"A Book in the Beginning"
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Ryan Sook (p), Mick Gray
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: As the powerless Zatanna and her apprentice seek shelter in a San Francisco magic shop that belongs to a blind woman that Zatanna is on somewhat friendly terms with, the shape-shifting entity that is chasing her is able to slip through the magical defences the surround the shop. However, Zatanna's years of experience and the wealth of magical items that litter the shop allow her to defeat the evil creature, and as the issue ends, an old friend enters the shop.
Comments: This is the second time that Grant Morrison has caught me off guard when it comes to his decision to wrap up one of these Seven Soldiers stories in the second chapter of a four issue miniseries. Truth be told, it did look like he had more than enough material to carry the action over the four issues, as a powerless Zatanna is pursued by a shape-shifting entity, and she's saddled with a young sidekick who is still learning how to use her magic powers. If nothing else my past experience with four issue miniseries has lead me to accept the idea that the second issue is the issue where our lead character gets knocked down to the mat, as the big, bad villain is built up, and the next issue centres around the hero getting their ducks back in a row, and preparing for the big rematch so that they can redeem themselves in the final chapter. But I guess I really shouldn't be surprised that Grant Morrison has decided to break from this established format, as he's always been one to march to the beat of his own drum, and I'm actually quite pleased that he didn't follow the expected pattern. Frankly, it made for a nice change of pace to see a powerless hero actually hold her own in combat. In fact, while I'm a big fan of Zatanna, I will concede that her power to make anything happen simply by saying it backwards does rob her battles of their dramatic tension. As such, this issue's tussle does stand up as one of her more exciting battles. I also rather enjoyed the little weird touches that litter the issue, like the opening sequence where the shape-shifter follows our heroes by adopting the form of various elements of the background. And how can one not love the limited conversational skills of the talking crossbow? Staging the big battle in a room full a magical artifacts also made for a great final set piece for what was a very entertaining done-in-one Zatanna adventure. The last page development is also a welcome moment as I've always been a fan of this character.
Ryan Sook clearly needs to be given a title where the lead character is a shaper-shifter as he looked to be having a grand old time in the opening pages of this issue with the entity that was chasing Zatanna. How can one not help but play the "spot the evil entity" game in these opening pages? The magic shop that our heroes seek refuge in is also full of fun little background elements, some of which are linked to the underlying Seven Soldiers story line, while others are just cute visuals. I also enjoyed the little visual touches like the fact that the copy of Zatanna's book that the blind woman owns serving as the doorway that the entity uses to enter the shop, and the scene where the creature attacks while disguised as a cat has to be one of the most unsettling looking visuals of the issue. There's also a lovely little bit where Zatanna uses a magical hat to gather up the smoke that the villain has transformed into, and the final fate of the entity made for a cute visual moment.
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