Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Black Canary & Zatanna: Bloodspell Part 3

Click here to review Part 1.  Click here to review Part 2.

Earlier in Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell, Black Canary foiled a Vegas casino heist by a thief named Tina Spettro, but not before Tina tricked Black Canary into a bloodspell that binds her fate to the now-dead Tina's ghost.  Needing a magician's touch to get her out of this magic predicament, Dinah recruited her old friend and Justice League teammate, Zatanna Zatara.

Five years ago on the planet Apokolips, the sadistic Granny Goodness and her Female Furies had captured Zatanna, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, and Plastic Man.  The heroes were bound in Granny's gladiatorial arena and subjected to one of her elaborate deathtraps that Mr. Miracle cut his teeth escaping from.

Granny mocks Zatanna's notoriety as the Mistress of Magic's mouth is covered (by part of Plas, no less) preventing her from uttering any of her spells.  But at the last second before the trap is sprung, the captive heroes swap places with Granny and her Furies.

This little three-page vignette has no story connection to the rest of the tale.  Writer Paul Dini just drops it in as a means of showing Zatanna's resourcefulness and quick-thinking.  And it gives artist Joe Quinones a chance to draw our lovely heroines in older costumes, as well as a few more heroes and villains from DC's vault.

Back to the main story, Black Canary and Zatanna are riding to Las Vegas in Zatanna's enchanted trailer, which is being towed by an enchanted car that drives on its own.  Inside the trailer, Dinah takes a nice, refreshing bubble bath while trying not to arouse the displeasure of Zatanna's pet tiger, Sasha.

Zatanna's plan calls for them to travel to Vegas undercover so as to not warn Tina Spettro's ghost that Z is helping Dinah save the other victims of the bloodspell.  But the "undercover" part of Zatanna's scheme involves Black Canary posing as her magician's assistant.  And that involves Dinah wearing an outfit even skimpier and more revealing than most female superheroes wear.  Zatanna casts a magic costume-and-make-over spell and...

The ladies arrive at Xanadu in Las Vegas and meet with the hotel's owner, Dale Hollister, the same man that Tina Spettro planned to rob before she died.

Zatanna fills Hollister in on the situation with Tina's ghost, and in gratitude for Black Canary's earlier service, he offers to book Zatanna and "her assistant" in one of his showrooms to help them set the trap for Tina Spettro.

But as Hollister and Zatanna shake on the agreement, her tiger freaks out and lunges at both of them, slashing at them with his massive paws and drawing blood from each of their forearms.  Z reprimands the animal, which immediately seems confused and unaware of is prior attack.  Zatanna casts a healing spell on herself and Hollister.

That night, Zatanna performs her magic act for a packed house of spectators.  Her tricks include making Sasha the tiger vanish and reappear in a shrunken state.  Dinah watches the show from the wings; while backstage, she's passed a note from Dottie, the second-to-last surviving member of Tina's gang, asking for a meeting at her place that night.

If Dinah and Z were expecting a desperate woman when they meet Dottie, they're a little shocked to find a woman who has, for all intents and purposes, given up.  Dottie explains how crummy her life has been in the past year and, well, she doesn't exactly welcome death from a vengeful ghost, but she doesn't feel her life is all that worth living.  Dottie even goes so far as to ask Zatanna to change her into something else like an animal so she could just move on with a completely different life.

Zatanna refuses to cast that type of magic spell and explains that that sort of transformation spell is nearly irreversible because within hours the human brain begins to cede its faculties to animal instinct.  After a few days, Z explains, what remains of the human mind and soul would be totally supplanted by the animal and Dottie would be, essentially, dead and gone.

Instead, Zatanna plans to cast a protection spell around Dottie, but as she speaks the words, she inexplicably casts a different spell that transforms Dottie into glass.  Dinah reacts to Zatanna's sudden betrayal, an in the moment succumbs to her anger and becomes possessed by Tina's ghost.  Tina/Dinah then tries to shatter the glass Dottie, but Zatanna recovers and casts a protection spell that kicks Tina's ghost out of Dinah.

Tina's ghost curses at the ladies and announces her intention to kill Joy, the last name on her hit list before destroying Black Canary completely.

I guess putting the glass Dottie in Superman's impenetrable Fortress of Solitude is as good a place for safe keeping as any.  I didn't know it was ghost-proof but sure, whatever.

Zatanna reasons that Tina can now possess both her and Black Canary, but only one at a time, which means they still have a chance of stopping her.  They rush back to the Xanadu showroom, where Dale Hollister has been possessed by Tina's ghost.  She's using Hollister to murder joy with one of Zatanna's stage traps because since Joy switched out for Black Canary during the heist last year, she never actually took part in the bloodspell.

At that moment, however, Black Canary and Zatanna arrive to save the damsel in distress.  Tina was thrilled to possess the body of her billionaire ex-boyfriend, but she gets a much better rush when she takes over Zatanna again.

Tina/Zatanna turns on the machine set to kill Joy, then casts a spell turning Dale Hollister into a toad. Before she can squash him under heel, though, Black Canary jumps her, gagging her so she can't say any spells.  Tina/Zatanna fights her off, but then Dinah releases Sasha the tiger on her mistress.

When the tiger leaps at Tina/Zatanna, the ghost bolts from the magician and takes over Black Canary.  Tina then jumps back and forth between the women, using each one to attack the other, but not being able to say in one form for too long because the tiger can sense which woman is possessed and attacks that woman.

Tina/Canary uses her sonic scream to blow Zatanna off the stage and into the orchestral pit below.  When she follows her down, she finds Zatanna curled up, nearly catatonic.  Tina's ghost then leaps into the prone form of Zatanna... only to discover too late that she's been duped; that wasn't Zatanna's body.

The real Zatanna pops up and casts a containment spell trapping Tina's spirit in the body that was magically charmed to look like Zatanna, but was, in fact, a dove from her performance.  Tina Spettro's spirit is now trapped in the body of a bird.  Before the ladies can rest on their laurels, though, they realize that Joy is still in danger of being butchered by a giant drill.

Zatanna casts another spell reverting Dale Hollister back to his human form.  Luckily, he wasn't trapped in the form of an animal long enough to lose his mind and soul--unlike Tina Spettro.  As the sun comes up over the Nevada desert, Tina is totally supplanted by the bird.  Her spirit, at last, is dead.  They release her to the wind, nothing but a dove now.

Before the ladies can head to a margarita bar, Black Canary gets a call from Green Arrow telling her that Metropolis is under attack from alien robots.  The Justice League needs their help, and the ladies head out to the next adventure.

That's where the story ends, but there's nearly 40 pages of added content in both the hardcover and digital version of the graphic novel.  This includes character sketches and sample pages in various stages of the art process by Joe Quinones, and a copy of Paul Dini's full 94-page script for the book.  It's awesome material that I recommend fans check out.

So.  What did I think of Black Canary's first original graphic novel?

I loved it.  As I said earlier in my review, Paul Dini knows the characters so well that everything they do feels in-character.  Like their characters in the DCAU, these are iconic and timeless versions of Black Canary and Zatanna.  That's what a Dini story feels like, whether it's a cartoon or a book painted by Alex Ross, the characters feel timeless, infused with all the greatest attributes of the Silver and Bronze Age.  But his script moves with a modern, easily readable pace and tone.

My only complaint with Dini's story, though, is that the villain isn't all that memorable.  When I heard about this graphic novel about a year ago, I was hoping it would contribute a real heavy-hitter to Black Canary's paltry rogues gallery.  Tina Spettro is decent, but she'll never be used again after this story.  Her costume was simple, a drab grey jumpsuit--not exactly a visual feast, and for most of the story, she exists solely as a spirit inhabiting other characters.  She'll forevermore be counted as one of Black Canary's enemies, but she won't add a whole lot to that list.

As for the art, Quinones mostly knocks it out of the park ("mostly").  He caught my eye back in Wednesday's Comics a couple years ago, and I was really excited to see what he would bring to this story.  Given Dini's storytelling sensibilities, it seemed obvious that Quinones would bring a lighter, almost animated style like Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke to the art.  It fits the story, and Quinones brings an incredible amount of expressiveness to each of the characters.  There's never a question of what the women and men are thinking and feeling in every single panel.

And yet... part of me wanted something a little more from the art.  Black Canary and Zatanna are beautiful women known for wearing fishnets.  They are sexual and sexualized characters, and I kind of expected more cheesecake from the story.  I'm not saying I would have preferred Ed Benes on this book, but I thought there would be more "Good Girl Art"-style imagery.  The only time Dinah's sexuality is really played up in this story is when Zatanna makes her over to look like a buxom assistant that deliberately doesn't look like Black Canary.

Instead of sexiness, Quinones emphasizes the toughness of Black Canary.  Nothing wrong with that; it makes her a more credible hero and probably a more compelling and likable protagonist.  But sometimes, just a few times, she looks a little too square-jawed and so spunky that she's not really all that attractive.  It's not often, but it is noticeable in a handful of panels.  Black Canary should be powerful and beautiful, but Quinones--unlike most people in comics over the years--sacrifices the latter for the former a couple times in this book.

One other interesting note I found while reading the book.  A lot of Justice League members pop up in small roles throughout the story.  Superman.  Wonder Woman.  Green Arrow.  Green Lantern.  Martian Manhunter.  Elongated Man.  Plastic Man.

Know who isn't on that list?  Batman.  Other than a toy in the background of one panel, Batman does not appear in this story, and that's pretty surprising given Paul Dini's history with the character.

I have given up on DC's mainstream comics from the New 52, and the Injustice: Gods Among Us tie-in comic became equally depressing, despite how well Black Canary was treated in the book.  The fact is, DC isn't offering a lot that appeals to me right now, but the books that do interest me are out-of-continuity stories like the digital first Batman '66, Adventures of Superman, the upcoming Sensation Comics starring Wonder Woman, and this original graphic novel.  DC needs to publish more books like Bloodspell.


  1. Looks like I have to break down and buy this. I am a fan of the creators and characters. Was thinking of waiting out for soft cover. But looks too good to wait.

    Great review

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  2. I think you'd really enjoy it. I have no idea when the softcover will be out (probably six months to a year from now). Twenty-three dollars may be a lot to ask fans to pay for a book starring these characters, but right now InStockTrades has the book on sale for $13.33.

  3. Finally finished reading thru this, and am prepared to go thru it all over again, so good that it was. A treat from start to finish.
    You know who Dinah and Zatanna reminded me off here? Katina Choovanski and her beloved from Strangers in Paradise - in fact, Dinah had such a Katchoo invested in her the paralles were incredible.
    The switching back-and-forth between bodies was cool, very funny and exciting in equal parts, and you mentioned the other male heroes such as Supes, GL etc appearing in minor roles; I like that. Esp seeing a confused Supes looing after Dottie.
    The only thing that didn't ring true was when Dinah broke those metal bonds that held Joy - does she have super-strength or something?!?
    I agree this Tina wasn't the great super-villain we could have expected - any number of Silver Age baddies could have sufficed, maybe even one of Wonder Woman's female villiains.
    I really enjoyed this book, from the road trip with the floating hands driving, to the Dinah in disguise spell that was both cute and sexy and amusing. All in all, I liked and respected how Dini didn't make it all too sexualized for these two iconic 'sexy' women, it was just on the right side of 'Charlies Angels' cheesecake for me.
    And the final treat? A 40 page 'extras' section at the end, full of inside info , sketches and script changes and details. Usually we get only two or three pages of this sort in these books but here we got the full 'DVD extras' version, almost as extensive as the actual story itself. Marvellous!
    So glad I finally got this ; I should have received it with last months comic parcel, but had to wait this long. Well, it was well worth the wait indeed. A total treasure.

  4. Regarding Dinah breaking the chains: If I had to offer a guess, I suppose she has the martial arts mastery to "karate chop" the chains into breaking. We don't get a panel illustrating that, but that's how I chose to interpret that moment.

    Yeah, the extras in the back and the fishnet raised pattern on the hardcover are incredible treats for the reader!

    Glad you finally got to read it. Sorry you had to wait an extra month, but at least it was well worth it!

  5. Just realized something which was blindingly obvious!
    Reading it for the fourth time [yes, it was that good] Zatanna remarked she was loath to transform anyone into an animal or creature because the longer they remained in those forms the more they would lose their humanity....but earlier in the tale when she and Dinah were at the Mall, she used her magic to transform those yobbos into fish [only for an hour]. I didn't realise the parralles between those scenes until now!

  6. Yeah, given Zatanna's words about changing people to animals, it seems more than a little extreme for her to change them into fish just for whistling when she and Dinah walk by.

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