If I’m honest, I’m not really in the mood for this today, but I will give it the old college try, and so there are spoilers ahead for…
Mystik U #3
Writer: Alisa Kwitney
Artist: Michael Norton
Cover: Julian Totino Tedesco
“Higher education is so overrated.”
One of the other options I considered for the Spotlight this week was Giles #2, not because it was good, but because it was bad. Shockingly bad – though I shouldn’t have been shocked considering how bad #1 was – and somewhat distressingly bad.
Whatever his faults, as a person and as a writer, Joss Whedon can generally be counted on to deliver something that it is at least somewhat entertaining and coherent, with a strong voice and sharp dialouge.
This is not that. It’s as if someone took random dialogue from Joss Whedon, Diablo Cody, and Chris Claremont, tossed it in a blender, sprinkled it with some Neal Adams dialogue, and then just poured the results onto some paper and called it a comic book.
But! It’s not my intention with this feature to focus on the negative; this entire site, and the platform it represents, is built on the love of comics, and out of a desire to promote the medium, so I don’t want to devote a lot of time to trashing the bad, choosing instead to look for the good.
Also, I, like any sensible person, like Zatanna, and want to advocate for things that feature the backwards-speaking Mistress of Magic. Beyond that, this book shares some themes and a setting – a school, albeit a university rather than a high school – and some thematic elements with the other book I considered. Except, you know, it’s not bad.
Beyond that, it’s the final issue and that seems like as good a place as any to take stock of the mini-series.
In the first issue, we started at some point in the future when the world is threatened by some evil magical threat known as The Malevolence. The world’s magicians – including the adult Zatanna – have banded together to fight against this mysterious adversary – and lost.
As a last-ditch effort to save the future, a spell is enacted to change the past. We then move to a time before Zatanna fully came into her power, working as an assistant in her father’s stage show. After getting into an argument with her father, Zee’s powers kick in at the worst possible moment and she inadvertently sends dear old dad to hell.
Like you do.
She doesn’t get a lot of time to process this before one of Zatara’s friends whisks Zatanna away to enroll her in Mystik U, a school that was founded to provide an education to those young people gifted with magical abilities.
While the identity of The Malevolence is not known, what is known is that it’s a magic-user of Zatanna’s age cohort. The spell that changed the past retroactively founded Mystik U hundreds of years earlier, turning it into the perfect place to suss out the identity of The Malevolence, as every young magic-user ends up there.
Zee makes friends with a healer named Pia, a young June Moon – AKA The Enchantress – Sargon the Sorcerer, and, of course, the requisite brooding bad boy, a young man named Sebastian Faust, son of the evil Felix.
The group of friends later expands to include a sentient slime creature living in the school’s pipes whom they dub Plop.
With that set-up in place, the story takes the expected turns, exploring the typical misadventures of atypical college students, with parties, and romance, and the occasional faculty meeting in which the teachers attempt to figure out which one of their students is going to eventually try to take over the world.
You know, the usual.
This issue picks up with Dr. Occult – though his other half, Rose Psychic has had a more prominent role throughout – being summoned to help with a little problem. It seems that Zatanna’s attraction to bad boy Faust has taken its natural course, except that rather than contracting HPV Zatanna has ended up having the life sucked out of her body.
Pia disagrees with Dr. Occult’s assessment, and insists that Zatanna is still alive, and uses her healing power to restore her to (not quite) perfect health.
Lots of people disagree with Dr. Occult about a lot of things, including Madame Xanadu, who conspires with Rose – who has a sort of timeshare arrangement on the material plane with Occult – to take him out of the plan, trapping him in the psychic realm while Rose takes over.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Occult was right about one thing: Zatanna was dead. Faust realizes this, and that Pia is not a healer but a necromancer, and while there was enough of Zatanna remaining inside of her lifeless body that she’s almost her old self, there is still something missing, and that Pia is actually in control.
Pia rejects the idea at first, but accepts it once she realizes that, in her anger, she’s summoning an army of the dead to get Faust to shut up. She’s upset, at first, but starts to wonder if it’s really so bad…
It’s also worth mentioning that in one of their earliest misadventures, saving Zatanna from rushing an evil* sorority, the students made contact with The Malevolence, and it infected Plop, who has been busy in the background infecting the faculty and students.
Despite the efforts of Xanadu and Psychic to get Occult out of the way, before being trapped on another plane, the good(ish) doctor set a plan in motion to destroy The Malevolence: finals.
During the exam, Pia restores control of her own life back to Zatanna, and The Malevolence appears, somehow transported to the past, and revealed to be Pia.
Ultimately, The Malevolence is defeated once Pia sees what her future self is doing and resolves to never become that, and thus, the spell that created this new past serves its purpose, though not necessarily in the way that anyone intended or anticipated.
Having served its purpose is not, however, the same as having reached its end, so it appears that this new past is here to stay (presumably for the purposes of some follow-up stories, depending on how well this did in terms of sales).
“Like all endings, it’s also a beginning…”
As the school year comes to a close and most of the students go their own way for the summer – except poor Plop who got on Mr. E’s bad side…though one could argue that’s the only side he has – Zatanna and Faust hop on his bike and ride off into the…well, not so much the sunset as the sunless lands, in search of Zatanna’s father.
There’s no way around it – this is a book that travels on a well-trodden literary path and is more than a little derivative. Hell, even the idea of “Harry Potter, but with DC’s magical characters” has been done already, and was done before there even was such a thing as “Harry Potter.”
That said, much like The Unwritten, being derivative was a deliberate choice that was built into the plot, and it allowed it to take some interesting turns, as did utilizing characters who are a bit older to allow for more adult themes and the exploration of magical threats as metaphors for the travails of young adulthood, and it’s a logical progression to move to exploring those themes in a post-secondary educational institution.
Still, the book does very much have a YA vibe, and if it continues beyond this mini-series I should think that would be the target audience.
Also, it’s just fun to see some of the characters from the magical corners of the DC Universe, particularly when handled by someone like Kwitney – whom I know mainly from her work as an editor on titles in DC’s Vertigo imprint – who is intimately familiar with them.
It’s worth noting that Plop was a reference to an old, short-lived humor magazine – called PLOP! – that DC published back before the “DC Implosion” of the 1970s. I never read it, but I do remember the house ads for it in old comics.
As an amorphous blob – with one big eye – Plop is something of an amalgam of the strange creatures that were often featured on the cover of his namesake magazine.
My biggest critique is that despite being double-sized – making it, effectively, six issues – it still felt kind of rushed, and the extended gap between issues is not exactly ideal for ending an issue (as with #2) on a cliffhanger.
The art from Michael Norton is solid; simple and clean, with a great design sense and a nice storytelling flow.
I don’t know if there’s a future for Mystik U beyond this brief run, and it wouldn’t exactly be a tragedy if there isn’t, but it was a fun little book for what it was, and it’s always ecin ot ees Annataz.
ZATANNA – Superstar writer Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series) works his magic on this fan-favorite series, with the help of Adam Beechen (BATMAN BEYOND), Jamal Igle (SUPERGIRL), Stephane Roux (BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE), Chad Hardin (HARLEY QUINN), Cliff Chiang (WONDER WOMAN) and more. Collects ZATANNA #1-16 and ZATANNA: EVERYDAY MAGIC #1.
…and it looks like most of the other, related things I was going to recommend are out of print and not readily-available for purchase.
Umm…I mentioned The Unwritten. That’s definitely something I recommend. I mean, nobody is buying any of the stuff I recommend anyway – not via the links I provide, anyway – so…I don’t know, read or don’t read whatever the hell you want, I guess.
*Consider the obvious joke as having been made.