Zatanna and the House of Secrets review

There’s a certain house on a certain street that everyone talks about. A house full of secrets…

So begins this entry from the DC Graphic Novels for Kids line, which recently brought us the excellent Anti/Hero. I loved that – review here – and I love this. It’s another bright, smart read for bright smart kids. I love this now and I know I’d have adored it when I was eight or so.

Zatanna lives with her dad Zatara and his pet bunny Pocus in a very large, very old house. Her mother is no longer among the living, but there’s no shortage of love, or fun.

At school later that day – which happens to be 31 October – Zatanna is subjected to a spot of bullying.

The magician’s daughter has no idea she’s responsible for the red faces, having tapped into her natural powers. When she arrives home, she finds her dad bruised and ruffled. He makes an excuse before leaving for ‘a last-minute gig’. Worried about what’s up, Zatanna can’t resist sneaking into her father’s workshop…

Sindella. There’s a name familiar to veteran comic book fans – Zatanna’s mother appeared only a handful of times, when Zee joined the Justice League of America in the Seventies. This story is set in a different continuity, but I appreciate children’s novelist Matthew Cody’s deep diving. Heck, he even has illustrator Yoshi Yoshitani give Zatanna the ponytail she adopted in that JLA story. There are other nods to the comic book DC Universe – including a guest role for one of my favourite DC mischief makers.

The star of the show, though, is this new Zatanna – curious but not reckless, smart but no genius, perky but not annoying. In short, she’s great company, the perfect protagonist without being perfect. Her reactions to the secrets she learns are very human, grounding the more magical moments.

And there are many – strange beings abound, some friendly, others decidedly not; my favourite is a very unusual sphinx (I know, sphinxes being oh-so-mundane). As for Cody’s original villain, she’s very much in the Disney wicked queen mould – one of many reasons someone should adapt Zatanna and the House of Secrets for the screen.

A massive reason is the artwork of the aforementioned Yoshi Yoshitani – sumptuous doesn’t begin to describe how gorgeous it is. Every panel invites the eye to linger, but Cody’s well-crafted script propels us along and Yoshitani proves adept at continuity – their storytelling is terrific. Characters have all the character you could ask – John Zatara looks like the nicest man in the world – while the House itself is extremely seductive. If I had the cash I’d beg Yoshitani to be my interior decorator – those carpets, the furniture, the carvings everywhere! The amount of detail Yoshitani puts in speaks to this work being a real labour of love; from the enticing cover with the telling welcome mat to the final optimistic image, Zatanna and the House of Secrets is a visual treat.

Letter artist Ariana Maher’s work complements Yoshitani’s visuals wonderfully well, the fonts veering between friendly and fantastic according to the needs of the scene. Especially attractive are the villain’s spell glyphs.

Binding the five chapters together, and surrounding the whole, are attractive, sympathetic interstitial and bookend pieces courtesy of production designer Amie Brockway-Metcalf.

This truly is a gorgeous package, a book its young readers will treasure. Its 130 story pages fly by in a whirl of mystery and magic.

Again, I adored this graphic novel. I’ll be buying copies for my nieces, knowing they, too, will love getting lost in the House of Secrets. How about you?

5 thoughts on “Zatanna and the House of Secrets review

  1. Oh, this looks absolutely charming! And I’ve got a couple of nieces I can send this too, too!

    The REDDER gag is fantastic — have palindromes ever had a place in Zatanna lore before? If so, probably not as well-executed as this. That’s a perfect moment for an origin story.

    And did you ever read the rest of Mystik U? I see you reviewed the first issue. I really loved it — but I held off till it was a trade paperback, rather than read it in the weird double-length format DC originally offered it in.

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    1. Oh the shame, I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t finished it; I DO have it, so perhaps a weekend read….

      I don’t recall palindromes ever being a Zee thing, but I makes such sense. Clever stuff.

      Have we ever had an in-comic example of someone calling her ‘Zatanna’? Drives me barmy!

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  2. Zatanna really does seem the most malleable of DC characters. Mystk U was great as well. The redder scene reminds me of when Green Arrow once shocked Zee back to normal by saying a man’s name, Eb Wolf…

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