"Cast in Shadow"
Writers: Ben McCool
Artists: Dan Brizuela, Heroic Age(c)
Clunky, with far too much dialogue, this issue of Justice League Unlimited takes a tired look at a classic Zatanna story. The art while semi-decent can use a little snap, and writer Ben McCool takes some sharp detours from JLU continuity that damage the credibility of the plot.
WARNING! SPOILERS FOR THE CARTOON NETWORK'S JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMTIED CONTAINED WITHIN THE REVIEW!
Zatanna and her father Zatara were introduced, in Batman: the Animated Series, as stage magicians, not sorcerers. It was clear however that when Zatanna stood among the heroes listening to Superman's speech in the premiere of Justice League Unlimited, she would be more than an illusionist. Later episodes indeed showed her in magical action.
McCool attempts to explain how Zatanna the stage magician became Zatanna the backwards speaking conjurer. The tale begins as a young Zatanna gets into mischief by scaring her friends with a spell. To punish her Zatara neutralizes her powers. Apparently this is why Zatanna couldn't use real magic back in Batman: the Animated Series.
The story implies that until now Zatanna was severely hampered by her father's commands, but that doesn't make any sense. It would be different if this were Zatanna's induction story, but the tale's set at a time when Zatanna is already a member of the League. She is already the powerful backwards speaking spell-caster, and it's ludicrous to believe that Zatara, who died, in this continuity long before Zatanna became a Leaguer, wouldn't have given back her abilities at some point when she matured. Since he was alive when she was a teenager and possibly when she was a young woman, the whole story just doesn't gel.
The memory of girlhood arises from Zatanna's monitor duty boredom. See? She's already a Leaguer. Already on the Watchtower. Dr. Fate interrupts her reverie to tell her that there's a situation in Central City. Shadows are hunting their casters.
The Shadow Thief of JLU continuity was actually a living shadow, not merely a criminal. In a sequel to his introductory episode, viewers learn that the Shadow Thief is in reality the dark side of Carter Hall, which he reabsorbs at the end of the episode. So there is no longer a Shadow Thief in JLU continuity, nor can he be confined to a jail. There is also no Alan Scott, who is seen accompanying the League to Central City. Why McCool didn't use John Stewart, one of the original seven in the Timm continuity, is beyond me.
It's true that Bruce Timm wanted to bring the JSA into JLU continuity for a team-up, but he didn't. He instead came up with something better. The moving episode "Legends" honored the JSA. In that episode the League encounter manifestations of long dead heroes on a parallel earth. The Green Guardsman of the Justice Guild was one of them.
The Justice Society never formed in JLU continuity. The members of the Society may never have been born. There is only one Flash named Wally West. There is only one type of Green Lantern, the intergalactic police variety, and McCool doesn't give an explanation as to how Alan Scott can be a Green Lantern and a Justice Leaguer, nor does he explain how Zatara can be alive. If Batman believed his old teacher was missing, he would look for him. Zatara died. If you fly in the face of continuity, you must at least give an explanation for those changes. If you intend to defy continuity, then you had better come up with something brilliant to argue against what has already been established. Bruce Timm Continuity is near seamless, and a spin-off based on his continuity had damn well better respect it.
Putting aside the plot holes and continuity issues, McCool's characterization of the League simply isn't very good. Zatanna acts bitchy--especially toward Batman--and blames her attitude on the chestnut of caffeine-deprivation. May as well have said "it was her time of the month." Few of the Leaguers talk like themselves. Wonder Woman almost has a brogue. Dr. Fate may be wordy, but he isn't that wordy.
The whole need for an explanation regarding a minor divergence in Zatanna's history isn't necessary. It's more reasonable to imagine that Zatanna while investigating new tricks to perform, simply learned about the occult. You don't need to resurrect Zatara. You don't need some contrived nonsense about his forbidding her to use witchcraft. You also don't need to add this issue of Justice League Unlimited to your collection.
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