Introduced in 1964 by legendary comics writer Gardner Fox, sultry sorceress Zatanna Zatara has waited nearly fifty years for DC Comics to finally unleash her potent brand of backwards-speaking magic in an ongoing monthly series. With her best writer and arguably biggest fan, the acclaimed Paul Dini, at the helm, how could this new series possibly miss? Well, to be perfectly honest, this first collection has its select moments, but it is certainly not a home run by any means.
The first story arc introduces corpulent mobster Brother Night (the godfather of San Francisco's supernatural underworld) and city police detective Dale Colton as the new series' first recurring characters. A gruesome massacre (mobsters transformed into slaughtered animals) leads Colton to reluctantly consult the Justice League's resident magician, Zatanna, for answers. Dini too hastily has Zee confront her father's old nemesis, Brother Night, as the crime's mastermind who then retaliates by sending an impish little fiend to invade a seemingly defenseless Zee's mind in her dreams. All in all, Dini's initial storyline and Stephane Roux's accompanying artwork is surprisingly average (somewhere between a mid-B to C grade) and too easily concluded to kick off a new ongoing series.
The second installment guest stars Zatanna's impetuous cousin (and fellow magician), Zachary Zatana, in a Las Vegas romp, in which our mesmerized heroine may well end up as the victim of a supernatural shotgun wedding where her soul is to be sacrificed to prolong a demonic gambler's immortality. This arc (with a cameo by the Royal Flush Gang) is a reasonably improved effort (low A to mid-B) from both Dini and Roux, so my overall rating is based more upon this book's latter segment.
Still, I agree with another reviewer that Dini has inexplicably failed to bring his best efforts yet to this series, including making Zatanna appear too gullible for an experienced heroine. With so many ongoing commitments, Dini's uninspired storylines thus far suggest that he is sleepwalking through this series like it is an afterthought. I fully understand that a veteran writer like Dini has only so much time in a month for multiple projects, but even Zatanna needs help making her magical world come alive. Presently, the ongoing arc (featured in the yet-to-be released Volume 2) that explores Zatanna's past with a psychotic puppet, continues Dini's disappointing pattern of not giving dedicated readers the most bang for the buck. If I had my preference, giving the combo of "Birds of Prey" writer Gail Simone and artist Ed Benes an extended run of exploring Zatanna's life would be the much-needed adrenaline boost this series needs, if it has any realistic hope of hitting the triple-digit mark someday. At this point, unfortunately, I am not even sure that fifty issues is an achievable goal just yet.
As much as I am a Zatanna fan, the Mistress of Magic still needs storywriting sorcery and inspired artwork to make her long-awaited series a must-have for older fans and still draw in the new generation. Hence, I am giving this book the benefit of the doubt. "Zatanna: Mistress of Magic" displays glimpses of its seemingly unlimited potential (mostly in the second half) and is at least a solid investment for a reasonable price.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 (appropriate for ages 10 and up).
P.S. As an indicator of the potential I've suggested, I would recommend checking out Zatanna's excellent guest appearances in the following "Detective Comics" collection starring Batman by Paul Dini: "Detective," "Death and the City," and "Private Casebook."