Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

This girl split in two! You won’t believe what happened next!

As my Silver Age reread is approaching the end of 1964, I’d planned a round-up post covering several stories from that year. After rereading Hawkman #4 last week, I decided to write about the debut of Zatanna first.

The cover story that issue (by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson) is a enjoyable one (subject to one’s taste for Silver Age DC of course). Time-traveling criminals use their people-magnetizing machine to eliminate opposition, then loot various items that will be worth a fortune in the future. Hawkgirl figures out how to stop them and the crooks end up going to jail centuries before they were born. It did not have any effect on subsequent comics. The same cannot be said for the Fox/Anderson team’s other story this issue, “The Girl Who Split in Two.”

As the story opens, Carter and Shiera Hall discover two items in Midway City Museum — a Chinese statue and a Celtic cup — that aren’t in the inventory, they just showed up out of nowhere. Donning costumes, the couple split up and trace the relics to their respective sources in China and Ireland (the letter page says that having them go solo was an experiment, one they occasionally repeated). By convenient coincidence there are criminals looting both sites, and also a paralyzed woman in fish nets, top hats and tuxedo, spouting strange cryptic language. When the Hawks reunite, they realize the women are identical and speaking the same words — just different parts of the words. Put the parts together and it’s clearly a plea to reunite the two women. When the Winged Wonders do so, they restore Zatanna to normal.

Zatanna explains that her father, Zatara the magician (a name I assume would have meant no more to most readers than it did to me back then) vanished a while ago. Since then she’s been hunting him with magic, while following in his footsteps as both a stage performer and a crimefighter. Leads to his whereabouts pointing to both Ireland and China, Zatanna split in two to investigate them faster, but botched the spell. Teleporting the artifacts to the museum was a way to get help from the Hawks.

Rereading, I realized Zatanna was almost the last of Julius Schwartz’s Silver Age reinventions of the Golden Age heroes (the android Red Tornado would follow a few years later). Where Flash, GL, Atom and the Winged Wonders got their own books, however, Zatanna went in a different direction. She appeared the following year in Atom, then in 1966 in Green Lantern and Detective Comics, then wrapped up the hunt for her father in Justice League of America #51.

When I first encountered Zee in Green Lantern, this was definitely part of her appeal. DC didn’t have characters who moved around between series this way, which made her intriguing. Neither did Marvel for that matter; the only one I can think of is the Hulk, who popped up in Fantastic Four and then Spider-Man after he left the Avengers.It didn’t hurt that Zatanna was sexy as all get-out, as in the Gil Kane panels above. While several Golden Age magicians wore evening clothes (Mandrake, from the comic strips, was the template) Zee’s Murphy Anderson-designed look was unique in the Silver Age. It’s also logical, as it’s obviously a stage magician’s top hat and tails. That made it different from, say, Dave Cockrum’s outfits for the Legion women which were pure eye candy (and succeeded very well as such I should add).

Zatanna’s popularity has given her a long, though erratic career. Two limited series, one open-ended by Paul Dini (which I wish had lasted — Dini’s married to a theatrical magician and it showed in how he wrote Zee). Long stretches with the JLA and the Justice League Dark. Appearances on TV everywhere from Smallville to BTAS. Various attempts to give her a more conventional costume, but the fishnet and tails always win out.

Rereading her debut, I realized something else: she’s one of comic books’ first legacy superheroes, depending how you define the term. MLJ’s Golden Age Hangman was inspired to fight crime when his brother, the Comet, died (he would send the Comet’s killers to the gallows! He would be — their hangman!); that’s arguably a legacy hero but I think of the term as more Wally West replacing Barry Allen — someone specifically assuming the identity of an older character.

That definition not only lets out the Hangman but also Barry, Hal Jordan and Johnny Storm. Hal’s role as Green Lantern had no connection with Alan Scott. Silver Age Barry simply borrowed his name from a comic-book character. Johnny, like Hal, apparently picked the name by sheer coincidence. While Johnny loved Captain America and knew of the Sub-Mariner (from his real-world exploits, not his comics) he knew absolutely nothing of the Golden Age Human Torch. When the original Torch shows up in Fantastic Four Annual #4, he’s treated not as the Golden Age A-lister he was but more like an obscurity comparable to Blue Diamond or the Fin (this may relate to Burgos’ 1960s efforts to regain copyright to his creation).

I was initially convinced that made Zatanna the first legacy. Alas, in a discussion elsewhere online someone pointed out that Adam Strange’s namesake descendant followed in his footsteps and teamed up with Space Ranger a month before Zatanna’s debut. And if you include comic strips, the Phantom was long before of them. Exclude them and Zatanna’s number two.

She was followed by the Earth-2 Robin, who didn’t take Batman’s name but is obviously imitating his costume in Justice League of America #55. And definitely followed by DC’s Inferior Five, who parodied the legacy hero concept (what if the legacies weren’t up to the job) before the term was coined.

So now you know what happened next.

#SFWApro. Art by Murphy Anderson, Anderson again, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby and Mike Sekowsky.


  1. JLA: Zatanna’s Search. It’s a cool cover. I have everything in original except Elongated Man’s contribution so I didn’t pick it up. I do have Ralph’s story in a Detective Comics 100-page spectacular (they reprinted the whole story arc in various Spectaculars in the early 1970s).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.