Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grant Morrison Breaking The 4th Wall: Zatanna #4

After a month of basically wallowing in the backwash of the DCnU relaunch, lamenting the disappearance of some characters and the misguided reimaginations of others, I decided that I needed to rethink things. Why not celebrate those characters who made it into the DCnU?

The new title that has me the most interested is Justice League Dark, the mystic team which includes some of my favorite all time characters including John Constantine and Shade the Changing Man. Also included on that team is Zatanna, a character I have always liked and whose current title I collected and enjoyed. I thought I would celebrate Zatanna being in this new League and part of the DCnU.

But I thought I should look a little farther back than the current series, instead rereading and rediscovering the Seven Soldiers:Zatanna mini-series of 2005-2006. I mean, this book was written by Grant Morrison, one of my all time favorite comic writers. And art was by Ryan Sook, whose art is utterly amazing. It isn't a surprise that I loved this mini-series when it came out.

In it, a mentally exhausted Zatanna seems to have lost her powers and takes on an unlikely apprentice. There are the usual Sheeda-shenanigans of a Seven Soldiers book. But really, the thing that has always struck me about this book was the way Morrison simply shatters the 4th wall in the last issue, bringing the character into the real world, the real world into the book, and the characters into the physical nature of the book. And it is those jaw-dropping moment from Seven Soldiers:Zatanna #4 that I re-present for your amusement today.

After some adventures, Zatanna heads into Slaughter Swamp where she knows she will meet a great threat. There she battles Zor, a sort of evil version of her father Zatara. It is a hard fought battle through layers of reality.

Finally, Zatanna hears voices and reaches through the 'scaffolding' of reality to make contact.

Look at that hand, pressed against the page, asking us ... the reader ... for help.

In some ways it is similar to the 'I can see you' moment in Morrison's Animal Man #19 where Buddy sees us reading him.

But for me this was so much more of a personal breakdown of the 4th wall. Who didn't feel almost compelled to put their hand against Zatanna's here? Who actually put their hand there? I admit I did.

And I am sure that is what Morrison was going for. Some interaction between book and reader in an almost magical way. Mind-bending stuff.

And the following page continues this dizzy tour through sub-realities. Now we are looking at the same scene from Zatanna's perspective, facing a jumble of typewriter keys, floating letters, gears, and seven men who look suspiciously like Morrison himself.

Is Zatanna facing the fact that she is a character in a book?

And I love 'Morrison' talking about how Zatanna has broken through. She really is 'something else'.

Then one last splash page as Zatanna tumbles through the panel of Slaughter Swamp and into some sort of sub-basement of reality, within the machinery of the story.

And then some pure Morrison magic as Zatanna says 'eyes, tens of thousands of eyes, in different times and places converging on (her)'. Those are our eyes. My eyes on her then, re-reading the book. But my eyes also somewhere and somewhen else reading the book and looking at her the first time I read the book. And all the other readers at all the other times and other places looking on her ... a small focus in the universe for a select few. That brings the readers back into this story whenever and whereever they read this.

In the end she defeats Zor. But after this dizzying meta-textual, reality-bending trip I sort of didn't care.

I just wanted to include one more page from earlier in the book when Zor and Zatanna battle across the page, ripping panels, shattering panels, and hiding behind crumpled panels. Such a wonderful mystical interaction putting the characters literally in a magic book.

I freely admit that I like Morrison but I understand he is also an acquired taste. You either roll with his zaniness or feel crushed by it. I enjoyed most of the Seven Soldiers mini-series but I think this one is my favorite. Morrison really stretches the boundaries of a comic here.  Sook's work is just superior. He has Zatanna in a number of different costumes throughout the book, not just this fishnet leotard. If you can get the individual issues for cheap, I highly recommend it.

And if you do buy it, do you dare to touch your palm to Zatanna's and join in Morrison's mystic union?


Diabolu Frank said...

I touched the screen, much less the comic. I clap for faeries, as well. I'm sure Zee only having tens of thousands of potential saviors rather than hundreds of thousands also plays into that. If not me, who? Weirdly drawn hand, though.

Well, you definitely make me want to read this, but I missed my chance at the floppies on release, and every other presentation has involved a Seven Soldiers mix and match. Magic is hard to pull off in comics, so this metatext and toying with the conventions of the page is a real breakthrough. Most people just repeat old school DC foreboding or Ditko landscapes. A.K.A. Lovecraft and/or Dali. Which reminds me: Shade-- Ditko or Milligan? Another thing-- what are the odds a typewriter or glue had anything to do with the production of this comic? Mine will not be the last hand to touch a screen rather than a page.

Great job, Anj! This was a lot of fun!

Anj said...

I like both versions of Shade, each very different.

Ditko's is incredibly dense for 8 issues.

Glad you liked this post!