The Matt Signal – Episode 54: Zatanna

Plot summary: When Bruce Wayne’s first love, Zatanna, is accused of a crime she didn’t commit, Batman steps in to clear her name.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Zatanna’

Original Air Date: February 2nd, 1993

Directed: Dick Sebast (9) & Dan Riba (2)

Written: Paul Dini (9)

The only episode with two directors as Dick Sebast departed the show mid-production.

Supernatural villain, the Gentleman Ghost, was originally intended to be the villain of the episode but producer Alan Burnett nixed the idea due to the intended tone of the show. Monsters of science, no matter how impossible, are fine, but no spookies.

Vincent Schiavelli is one of five actors to make an appearance in the show and the 90s Batman movies, in this case a minor role in Batman Returns.

When Bruce tells Zatara he has to leave for Japan this is a reference to the flashback scenes in ‘Night of the Ninja’. These are the only two episodes to depict a young Bruce Wayne in-training.

Recap

The titular Zatanna begins her magic show for an enthusiastic Gotham audience. Bruce and Alfred are among the attendees, and they discuss how long it’s been since Bruce spent time with Zatanna and her father.

Sure enough, we flash back to a younger Bruce practicing escapology with Zatara while a teenage Zatanna watches on, horny as hell for the future Caped Crusader. Her lust turns to sadness after hearing Bruce would be leaving for Japan soon.

Much like Alfred, she makes fun of his self-seriousness and attempts predict his future by guessing which card he drew from a deck. Wouldn’t you know it, he picked the joker! Cuuuuute.

Zatanna (who Bruce calls Zanna, because they’re disgustingly adorable) forces him to give her a goodbye hug… only to handcuff him to a nearby pipe! He of course escapes while her back is turned.

Back in the present Zatanna moves on to the main event of her act, bringing the manager of the Gotham Mint onto the stage alongside renowned magic-debunker, Montague Kane. That was quite a sentence to write.

Anyway, there’s ten million dollars in the vault, and Zatanna makes the entire thing disappear in a puff of smoke. Naturally she restores it for the worried manager… only the money is still missing! Kane is thrilled and calls for Zatanna’s arrest!

Bruce naturally intervenes, and by the time the paddywaggon reaches the GCPD it is mysteriously empty. Bats offers to help Zatanna clear her name, and while she initially questions his motives, gratefully accepts.

The duo sneak into the mint, evading the police. They find some shattered glass, and Bats deduces that the money was stolen before Zatanna even began her illusion, uncovering a hidden mirror to confirm.

Batman cuts to the chase and suggests Montague Kane is behind the theft, offering Zatanna the opportunity to bail in a manner that also lets him pry into her romantic life. Oh Bruce, you sly dog.

They discuss her father, now deceased, and Bruce has to improvise why he would know him. She of course hits him with the classic ‘haven’t we met’ stuff but he dismisses it.

Infiltrating Kane’s lavish home, they realise too late it’s a trap and fall through a hidden pit with spiked walls! Bats uses acid to detach one of the spikes and jams it into the mechanism, giving them enough time to climb back out.

Bruce notices all of the airplane paraphernalia in Kane’s study, figuring out that he’s fleeing in his luxury aircraft. A brief battle does not go our heroes’ way and they’re captured.

Chaining the pair back to back, Kane orders them thrown out the back of the plane, but Bruce is able to slip Zatanna a lock-pick, allowing them to work together to free themselves.

We get some more plane shenanigans and close calls that aren’t really as thrilling as you’d hope. Batman does throw a pair of dudes off the plane and into the sea below, though, which you’d assume would kill them from that height.

Zatanna knocks Kane out and he’s promptly arrested once they land the plane.

Bruce and Zatanna discuss his decision to become Batman and how proud her father would have been of them both. Bats offers her a ride, but she vanishes in a puff of smoke, leaving a flyer for one of her shows that she’s written him a message on. Cute.

Best Performance

Without question, Julie Brown. Zatanna is so full of life; flirty without being sexual; sarcastic without being obnoxious; adventurous without being overbearing. Brown deftly handles all three aspects of the performance: showy magician, thirsty teen and Batman’s temporary sidekick. Honestly she gives Mark Hamill, Adrienne Barbeau and Melissa Gilbert a run for their collective money in these arenas and it’s a shame this is her only appearance.

The youthful exuberance Brown and Kevin Conroy demonstrate in the flashbacks was delightful, with both actors skilfully able to age themselves down, and they play off each other in expert fashion throughout.

Michael York does what he can to elevate Montague Kane by being a good actor with a distinct vocal range, but that only goes so far.

Ranking

I’m a big fan of episodes that flesh out the show’s mythos, and this one went a long way in that regard. Not only was this a fun insight into the pre-Batman days of Bruce’s past, it actually enriched a previous episode; you may recall Batman pulled a literal Houdini escape in ‘Be a Clown’, which didn’t necessarily require an explanation, but it was still nice to see him learning this trick from Zatara in a flashback.

Furthermore, Zatanna’s status as Bruce’s first love is a concept I’ve always enjoyed, and this iteration is no exception. Their awkward teenage hormones are super charming, and their dynamic as adults is plenty of fun too. It’s not quite as pronounced as the vibe with Catwoman, but in a similar wheelhouse. Zatanna in general was the best part of the episode in my opinion.

But before I can get too carried away… Montague Kane sucks. He sucks out loud. More on that below, but even with a better villain, the closing action sequence just isn’t very good, which is wild because it’s escapology and fist fighting on top of a plane! How do you mess that up? I’m not sure, but they sure managed it to such a degree that it left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. I Am the Night
  5. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  6. The Man Who Killed Batman
  7. Perchance to Dream
  8. Two-Face Part I
  9. Joker’s Favor
  10. Feat of Clay Part II
  11. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  12. Beware the Gray Ghost
  13. Mad as a Hatter
  14. Heart of Steel Part II
  15. Appointment In Crime Alley
  16. Two-Face Part II
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. Off Balance
  20. Vendetta
  21. Birds of a Feather
  22. Heart of Steel Part I
  23. On Leather Wings
  24. See No Evil
  25. The Clock King
  26. It’s Never Too Late
  27. Joker’s Wild
  28. Eternal Youth
  29. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  30. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  31. Zatanna
  32. Day of the Samurai
  33. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  34. Terror in the Sky
  35. P.O.V.
  36. Christmas with the Joker
  37. Fear of Victory
  38. Be a Clown
  39. What is Reality?
  40. Night of the Ninja
  41. Mudslide
  42. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  43. Nothing to Fear
  44. Prophecy of Doom
  45. Tyger, Tyger
  46. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  47. Dreams In Darkness
  48. The Last Laugh
  49. Cat Scratch Fever
  50. Moon of the Wolf
  51. Paging the Crime Doctor
  52. The Under-Dwellers
  53. The Forgotten
  54. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Montague Kane (Michael York) (first appearance)

I never thought this day would come, but we have a new bottom of the Rogues Gallery. Kane is so painfully dull, so utterly forgettable and oh so inconsequential. He’s a rich bigwig who devotes all of his time trying to expose magicians for no real reason. Also he’s obsessed with planes. Also his giant mansion has a death trap in it. Why? Why to all of this. It’s such an inconsistent set of character traits that come across as tossing out haphazard ideas and hoping something sticks. Nothing did.

Maybe if he were a rival magician, jealous of Zatanna’s success, or his anti-magic stance had any kind of explanation, or they dropped some of these weird additional quirks. I don’t know. Anyway, he’s so awful that I would rather see the Sewer King and Boss Biggis return, which blows my entire mind.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Mad Hatter
  5. Poison Ivy
  6. Catwoman
  7. Harley Quinn
  8. Clayface
  9. The Riddler
  10. Clock King
  11. Penguin
  12. Killer Croc
  13. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Count Vertigo
  16. Josiah Wormwood
  17. Scarecrow
  18. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  19. Rupert Thorne
  20. Sid the Squid
  21. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  22. Tony Zucco
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Hugo Strange
  25. Red Claw
  26. Arnold Stromwell
  27. Mad Bomber
  28. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  29. Kyodai Ken
  30. Talia al Ghul
  31. Ra’s al Ghul
  32. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  33. Cameron Kaiser
  34. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  35. Professor Milo
  36. Romulus
  37. Sewer King
  38. Boss Biggis
  39. Montague Kane

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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