Oh, Stephane Roux, how I've missed you drawing "Zatanna." After the first few issues, Roux vanished, and with each new solicitation I've found myself hoping that it would mark his triumphant return to the title. With "Zatanna" #12, we've gotten just that...
...except that it's illustrating a fill-in script written by Matthew Sturges, instead of regular writer Paul Dini. I feel like this is one of the bigger fake-outs I've encountered this year, honestly.
For the moment, though, let's concentrate on the great, and that's Roux's art. From the very first page (with the four extremely attractive mer-people), to the arrival of Zatanna herself, this is a sharp-looking book. There's a lot of attention paid to making sure everyone looks just right; Zatanna's "work outfit" going from semi-casual, to her street clothes, to being fully suited up are prime examples of this. I love that she's got a fancy belt and a wrap to go with her sweater and pants, for example, or Mikey's practical cargo pants styled overalls and work jacket. Everyone in this book has a specific look, and Roux delivers it in spades. And once the fight breaks out, Roux does a good job there, transforming Zatanna's expressions from confidence to confusion in the blink of an eye. She's got one of the biggest grins in creation as the story wraps up, and while the book has been fortunate to have other great artists since his departure (Cliff Chiang and Jamal Igle, in particular, are two artists not to sneeze at), this issue is a reminder that Roux brought his own brand of sexy and smart to the comic.
I wish I could say the same thing about Sturges' script, though, which isn't a bad idea in places, but comes across heavy-handed and dumbed down. The second the time-twisting effect appears, it becomes instantly obvious that palindromes are the way to solve the problem, but not only does Zatanna seem extraordinary clueless (needing hints to get there) but then Sturges still takes the extra time to explain to the readers (who apparently are even more clueless). That's not even including the part where we learn that Zatanna practices with flashcards for backwards speech and has problems with words like "annihilate." If this was a brand new character it would be somewhat buyable, but this is a character that's been around since the 1960s. Between this and her confusion during the fight, Sturges makes Zatanna look inept.
The saving grace in Sturges' script is when he has Zatanna talk about the magic of San Francisco. Never mind it feels like that it's Sturges stalling for time (it has utterly nothing to do with the rest of the issue), it's well-written and a cute little detour. If the rest of the issue was written as well, this might have been an overall better experience. Instead, this is a prime example of reading a comic specifically for the art. Dini, we'll be eagerly awaiting your return next month.