by Paul Dini (writer), Stephane Roux (pencils), Karl Story (inks), John Kalisz (colors), and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: Brother Night, crime boss of the mystic realm, looks to expand his empire into the human world, forcing Zatanna to lay down the gauntlet.

What’s Good: It’s clear relatively early on that this book feels a hole in DC’s line-up.  The very fact that this is a mystic title makes it feel different and greatly missed.  This is only heightened whenever the action leaves the human realm; when Zatanna confronts Brother Night in his lair or when Night tries to gain an ally in Fuseli, a demon of nightmares, it’s hard not to have flashbacks to great books like Sandman or Swamp Thing.

Given Dini’s much documented love for the character, there’s no surprise that Zatanna is expertly shown as a strong protagonist.  She’s a badass, pure and simple.  An enterprising, confident, and sassy female lead is always an easy sell, and that’s no different here.  Dini also begins an effort to mark Zatanna with an adversity to the idea of destiny as a defining feature.   I hope he sticks with this, as it could lead to intriguing stories in the future.  I actually feel that Zatanna’s openness and bluntness about this aspect of her beliefs serves better than subtlety; surprisingly, it makes the “I forge my own path” schtick feel less clichéd.

What I appreciate most about Dini’s work here, however, is how quickly he leaps into the action.  There’s only a bare minimum of set-up and next to no exposition.  We’re plunged headfirst into the first story-arc and conflict more or less immediately.  This leads to a quick, energetic read that almost fools you into believing that Zatanna has a large and well established back-story, or that Brother Night and his rogue’s gallery have been around forever when, of course, this is their debut.  It makes the book an engaging read and, more importantly, gives it a sort of confidence.

Stephane Roux’s artwork is solid stuff, though it’s in the mystic realm where his talents truly shine through, summoning forth images from the DC mystic books of yore.  Great character concepts abound, with henchman Teddy being bound to get a laugh.  Zatanna herself exudes self-assurance, confidence, and intelligence.  Her facial expressions are great and continually full of wit and snark.

What’s Not So Good: For a new book anchored around a strong female lead, I’m surprised at how little character work there was.  I wasn’t expecting internal monologues on every page, but there isn’t as much intimacy between reader and character as I expected.  Zatanna herself isn’t quite as explored as I thought she would be in this first issue.  Her presence is essentially a bit lighter in substance and depth than I expected; she’s not the fully three-dimensional, dominating presence that I’d hoped for.  That said, I’m sure this will improve in due time.

Funnily enough, when Dini actually does give her narrative textboxes, said textboxes feel a bit run of the mill.  This narration, occurring in the first few pages, feels awkward and a bit phoned in.  It’s probably the weakest bit of writing in the issue.  It’s certainly a surprise given Dini’s affinity for the character.

Some of the supporting characters also feel a bit unremarkable at this point.  Detective Dalton in particular feels like a character we’ve seen a hundred times before with little to set him apart.  He fills a typical role.  Again, I expect this to improve shortly.

Conclusion: A generally good debut that should please Zatanna fans.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans