Giovanni "John" Zatara was a stage magician with the ability to manipulate true magic, who used his powers to fight crime and evil. Zatara's distinctive magical abilities involved speaking his incantations backwards to focus their power.
On his fifteenth birthday, Zatara's grandfather, the famous stage magician Luigi Zatara, gave him a box of the tricks from his magic act. The boy showed an aptitude for stage magic and began to pursue the craft professionally at only nineteen. His early attempts at performing professionally were unsuccessful until he discovered the notebooks of his reputed ancestor, Leonardo da Vinci. While reading the notebooks, which Leonardo wrote in backwards spelling as a security precaution, Zatara learned that he had the gift of true magic. With this new knowledge, Zatara developed a successful stage show. During his premiere performance, a fire broke out on stage, forcing Zatara to use true magic to put it out. While the audience mistook the incident as part of the act, Zatara realized the true value of his power, and he resolved to use it help others.
During the early days of World War II, Zatara decided to use his powers as a force for good. Zatara became a famous crime-fighter and eventually joined the All-Star Squadron. Zatara also met and became friends with Thomas Wayne.
Sometime later, Zatara confronted King Inferno on the slopes of a mountain in northern Turkey. The battle ended in a massive rockslide that severely injured Zatara. Zatara was rescued and nursed back to health by a woman named Sindella.
After a time, Sindella and Zatara would marry and have a daughter. Sindella seemingly died after giving birth to their daughter, Zatanna. Unbeknownst to Zatara, Sindella had actually faked her death in order to return to her people.
Around the same time, Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed. This caused Zatara to leave Gotham City, blaming himself for failing to stop their young son, Bruce, from being orphaned. The death of the Waynes and the loss of his wife, proved too much for Zatara, prompting him to lapse into alcoholism. Many years later he would conquer his demons when he accepted Bruce Wayne's request to teach him the secrets of escape artistry and illusion.
Shortly after Zatanna's eighteenth birthday, the evil extra-dimensional entity Allura appeared on Earth. Zatara came into conflict with Allura and, after a battle, he was able to imprison her within a magical artifact called the Sword of Paracelsus. Before she faded from sight, however, Allura placed a curse on Zatara, proclaiming that any contact with his kin would end in death. The curse left Zatara unable to contact his daughter "directly or even indirectly." To save his daughter, Zatara left Earth's dimension, seeking a way to break the curse.
Zatanna became a stage magician like her father, wearing a feminine version of her father's costume. Soon, she became a super-heroine and decided to begin a quest for her father. Asking the aid of various members of the Justice League, Zatanna eventually traveled to the other-dimensional world of Kharma. With the help of the good Allura, the evil Allura was defeated and imprisoned once more. The curse was removed, allowing Zatara and his daughter to be reunited. Upon his return, Zatara officially retired and started his own magic prop shop.
Zatara continued his studies of the occult and he was eventually attacked by Allura once again, after he tapped with dark energy close to her. Allura caused Zatara to vanish Zatanna to another dimension and then, she possessed his body to conquer the world. Zatanna found a way back to Earth and she stopped Allura, saving Zatara in the process.
Not long after this, Zatara became aware of Sindella's attempt to establish a connection with their daughter, Zatanna and he tried to reach her, but only endangered Zatanna in the process. After telling the truth to Zatanna, the two of them attempted to reach Sindella using their powers, to no avail. Later, father and daughter got help from the entire Justice League and finally located Sindella, who was back in the hidden city of her people. Unfortunately, Sindella sacrificed herself to save her loved ones and Zatara lost his wife for the second time.
Death and Afterlife
Years later, Zatara, Zatanna, John Constantine and Sargon the Sorcerer, among others, came together to battle the Great Darkness. While battling The Darkness, Zatara and Sargon were killed and the Darkness was ultimately neutralized by other forces.
Zatara's spirit was prevented from reaching the afterlife by the evil demon Wotan, who used his soul to create a psychic link with his daughter, Zatanna. Zatara's soul was eventually rescued by Spectre and after getting one last chance to say goodbye to his daughter, Zatara crossed to the afterlife.
Since then, Zatara's spirit has been seen on a few occasions. During one of these occasions he assisted in resurrecting Mason O'Dare.
Reign In Hell
Zatara was leading resistance efforts in Hell. During a fight with a recently freed Lobo, Zatara was decapitated and left immobile. Knowing Hell's Renderers would torture his soul, Zatara asked Zatanna to send his soul to the Abyss, destroying his soul and wiping him out of existence.
Zatanna Solo Series
Zatara later appeared again as his soul was shown to be saved from being sent to oblivion and kept under control by Brother Night. Zatanna managed to free her father from Brother Night's influence using Fuseli to reignite his memories. After his soul was free, Zatara finally managed to pass on to a peaceful afterlife.
- Astral Projection: Zatara can project his astral body out of his physical form, and use it to search for persons or things, and to scout out potentially tricky situations.
- Magic: Zatara's spell casting involves him, generally, speaking his incantations backwards. For example, saying "tegrof" would cause the target of the spell to forget something. The limits of Zatara's powers are unknown.
- Telepathy: Zatara can read, from the stadium stands, the mind of any athlete in a baseball stadium.
- Prestidigitation: Zatara is skilled in stage magic, and can perform mundane illusions.
- Hand-to-Hand Combat (Basic): John Zatara is an accomplished hand-to-hand combatant.
- Speech: Zatara must be able to speak his spells out loud for them to work. If he is gagged or otherwise unable to speak, he cannot perform magic.
- Mnemonic Incantation: Zatara is also limited by the time it takes for him to say the spell, including figuring out how to pronounce a phrase in "back-speech".
- Zatara once was unable to perform magic due to being temporarily blinded.
- Zatara's magic powers once were ineffective against a giant octopus.
- Although this character was originally introduced during DC's Golden Age era of publication, their existence following the events of the 1985–86 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths remains intact. However, some elements of the character's Pre-Crisis history may have been altered or removed for Post-Crisis New Earth continuity, and should be considered apocryphal.
- Action Comics (Volume 1) (first featured in issue #1 through issue #141)
- World's Finest (Volume 1) (first featured in issue #1 through issue #51)
- 276 Appearances of Giovanni Zatara (New Earth)
- 18 Images featuring Giovanni Zatara (New Earth)
- 9 Quotations by or about Giovanni Zatara (New Earth)
- Character Gallery: Giovanni Zatara (New Earth)
- Action Comics #10
- DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #5
- Secret Origins (Volume 2) #27
- Justice League of America #164
- Justice League of America #51
- JLA: Zatanna's Search
- Detective Comics #379
- Adventure Comics #413
- Adventure Comics #415
- Justice League of America #161
- Justice League of America #162
- Justice League of America #163
- Justice League of America #165
- Swamp Thing (Volume 2) #50
- Spectre (Volume 2) #7
- Spectre (Volume 2) #8
- Reign in Hell #5
- Zatanna (Volume 2) #3
- Action Comics #2
- Action Comics #37
- Action Comics #17
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