This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...
Monday, August 29, 2011
MYTHCOMICS #26: ZATANNA #1-4
PLOT-SUMMARY (script: Morrison; art: Sook): During a visit to her superhero support-group Zatanna confesses that despite her vaunted Justice League status, she’s a “spellaholic” with severe self-esteem issues, and that she may have helped bring about a new apocalypse. Prior to making a journey with some fellow mystics into a magical dimension, searching for the magical books of her late father Zatara, Zatanna casts a spell to conjure forth her ideal man. Zatanna’s allies die because of her recklessness, but she gains a new ally, runaway teenage girl Misty Kilgore, who wants to become Zatanna’s apprentice. Zatanna, seeking to control the conjured entity (aka “Gwydion”), seeks advice from occult expert Cassanadra Craft. Cassandra reveals that she was visited by a strange male magician who left behind a top hat for Zatanna and makes a mysterious reference to Zatara’s books: his image suggests that Zatara himself may have returned from death. After Zatanna uses her powers (as well as the top hat) to subdue Gwydion, she and Misty go on the road to train Misty. They encounter the ghost of Ali-ka-Zoom, a magician who in life was a member of a gang of heroic kids, the Newsboy Army. Ali-ka-Zoom persuades Zatanna and Misty to transport him to the estate of the magician’s old team-mate Kid Scarface, but by the time they all arrive, the “Kid” has been killed by the faery-folk known as the Sheeda. The magician conducts the spirit of his old friend to the afterlife while Zatanna grapples with two revelations: (1) that the Sheeda are one of the forces threatening to doom Earth, and (2) that Misty is destined to be the Sheeda’s new queen if the current ruler Gloriana is ever deposed. Zatanna then goes looking for more answers, and learns that the mysterious top-hatted man was not her father, but a lookalike magician: Zor, a renegade member of the “Time Tailors” who decided to change the cosmic design by helping the Sheeda. Zor tries to conquer Zatanna by transforming her into “Zorina,” an image of what she would’ve been like as his daughter, but she throws off his influence and uses the shapechanger Gwydion to fight Zor’s magic. Zatanna manages to subdue Zor long enough to break into the mystic dimension of the Time Tailors, who take Zor prisoner. Zatanna meets the spirit of Zatara, who reveals to her that she herself is the incarnation of his so-called “magical books.” Back in the real world Zatanna puzzles over the encounter until she is summoned to the final battle with the forces of Gloriana.
MYTH-ANALYSIS: Zatanna’s four-issue series isn’t a stand-alone narrative, but a narrative arc that participates with other arcs to make up Grant Morrison’s “Seven Soldies of Victory” mega-event. Therefore some of the myth-motifs referenced in the ZATANNA arc are more fully developed elsewhere: Ali-ka-Zoom and the Newsboy Army, who recapitulate the fantasies of heroic kid gangs of the Golden Age, are given greater attention in the arc of MANHATTAN GUARDIAN, while the Arthurian mythology of the Sheeda is glossed by the SHINING KNIGHT arc. Here I’ll concentrate on the mythos of the title character Zatanna, though I will confess some curiosity as to how Morrison happened to name his newsboy magician after a catchphrase used in Hanna-Barbera's FRANKENSTEIN JUNIOR cartoon.
Like many heroes who originated during DC Comics’ Silver Age, Zatanna continues the “legacy” of a Golden Age character: the aforementioned Zatara the Magician. Zatara was one of many Golden Age figures who were practicing stage magicians who fought crime as a “side-act.” Most if not all followed the example of the comic-strip magician-hero Mandrake, though in comic books the magicians often wielded powers more extraordinary than Mandrake’s hypnotic skills. Zatanna, introduced in the 1960s as the fullgrown daughter of Zatara, continued in that tradition to some extent, though by the 1980s she had been given a quasi-tragic dimension by the death of her father and her sexual dalliances with less than admirable lovers like John Constantine. Morrison’s version of Zatanna builds upon these realistic tropes but does so to provide a grounding for a hyper-real world of magic, where “every thought leaves a chalk-trace on the walls of the imaginal world.”
“I have a fatal flaw,” Zatanna tells her support group, “that makes me fall for losers.” In orthodox Freudianism, this would be seen as a deferral of an incestuous cathexis toward her super-capable father, while her attempt to summon an ideal man—whom she thinks will be “a great wizard or an ace crime-fighting dude”—are both confirmations of that hidden desire. The villain Zor seems to pursue the same Freudian logic. First he tantalizes Zatanna with the possibility of her father’s return. Then, when he has her in his power, he transforms the heroine into “Zorina,” a villain’s version of a “legacy continuation,” a perverse B&D temptress, to show Zatanna what she would have been “under my sadistic tutelage.” Morrison’s use of the word “sadistic” is not incidental, for in designing “Zorina” Morrison seems to draw upon the pattern established by such Sadean heroines as Juliette and Eugenie, who become master sadists under some quasi-paternal instruction.
However, many facets of Morrison’s story suggest that, just as Carl Jung’s theory attempted to encompass and supersede Freud’s insights, Zatanna’s mental cosmos can supersede any reductive forces. Zatanna only remains in the form of “Zorina” for two panels, for she quickly overrides Zor’s transformation by following it to its logical conclusion: since she’s a perverse daddy’s girl, she restores her own personality as a gambit to “annoy” her “daddy.”
Jung asserted that Freud’s idea of a purely sexual human libido was far too reductive. Similarly, Morrison seems to bring forth sexual demons largely to show the ability of the human will to transcend them. When the real Zatara reveals that Zatanna herself incarnates all the wisdom of his “magic books,” he describes her in terms of two abstract aspects (“mind” and “spirit”), a concrete one (“body”), and a concrete image given metaphorical meaning (“heart”). Conversely, whereas many comics-writers deal with magicians purely in terms of highflown thaumaturgies, Morrison continually makes references to the mundanities of stage magic, which seem to inform Zatanna’s consciousness as much as “imaginal worlds” and “brane universes.” Morrison’s own “imaginal world,” then, combines the concrete and abstract in a rare artful balance, a *coincidentia oppositorum” of which Jung himself might approve.