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“All the books that were ever written in anyone’s head”

I’m really having trouble writing for this blog lately. I don’t know if it’s spring and the last few days of warmth before my life becomes all work all the time or what, but my brain is not here.

My body’s here, though (and there were body-related reasons for my absence, including a pretty spectacular blow to the head; from now on I’ll remember where the shelf is before standing up beneath it) and I guess that’s what I’m going to talk about. Our latest comics haul included the first girl-directed manga I think I’ve read, Paradise Kiss volume 1, as well as the first female-fronted floppy comic I’ve read in a long time, the first Seven Soldiers issue of Zatanna. There was something exciting and pleasant in reading about women for a change, even though neither is all that much like me. (Okay, I am going to confess later about how very, very autobiographical my reading of Paradise Kiss is, but probably not tonight.) It’s not that I think either was a peculiarly feminine book, but I did find myself responding differently and want to think about that.

The most interesting thing about Zatanna is that it’s not as much a story as a bunch of bits of other stories thrown together into one volume. I haven’t read enough DC stories to know if the people in her superhero self-esteem support group are standard characters or whether they were created just for this. And I can assume that the locust riders are the little fellows we met in JLA Classified, although I like the hidden implication that a plague of locusts just disguises the real invasion, the tricky riders. The backstory of any of the characters who accompany Zatanna out of the world might be more interesting than her solipsistic self-analysis, but I don’t know if we’ll ever find out why Taia’s body ages and regenerates. I assume we’ll find more about Baron Winter, the separate seventh member of the crew. And all of this would have been more interesting to me than Zatanna’s self-pity (and I think it is that, rather than guilt, that really drives her here) and it’s because of this that I assume the story is supposed to be annoying, that the support group frame story is a support itself.

Because really Zatanna’s problem is that she can’t realize she’s in a story. Even though she’s been to the world of unwritten books, she somehow still thinks she’s a free agent. And so while rational people who’ve been haunted by terrifying dreams would hear the background music rumbling ominously when considering a spell that says, “Bring me the man of my dreams,” that’s not how it works for Zatanna. She thinks that because she has the power to write the world with her spells, no one or nothing could be writing her. (And I do think there are hints enough even beyond the obvious one that the author is Grant Morrison that an underlying theme of Seven Soldiers will be something about fictionality and the way people long for and reject an author and a template for their lives.) And so she does what a person who’s been sleeping badly, haunted by horrible dreams might do: she makes a stupid, thoughtless decision that makes everything worse.

But really, that’s the problem with writing your own life. You get to sabotage your character development, get yourself stuck in ruts that would drive a reader crazy. And that’s Zatanna’s problem, that she’s become a dull character. If she can take the sort of drama that wins her a prize at the superhero support group, look the end of the world in the face and still think that it’s all about her, she has issues and she’s being aggravatingly human. To me, that’s refreshing. I’m not sure there are many superhero stories that are about the complete alienation from the doing stupid, self-defeating things that seem to comprise a lot of human existence, but they wouldn’t be very interesting to me even if there were. At the end of the book, Zatanna has lost her power to write, to create with magic, and is miserable thinking of herself as just another person, another character. I look forward to watching her embrace that more than I do the presumably inevitable return of her magic powers.

I’m getting repetitive, so I’m not going to go on about this anymore and will save Paradise Kiss (which I really enjoyed) for another night. I’ll just add that when I was a tiny girl, age 3 or 4 or so, when I’d get tired I’d start talking in a sort of third person. “‘I find myself getting tired,’ she said,” I’d say. The boundaries between fiction and non- would start to blur, and I’d be narrating myself. Luckily my relatives found this endearing rather than disturbing, but I think it was a telling sign about how I viewed the world. It was hard for me to believe that I wasn’t story fodder for someone (maybe God, although I hoped he’d have the decency to check in on someone else when I was in the bathroom) and that stories weren’t real in their own ways. I was convinced that because of the word-power of my name I could hide in wild rosebushes during hide-and-seek games and that they would accept me as one of their own. This seemed to work, but maybe would have worked for anyone small who was willing to move deliberately. Later I decided I was my own writer, which has its ups and downs. I wish I were more dedicated, more self-assured, more willing to let myself have great adventures, but I instead had to focus on Zatanna’s story arc, stopping myself from being a martyr and denying myself anything that could lead to happiness or satisfaction. Now I don’t know what I believe, but that doesn’t matter to me. I know how to treat myself and try to treat the other characters I meet with respect and interest. This goes for Zatanna too.


  1. Johnny B says:

    I don’t think Zatanna will embrace being normal willingly; don’t know what that portends and I’m a little apprehensive about that, given the mood that DC’s in these days…

    I don’t think we’ll be given much more info about Baron Winters and Co., either…Winters was the main character in an 80s book called Night Force (which I didn’t buy back then, so I don’t always get the character), one of DC’s plethora of supernatural people. His house seems to be a nifty place to travel between planes of existence, which is why Zee chose it to hold her seance…and this was the same place where her father met his death in a similar type of seance in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run. A little nod to past history. “Ghost-breaker” and professional skeptic Dr. Thirteen and Ibis the Invincible (a Fawcett magician character) are characters from the 70’s and 40’s, respectively, and that Taia may have been Ibis’ love interest but I don’t remember her. I thought at first that she was Tala, another refugee (like Dr. Thirteen) from the 70’s Phantom Stranger comic and they mispelled her name- but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Don’t know anything about the red-haired dude with the funky haircut, and I guess it doesn’t matter now, anyway!

    Just felt like showing off my geekery…

    — 12 April 2005 at 4:24 am (Permalink)

  2. Rose says:

    Hey, JB, thanks! I knew about the Swamp Thing stuff, but definitely not all the rest of it.

    I think this is probably going to be another book (like Vimanarama) where the parts of the story I want to read aren’t going to be in the story itself, so I’m just gearing myself up for more of that.

    — 12 April 2005 at 12:23 pm (Permalink)

  3. Tom Bondurant says:

    Taia was Ibis’ love interest ‘way back in his first appearance in Whiz Comics #2 (same as Captain Marvel), which I read in one of those giant-size “Famous First Editions” back in the day.

    Rose, I get completely what you’re saying about writing your own story, and honestly I hadn’t thought of it in terms of the Seven Soldiers thing. Zatanna has led a pretty charmed life in the DC universe, doing pretty much whatever she wanted, so it’s not surprising that she could come across as the insensitive celebrity of the support group.

    One other thought about our “life stories” — what if I’m the villain for someone else’s?

    — 12 April 2005 at 1:23 pm (Permalink)

  4. Rose says:

    Tom, when I first started writing blog stuff, your last question was something I focused on a lot. Admittedly it was because of things I’d been dealing with in my own life, but I was fascinated by the way some people could hurt others terribly badly while still being convinced they were doing the right thing. And there are times when I can look at that “villainy” and consider it justified and times when I just can’t, but it’s an interesting thing to contemplate, if painful.

    So part of this is my own interest and part is that it’s not hard to imagine that a huge Grant Morrison crossover is going to be about the interlocked natures of fiction and reality, especially when there are already hints that the JLA world with no superheroes is our own. I’m just making some early guesses about direction.

    — 12 April 2005 at 2:41 pm (Permalink)

  5. Bryan Lee O'Malley says:

    I await your words on Paradise Kiss. And if you’re loving it, you should definitely get ready to pick up “Nana” when it comes out via Shoujo Beat, whenever that happens (soon, I think). I haven’t read Zatanna (or been to the comic shop since I moved), but the preview art looked very pretty. I’m behind on my Grant Morrison. I’m waiting for the We3 trade, I guess.

    — 15 April 2005 at 1:29 am (Permalink)

  6. Rose says:

    I am loving Paradise Kiss and will maybe buy some more tonight. I’ll probably try Shoujo Beat, too, since it blends my interest in comics with my interest in how culture is marketed to teens. I wonder whether the teen mag cover will be a success or not, although it’s telling that several magazines for teen girls have recently switched to a more digest-sized format.

    We make it to the comics shop a couple times each month, which often seems awfully frequent to me. It’s mostly just to be able to keep up (more or less) with discussions in the blogosphere about books like Zatanna.

    — 15 April 2005 at 4:23 pm (Permalink)