large part to the lack of black ink lines in the drawings, so long a hallmark of comics. Well, there’s that and the fact that her character designs are all so perfect and, in some cases, so cute, that “monsters” like the kappa Zatanna find behind one door are more adorable than threatening. Even the book’s biggest villain, the Witch Queen herself, has a strikingly appealing presence, so much so that the first thought upon seeing her is more likely a “Wow, she looks cool!” than a “Yikes, she looks scary.” (Also cool? A large, origami sphinx that folds itself out of the pages of library books.)
Graphically, this is easily the most striking of the DC graphic novels for kids that the publisher has released so far. While most of them have been extremely well drawn, this one is both well drawn and unlike any of the others in terms of style.
In a line full of high-quality comics, this one stands out as one of the better ones. And that is no secret.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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