Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Top 20 Zatanna Covers

Super-heroes failed out before the "Golden Age" truly ended, replaced by crime and horror comics. The Silver Age wasn't so much about reviving some fine heroic tradition as mining a formerly rich vein in the fallow period after Dr. Wertham ruined all that was good and salacious about '50s comics. The new wave of DC heroes worked off the premise that the original set had faded away for a reason, so any updates of Flashes and Green Lanterns needed to be separate, contemporary entities. Because of this, Zatanna was pretty much the first true "legacy" character, as she was the daughter of the outdated Mandrake knock-off Zatara, and followed his m.o. more closely than most of her fellows. Just as young collectors had slowly begun to seek out back issues and draw lines between "their" DC heroes and their predecessors, Zatanna searched for her father, who had been missing from the funny pages for ages. Also, rather than being given her own title, Zatanna linked a number of the updated heroes together as part of a shared universe through her guest appearances in various titles. Unfortunately, finding Zatara meant Zatanna would begin her own disappearing act until the late '70s, when nostalgia and the need for super-heroines in the post-feminist era kicked in. Even returned as a member of the Justice League, Zatanna remained undervalued, as she played a fairly negligible role for nearly a decade. I can't tell you how many covers hit the dust bin because I was tired of seeing the heroine played as a frail thing in need of male assistance, or depicted as though she'd stepped out of a lad mag. Only in recent years has Zatanna truly begun to be recognized as one of DC's most powerful heroes, and the bearer of a Golden Age lineage besides. Because of this, you'll be seeing a lot more modern covers than you might have expected for a forty-six year old creation.

20) Zatanna #11 (May, 2011)

This is a potent cover, but the muted "poster" coloring and overly sexy look hurts, plus a better version from the same artist turns up later in the list.

19) Justice League of America #161 (December, 1978)

She's in her terrible short-lived second costume and near unrecognizable due to bitchiness, but this is still an amusingly busy Bronze Age cover that smothers Zee in attention.

18) Zatanna #2 (August, 2010)

Stephane Roux was a good choice for interiors on Zatana's only ongoing to date, but he was in competition with Brian Bolland when it came to covers, which is a rough place to be. The stripperesque costume didn't help. I do like the theatrical poster look, though.

17) Zatanna #2 Variant Cover (August, 2010)

The first several issues of Zee's ongoing series had chase variant covers by Brian Bolland. They were often a bit stiff, and I tend to think Adam Hughes was the better Zee cover artist where Bolland was the better Wonder Woman one. Still, the Bollands were all in contention for this list, where the regulars typically were not.

16) Zatanna #13 (July, 2011)

She's a performer who deals in real magic. It's all right here.

15) Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #2 (August, 2005)

Ryan Sook is amazing enough to get me to overlook the stupid fishnet gloves, but the attitude and coloring sure help.

14) Justice League of America #191 (June, 1981)

One of the few instances where Zee's raw power and necessity are acknowledged in the team book, rather than allowing her to be marginalized by the bigger names. Strong visual "acting" as well.

13) JLA #118 (November, 2005)

Simple, but very effective.

12) Catwoman #50 (February, 2006)

Great mood on this one, offering a "Something Wicked This Way Comes" vibe to the traveling show.

11) Zatanna: Everyday Magic (2003)

Just an attractive cover that introduced the "little star" iconography to her spellcasting.

10) DC Super Stars #11 (January, 1977)

Zee's first solo story, and although she's in a too typical "damsel in distress" mode, at least she's the only one there to save herself.

9) Catwoman #72 (December, 2007)

This cover teaches us that Zatanna is powerful enough to have changed the course of the life of one of DC's most famous characters with one spell.

8) Identity Crisis #2 (September, 2004)

I think Mike Turner was a terrible DC artist, and a lot about this cover is simply awful, but the image foreshadows the story that has redefined Zatanna. Surrounded by the satellite-era League, she's the one to worry about.

7) Green Arrow #52 (September, 2005)

I know this must seem random, but how many covers can you think of where Zatanna is aggressive and heroic? Plus, Ollie cocking back an arrow does not look like he's going to be the one carrying the weight in a fight against this crowd.

6) Justice League of America: Zatanna's Search (2004)

What's nice about this cover is the way it incorporates aspects of all of Zee's early appearances, as well as making room for daddy. What hurts is that it's still the other heroes in action while Zee stands around, and it's just so damned red.

5) Justice League of America #51 (February, 1967)

I like classic, iconic covers for these lists, but Zatanna's early appearances did not often cast her in the best light. Here, she's lit up by a mystical candle while other heroes struggle to help. I appreciate that she's the character to draw your eye, but the others really fill out the cover, and she's still in  need of assistance.

4) Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1 (June, 2005)

I struggled with this one in the top spot, between those glorious bunnies and the contrast with Zee's costume. However, Zee's passivity and the unnecessary hints of goth/fetish held it back.

3) Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4 (December, 2005)

I'm sure this has the potential to be controversial, but it's a strong image of a pro-active Zee with plenty of elements to let you know she's a powerful magician. That's a rarer combination than you'd think. She still has a lightness about her, but works comfortably in the dark.

2) Zatanna #1 (July, 2010)

I've had problems with Zatanna's costumes for years, since she looks conventional and out of place amongst super-heroes in magician clothes, but boring and generic in her super-suits. I think this is the first costume that gets the balance right, so that she looks like a magician super-hero, instead of one or the other.

1) Zatanna #15 (September, 2011)

A theme that emerges from recent Zatanna covers is Zee as the light breaking through obsidian negative space. She may be sweet, but she's not quite innocent, knowledgeable about the dark arts while defending humanity against them. Conjuring her own logo amidst five-pointed stars in a classy costume with a smile is the modern Zatanna in a nutshell.

Honorable Mentions:
Adventures of Superman #644
Blue Devil #4
Catwoman #58
DC Comics Presents #18
DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #5
Impulse #17
Justice League of America #164
Secret Origins #27
Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume One (2006)
Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume One (2010)
Shadowpact #16 Zatanna #5 (2010)
Zatanna #14 (2010)

Cornucopia of Top Comic Covers

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