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REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS ZATANNA
By Thomas Wheeler

There's certainly no shortage of powerful females in the DC Universe. And despite the fact that the usual axiom that "female action figures don't sell well in boys' toys lines", Mattel has been reasonably willing to bring a fair number of them into their superb line of DC Universe Classics figures. The most recent one, part of the Walmart exclusive Wave 14, is none other than ZATANNA.

I'll admit, I've personally never really considered Zatanna a major player. She came across to me as a stage magician who secretly knew some legitimate magic, even if her usual means of accessing it -- speaking a given request backwards -- seemed hopelessly hokey. Somehow, she managed to become a member of the Justice League of America, and has turned up in the animated Justice League, Batman Brave and the Bold, and has even put in a live-action appearance in the TV series Smallville!

Okay, so, maybe I was not giving this character enough credit. Certainly I was willing to bring in the action figure. But I called up an extensive online history for Zatanna, and was sincerely amazed at the extent of it. A basic summary follows.

Zatanna first appeared in -- of all places -- Hawkman #4, in October of 1964, and was created by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. She is the daughter of magician Giovanni Zatara, who himself appeared in various DC comics during the Golden Age, and Sindella, a member of a mystical race known as the "homo magi". Within the DC universe, she is a direct descendant of the 14th and 15th century alchemist Nicholas Flamel, as well as Nostradamus. She has a younger cousin, Zachary Zatara, who is also a magician, and turned up during the "Kingdom Come" mini-series.

There's also a possibility that she's related to Leonardo da Vinci, as at one point the Phantom Stranger have her da Vinci's notebooks, written backwards, which she used to help focus her powers.

Zatanna was making a living as a stage magician, prior to discovering her powers, while investigating the disappearance of her father. This storyline was featured in several titles edited by Julius Schwartz, in which Zatanna interacted with Batman and Robin, Hawkman, the Atom, Green Lantern, and Elongated Man. The story culminated in Justice League of America #51.

Zatanna subsequently assisted the Justice League on a number of cases before being elected to full membership in Justice League of America #161. in 1978.

In the 2004 limited series "Identity Crisis", Zatanna is a member of the Justice League at the time when the villain Dr. Light brutally attacked the Elongated Man's wife, Sue Dibny. When apprehended, he threatens the JLA members' families. Although Zatanna is prepared to erase Light's memories of the incident (as she had done with other villains with dangerous knowledge to the League), tampering with Light's mind sparks a debate among the League members, as to whether a villain's personality should be altered in order to prevent him from repeating his crime? Ultimately, Zatanna does alter Dr. Light's personality, resulting in his intellectual abilities being lowered, and in his being less of a threat, as would be seen in several failed attempts to attack the Teen Titans which had been portrayed in the 1980's.

However, in the midst of the process, Batman appears and attempts to stop it. Zatanna freezes him, and the members vote to erase Batman's memories of the incident as well. Zatanna's working relationship to Batman sours after he discovers the alteration to his memory. When Zatanna helps Batman with reconnaissance at one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits, she asks him why he came to her. "I needed someone I could trust," says Batman, "but I had to settle for you."

However, after the events of Infinite Crisis, their relationship appears to have improved. In Detective Comics #824, Batman calls her for information on a card-counter involved in scamming the Penguin. He makes no mention of their conflict, and casually calls her by her nickname, "Zee". Granted, part of the Infinite Crisis storyline involved Batman's somewhat overboard attempt to keep track of the super-beings of the DC Universe through his "Brother Eye" program, which had backfired horribly, so maybe Bats realized he wasn't perfect, either.

After departing the League, Zatanna continued to appear on stage, while working to defend against mystical threats to Earth, joining a team called the Sentinels of Magic.

At some point, Catwoman discovered that Zatanna's mind-wipe of Dr. Light was not an isolated incident; Catwoman's gradual journey from villain to hero and her resulting efforts to lead a moral life were "retconned" to be the result of Zatanna's mental intervention. Catwoman cones to distrust her memories, motives, and the choices she has made since the incident, and has a less-than-pleasant encounter with Zatanna as a result.

In Detective Comics #833, in 2007, it is stated that Zatanna's father was a friend of Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne's father. Zatara trained Bruce in the art of escape, and Bruce and Zatanna were actually childhood friends. Bruce helps Zatanna investigate the death of one of her former assistants, which turns out to be a plot by the Joker. She is instrumental in foiling the Joker's scheme, and Bruce puts Zatanna's one-time betrayal behind him, allowing the two to renew their friendship.

Later, she helps Catwoman, mind-wiping the villains Angle Man and Film Freak, who had been subdued by Catwoman after the two discovered her secret identity hand threatened her child.

And you just never know who this woman is going to encounter. Following the restoration of the Multiverse and the flooding of Earth-26, which was home to the anthropomorphic team of animals, "Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew", the Crew and other humanoid animal refugees escape, but are transformed into full animal counterparts and are unable to speak, even though they retain their human level intelligence. Zatanna takes Captain Carrot for a pet, unaware of his true identity. The Crew has their anthropomorphic forms and powers restored in Final Crisis.

Zatanna was active with the Justice League in helping to restore Red Tornado's form and deal with an attack by the android Amazo. However, during the events of Blackest Night, she is forced to fight, and destroy, a Black Lantern version of her father, which leaves her psychologically traumatized, and she leaves the team.

Most recently, she has starred in her own solo comic series, written by Pail Dini. Not presently an active member of the JLA, she assists with the investigation of crimes that likely have a mystical undercurrent to them.

As to her powers and abilities, Zatanna's magical abilities are apparently genetic. As a tribute to her father and as a focal point, she usually casts spells by speaking verbal commands backwards. However, she has also proven capable on many occasions of casting spells by speaking normally, and in rarer occasions, the ability to use magic for simple tasks without speaking.

Overuse of her magical powers can deplete them to the point that further use of them starts to put a considerable strain on her physical well-being, the only remedy for which is an extended period of rest.

The limits of her powers have never been clearly established. She has been called the most powerful member of the Justice League (like that hasn't gotten bandied around from time to time!), and is often depicted working alongside some of the most powerful magic-users in the DC universe, including Doctor Fate, Madame Xanadu, and Captain Marvel.

She has used her powers to command elemental forces, heal, transmute, and transmogrify objects, manipulate minds, and attack her opponents with energy blasts. She has resurrected the city of Metropolis from ruin, merged Aquaman's spirit with the entire ocean, and manipulated time and space. There is a degree to which her powers and their level seem tied to her self-confidence. After a series of mistakes described in the "Seven Soldiers" mini-series, she was temporarily powerless until she was able to restore her lost confidence.

Additionally, Zatanna is a skilled illusionist, showgirl, and stage magician even without resorting to her innate magical powers. In fact she considers part of her training the exercising of slight of hand tricks. Zatanna owns a mansion called Shadowcrest, in which she keeps a vast library of magical knowledge, as well as an arsenal of powerful relics, enough to do "just about anything". Shadowcrest seems to exist in a completely different dimension.

So, how's the figure? Very impressive, indeed. Now, Zatanna has had more than one costume over the course of her career, and honestly, one that I was especially pleased with was a white and dark blue outfit that managed to look fairly super-heroic. However, this is admittedly not Zatanna in her best known form, and this IS supposed to be the DC Universe CLASSICS line, so understandably, Mattel and the Four Horsemen have outfitted the character in her most traditional garb.

And I'm rather glad that the online research that I consulted made use of the term "showgirl", because that's probably a little more polite than "cocktail waitress at a men's club", which was the reference I was originally going to use.

Granted, the term "showgirl" can conjure up any number of images, as far as that goes. Hey, I've been to Las Vegas...

Anyway, suffice to say that Zatanna's costume is less in the super-hero category, and more in the stage performance category. For that matter, it is the same outfit that she uses for her stage performances. The outfit consists of a black, long-tailed tuxedo, a white shirt with a red bow tie, a yellow vest, black trunks, black high heeled shoes, and fishnet stockings.

In this respect, Zatanna shares something in common with Wave 9's Black Canary figure, who was also given fishnet stockings, that were made from actual fabric, as were Zatanna's. There are, however, a few differences.

Most obviously, Black Canary has blue leggings underneath the fishnets. In other words, her legs are molded in blue. Zatanna's legs are molded in flesh tone. Additionally, Zatanna has more stocking, as she is wearing high-heeled shoes, as opposed to Black Canary's boots, which come up about mid-calf.

Assembly cannot have been that easy on either figure. As far as I can determine, the fishnets were stretched over the legs, and then the legs were assembled into the lower torso. The difficult part for me to figure out is the feet, especially on Zatanna. At least with Black Canary you've got boots to work with. There's room to tuck in the stockings or whatever they had to do. But Zatanna has just these little high-heeled shoes. I'd love to read the assembly instructions for these two figures someday.

So, how do the stockings look, and work? Moderately well, but let's face it, doing "actual" fishnet stockings on these two characters, regardless of how legitimate it is for both of them to be thusly dressed, is still just a bit of a publicity stunt within their respective waves. In theory, there's no reason that these couldn't have been painted onto the legs of both Black Canary and Zatanna.

However, the fishnets, for the most part, look good. I recommend handling both of these figures with extreme caution, though. If any proof was needed that DC Universe Classics is a collectors' line, it's right here. This somewhat fragile apparel wouldn't last a day in the hands of a small child.

There are two negative points to the fishnet stockings, however, and they are evident on both figures. The first is that, due to assembly requirements, both Black Canary and Zatanna lack outward leg movement. I'm not entirely sure why this was necessitated, as I don't really know precisely how these figures were assembled. They have proper forward and backward leg movement, but not outward.

The second is -- any object that has to be sewn into place is going to require a seam. And in the case of the fishnets, that seam really doesn't look too good. Fortunately, the seams for the stockings are placed on the backs of the legs, so they're not visible from the front, but you can certainly see them from the sides and back, and the effect is -- weird.

Overall, while I applaud Mattel for this interesting feature on both Black Canary and Zatanna, I do find myself wondering just a little bit if this was an idea that was somewhat better in the idea stage than in the final stage, given the seams and articulation hindrance.

I compared Black Canary and Zatanna to see if they shared any other common points besides, obviously, the lower torso and upper legs. Both figures have slight similarities in that they wear loose-fitting coats, but the two coats aren't really similar enough that they could share a lot of molds. Black Canary is wearing a short-length leather-like jacket with sleeves that are slightly rolled up at the cuffs, whereas Zatanna is wearing a rather showy tuxedo-like coat. Although both are designed along similar lines, with the "body" of the coat being a vest-like piece that is attached during assemble, and the "sleeves" of the coat being molded as the figure's arms, that's about the extent of the similarity. I'm reasonably certain that Zatanna uses the same upper arms as Black Canary, but the lower arms are entirely different, and certainly the body of the coat, as well as the upper body of the figure, are entirely different, so that's pretty much the extent of common points between the two.

This leaves Zatanna as being a more individual figure than I would have initially expected. Certainly, that's not a complaint. She has a distinct headsculpt, which is to be expected. She has a superb facial expression, that has a rather exotic look and an expression of -- something between mystery and bemusement on it, which would make sense for the character. She has long black hair that is relatively straight, and which I really wish had been made from a more flexible plastic. It's actually pretty rigid, and is a serious hindrance to head articulation. Come on, Mattel. You finally resolved this with the capes. Start making the long hair out of the same plastic type as the capes, already. Heck, for that matter, Zatanna's jacket, including the tails, is more flexible than her hair.

Zatanna has somewhat arched eyebrows, visible eyelashes, and dark red lipstick. I should mention that I had a little trouble finding a Zatanna with a well-painted face. The skin tone is also painted on, and it took a number of tries to find a Zatanna who didn't have slightly bizarre eyes, or some sort of apparent skin condition. This was not made easier by the fact that the figure is packaged sideways on her card. However, finding a neatly painted Zatanna is certainly not impossible, and when found, the painted detail on the face and the eyes is extremely impressive.

The upper and mid torso are superbly detailed, in both sculpt and paint. Zatanna is wearing a nice little red bow tie, perfectly sculpted. She has a yellow vest over her white shirt, and these have been sculpted with great care and detail, right down to tiny buttons. The buttons on the shirt have been painted silver, and orange-gold on the vest. The ends of the sleeves, which show through the end of the tux, with a little band of white, also have a cuff button on them, which has been painted silver, along with a button on the cuffs of the jacket.

The high-heeled shoes are impressive, and as I indicated before, are part of an assembly with the fishnets that I really can't quite fathom. Very nicely done.

Zatanna comes with a couple of accessories. She is holding a basic stage magic wand in her left hand. It is black, with a white tip, just like in a traditional magic stage show. This is removable, but it's also one of the smallest accessories I've ever seen with a DC Universe Classics figure. It comes strapped to her hand via one of those usually-annoying transparent rubber bands, although she is capable of holding it of her own accord. Nevertheless, when not in use, I recommend putting it in a Ziploc bag with her name on it.

She also comes with a top hat. Now, this is actually something that the character wears in the comics as part of her costume. And here we have a slight problem. Although Zatanna does have very distinctly sculpted hands -- with neatly painted dark red nail polish matching her lipstick, I might add, and even I can't tell if it was done through a stencil or by hand, and if it was done by hand -- WOW! -- the figure is not really capable of holding the hat all that well in her right hand, despite the fact that this is how she is posed in the package, although she is not quite holding the hat, and despite the fact that the hand is posed in such a way that it looks like she should be able to hold it.

Moreover, she can't really wear the hat on top of her head, either. There seems to be a little tab inside the hat that looks like it should somehow connect with her hairline, but it's almost more like a placement guide than any sort of actual connection point.

Now, admittedly, I wouldn't really want the look of this figure spoiled with some sort of insertion tab or something on the top of her head that would lock the hat in place. That wouldn't look good. At the same time, I do think it's a bit of a shame that she can't wear the hat more effectively than she can. It is possible to gently balance the hat on top of her head, provided the figure is standing as upright as possible at the time, and you're patient with it. And provided somebody doesn't sneeze -- in the next room -- because it doesn't take much to knock the hat off, either.

And no, there isn't a rabbit in the hat -- or anything else. It has enough storage capacity to accommodate one M&M, or one Skittle, whichever your preferece.

Articulation of the figure is excellent, if a little hindered here and there. Zatanna should be poseable at the head, but the hair prevents much movement. She is fully poseable at the arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid torso, legs (lacking outward movement), upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. I'm not sure about the waist. She looks like she should be able to turn there, but doesn't. Black Canary does, but Black Canary isn't wearing a vest that hangs slightly below the waist. My Zatanna might just be stuck a bit -- in which case that's a quality control problem that Mattel needs to address -- but I can't say that I'm terribly inclined to force the figure and maybe break it in half. She's centered and I'll leave it at that.

So, what's my final word here? I'm very impressed. Zatanna has a more extensive background in the DC Universe than I realized. She certainly continues to have an impact in the DC Universe in several respects, and certainly is deserving of being added to the DC Universe Classics action figure line. And although this line has been more generous to females than some, they're still a relative rarity, so she is certainly welcome on that basis, as well.

Most of the issues I have cited are relatively minor, and on the whole, the positive points far outweigh the negatives. Any fan of the Justice League, or anyone who's a fan of Zatanna, currently enjoying her own title, will want to have this figure.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of ZATANNA definitely has my highest recommendation!