Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why I Should Write SEVEN SOLDIERS #6: Zatanna

Oh jeez that's right, I have a blog, don't I? I was right in the middle of something ... what was it ... ah yes:

At one point or another, you’ve probably found yourself in the middle of a hostile situation between friends, family, or co-workers, right? You want to keep your relationship with both parties intact, and that means not picking a side, which therefore often means playing both sides. And when you play both sides, sometimes it feels like you’re not on anyone’s side at all. It’s awkward and unpleasant, and you feel insincere and cowardly.

This is Zatanna’s unhappy state of being.

See, magic users and superheroes don’t really get along. Superheroes see magicians as aloof and haughty; too mysterious for their own good (not to mention that a lot of them don’t like magic because it doesn’t seem to have any “rules”). Magicians see superheroes as na├»ve goofs who tend to ignore the big picture. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s mature enough to recognize each side does things the other one can’t, but it's hard to coordinate your efforts when you're suspicious of each other.

Zatanna is a magician and a superhero. We’re very fortunate that there’s someone like her around; there are times when the two camps really need to work together, and nobody can facilitate that like Zatanna. When the Toyman invades Metropolis on Memorial Day with an army of toy soldiers, it looks like a job for Superman. But when it turns out the spirits of soldiers from every American war are inhabiting those toys, you call in Zatanna; it’s not like Doctor Fate has a bloody clue what the Toyman’s deal is, after all, or who he might have struck a deal with to pull this off.

But the rest of the time? She’s friends with Oliver Queen and the Phantom Stranger, and those guys do not get along. So to the Stranger she’s saying, “Yeah, sorry about Ollie, he’s just really short tempered and, y’know, he’s an immediate-response sort of guy, and you kind of have to respect that,” but to Green Arrow she has to explain, “Look, I know it seems like the Stranger doesn’t care about the common man, but he’s working on a bunch of different levels you’re not seeing all the time, you know?” Invariably, everyone ends up mad at her, and that’s just great, isn’t it?

Threats … threats … One thing I got out of the existing Seven Soldiers Zatanna series and the usual sort of daddy-stuff to be found in Morrison’s work is this idea that Zatanna sometimes still feels like that little girl who gets things wrong – an adult who still feels like a kid. So I think a lot of the threats would occur at that intersection between childhood and adulthood, where all those childish whimsies turn sour.

There’s the Toyman bit I’ve already mentioned, but that’s only a precursor to the arrival of the Cosmic Toyman, an entity called the Puppeteer, and he lures his victims with childhood things reanimated and ruined – your fifth grade teacher telling you you’ll never make anything of yourself, children’s show hosts encouraging you to take crack, beloved cartoon characters getting old and senile and sick and dying; the Puppeteer poisons your nostalgia, and while he’s at it, he’ll bring back Barnabus the Teddy Bear King to really rub it in.

Along the same lines, picture a bitter, dejected twentysomething who reconnects with his childhood imaginary friend. But instead of a simple playmate, this individual now wants an accomplice, someone who can help him get all the money, power, and women he’s always wanted. Imagine Calvin and Hobbes as a precursor to a horrible nightmare (but oh God don’t really think of it as Calvin and Hobbies, I mean really).

Imagine discarded children’s art projects – broken clay pots and egg-carton dragons, scribbled stick figure families emerging from their typing paper world – lashing out because they’re confused and unloved. They may not be very good, but those kids tried hard just the same, and that ought to count for something, right?

But it won’t be all uncomfortable reflections of childhood. Zatanna should be a funny comic, too – funny and meaningful in the way that Buffy was. A jealous sorcerer can force Zatanna to relive every bad date she’s ever had, although it only shows her how much she’s learned from the unpleasant experiences. And when adults are suddenly being visited by the ghosts of their teenage selves, most people feel bad after being chewed out by their younger selves for settling for their boring adult lives; Zatanna, on the other, has to contend with the absolutely dreadful 16-year-old she was, but there’s something to take from that as well.

One more thing – I’m interested in the stage magician, performance aspect to Zatanna. For that reason, of all the Seven Soldiers books I am proposing, hers is the only one that will have first-person narration. But it won’t just be an excuse to dump some exposition, or show and not tell character traits – Zee will be, in some sense, putting on a show for the readers, talking them through each issue the way a stage magician talks you through a magic trick. And what’s important to take from that is that stage magicians are very often untruthful in their monologues; at the very least, they’re trying to mislead you, so you’d really have to look at what her narrative captions say and whether or not they can be taken at face value. Because very often, I would have Zatanna try to throw you off the trail, just to see if you’re paying attention.

Ecneidua, kniht rof sevlesruoy!

Oh, by the way, the Bulleteer/Guardian/Zatanna crossover I mentioned … all will be revealed next time in the last series proposal – Manhattan Guardian.


Josh said...

We need to con some DC editors into reading this blog.... Like "hey Dan Didio! Did you hear about this Wyatt Earp Blog thing? I hear they have Puppies and kittens and free icecreams." You know, stuff editors like. Then he'll march right to your door and say: "Your ideas are so brilliant I didn't mind not getting free icecreams or kitties and puppies. I'd like you to write all the seven soldiers. And Superman, and Batman, and you get to undo all the retcons that terrible human being Geoff Johns has been forcing on all of us. Come to think of it I don't know that he is a human being. I think he's just the living embodiment of all of our childhoods loves, adoration, and miserable no good ideas that should have stayed with ten year old us. Now lets have a hug and you can start writing. Also I want your friend Josh to pick his favorite book and he can draw it. We're also going to publish your Wyatt Earp book and give you 100% of the rights to it."

See, now you've started creator owned properties at DC, ousted Geoff Johns, gotten us both employed at DC, and become BFFs with Dan Didio. All you have to do now is work on ousting Jeph Loeb. What is it with guys named "Jeff" who suck and don't know how to spell their own names?

Justin said...

My only real hope is that Didio is visited by three ghosts this Christmas, all of which tell him to read the blog. Upon doing so, his heart will grow three sizes, he'll buy us a Christmas goose, and say, "You know what, I bet this kid has a much better concept for doing King Tut as a Batman villain in the comics than the one we came up with" (and YOU KNOW I DO).

Failing that, I'll need you to pick up a radiation suit, a Walkman with some Van Halen in it, and pull a Marty McFly on him. Don't let me down!

By the way, which book WOULD you pick to draw? I'm curious.

Oh, and I wouldn't need to undo anything Geoff Johns has done, just ... not be all hung up on it. I do think there's room enough in this world (and even in the current super-niche comics market) for both his very insular and reverential approach, and my own inclination to use nostalgia as just the canvas on which to paint new concepts and ideas. In fact, I'm sure Johns is really a fine fellow once you get to--

--wait, what's that you say, Internet? What is it, boy?



You stay away from He-Man, Geoff Johns! THIS DOES NOT CONCERN YOU!

Us, on the other hand ... Josh, in this fantasy future you've carved out, is there room for a weird and whimsical All-Star Supermanesque approach to Masters of the Universe? TELL ME THERE IS.

plok said...

How about all Zatanna's bad dates are Zatanna's fault? The guy's fine, but she turns weird, or drinks too much at dinner, or gets too extroverted...uses dates as homemade therapy. But then again, maybe that's just the way she remembers it. ALWAYS MAKING EXCUSES FOR OTHER PEOPLE, ZATANNA!

So Zatanna was still working out daddy-issues by doing reasonably self-destructive things right up until Zatanna #1, right? And now she's finally worked through all her most basic shit, which just leaves...

Everything else!

I like it!

It's another winner.

Justin said...

I'd imagine it'd have to be a bit of both. She starts off with a bit of swagger thinking "Great, I have to relive awkward dinner after awkward dinner with these hapless goons," but the more she watches she starts to think, "Well, I could've been nicer there" and "Okay, I really went flying off the handle there." And she starts to get really down on herself. But she ends up deciding after all is said and done that the very fact that she's cringing shows that she's grown a little bit and learned from past mistakes, and you know what? Some of those guys--not all, but some of them--WERE ACTUALLY HAPLESS GOONS and she's got nothing to apologize for.

And if I had 22 pages of script to do that, it wouldn't come out quite so pat and trite, hopefully.

But that's a recurring thing I'd like to do, with the meeting-her-teenage-self story along the same lines - the theme being that if you look back on your life, yeah you've done some dumb things, but you were never quite the trainwreck you thought you were at the time, and maybe you're not doing so bad now.

My Zatanna comic would be about admitting to yourself that things are not great but they might be okay, and that's not so bad.