Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Caped, top-hatted and tuxedoed Magician of US Comic books, Giovanni Zatara was created by writer Gardner Fox (1911-1986) and artist Fred Guardineer (1913-2002) in Action Comics #1 (1938): he was one of the dozens of tuxedoed magicians in swirling capes to combat supernatural villains in US comic books in response to the great popularity of stage illusionists and the success of Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician. Originally a routine vaudeville circuit conjurer whose tricks were so old (learned from a book he had received as a child) that he was regularly booed off the stage, Zatara's fortunes changed soon after his 19th birthday, when he found one of the notebooks of his ancestor, Leonardo da Vinci, which was written in reverse to preserve its secrecy. Reading aloud, Zatara found that he was no mere illusionist but a magician of awesome power, and from that moment began to perform truly mystical deeds by saying everything backwards: thus, to rid himself of flying snakes, he merely had to pronounce "Og yawa uoy gniylf sekans!". Artists on the feature included Joe Kubert (1926-2012). Over the next 12 years Zatara battled Demons, evil Mummies, Zombies and, towards the end of his days, when crime stories were selling better, killers and gangsters. He took his last bow in World's Finest #51 (1950).

It was later revealed, however, that on one of his many trips to Atlantis, he had fathered a daughter, Zatanna, who was created by Fox and artist Murphy Anderson (1926-2015) in Hawkman #4 (1964) and introduced to the DC Comics universe by a useful Plot Device: she was seeking her missing father. Half Atlantean (on her mother's side) she looked more like a conjurer's assistant than a magician in her own right. Her quest to find her father continued through various titles (including Atom, Green Lantern and Justice League of America), and she finally located him in Justice League of America #51 (1967). She was eventually to become a member of the JLA (in #161, 1978), leaving in 1986 (#257).

Giovanni Zatara was killed in Swamp Thing #50 (1987) when Earth's greatest magicians were gathered together to face a threat to the supernatural side of DC's universe. He also appeared in the late 1980s in Young All-Stars, which featured adventures from the 1940s, when he had lived on a large estate, Shadowcrest, with his faithful servant, Tong.

Zatanna remains a minor DC character with only occasional appearances in recent years, notably in the second series of Spectre (1987-1989), a Zatanna Special (1987) drawn by Gray Morrow, The Books of Magic #2 (1990) by Neil Gaiman and Scott Hampton, and Zatanna: Come Together (#1-#4, 1993) by Lee Marrs and Esteban Maroto. In DC's current continuity, Zatanna is retired from magic and resides in San Francisco. [SH/RT]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.