I’m very pleased to report that I was wrong regarding a “permanent” departure of Paul Dini from Zatanna. I’m even more pleased to say that after his absence from the last issue he comes back with a four part tour-de-force that must have fans of the inanimate going bonkers.

The cover to my copy of Zatanna #8

Things start out in Issue #8 with Zatanna explaining to her psychologist, Jana Bodie, that she has an intense fear of puppets. After some interesting examples we get to the main flashback that has brought Zee to therapy. Our favorite magician and Mikey (hurray for more Mikey!) are going to a formal awards ceremony. Zatanna zaps Mikey from a dowdy suit into a tight yellow dress, while Zatanna herself wears a stunning black outfit with real stars – but my favorite part is the tiny top hat.

The ceremony location holds various entertainment items, including a collection of marionettes from a long-gone performer called Oscar Hampel. Over the course of the evening Zatanna continues to see – or imagine? – a particular puppet in a suit moving and following her. The occurrences eventually lead her to running off stage and much embarrassment. Zatanna explains to Jana that she didn’t use to be scared of puppets, and she and her father even once performed in the same venue as Hampel. She continues to explain that before one performance she encountered a murderer and his victim but that she doesn’t remember anything more than waking up later in their hotel room with her father by her side. John Zatara assured his daughter that the murderer had been caught and all was well. Jana concludes that there must be more to the memory and recommends Zatanna seek out answers.

Unable to consult her father on what happened Zatanna recalls that our favorite nightmare imp, Fuseli, had used the memory as one of the many he perverted and attacked the magician with on behalf of Brother Night in Issue 2. Tracking down the ugly little creature in her dreams she forces Fuseli to pry open the rest of her recollection. It is then that Zatanna sees that the murderer was Hampel, and that after he threatened his daughter John Zatara turned the puppeteer into the suited puppet which Zatanna had seen at the awards ceremony. Her father then mind-wiped her.

It is here that Fuseli and Zatanna part ways, but Zee suddenly realizes that she is having problems moving. Waking up in her bed she finds that the Hampel puppet has smuggled himself into her home and tied her up using his strings.

Zatanna’s predicament continues into Issue #9, which is a bit of an odd bird.

The cover to my copy of Zatanna #9

The first half of the issue shows Zatanna escaping Hampel’s strings and confronting him. Her father’s spell is so strong it deflects other spells so Zee has to improvise and cages Hampel in a chair. The little puppet pleads for Zatanna to hear him out, saying that the murder was in self-defense and that any threat he seemed to make towards the young Zatanna was a misunderstanding in the middle of a panicked situation. Hampel claims he had never hurt anyone previously and that John Zatara’s transformative punishment was unjust and beyond cruel.

Zatanna doubts her father would have performed such a powerful spell without good reason, but she reflects on her own mistakes and decides she will help Hampel. Using a magic mirror she transports the both of them to her family’s mansion, Shadowcrest.

And that’s where the “to be continued…” tag falls on this part of the story.

The rest of Issue #9 contains a back-up story called “Brace Yourself” about a young Zatanna dealing with braces, and the difficulties that arise when the dental fixtures upset her ability to pronounce her spells. It’s an odd story, which seems to break a few points of continuity in my opinion. It was penned by Adam Beechen and not Mr. Dini and while the very art is nice I don’t really care for the odd mini-segment and the rules it bends.

The cover to my copy of Zatanna #10

Issue #10 gets things back on track, and I’m quite certain that there are a few people who have turned the cover into a poster or desktop background. It’s fantastic.

We find Zatanna leading Hampel through Shadowcrest, instructing him not to touch anything and explaining that magic, if used selfishly, will always come back to bite the wielder on the ass thanks to karma.

Zatanna, for some reason I find odd, doesn’t like calling Hampel by his human name and they agree on “Stringleshanks” – which I will not call him. She also breaks the first rule of comics and starts monologuing about how everything in Shadowcrest’s Inner Sanctum is powerful and if Hampel touches something and says the wrong thing he could end up in a worse situation – but the puppet doesn’t think there is a worse situation.

Zatanna wants to be sure her father was wrong before attempting to remove the spell, and uses a Soul Crystal to force Hampel to tell the truth. The puppet then outlines his lifetime of crime and murder and admits gleefully that if anyone ever deserved the fate he got it was Oscar Hampel.

Zatanna is appalled, but Hampel’s desperation for humanity causes him to break the connection to the crystal and he attacks the magician with it. He then grabs every magical item he can and wishes himself to be human. John Zatara’s curse starts to break, but it is taking reality with it. Zatanna tries to contain the damage and both entertainers are engulfed in light.

As Zatanna’s consciousness slowly fades back she awakens to a nightmare; she has been turned into a tiny wooden marionette called Miss Zee-Zee who Hampel has been touting around with for a month during his “come-back” circuit, using her strings and his voice to make her dote on him and kiss him. As Hampel is interviewed by a TV host about his return to performing after decades of absence Zatanna realizes that the unbreakable curse is now on her and she may be stuck as a puppet for eternity.

Issue #10 is also the last issue with artist Cliff Chiang. His art has been stylistic but sleek and attractive, and he leaves us with a great puppet Zatanna, complete with little top hat calling back to Zee’s awards outfit.

The cover to my copy of Zatanna #11

Issue #11 is penciled by Jamal Igle, who drew the “Brace Yourself” back-up, and the art is very detailed, lush, and sexy. The issue starts out with Hampel having Miss Zee-Zee perform for children as the puppeteer trash talks magic and forces Zatanna to agree with him. He is at the Magic Museum with the intention of donating Miss Zee-Zee and taking the magic items he has stolen to live a new life.

Zatanna has realized that her wooden state is slowly numbing her mind and she manages to think a backwards spell that gives her clear thought once again. But without the ability to move or speak she is still helpless. While in his dressing room waiting for another TV interview there is a knock on the door and a scantily clad woman claims to be there to get Hampel ready for his interview. But instead of applying make-up she chloroforms him – it’s Mikey! The helpful stagehand has been slowly putting the pieces together regarding her boss’ disappearance and has finally found her.

Using the items Hampel stole Mikey and Zatanna manage to grant her wooden body movement and articulation, but she is still only a foot tall and wooden. Before they can attempt to further break the curse Hampel wakes up and attacks them, knocking both Mikey and puppet-Zatanna to the ground. The puppeteer grabs the magic items and tries to turn Mikey into another puppet, but her as-yet-unexplained “zap proof” status reflects the spell back at Hampel and he is once again…sigh…”Stringleshanks.”

Now that Hampel is a puppet again the curse on Zatanna disintegrates and she seals the evil marionette inside one of the museum’s exhibits. She and Mikey agree to get a beer.

Later on Zatanna is pleased to tell Jana that she is cured of her puppet fear. Leaving Jana’s office and entering the magic-neutral waiting room Zee encounters the astral-projection of Brother Night. Throughout the issues we have learned Brother Night has awoken from his coma and caused problems at the prison, but his body is still imprisoned there thanks to Detective Colton. Zatanna says she hopes Brother Night will find peace of mind, but it is clear his is plotting something.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Go find these issues and buy them!

This is amazing storyline, and while it is a shame that more of Issue #9 was not dedicated to it that doesn’t change how great an arch these four issues contain. It has magic and transformations galore, vengeance, backfiring spells, flashbacks, inanimate, shrunken woman, and Mikey in a skimpy outfit! The art in each issue is wonderful, but Mr. Igle’s pencils in Issue #11 closes things out in sexy style! I would highly recommend this in general, and fans of both Zatanna and transformation magic should consider this a must-have story!