Written by Matthew Cody and illustrated by Yoshi Yoshitani, Zatanna and the House of Secrets is the latest all-ages graphic novel from DC Comics. If you’re on the fence about checking out a “kids’ book,” I’m here to tell you that it is an absolute winner.
This book introduces readers to a teenage version of everyone’s favorite backwards-speaking magician, Zatanna, albeit one who has yet to fully understand her own magical potential. However, she’s thrown into a conflict with Klarion the Witch Boy and his mother, the Witch Queen. She has a very limited time to find her way through the twisting halls of the House of Secrets and find a way to rescue her father.
The artwork is a joy to look at. Character designs are simplified without being simplistic. Yoshitani’s style fits the material perfectly. Characters’ body language is funny and natural all at once, selling Zatanna’s feelings of being an outsider and the usual discomfort that comes with being a teenager with a kooky dad.
The book is also full of lovely visual gags, some of which are dreamed up solely for a single panel, but which add so much character to the proceedings. There’s a hilarious joke involving a ladder that I won’t spoil here, but which made me actually set the book down as I laughed at the sheer silly brilliance of it all. There are several moments of slapstick placed in the background of some scenes to give everything even more of a topsy-turvy Wonderland feel.
Also — and maybe this is a strictly personal thing — but I think there’s a recurring element that will appeal to fantasy fans of a certain age. Specifically, the book has several moments that reminded me of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.
From Zatanna’s outfit that calls back to Jennifer Connolly’s iconic blouse-and-vest combo standing amidst a room from Escher’s nightmares, to a disorienting masquerade ball and a sequence in an actual oubliette, there were so many visuals and storytelling beats that reminded me of one of my favorite movies, without ever feeling like it was cribbing from it. Instead, these sections feel like Cody and Yoshitani are giving the reader a knowing wink and a warm hug. This truly is a book that should appeal to multiple age groups.
The story is full of humor, but it never feels like the book isn’t taking its story seriously. There are lovely themes of self-love and acceptance that permeate the larger than life proceedings. Even the wildest action beats in the story have an element of genuine human emotion that grounds it and makes the craziest moments feel relatable. Tying Zatanna’s discovery of her powers to her own feelings of indecision feels like just the right twist for a YA story.
What’s more, the plot sets up several other threads that could be explored in the future, yet we definitely get a full story in this volume. Readers who are familiar with the wider magical side of the DC Universe may find that they recognize versions of some of their favorite characters hanging around the fringes of this story, but that knowledge is not necessary in order to fully enjoy what this book has to offer.
Not only is Zatanna and the House of Secrets a wonderful entry point for new comic book readers, but longtime fans of the character will find so much to adore here. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up (and maybe a copy for any kids you have in your life). It’s one of the most pleasant experience I’ve had reading an original graphic novel in quite some time.
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