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Zatanna is the daughter of magician Giovanni Zatara (who appeared in Golden Age comic books) and Sindella, a member of the mystical Homo magi race. Her younger cousin, the teenager Zachary Zatara, is also a magician in the DCU. Her signature power is being able to cast spells by speaking backwards.
Zatanna makes her living as a stage illusionist prior to discovering her magical abilities while investigating the disappearance of her father. Zatanna's search for her father was the subject of a storyline which was featured in several titles edited by Julius Schwartz and in it, Zatanna interacts with several superheroes such as Batman and the Green Lantern. The series culminated in Justice League of America. Zatanna assists the Justice League of America on a number of cases before being elected to membership. During her tenure with the group, her power level diminishes, so that she can only control the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. This limitation is later reversed.
In the 2004 limited series Identity Crisis, Zatanna is a member of the Justice League at the time the villain Dr. Light brutally attacks and rapes the Elongated Man's wife, Sue Dibny. When apprehended, he threatens the JLA members' families. Although Zatanna is prepared to erase Light's memories of the incident (as she had done to other villains with dangerous knowledge to the League), tampering with Light's mind sparks a debate among the League members: should the villain's personality be transformed in order to prevent him from repeating his crime? Zatanna, Hawkman, and The Atom (Ray Palmer) vote for such action, while Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) vote against. The Flash (Barry Allen) breaks the tie. Zatanna mind-wipes Light, and the process results in his intellectual abilities being lowered. In the midst of the process, Batman appears and tries to stop it. Zatanna freezes him, and the members vote unanimously to erase Batman's memories of the incident as well. Her working relationship to Batman sours after he discovers the alteration to his memory. When Zatanna helps Batman with reconnaissance at one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits, she asks him why he came to her. "I needed someone I could trust," Batman says. "But I had to settle for you." However, after Infinite Crisis, their relationship appears to have warmed.
Catwoman discovers that Zatanna's mind-wipe of Dr. Light in Identity Crisis is not an isolated occurrence; Catwoman's journey from villain to hero and her resulting efforts to lead a moral life are retconned as being the result of Zatanna's mental intervention. Catwoman comes to distrust her memories, motives, and the choices she has made since that incident. In retaliation, Catwoman covers Zatanna's mouth with a piece of duct tape and shoves her out a window.
In 2005 a four-issue Zatanna limited series was published as part of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory event. In it, at a support group for superheroes, she recounts a failed magical ritual to search for her father's tomes, during which one of her past spells summons a shapeshifter named Gwydion, who kills her companions. This trauma, combined with her guilt from her former mind-wipes, robs her of her powers. With the help of her new apprentice, Misty Kilgore, she captures Gwydion to use as her own. She eventually regains her confidence and powers, and uses them to defeat Zor, a rogue Time Tailor who released the Sheeda as a plague to infect and degrade the entire universe. As a reward, the other Time Tailors allow her one last meeting with her father, who reveals that his books were written in her, his "greatest spell and gift to the world." In the final battle against the Sheeda, Zatanna casts a spell to move time and space, retroactively positioning the Seven Soldiers to overthrow the Sheeda.
Zatanna's father was revealed to be a friend of Thomas Wayne. Zatara trained Bruce Wayne in the art of escape; and Bruce and Zatanna were childhood friends (although Batman believes that he has never met in her Justice League of America #51, and her only memory of meeting him is while she was disguised). Bruce helps Zatanna investigate the death of one of her former assistants; all clues point to a performer named Ivar Loxias. However, Loxias is revealed to be the Joker in disguise; he shoots Zatanna in the throat and incapacitates Batman. Zatanna is able to heal herself by writing a curing spell in her own blood, and she is instrumental in foiling the Joker's scheme. Bruce puts Zatanna's betrayal behind him, allowing the two to renew their friendship.
On the "Roll Call" of Justice League of America #22, Zatanna is listed as a part of the team. Called upon to help with Red Tornado's restoration in his android form, she aids the League when they are attacked by a new, powerful iteration of Amazo. During the battle, Zatanna has her mouth magically removed, and once again uses her blood to write out spells and restore it. However, she is silenced again after Amazo uses his power ring to create a gag for her mouth, rendering her useless for much of the fight. After Wonder Woman throws off Amazo's concentration and causes the gag to vanish, Zatanna defeats Amazo once and for all by using Red Tornado's soul. Following this battle, Zatanna rejoins the team.
Shortly before the mysterious disappearance of Batman and the Final Crisis events Zatanna is stalked and targeted by Hush, wanting to get his vengeance over Bruce Wayne using the people he loves most: Zatanna herself and Selina Kyle. Zatanna escapes Hush's wrath, and is able to provide help and relief to the wounded Catwoman.
Zatanna later accompanies Firestorm, Black Lightning, and Batman to Metropolis after they come to believe Kimiyo Hoshi has been kidnapped by agents of the covert metahuman team known as the Shadow Cabinet. After a brief conflict, Zatanna and the others are informed by teenaged superheroine Rocket that Kimiyo's perceived abduction was actually a misunderstanding caused by the Shadow Cabinet's mission to seek out her help in dealing with the cosmic vampire known as Starbreaker. With assistance from Hardware and Icon, Zatanna and her comrades are able to defeat Starbreaker in a massive battle in the Himalayas.
Zatanna takes a leave of absence from the JLA, only to reappear during a battle with Despero. Once Despero is defeated, Zatanna informs the League of the apocalyptic events of the Blackest Night taking place across the globe. After taking the team to the Hall of Justice to find Firestorm, she is forced to fight the undead form of her father, continually pitting the black magic he wields against her own; it is implied she was successful in banishing the Black Lantern, but was left psychologically crushed from having to kill her father again (in a fashion). In the aftermath of Blackest Night, Kimiyo mentions that Zatanna is one of the members who has left the team.
In May 2010 Zatanna began starring in her own 16-part solo series. Now no longer an active member of the JLA, Zatanna is asked by officer Dale Colton to help her solve a murder case at a restaurant frequented by mobsters. Zatanna informs Dale that the murderer was a powerful sorcerer known as Brother Night, who rules the supernatural crime scene in San Francisco. After Zatanna shows up at Night's demonic nightclub and threatens him, he responds by calling upon a powerful demon for help in taking her down. Aside from Brother Night, Zatanna also faces other threats, such as Oscar Hample, a man who tried to murder her when she was a child and was turned into a puppet by her father. She is also kidnapped by a new villain named Siphon, who tries to steal her abilities. Using Zatanna's cellphone, Power Girl finds her and removes the duct tape form Zatanna's mouth, and together the two heroines defeat Siphon.
The New 52
Following the events of Flashpoint, Zatanna was made into one of the main characters in Peter Milligan's Justice League Dark series. She also sports a new costume, though she still wears her classic magician's outfit during shows. In the first issue, she learns that Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg have been defeated by the Enchantress and volunteers her services to the League. Batman offers to help her fight Enchantress, but Zatanna uses her powers to tie him up, reasoning that Batman is too valuable to the world to die in battle.
- Zatanna frequently appears in stories written by Paul Dini, who also wrote for Batman: The Animated Series.
- She has had a romantic relationship with John Constantine