||This comics-related article describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (October 2009)|
First appearance in Action Comics #1, in which Zatara often--but not exclusively--used backwards speech to accomplish his magic.
|First appearance||Action Comics #1 (June 1938)|
|Created by||Fred Guardineer|
|Alter ego||Giovanni "John" Zatara|
|Team affiliations||All-Star Squadron
Black Lantern Corps
|Abilities||Can use magic by speaking the desired effect backwards.|
Giovanni "Seth" Zatara is a fictional character in the DC Universe. He first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), and was created by writer and artist Fred Guardineer. He is a stage magician who also practices actual magic. He married Sindella, a Homo magi, and they have a daughter, Zatanna Zatara, who, like her father, is both a stage magician and a real magician.
Fictional character biography
John Zatara is introduced as a magician in various publications of DC Comics, beginning with 1938's Action Comics # 1, which also contains the first appearance of Superman. Like the very similar Mandrake the Magician, Zatara had a large East Indian as a friend/bodyguard, called Tong, to share his early adventures.
As well as being an illusionist, Zatara also had genuine magical powers (decades later ascribed to being a descendant of the Homo magi), which he focused through speaking backwards: he could do anything so long as he could describe it in sdrawkcab hceeps ("backwards speech"). This helped distinguish Zatara from the numerous Mandrake the Magician knockoffs that cluttered the comics and pulp magazines of the day, although Merlin the Magician (Quality Comics) also had this attribute, and it was also given to him by Zatara's creator, Fred Guardineer.
His love of magic began early when he was given a magic kit by his uncle, himself a professional illusionist. Although he began learning the craft in childhood, his early attempts at performing professionally were unsuccessful until he realized that he needed to work on his showmanship.
To that end, he dug up old diaries of Leonardo da Vinci, who was a direct ancestor. While reading the diaries, which Da Vinci wrote in backwards spelling as a security precaution, Zatara learned that his family had the command of magic. He discovered this inadvertently when he accidentally gave a command to a mannequin to begin waving an arm wildly. Zatara realized that he could command it to stop by giving the order in backwards spelling.
With this new knowledge, Zatara developed a successful show. During the premiere performance a fire broke out on stage, forcing Zatara to use his command of real magic to put it out. While the audience mistook the incident as part of the act, Zatara realized that this power could be invaluable in helping people and he resolved to use it as such between shows.
Zatara became good friends with Thomas Wayne. His excursions with Wayne led to Wayne meeting his wife, Martha. After the two were killed, Zatara left Gotham City, blaming himself for being unable to stop the orphaning of young Bruce. Eventually, in Europe, Zatara would met and wed Sindella, who gave birth to their daughter, Zatanna. Sindella seemingly died after giving birth to Zatanna, prompting Zatara to become a depressed drunk.
Things changed for the better in Zatara's life when a young Bruce Wayne arrived, requesting Zatara to teach him to become an escape artist and illusionist. Bruce's appearance prompted Zatara to address his alcoholism.
Zatanna, Zatara's daughter from a Homo magi mother, was introduced in a multipart crossover in which she attempted to find her father, and he attempted to stop her at every turn because he knew that a spell had been placed upon them both that would cause them to both die if they saw one another. He had been trapped in the land of Kharma by a sorceress called Allura, whom he had trapped in the Sword of Paracelsus. Allura turned out to have a good twin, also called Allura, who forced her to remove the spell.
At the conclusion of Alan Moore's "American Gothic" storyline in Swamp Thing (Vol. 2) #50 (which was tied to the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths), John Constantine comes to get Zatanna, Mento and Sargon the Sorcerer to come together to help demonic and divine forces in other hellish dimensions battle the entity known as the 'Great Evil Beast'. The séance is held at Wintersgate Manor, the home of Baron Winters in Georgetown, Washington which is also a temporal threshold to other plains of reality. Because Constantine had previously taken Zatanna to a "tantric studies meeting," Zatara will not let Zatanna out of his sight with Constantine present, and by his very presence, is forced to take part in the seance to which he was not invited. The Beast, who is so tall its thumb alone looms over Hell, takes notice of their group twice. The first glimpse dooms Sargon, whom Zatara convinces to 'die like a Sorcerer' and not break the holding of hands. Sargon burns to death nobly. The second glance literally heats up Zatanna. Zatara willingly takes the effect onto himself, dying (his smoldering hat lands on the table) but sparing his daughter's life.
Since then he has made sporadic appearances in the afterlife, including resurrecting Mason O'Dare in Starman #80, and the Seven Soldiers: Zatanna miniseries. In the Reign of Hell mini-series, Zatara is part of a general resistance movement operating in Hell. He is caught up in the various conflicts and is slain a second time in Hell by a rampaging Lobo. As with most of the 'dead', he risks becoming fodder for Hell, a torment where the physicallity of the damned is used for general resources such as building material. By manipulating his blood to form words, he asks Zatanna to consign his soul to the 'abyss', a realm Hell cannot affect. Zatanna does so, tormented that she must now destroy her father's essence.
His nephew, Zachary, now uses the Zatara name as a stage magician, going so far, in the alternate future of the Titans Tomorrow timeline, to model his physical appearance and heroic getup on the vintage clothing and grooming of his late uncle.
In a Justice League of America vol. 2 #39-40 tie-in to the Blackest Night crossover, Zatara was reanimated as a member of the Black Lantern Corps, ready to attack his daughter, Zatanna in the Hall of Justice. Zatanna is successful in banishing the Black Lantern, but was left psychologically crushed from having to kill her father (after watching him die once before).
Another Zatara was featured in a supporting role in the miniseries Kingdom Come and its follow-up, The Kingdom. This Zatara is the son of Zatanna and magician John Constantine, which makes him the grandson of the original. He is described as "a youthful Harry Houdini-like successor to the magician super-hero lineage." Rather than speak backwards just for his spells, however, he does it all the time, which annoys his colleagues no end.
In other media
- The first broadcast depiction of Zatara was in a flashback in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Zatanna," in which he was voiced by Vincent Schiavelli. Zatara had trained Bruce Wayne as an escape artist. Zatara has already died under unspecified circumstances by the time that episode took place. Zatara is also mentioned by Batman as his mentor in ventriloquism in the episode "Read My Lips".
- Zatara is mentioned several times by his daughter in the Smallville episode "Hex". In that episode, his daughter, Zatanna attempts to bring him back to life with a magic spell, but in order to do that, she must sacrifice a life, which she intends to be her own.
- Giovanni Zatara appears in the Young Justice TV series voiced by Nolan North. He appears as one of the 16-member roster for the Justice League in that show. He makes a brief appearance in "Independence Day" informing the rest of the League that Wotan is attempting to blot out the sun. In "Fireworks", he was with the rest of the Justice League when they arrived at the Cadmus building following Blockbuster's defeat. He also appears in "Revelation", along with several league members to stop the giant plant monsters unleashed by the Injustice League. In "Humanity", Zatara brings his daughter Zatanna to Mount Justice in Happy Harbor. He was angrily displeased that the team brought Zatanna with them to find Red Tornado. In the episode "Misplaced," desperate to save Zatanna from the control of Dr. Fate, he convinces Nabu to release her in exchange for him wearing the helmet, appealing to Nabu by pointing out that his skills and powers are much greater than his daughter as well his body being more adaptable to the helmet's power. After Nabu removes the helmet, Zatara says goodbye to Zatanna before putting on the helmet, becoming the new Dr. Fate and disappearing, devastating Zatanna. In "Agendas," Zatara's Doctor Fate form was seen with the Justice League when discussing about adding some new members to the Justice League. He does express his opinion not to add Zatanna to the Justice League yet with Wonder Woman claiming that Zatara is still stating this from within the Helm of Nabu. In "Auld Acquaintances, after defeating Doctor Fate who was under the control of Vandal Savage, Zatanna tries to take the helmet off him but the helmet stayed on, remarking, I may have saved Fate from Savage, but I can't save my father from Fate. In Season 2 (set 5 years after Season 1), Dr. Fate is still a member of the Justice League (presumably with Zatara still as the host).
- In addition, in the Cartoon Monsoon contest, Zatara appeared in the Zatanna entry as the frustrated father of the title character. The story was set during Zatanna's teen years and took certain liberties.
- Zatara is shown in a crossover comic in Batman Adventures with Superman Adventures. The two comics show Batman and Superman in respective pursuit of red and blue amulets owned by Zatara that opened ways to another dimension. The comics also show a flashback of a teenage Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent both seeking magic lessons from Zatara, although neither come into contact with each other, but both use the pseudonym "John Smith".
- "Madame Xanadu Disenchanted" #9 (2009)
- The Spectre (vol. 2) #7
- Justice League of America #51
- "Swamp Thing" V2 #50
- "Seven Soldiers: Zatanna" #1-4 (2005)
- Reign of Hell #5
- Justice League of America vol. 2 #39-40
- The Kingdom: Offspring #1
- Flashpoint: Secret Seven #2 (July 2011)
- EXCLUSIVE: Señor Fenix Knows The Futures Of LOCKE & KEY, POWERS, REVIVIAL, JJ Abrams and Guillermo del Toro
- Zatara Index at Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics
- Jess Nevins' Comic Book Annotations for Kingdom Come #3
- Zatara Biography at Toonopedia