DCAU #202: Dark Planes Drifter

IN THIS ONE... Superman protects one of Zatara's amulets from a demon.

CREDITS: Written by Hilary J. Bader; art by Joe Station and Dan Davis.

REVIEW: Connecting to the Batman and Robin Adventures Annual, this parallel story shows young Clark Kent going to see Zatara to get mentored on magic, since it's one of his principal weaknesses (how he knows this is a matter of speculation), at exactly the same time as Bruce Wayne is apprenticed to the great magician. Amusingly, both future costumed heroes use the alias "John Smith". But where the Batman story played coy with the possibility of true magic, Superman spends most of his time (in both time frames) hanging out in some mystical nether realm filled with demons. We know his world has magic in it already - the Dr. Fate episode, the Mxyzptlk stuff - so that's fair. However, Joe Staton's take on this magical world and its denizens leaves something to be desired. It is D-U-L-L, dull. And messy too, rather rougher than the DCAU's usual tie-in material, and the demon designs aren't memorable (the head demon's human form is entirely silly, with hair shaped like horns).

Perhaps that could be forgiven had the story been more solid. Batman's side of things had three things going for it that are missing here. First, the character already had an established past with Zatara and Zatanna. Superman doesn't, and it seems very weird for Clark to show up and learn true magic, especially since it's not something that comes up in televised stories. Second, in Batman's tale, the amulets' powers were well defined. Here, while they sort of explain how the Zataras do their vanishing tricks (Clark appearing in a locked chest is good moment), the logic is hard to pin down, and it all seems to contradict the first story. Third, the original tale had a small shared moment with this one, which let you know there was more to the story without making it seem incomplete. In this issue, we get the reverse moment, which is fine, but we also get outrageously confusing moments with Dr. Fate and a Boom Tube (see below). As jarring as the continuity plug-ins in BvS, these DO make it feel like you're missing a part of the story, and you're left confused.
IN THE MAINSTREAM COMICS: The character in the Boom Tube is a young Scott Free, the future Mister Miracle, wearing the blue uniform of Granny Goodness' wards. What he's doing there (and Dr. Fate's role as well) will be revealed in the Adventures in the DC Universe Annual #1.

REREADABILITY: Medium-Low - I was so looking forward to this piece of shared history between Bruce and Clark, but this second chapter is a big mess.

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