[Review] - Black Canary And Zatanna: Bloodspell, by Paul Dini And Joe Quinones

Bloodspell was released back at the end of May, so from a certain perspective this review might seem a little late. But, there is good reason for that: I forgot this book was meant to exist. Originally announced back in 2006, Bloodspell was advertised as an original graphic novel from DCAU writer and known Zatanna "enthusiast" Paul Dini. But as things go, there were delays. Dini went over to Top Cow to develop Madame Mirage, and eventually came back to DC where he put together Gotham City Sirens and a solo monthly title for Zatanna herself, all the while working on a couple Batman video games. Then came the "New 52," and the assumption that the occasionally touted project was indefinitely dead as the new continuity and bad editorial direction carved up the DC universe into an indistinguishable shape. And yet here we are.

There are few writers with the chutzpah to put out a 95 page original graphic novel, with no ties to the current continuity or editorial direction that the company has been attempting to sell for the past three years. There are fewer writers who would be able to convince a company to stick with such a story nearly eight years after it was pitched. And there are the fewest writers yet who would be able to put out such a work with as seemingly little editorial butchery (even Grant Morrison can't swing that at DC these days) as Paul Dini can. He has earned his position as a grandfather of the DC universe, and as such we are treated to a short, pure as pulp and a hell of a lot of fun story as this.

Hit the jump for the brief review, which contains spoilers that feel that fishnets need to be a theme in more fiction.

I mentioned continuity at the start, and there is perhaps no better place to begin than to say this: this book is completely lacking in any continuity whatsoever. It's not an Elseworlds story, but it isn't a story that needs to fit in anywhere in particular. Everything the reader needs to know about the backstory of these two characters, two characters Dini has worked with many times and has great affection for, is included in these pages. There are no oblique references to adventures past, no aside to great stories past. It is however, recognizably, not the New 52. The characters are to comfortable with themselves and their abilities, and most of all, there is far too much fun being had for it to fit in with that sequence of events. Bloodspell hearkens back to the idea that there can be one-off adventures between characters that don't have to mean anything in the long term (this was the way The Killing Joke was meant to be, before that really didn't happen).

The plot concerns Canary breaking up a heist in Vegas, only for a year later the participants to start killing themselves under unusual circumstances. Magic is clearly involved, and Canary turns to the Maiden of Mystery to help her sort it. It's the sort of story - to the point - that works well in this kind of singular environment. It isn't a foe from deep in either's rogues gallery, it's just a pissed off thief with a trick up her sleeve. And until the climax, it isn't really the point of the story either. Dini is best known fro two things: ludicrous stories that work despite no logical reason they should (see the Justice League episode where Wonder Woman gets turned into a pig) and his character development through unusual means (again, see the pig episode). Bloodspell is a more down to Earth tale, and the focus is on a friendship between two wildly different women.

I would argue that no one knows Zatanna better than Paul Dini, and while Gail Simone probably holds that right for Black Canary, Dini isn't new to the songbird. Bringing them together might superficially be their choice of leggings, there are enough similarities for it not to seem forced. Indeed, the opening pages start with the two characters meeting each other as children, concisely informing us as to what sort of persons we'd be spending the next nearly 100 pages with. Zatanna is the sort of person who is always working towards exceeding expectations, while Canary is the sort who will climb a mountain just because it's there. Throughout the book, these use these traits to compliment each other, as any good team-up book does (at no point is there any mistrust or power struggle between them, as the modern team-up invariably must contain).

Quinones art is fantastic, keeping the tone of the book well within the realm of playful. Colours are bright, details are focused and features are rounded and fall more on the toony end of the spectrum. Paired with the whimsy of the script, and it feels very much like an adventure that might have happened in the old familiar DCAU. My favourite scene in the book involves the ladies wandering through a mall, only to encounter the various merchandise produced in their likeness. As is not always the case in plot and event based storytelling, in these pages the characters act like people. They react as if they each have their own understanding of the way the world is, which is so often a detail overlooked in favour of a double page spread of someone punching a space whale. Even the climax, while containing the requisite number of punches and kicks, is largely fought and ultimately won by cleverness and guile. It's essentially a magically induced maths problem, and it takes both of the characters, working their own skill sets, to work out the solution.

The book itself, printed in embossed fishnets, looks heftier than it is because the complete script is printed in the back, along with page sketches. If this weren't par for the course in these sorts of collections, I'd say it was padding. But the story itself doesn't need padding. Eight years was worth the wait, and Bloodspell can safe sit on any reader's shelf as an example of good storytelling, with no agenda or politic other than to tell a fun story well, and put front and centre two of the best female characters the company has going for it.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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