Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Sorceress’ New Clothes – Zatanna’s new outfit doesn’t “etiuq krow"

Serinda Swan as Zatanna on Smallville's 
8th season episode, Hexed.

I’m feeling a little whiny today. So what shall I complain about?  How about DC Comic's superheroing sorceress, Zatanna?  

Is anyone else finding the new costume for DC’s new series by writer Paul Dini and artist Stephane Roux a bit of a mash-up?

I know it's Zatanna we're talking about here but this uniform is missing the mark slightly. Zatanna is far from the first superheroine to have a costume wholly inappropriate for crime fighting or supernatural menace slaying, but her original outfit does at least match up with her stage origins.

Carmine Infantino's original Zatanna.

Zatanna followed in the footsteps of her famous father, stage magician (and actual wizard) Zatarra.  As an old-school (read that as, non-stripping) burlesque magician she wore a somewhat tarted up version of her father’s top hat and tuxedo jacket crossed with the sort of stockings and tights she might have worn as his assistant growing up. 

Zatanna’s stage magician look belies her actual supernatural talent. She's a hero who hides in plain site, couching her inherited magical abilities power in stagecraft and misdirection. And as drawn by the brilliant designer of Carmine Infantino, her costume looks like a million bucks. (Though one could be forgiven for assuming she was just there to sell cigarettes, gum or a tray full off shooters.)

Our backward’s talking sorceress’ first appearances in the sixties were in a number of DC titles as she teamed with various DC heroes in search of her father, who had disappeared mysteriously. The early team-ups were featured as a back-up stories in various DC titles (including turns with Hawkman, The Atom, Batman, Green Lantern and even the Elongated Man). Eventually her quest me tit’s end in the pages of the Justice League of America. It was a gentle precursor to today’s multi-title, event crossovers.

It took all of Zatanna’s wits and power combined with those of the entire Justice League to free her wayward father from the magical dimension he as imprisoned in. DC recently reprinted the entire quest in JLA: Zatanna’s Search. This edition has a cover by Brian Bolland, who definitely sold Zatanna’s dressy duds with typical Bolland aplomb.

When Zatanna eventually joined the Justice League in the eighties, no less than the master himself, George Perez, designed a new costume for her new, more heroic role in the DC universe. The cape and the wide sleeves kept an element of her “nothing up my sleeves” magic while the skintight purple and white bathing suit and billowing cape lent the ensemble the necessary dose of four-colour superheroics. And I even dig the fab earrings. Zatanna always does things with style.

After a spin in the original Books of Magic mini-series and guest appearances in a variety of titles, Zatanna took centre stage as one of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, with fantastic artwork by Ryan Sook. Though Sook took Zatanna’s costume to a slightly more sexual extreme, he still sold it as a stage costume. One got the feeling that it was like Zatanna putting on a character and if a little leg showing helped distract her opponents, all the better.

Let’s be honest. Zatanna isn’t a hero who’s going to get into a bare-knuckle barroom brawl. She fights magic with magic. So with high-kicks out of the picture stiletto heels are just fine, thank you very much.

And now, DC has announced a new Zatanna ongoing series by Dini and Roux. I find this an exciting prospect and gobbled the yummy preview art they’ve released at DC Universe the Source -- Zatanna Strikes Out on her Own.

 But there are a few little things about Zatanna’s look that aren’t working for me just yet.

In trying to make Zatanna’s costume more his own, Roux dresses Zatanna -- the most put-together fashion-wise hero in the DCU -- in a bit of a mish-mash of mismatched items. It’s as if she’d stolen pieces willy-nilly from the window of a vintage shop.

Part of it is a pet peeve of mine. I have with artists who are so used to drawing muscular men that when they clothe someone in a suit they have no idea how to fit it around the human body.  Truthfully, it bugs me all the more because I share this fault in my own art.

I should first say that Stephane Roux is hell of an artist. His characters are rendered with verve and loads of personality. His acting is extremely believable and his layouts are quirky but clear.  And let’s face it, his Zatanna has exactly the kind of likeable, fun personality a character would need to be a successful stage performer and mystical buckler of swashes.

But Z’s costume is just… a little off. But why?

I think part of it may be that Roux has dispensed with the tails, effectively turning the tailcoat into a bolero jacket. In short, Z was an entertainer before, now she’s Julie, our cruise director.

That alone may not have bothered me except Roux has replaced the tails with a cape, I suppose to add an element of superheroic derring-do to the proceedings. 

But this is not just any cape. This cape has tuxedo-like tails at the bottom. Um, if he missed the tails so very much why add them here?  

It’s exactly the kind of detail an artist hits on to make a costume more “his own”.  But in this case, the effect feels a little forced and equally fails as both a superhero element and as a magicians cape for me.

Now on to the vest. But is it a vest or a wide belt?  In his effort to showcase Zatann’s ample bosom, Roux has drawn a vest that doesn’t fit her body in any way gravity would allow.  

Again, this isn’t entirely Roux's fault. Other artists have done the same thing and I’ve rarely felt it works. It looks silly to me.  It’s such a simple thing to redraw the angle of the vest to go up instead of across. It would feel more realistic and in no way would interfere with the appreciation of Z’s boobs.

Roux has followed tradition  kept the fishnets and dancewear covering her bottom and I can’t really blame him for the hooker boots. Again, past artists have tried the same thing. I came across another Brian Bolland version of our resident, backwards talking, "ssertsim fo cigam" that features the thigh-high boots and the same trick with the vest. I must confess Bolland makes it work. So perhaps I’m being too hard on poor Stephane.

But there is one other, little thing.  Does it bother anyone else that Z's top hat doesn't sit on her head correctly?

It floats two inches above her in most panels. Perhaps the rabbits she hides inside keep pushing it up.

Sigh... On the other hand.

Truthfully, after studying the art to write up this rant, Roux’s version of Zatanna is growing on me every time I look at it.

Trading the tails for a cape-with-tails seems silly but overall,Roux's layouts look bombastic and playful.  He’s adding a lot of charm to Zatanna's face and is playing around with the new characters, who are all well-defined and fun looking. Check out this line-up of fabulous characters!

Now that my curmudgeonly fanboy complaints are all out in the open, the many good elements of Roux’s artwork are shining forward in sharp relief.

And now I can’t wait to see the book, dang it!

Darn. Serinda Swann is making me eat 
my words about Zatanna's thigh highs.

But the classic look still 
rocks the house.

srevaeB pU! 

1 comment:

  1. I have no complaints here at all, come on look at that woman, everything is just perfect about her, and the outfit looks a lot like the original to my eyes... or is it just because of the girl.. I don't know but it is fine.

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