BLACK CANARY AND ZATANNA: BLOODSPELL (Paul Dini & Joseph A. Quinones Jr.) is the best episode of Justice League that never aired!
My first experience with the works of Paul Dini was, like a lot of kids, through the lens of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s within those incredibly dark cells of animation that I fell in love with the idea of The Caped Crusader.
That’s an idea that I’ve realized, more than any other superhero, doesn’t really hold up to any kind of extended scrutiny. Maybe, that’s why since Paul Dini’s BATMAN: PRIVATE CASEBOOK, I haven’t really had any prolonged experience with the character.
However, it was also Batman: The Animated Series that introduced me to one of my longstanding favorite comic characters of all time: Zatanna Zatara.
Imagine how excited I was when I heard that Paul Dini – one of the best character writers in comics – would be doing a Black Canary / Zatanna team up book.
Without explicitly saying so, BLOODSPELL is situated in the kind of vague canon that the rest of the DC Animated Universe is; you can tell not just by how the characters are represented, but how they act.
Most of BLOODSPELL feels reflective of the current New 52 universe, a place where even Superman is upset because he’s an alien, despite the fact that an entire planet loves and is completely enamored with him.
It’s nice to see Paul Dini writing superheroes as people that are friends with each other. The characters in BLOODSPELL enjoy their relationships with their peers, and most importantly, they enjoy what they do.
For the uninitiated, Zatanna Zatara, pre-New 52, was a lot more spunky and a lot more of a ‘fun’ character than the pseudo-goth sorceress who plays second fiddle to John Constantine she is today.
Likewise, Black Canary was a lot more of a ‘role model’ character than the brooding wanted woman that she was introduced as in the pages of BIRDS OF PREY. BLOODSPELL is firmly entrenched in the older, more ‘all ages,’ you could say, characterizations of these two characters.
There’s a new superhero book coming out featuring two of the industries coolest leading ladies, and it’s written by Paul Dini? The only thing that could make that better is if the book starred two of my favorite characters.
Seeing Zatanna characterized as her showbiz-centric stage magician self is cool again, because it divorces her from a recent modern notion that women can’t be successful. For a decidedly more ‘comic book’ approach, there’s not really a single heroine in the pages of the New 52 that’s not deeply troubled by angst or resentment or in their position directly because of a dude.
Even though Green Arrow shows up in BLOODSPELL, it’s meant to highlight that Black Canary’s on equal footing with him in their relationship. BLOODSPELL is a book about the friendship between Zatanna and Black Canary, through and through.
BLOODSPELL is advertised as focusing on a meeting between a young Zatanna and a more experienced Black Canary. While that’s certainly ‘there,’ it’s not necessarily the crux of important events in this book; rather, this past serves to highlight how close the two characters are.
BLOODSPELL is a super rarity in that Paul Dini is a creator who’s matched with an artist who seems to understand a great deal of what makes these characters compelling. Canary is always physical in this book, Zatanna’s spells pop out of the page with sizzles and sparkles.
What I like most about Quinones Jr’s art style is the way he uses color to enhance his figures, ditching the thick black outlines that have been made so popular in comics recently by artists like Gabriel Bá (UMBRELLA ACADEMY, CASANOVA).
Color is only ever used to highlight a character, and black outlines are only used where they’d be appropriate for the rest of the art style – like Canary’s fishnets, or Zatanna’s jacket. It gives characters an animated look that causes them to pop out of each page and makes Quinones Jr’s use of emotion a lot more noticeable.
Pairing up with Paul Dini means that both creators do indeed know what makes these characters ‘work’ together. Paul Dini’s no slouch when it comes to writing Zatanna – he practically married the closest thing he could get to the character and then had Alex Ross use his wife as a model.
Jokes aside, in a perfect world, only writers that understand the characters their writing get placed on a book. Until then, BLOODSPELL is an example of what could be the gold standard.
My most favorite part of this book is a moment near the end- a particularly Marvel moment that you wouldn’t typically see outside of the pages of SHE-HULK: two superheroes ‘clocking out’ for the day, and heading off with each other to relax and hang out, instead of brooding.
It’s a small moment to be sure, but the events of the book justify the characters’ relationship, and that relationship in turn justifies how the story ends. By staying in those boundaries, BLOODSPELL stays tightly woven the entire way through.
As it’s just a one off release and not tethered to a longer storyline, BLOODSPELL is entirely too short to please.
Though I list it as a negative, BLOODSPELL is short in a way that leaves me wanting more and just skirts being satisfying enough.
DC’s got real money on their hands if they decide to follow up BLOODSPELL. Of course, no matter how benevolent a company may seem they always spring into action for the same thing.
I can see that Black Canary and Zatanna’s characterizations don’t gel with their New 52 counterparts, so I do strongly doubt Paul Dini will get a chance to come back to them for awhile.
Zatanna and Black Canary dominate the storyline of this comic, as they well should, but as a result we spend so much time with out heroes that the villain doesn’t have ample enough time to be suitably threatening.
While it’s an interesting concept for this book, much better than trying to slip in a league-level heavy hitter, it means the conclusion isn’t as satisfying as it very well could have been.
BLACK CANARY AND ZATANNA: BLOODSPELL is a story so concise you don’t need to ask “!em rof tuo ti lleps!” to have it make sense. It’s just a prime example of good comics through and through.
What it does best is more than make up for the very little shortcomings it has in the way the narrative and characters are tied so closely together. Paul Dini and Quinones managed to write a book that was absolutely spellbinding, and so spellbinding it couldn’t feature any other dynamic duo in the DC universe.
Paul Dini’s done it again and I doubt he could’ve done it without such a stellar artist on board. Take a lesson from this, New 52 writers: All of the artists and writers on board can’t save a book if none of them can tie it together.