Kickin' It Old School With Gardner Fox

By | Saturday, March 14, 2009 1 comment
So I woke up this morning with absolutely nothing to accomplish the whole weekend. I don't have to put in any overtime at work; the fridge is stocked; I've got enough clean clothes that I can skip laundry for several more days... the first weekend in quite a while where I've got nothing to do but relax. "Great! I think I'll just kick back and have a leisurely read for a bit this morning." Of course, between making a conscious attempt to have a leisurely read, and the fact that it was still before I'd had any caffeine, I didn't want to get into anything that might be too taxing. A quick browse through one of my comic shelves later, I came across JLA: Zatanna's Search.

I'd originally bought the book when it came out a few years ago as a gift for my father. But shortly after purchasing it, I decided it wasn't really a very good present and I never gave it to him. So it's sat on my shelf, unread, since then.

The book reprints a series of Gardner Fox stories from the mid-1960s in which Zatanna is searching for her missing father, the great magician/hero Zatara. The stories originally ran through various comic titles, allowing Zatanna to team up with the likes of Hawkman, Atom and Green Lantern. Each story stands alone well enough, and they all have a naive sort of charm that's almost inherent in DC comics from the 1960s. There are astounding leaps of logic and insane coincidences, which make no real sense if you give them more than a passing thought. But, like many other classic comics from the 1960s, the story moves so fast that you really don't have time to give anything more than a passing thought. So, not surprisingly, Zatanna does find her father with the help of various superheroes and all is right with the world at the end. Which is precisely the type of reading that I wanted this morning.

But the story strikes me as interesting for some other reasons. I had actually read a few chapters (including the conclusion) of it when I was a kid because they had been reprinted in various DC 100-page giants in the mid-1970s. I remember it because it was one of the only multi-issue stories I'd ever been able to read the conclusion of. (My comic collection back then was spotty at best, and my transportation and budget options were roughly nil.) To a ten year old, the stories made perfect sense. Sure, the bounds of logic were strained but everything was explained within the story so that, no matter how absurd the explanation, a young child could follow along pretty easily. And there was always sufficient flashback explanations and character identifications that it didn't faze me at all that I was missing the first, second and fifth chapters.

I'm a quarter century older now, and generally look at stories more critically than I did when I was ten. I study plot structure and dialogue; I analyze "facts" presented in the book ("I Ching is imbued with black magic? Really? It's a book of philosophy!"); I look to see how subtle the foreshadowing is... But back in the day, those stories were fun. There was enough pseudo-science to make me feel smart, but there was plenty of action to carry me through the plot holes.

Not to mention Gil Kane was at the top of his game, and the often under-appreciated Mike Sekowsky turned in some darn memorable work as well! Geez, even Carmine Infantino's cover to Detective Comics #336 stands out in my childhood memory, and I only recall seeing that from some house ads!

All in all, I had a great time reading the story again this morning. It's definitely not the type of material I could indulge myself in all the time by any means, but it was exactly the type of thing I needed to start a casual weekend.
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Anonymous said...

I first read these the same way you did: as reprints in the back of 100-Page Super-Spectaculars. I picked up the trade for my 3rd-grade daughter. Great Bolland cover, too.