By Andrea Ayres
I’ve spent most of my life wishing I was someone else. Zatanna #3 is about the intoxicating temptation of rebirth. The promise of a blank slate requires the erasure of our history, of our pain, regret, and mistakes. The great temptation of Zatanna #3 is to believe that rebirth is more powerful than reinvention.
It’s tempting to believe we need regret, pain, shame or guilt in order to be good people. Much of our society functions this way. You could have that bad food but don’t you want to be good? These beliefs are built on a foundation of social and familial constructions. They are not steeped in the present. Guilt without change turns into shame and regret. This causes us to only ever look behind us, not ahead. In issue #3, Misty and Zatanna begin to emerge from the fog of their past, literally and figuratively.
Misty and Zatanna encounter the Tempter. Zatanna calls him “an outdated concept, an obsolete thoughtform.” The Tempter would love to prey on the magician’s desires. For Misty, that’s longing to be part of a group, like the JLA. His attempts to work his magic on her in their encounter prove foolhardy. Misty isn’t looking for acceptance or a parental figure because she’s found it in Zatanna. The pair work together to expose the promises for what they really are, tricks that will leave them empty and hollow.
In my reading of the Tempter, I thought about the way my brain processes, well, everything. I want to believe the worst about myself. It’s the same story I’ve been telling myself since I was fifteen. No one likes you. You are not attractive. You are disposable. These feelings are built on the core belief that radiates from me like the sun: I am not enough.
Pain and Progress
Core beliefs are the central ideas we have about ourselves. Researchers say they fall into three main categories: helplessness, unlovability, and worthlessness. Core beliefs can be either negative or positive and they tend to form from early childhood experiences.
The Tempter is really good at honing in on those negative core beliefs. He sees emotions like shame, pain, and guilt and capitalizes on them. It’s easy for me to believe I am not enough. It’s a belief as natural to me as breathing. That Zatanna and Misty are able to see the Tempter for what he is and avoid his attempts to lure them, tells the audience these two characters are making progress towards healing their pain. It doesn’t mean they are perfect. Zatanna continues to find it easier to celebrate the victory of others than she does herself.
“Your first exorcism! Congratulations babe! You just breezed through basic magic instruction.”
We can compare this with the statement she makes about herself a few panels later:
“I make my living as a performer. The other stuff, the crimefighting and all that? I do that because my dad convinced me it was right.”
For Zatanna, there’s always an external reason for her success. It’s thanks to luck, a teammate, or her father, but never through her own work. She frequently dismisses her intelligence and skills. Her failures, however, those she owns completely.
“I’m a no good spellaholic and as far as I’m concerned, I can’t suffer enough.”
What would it mean to suffer enough? Is there any amount of suffering Zatanna might be okay with? No. No amount of suffering would placate her. Those of us prone to negative self-talk know the well of suffering is one that never runs dry. Suffering is intoxicating, it helps us feel like we are paying penance for the mistakes of our past when it is really only dooming us to stay there.
“But you, you’re different. You can avoid all the gruesome mistakes I’ve made. You can look a sunrise and not see a thousand floodlit opportunities for regret.”
I get Zatanna. When I see someone in their twenties I think about how exciting it would be to have my whole life ahead of me. I would change so much. I would be better, I would have done better… That’s suffering. I’m using guilt and shame of the past to keep me trapped in a fantasy world of ‘if only.’ This kind of thinking keeps me in pain, so why do it? The simple answer is I need it.
The pain feels like who I am, it is my identity. If I didn’t have it, who would be left? These questions scare me. Perhaps that’s why Zatanna falls into a pattern of self-hate so reflexively. If Zatanna didn’t feel guilt or shame about her past decisions, which isn’t the same as saying they were the right choices, what would she have to change?
See, it’s not by chance that as Zatanna engages in a regurgitation of her past sins that something draws her attention back to the present: the appearance of Ali-Ka-Zoom. Zatanna and Misty swerve to avoid hitting the ghost of Ali-Ka-Zoom because he has returned to ensure his magical cabinet is properly disposed of – but he’s also there to help Zatanna and Misty connect the dots to all that has happened and all that will.
Reinvention & Connection
There are numerous ways in which SSoV handles the concept of rebirth and they are all entangled. That’s the point. Rebirth is a misnomer. It’s not possible to begin again. Reinvention, however, that is possible.
In SSoV the Queen of the Sheeda, Gloriana seeks to restore herself to vitality and live forever by obtaining The Cauldron of Rebirth and Plenty. The Cauldron of Rebirth and Plenty is based on The Cauldron of Regeneration found in the Welsh folklore tales contained in The Mabinogion. The cauldron makes its appearance in the second branch, in the tale of Branwen.
As the story goes, the cauldron is capable of bringing the dead back to life. It was a gift given to the King of Ireland as a means of pacification. The cauldron is destroyed when the evil half-brother of Branwen is thrown into it during the war between the Irish and Welsh, of which only seven soldiers survive.
Should Gloriana possesses The Cauldron of Rebirth and Plenty she will no longer be in need of an heir. As such, she sends Neh-Buh-Loh to kill the princess (aka Misty). Neh-Buh-Loh, the Celestial Huntsman, is unable to follow through on this order because of her beauty. Instead, he has her weave a dress made of cobwebs, robbing Misty of the knowledge of who she is. She begins to recall her past when she faces it (Neh-Buh-Loh) face-to-face.
Morrison evokes the Grimm Brothers fairy tale Little Snow White as well as The Faerie Queene, who Glorianna is based upon. Why? He signals the importance of maintaining a connection to the past, to ourselves, to each other, without being succumbing to the tyranny of temptation.
When I am connected to you I am forced to recontextualize my own reality and experiences. I take on new information about your story, your life, and this gives me the chance to reinterpret my own. The temptation for ultimate control over others, over the past or future, is often our undoing. Glorianna is so invested in the temptation of rebirth and its promise of ultimate power she cannot envision any other outcome but victory. Zatanna and Misty show us another way.
Misty is a powerful Sheeda princess but she is also a teenager looking for guidance. Zatanna is a superhero but she is also a woman in search of forgiveness. It is impossible to be any one thing. We are neither all good nor all bad. We exist in multitudes.
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Zatanna #3
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Ryan Sook
Inker: Mick Gray
Colorist: Nathan Eyring
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano