fantasy and science fiction book reviewsBlack Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul DiniBlack Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini (author) and Joe Quinones (artist)

Paul Dini’s Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell is a stand-alone graphic novel that tells a single tale of their working together; however, Dini also works in some flashbacks that flesh out the history of Canary’s and Zatanna’s relationship, my favorite parts of the book. Overall the story is a good one, but it’s not exceptional. And as a story about two strong women, it fails in a few ways that are disappointing considering the story was published in 2014.

The story starts off fifteen years earlier when Zatanna is a young girl in the Himalayas undergoing a rite of passage after her sorcery training by the “ruling elite of the Homo Magi,” a group that includes her mother and father. She floats up high in the mountains and surprises Black Canary who is camping out and practicing T’ai Chi. The scene between the young Zatanna and the older Black Canary is my favorite in the entire book, and if the graphic novel had stayed at this level all the way through, I would give this book a very high rating. The main point in this scene is that Zatanna learns that some people view magic as the easy way out, and Zatanna changes her values based on meeting a strong woman who climbed, rather than magically floated, to the top of a mountain.

Black Canary and ZatannaAfter this scene, we move fourteen years in the future. Black Canary is on a particularly challenging burglary case that leaves one loose end — a very angry and powerful woman. One more year passes, and this woman starts seeking out and killing the group of women who were involved in this foiled burglary. Black Canary knows that she is last on the list, so she goes to Zatanna for help. The rest of the story is about their working together to defeat and capture this woman. It’s a fun story, but nothing special.

Another scene I enjoyed was when we are shown another flashback, this time of Zatanna’s first trip to the JLA Satellite. However, this great scene also shows one of the problems I have with the book. While on the tower, a villain gets loose, and none of the heroes can catch her except the still youngish Zatanna. However, Green Lantern is the one who traps and holds him, and Zatanna didn’t do a perfect job in her capture either. Also, when Zatanna and Black Canary are really stuck, they call on the ghost of Zatanna’s father for help. In other words, men seem to be necessary to help these strong women.

I’m going to be kind and say that both of those scenes had reasonable purposes: Zatanna fumbles because she’s still young and it’s her first trip to the satellite. Dini wants to show that she’s still maturing. And she does save the day and get credit. Green Lantern is merely holding the captured villain. And I’m not sure the point of bringing in Zatanna’s father is to undercut her abilities — those of us who are fans of Zatanna love seeing her father too, and I think Dini wanted to think up a fun way, an excuse, to bring him into the comic so we could see him. And in the end, the women do succeed on their own.

Perhaps I’m too picky in talking about men’s involvement with their mission, but I don’t think I’m overstating the case when I say that there’s no reason at all for their shopping day and having a day on the town when Canary’s friends are dying. Canary comes to Zatanna in dire need, and all Zatanna can think to say, after first asking about Canary and her boyfriend, is, “My mystic powers tell me you are in sorry need of a girls’ day out.” Really? She needs a day out shopping? They go shopping for clothes (more fishnet stockings, in particular), they go to a toy store to see superhero figurines, they go out to eat and finally talk, and then Dini cuts to a scene back at Zatanna’s place with Canary taking a bath and Zatanna in a bathrobe. They reminisce about that one time on Apokolips with Wonder Woman when Zatanna saved them all from Granny Goodness and her furies (obviously not from Darkseid himself). Now that I write it all out, it seems even worse than when I was reading it. Yikes. (Note: I read Batgirl (Vol. 4): Wanted right after writing this review, and Gail Simone also included a shopping day for her lead character, but the scene made sense in that well-written comic book.)

The art’s good, the storytelling is smooth, and the dialogue is well-written overall. Paul Dini knows how to produce a solid story. But there’s nothing special here that makes the graphic novel stand out for me, and the few drawbacks are a serious problem: There are not enough superhero books devoted to women, so I hate to see those few books undercut their own potential in portraying strong women. If you are a big fan of Zatanna and/or Black Canary, you’ll enjoy this book. Also, if the type of problems I have with the book are not the kind that bother you, then you can add at least a star to the rating which I am willing to give the book.

Publication Date: May 27, 2014 Black Canary. Zatanna Zatara. Two of the DC Universe’s brightest stars join forces to combat a deadly new threat-a chilling supernatural foe that preys on their weaknesses and unleashes their awesome powers against each other. A year ago, Black Canary infiltrated a gang of female criminals set to pull a dangerous heist at a Las Vegas casino. Its leader was skilled in hand-to-hand combat and with more than a passing interest in the occult, specifically black magic, one nasty customer. Rather than be taken by Canary or the law, she went to her death, vowing she would get revenge on Canary and her own former gang members. Now, a year to the day later, death stalks those gang members, and Canary must turn to her friend Zatanna to help investigate.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.