Zatara as depicted in Justice League Dark vol. 2 #7 (March 2019). Art by Álvaro Martínez Bueno and Raúl Fernández.
Publication information
PublisherDC Comics
First appearanceAction Comics #1 (June 1938)
Created byFred Guardineer
In-story information
Alter egoGiovanni John Zatara
SpeciesHomo magi (current)
Human (originally)
Team affiliationsAll-Star Squadron
Justice League
Justice Society Dark
PartnershipsNick Necro (apprentice)
Supporting character ofZatanna
Notable aliasesMaster Magician
John Zatara
  • Mastery of magic; primarily able to invoke supernatural effects by speaking the desired effects backwards
  • Extensive knowledge of the supernatural
  • Master stage magician and escape artist
  • Access to various mystical artifacts
Altered in-story information for adaptations to other media
PartnershipsKent Nelson (mentor)
Notable aliasesDoctor Fate

Giovanni "John" Zatara, simply called Zatara, is a fictional magician and superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 during the Golden Age of Comic Books, making him one of DC Comics' oldest characters.

The character is often depicted as a stage magician who possesses genuine magical abilities and is recognized as the father of the mystic character Zatanna, and is the uncle of Zachary Zatara, who uses the "Zatara" name. Within the fictional DC Universe, he has made intermittent appearances, primarily serving as a supporting character to Zatanna and is typically deceased in modern settings. The character's proficiency as a sorcerer earned him a notable reputation among his contemporaries as a powerful sorcerer of his generation rivalling other such as the original incarnation of Doctor Fate[1] and has made him a mentor figure to others such as Batman (in escapology) and John Constantine. In the character's original conception, he was portrayed as Zatanna's human parent, while her mother Sindella served as the homo magi parent. However, following the New 52 reboot, the character's origin underwent a change, revealing that his family lineage also included a descent from homo magi.

Zatara has made various appearances in media, such as Batman: The Animated Series, in which he is voiced by Vincent Schiavelli, and Young Justice, voiced by Nolan North.

Publication history

First appearance in Action Comics #1, in which Zatara often—but not exclusively—used backwards speech to accomplish his magic.

He first appeared starring in his own story "Zatara Master Magician" by writer and artist Fred Guardineer in the anthology American comic book series Action Comics, starting with the first issue (June 1938).[2] According to writer Al Sulman, "the time came when [Fred Guardineer] didn't want to draw [the Zatara series] anymore, so the editor turned it over to my brother [Joe Sulman], and he began to draw the strip; but he had to imitate Fred Guardineer's drawing style, because the character had to look [the same], and it worked out fine".[3]

John Zatara is introduced as a magician in various publications of DC Comics, beginning with 1938's Action Comics #1, which also contains the first appearance of Superman. Like the very similar Mandrake the Magician, Zatara had a large East Indian as a friend/bodyguard, called Tong, to share his early adventures.[4]

As well as being an illusionist, Zatara also had genuine magical powers (decades later ascribed to being a descendant of the Homo magi), which he focused through speaking backwards: he could do anything so long as he could describe it in sdrawkcab hceeps ("backwards speech").[5] This helped distinguish Zatara from the numerous Mandrake the Magician knockoffs that cluttered the comics and pulp magazines of the day, although Merlin the Magician (Quality Comics) also had this attribute, and it was also given to him by Zatara's creator, Fred Guardineer. According to Jess Nevins' Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes, "he fights Egyptian wizards, an evil Druid, Zulus, a Mad Lama, Mongol warriors, the Gorilla King, a Saturnian terror, and Moon Men".[6]

Fictional character biography


In the character's original origin, Giovanni, the son of Italian immigrants and a descendant of Leonardo da Vinci, came from a family with a strong magical lineage. His grandfather, Luigi Zatara, was a renowned stage magician who served as a significant inspiration. At a young age, Giovanni received a magic kit that ignited his passion for illusion and prompted him to pursue a career as a professional magician. However, his early attempts at performing were met with disappointment until he recognized the importance of honing his showmanship skills. Giovanni's life took a transformative turn when he delved into the journals of Leonardo da Vinci, written in a backward Italian script. Through his translation efforts, he made a remarkable discovery: he possessed inherent magical powers. Combining his natural gifts with his stage magic expertise, Giovanni became a highly successful and acclaimed stage magician. Motivated by a desire to make a positive impact, Giovanni decided to utilize his newfound abilities to fight against crime, thereby embarking on a career as a crime-fighter.[7]

The character's origin was later updated, making him a descendant of the Homo Magi, an off-shoot race of human beings with natural inclination to magic. While similar to his previous origin being the son of Italian immigrants, the character would instead exhibit magical powers at an early age. Fearing to consult his parents or a priest, he would hide his abilities until he was visited by the mysterious Phantom Stranger, who mentored the young Giovanni by granting him access to his ancestor's books, which help teach him to control his magical gifts.[8] His origin as a descendant of the Homo Magi would be kept even after the New 52 reboot.[9]

Earlier adventures and life

During his earlier years as both a stage magician and sorcerer, Giovanni had a close and casual relationship with Madame Xanadu. He had previously proposed to her for marriage, but she rejected his proposal upon discovering knowledge of his future. However, their relationship became strained when Giovanni recounted his past life and revealed his profound connection with the Phantom Stranger. The Phantom Stranger had served as Giovanni's mentor, guiding him through the realm of magical teachings during his earlier years. Xanadu, perceiving the Phantom Stranger as a person of questionable character and moral integrity, became angered by Giovanni's revelation. She believed that the Stranger's actions would give rise to a greater threat than the Stranger himself. Xanadu, considering the Stranger to be morally inferior, insulted Giovanni's fondness for him, nearly escalating the situation into a confrontation between the two. However, the Phantom Stranger intervened and attempted to reconcile with Xanadu, acknowledging the unintended suffering he had caused her. Despite not intending to do so, the Stranger sought to make amends. Ultimately, the Phantom Stranger managed to escape Xanadu's capture. Unaware of the conversation that had taken place due to being within a time freezing spell, Xanadu departed from Giovanni. As Xanadu had premonitions, her foresight came to pass with the birth of the bond between the Spectre and James Corrigan, confirming the validity of her earlier visions.[10]

Zatara became good friends with Thomas Wayne. His excursions with Wayne led to Wayne meeting his wife, Martha. After the two were killed, Zatara left Gotham City, blaming himself for being unable to stop the orphaning of young Bruce. Eventually, in Europe, Zatara would meet and wed Sindella, who gave birth to their daughter, Zatanna. Sindella seemingly died after giving birth to Zatanna, prompting Zatara to become a depressed drunk. Things changed for the better in Zatara's life when a young Bruce Wayne arrived, requesting Zatara to teach him to become an escape artist and illusionist. Bruce's appearance prompted Zatara to address his alcoholism.

Zatanna's search

Zatanna, Zatara's daughter by Sindella, a fellow Homo magi,[11] was introduced in a multipart crossover in which she attempted to find her father, and he attempted to stop her at every turn, because he knew that a spell had been placed upon them both that would cause them to both die if they saw one another. This adventure includes Zatara confronting an evil warlock on a world where nothing changes or grows older. Zatara steals his adversary's teleportation crystal in a somewhat-successful attempt to stop the man from invading Earth.[12] Zatara ends up trapped in the land of Kharma by a sorceress called Allura, whom he had trapped in the Sword of Paracelsus. Allura turned out to have a good twin, also called Allura, who forced her to remove the spell.[13][14]

Death and afterlife

At the conclusion of Alan Moore's "American Gothic" storyline[15] (which was tied to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths), John Constantine comes to get Zatanna, Mento and Sargon the Sorcerer to come together to help demonic and divine forces in other hellish dimensions battle the entity known as the 'Great Evil Beast'. The séance is held at Wintersgate Manor, the home of Baron Winters in Georgetown, Washington D.C., which is also a temporal threshold to other planes of reality. Because Constantine had previously taken Zatanna to a "tantric studies meeting", Zatara will not let Zatanna out of his sight with Constantine present and, by his very presence, is forced to take part in the seance to which he was not invited. The Beast, which is so tall that its thumb alone looms over Hell, takes notice of their group twice. The first glimpse dooms Sargon, whom Zatara convinces to 'die like a sorcerer' and not break the holding of hands. Sargon burns to death nobly. The second glimpse starts to literally heat up Zatanna. Zatara willingly takes the effect onto himself, dying (his smoldering hat lands on the table), but sparing his daughter's life.[16]

Since then he has made sporadic appearances in the afterlife, including resurrecting Mason O'Dare in Starman (vol. 2) #80, and the Seven Soldiers: Zatanna miniseries.[17] In the Reign in Hell miniseries, Zatara is part of a general resistance movement operating in Hell. He is caught up in the various conflicts and is slain a second time in Hell by a rampaging Lobo. As with most of the 'dead', he risks becoming fodder for Hell, a torment where the physicality of the damned is used for general resources, such as building material. By manipulating his blood to form words, he asks Zatanna to consign his soul to the 'Abyss', a realm that Hell cannot touch. Zatanna does so, tormented that she must now destroy her father's essence.[18]

His nephew Zachary now uses the Zatara name as a stage magician, going so far, in the alternate future of the Titans Tomorrow timeline, to model his physical appearance and heroic getup on the vintage clothing and grooming of his late uncle. In Justice League of America (vol. 2) #39–40, a tie-in to the Blackest Night crossover event, Zatara was reanimated as a member of the Black Lantern Corps, ready to attack his daughter, Zatanna, in the Hall of Justice. Zatanna is successful in banishing the Black Lantern, but was left psychologically crushed from having to again kill her father (after watching him die once before).[19]


The character's ancestral heritage is primarily traced back to French and Italian descent, with notable connections to historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Nostradamus, Alessandro Cagliostro, Nicholas Flamel, and Evan Fulcanelli. Initially, the character was presented as an ordinary human possessing the ability to manipulate magic. However, his origin underwent an update, revealing him to be a member of the Homo Magi race. This modification provided an explanation for his inherent and genuine magical powers.[20][9] In addition to having a daughter (Zatanna) and a nephew (Zachary), the character was once mentioned to having a son.[21]

Powers and abilities

Giovanni is considered a master magician, being considered among the best of his generation. Due to his abilities in magic, he possess profound knowledge of the supernatural and is notable a magical practitioner who invokes magical effects and casts spells by speaking a spell and/or phrase backwards for a desired effect (known as "Logomancy").[9] He is often depicted as being peers to other notable sorcerers and magicians of his generation such as: Sargon the Sorcerer, Mister E, and Baron Winters.[22] His distinction as being the most powerful sorcerer of his time is also shared alongside the original incarnation of Doctor Fate, Kent Nelson.[1] In addition to his magical abilities, he is considered a very skilled and proficient stage magician and a master of predestigination.[9] Giovonni also possess masterful manipulation skills, enabling him to manipulate even fellow master manipulator magicians such as John Constantine, who found his abilities in doing so considerable and was unable to reveal to Zatanna the full extent of their relationship for reasons unknown.[1]

Other versions

Kingdom Come

Another Zatara was featured in a supporting role in the miniseries Kingdom Come and its follow-up, The Kingdom. This Zatara is the son of Zatanna and magician John Constantine, which makes him the grandson of the original. He is described as "a youthful Harry Houdini-like successor to the magician super-hero lineage". Rather than speak backwards just for his spells, however, he does it all the time, which annoys his colleagues no end.[23]


In the alternate timeline of the Flashpoint crossover event, Zatara was transformed into a motorcycle; his daughter, Zatanna is his owner.[24]

In other media


Zatara as depicted in Batman: The Animated Series.

Video games



  1. ^ a b c Tynion, James IV; Álvaro Martínez Bueno; Raul Fernandez; Brad Anderson (2019). Justice League Dark. Vol. 2, Lords of order. Burbank, CA: DC Comics. ISBN 978-1-4012-9460-1. OCLC 1110150328.
  2. ^ Cowsill, Alan; Irvine, Alex; Korte, Steve; Manning, Matt; Wiacek, Win; Wilson, Sven (2016). The DC Comics Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the DC Universe. DK Publishing. p. 339. ISBN 978-1-4654-5357-0.
  3. ^ Amash, Jim; Morris, Brian K. (August 2011). "I Had a Liking for the Comic Magazine Business". Alter Ego (#104). TwoMorrows Publishing: 47.
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  5. ^ Mitchell, Kurt; Thomas, Roy (2019). American Comic Book Chronicles: 1940-1944. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-60549-089-2.
  6. ^ Nevins, Jess (2013). Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes. High Rock Press. p. 303. ISBN 978-1-61318-023-5.
  7. ^ Conway, Gerry; Tanghal, Romeo (December 1980). "The Secret Spell!". DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest (#5).
  8. ^ Wagner, Matt (2009). Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted. DC Comics. ISBN 978-1-4012-2291-8.
  9. ^ a b c d Matthew K. Manning; Stephen Wiacek; Melanie Scott; Nick Jones; Landry Q. Walker (2021). The DC comics encyclopedia: the definitive guide to the characters of the DC universe (New ed.). New York, New York: DC Comics. ISBN 978-0-7440-2056-4. OCLC 1253363543.
  10. ^ Wagner, Matt (2009). Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted. DC Comics. ISBN 1-4012-2291-9.
  11. ^ The Spectre (vol. 2) #7
  12. ^ Green Lantern (vol. 2) #42 (January 1966)
  13. ^ Justice League of America #51
  14. ^ Cowsill, Alan; Irvine, Alex; Manning, Matthew K.; McAvennie, Michael; Wallace, Daniel (2019). DC Comics Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle. DK Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-4654-8578-6.
  15. ^ Chronicled in Swamp Thing (vol. 2) #35-50 (April 1985-July 1986).
  16. ^ Swamp Thing (vol. 2) #49-50 (June–July 1986)
  17. ^ Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1–4 (2005)
  18. ^ Reign in Hell #5
  19. ^ Justice League of America (vol. 2) #39–40
  20. ^ Fox, Gardner F. (2004). Justice League of America: Zatanna's search. Gerry Conway, Murphy Anderson, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane, Gil Kane, Mike Sekowsky. New York: DC Comics. ISBN 1-4012-0188-1. OCLC 54495465.
  21. ^ Robinson, James (1997). Starman (1994) #37. DC Comics.
  22. ^ Lemire, Jeff; Mikel Janín (2013). Justice League Dark. Volume 2, The Books of Magic. New York: DC Comics. ISBN 978-1-4012-4024-0. OCLC 830668855.
  23. ^ The Kingdom: Offspring #1
  24. ^ Flashpoint: Secret Seven #2 (July 2011)
  25. ^ a b c "Zatara Voices (DC Universe)". Behind The Voice Actors. Retrieved May 17, 2024. A green check mark indicates that a role has been confirmed using a screenshot (or collage of screenshots) of a title's list of voice actors and their respective characters found in its opening and/or closing credits and/or other reliable sources of information.
  26. ^ Matadeen, Renaldo (December 27, 2021). "Young Justice: Phantoms Made Zatara's Origin More Tragic - And More Suspicious". CBR. Retrieved May 17, 2024.
  27. ^ Eisen, Andrew (October 4, 2013). "DC Characters and Objects - Scribblenauts Unmasked Guide". IGN. Retrieved May 17, 2024.
  28. ^ Smallville Season 11: Olympus #1-4