CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Dick Sebast and Dan Riba.
REVIEW: The second episode showing Bruce Wayne's pre-Batman training, it invents a connection between Batman, Zatara and Zatanna, and so gives us our first DCU guest-stars from outside the Batman Family! Zatanna basically plays Elektra to Batman's Daredevil, a love from his younger days who reappears one day to kick some ass. Although surprisingly, this Zatanna does not appear to be Homo Magi. It's all stagecraft and rational illusions and no indication that the Zatara family practices sorcerous magic. Fits the Batman universe better, perhaps, and there were as yet no plans to expand the DCAU, presumably, but it's kind of too bad. Especially since it means that while Zatanna can handle herself, she tends to become a victim and a damsel in distress.
The relationship between the two heroes is at the heart of the episode, and it's pretty fun. In the flashback, Zatanna is clearly the more aggressive of the two, insouciant and frisky as she doesn't know what drives Bruce (or "John Smith" as she knows him). She tries to make him stick around longer, but alas, his training in Japan awaits. Bruce plays it tender, which mitigates the fact that his obsession means he loves 'em and leaves 'em - all are secondary to his quest. In the present day, he reveals himself to her to gain her trust, but would still be unable to share more than what they already have. He does obliquely ask if she's with anyone though.
The plot is just okay. Montague Kane, the magic debunker, is the obvious culprit. Not even a mystery worth investigating. His mansion full of traps provides standard set pieces, nothing new. And his giant art deco luxury plane is an interesting setting for the climax, but doesn't thematically ring true. It's too futuristic (retro though it is) to be given a civilian villain who otherwise doesn't have an aviation or futuristic shtick. Regardless, the last trap Batman and Zee (sorry, Zanna) must get out of is pretty cool, Batman being extra clever with the cargo netting, the chain, etc. But one set piece does not an awesome episode make.
IN THE COMICS: Zatara first appeared way back in Action Comics #1 (1938), but his debut was perhaps overshadowed by a certain someone. Originally, he did not train Batman, and neither was Zatanna an old friend of Bruce Wayne's. She first appeared in Hawkman #4 (1964), and soon joined the Justice League of America. The biggest difference, already touched on, is that both characters used real magic, usually using backwards spells, but seem non-powered here. Zatanna as the comics know her will appear later, in a JLU episode. But as things do change in comics continuity, the episode did inspired 2007's Detective Comics #833 to make Zatara not only one of Bruce's mentors, but an old friend of Thomas Wayne's, making Zatanna a childhood friend of Bruce's. In 'Tec #844-45, they discuss taking their relationship farther, but choose not to.
SOUNDS LIKE: A couple of repeat offenders this time around - Julie Brown (Minerva Mink, and lately Poison Ivy's henchwoman Lily) is Zatanna, while Michael York (Logan's Run, lately Vertigo) is Montague Kane. Zatara is voiced by Vincent Schiavelli (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ghost, Tomorrow Never Dies).
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Happy to see Zatanna, but kind of disappointed she isn't the "full" character from the comics.