Zatanna Zatara made her first appearance Hawkman #4 from DC Comics back in 1964. She was created by Gardner Fox and artist Murphy Anderson and has gone on to become one of DC’s most magical characters. So, it’s not entirely surprising that the character was next in line for her own graphic novel origin for young readers. While the graphic novel stumbles occasionally, Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend by Alys Arden and Jacquelin de Leon proves to be an exciting take on Zatanna’s origin.
Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend focuses on Zatanna’s search for the truth. The story takes place in Coney Island and follows Zatanna and her family, the Starr family, during their life at the Golden Elephant. Her parents, Ezra Starr and Lola Starr, run an illusionist show on Coney Island along the boardwalk. For the young Zatanna, life in the Golden Elephant and on the boardwalk is all she knows. However, after a series of mysterious events, she soon finds herself questioning everything as she goes on the search for Giovanni Zatara. For fans of the character, Zatanna’s search for Zatara will come as no surprise. However, for those unsure of Zatanna’s origin, the search for Zatara will come as a well-executed surprise.
Arden does a great job of crafting Zatanna’s beginnings. The way she goes about introducing her magic and the mystery surrounding it is wonderful. There are, of course, some hiccups along the way, though. At times, it feels as though The Jewel of Gravesend spends too much time on the little moments and not enough time on the big moments. This is especially the case in the second-half of the story. While it is great to see Zatanna’s relationships with her friends and Alexei develop, sometimes it felt as though some scenes weren’t entirely necessary. The most frustrating bits came as Zatanna began to come to terms with who she was and what she was capable of doing.
As she begins to use her newfound abilities, the entire story changes as the bad guys of the story are finally introduced. While that bit is handled incredibly well, it’s frustrating seeing how quickly the story changes because it’s all over so quickly. It’s often expected these books will get sequels, or that new fans will go to the comics in hopes of learning more about the characters. Still, The Jewel of Gravesend could’ve benefited from a somewhat tighter ending. Sure, it’s okay to leave readers wanting to know more and to tease a potential continuation, but most of the bigger questions should be answered by the end to allow for new stories in the next installment.
Even with an open ending, though, The Jewel of Gravesend is delightful. It’s a great take on Zatanna’s origin story and the artwork is absolutely stunning. The coloring, the shading, the design — all of it is great. It’s hard not to get lost in the pages of the story when the artwork is so expertly crafted.
These stories might be crafted for a younger audience, but The Jewel of Gravesend is a graphic novel all ages can enjoy.