Episode Number: 54
Original Air Date: February 2, 1993
Directed by: Dan Riba, Dick Sebast
Written by: Paul Dini
First Appearance(s): Zatanna, Zatara (flashback)
For episode 54 we have a rare dual-directed episode by Dan Riba and Dick Sebast, so rare that it’s the only one. Sebast had left the show before the episode’s completion so Riba took over. What state the episode was in, I have no idea, but Riba previously had only directed one episode (“See No Evil”) and had primarily contributed as a character designer and storyboard artist on the show. From here on out though he’ll be a regular director. This episode is also the debut of Zatanna, the magician super heroine who seems to be somewhat of a fan favorite. Paul Dini wrote this one and he’ll later get to write for Zatanna in the comics, incorporating some of the details of this episode involving Bruce Wayne and Zatanna’s history making this yet another episode to influence how a character was portrayed in the source material.
The episode opens with Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the audience for a magic show. The presenter is Zatanna (Julie Brown), which we learn is someone Bruce once knew many years ago bringing us another flashback. Some 10 or 12 years ago, Bruce sought out training from a magician and escape artist named Zatara (Vincent Sciavelli) as he prepared to become a vigilante. Like the flashbacks from “Night of the Ninja,” they’re presented in a sepia tone so even if we didn’t recognize that Bruce looked younger we would still know it’s a flashback due to the coloring. Zatara had a daughter named Zatanna, and she and Bruce had a some-what flirtatious relationship. Zatanna seems fascinated by young Bruce, who is known to them under the alias John (Bruce, why would you go with John? It’s too close to John Doe) and is unusual in that he wants training as an escape artist, yet shows no interest in performing. Zatanna is puzzled and curious by this John, while Zatara seems to pay it no mind sensing something in the boy that compels him to teach him all that he knows. When Zatanna is caught spying on John’s lesson, the straightjacket escape trick which we’ve actually seen Batman put to good use in the past, her father sends her away.
Zatanna confronts John after his lesson and implores him to continue on tour with she and her father. John insists he cannot, and will be leaving for Japan in the morning (presumably to begin his training as a samurai). Zatanna tries to weaken him with an amorous hug. John does appear slightly flustered, but he appears to enjoy the affection. When Zatanna releases her grip on him he finds he’s been handcuffed to the wall. As Zatanna walks off, she playfully mocks him that any decent escape artists would wiggle out of those cuffs before she could finish her sentence. When she turns around to presumably taunt him further, she finds John has vanished leaving the cuffs dangling from the wall.
Back in the present, Zatanna is preparing for her grand finale. As part of her final trick, she brings a noted magician sourpuss Montague Kane (Michael York) to the stage. He has apparently made it his business to point out how magicians pull off their tricks. Joining him is Irving Fauncewater (Zale Kessler), the manager of the Gotham Mint. Zatanna intends to make $10 million disappear from the Gotham Mint’s cache and the money is piled high on stage. She walks through her presentation, and wouldn’t you know, she succeeds! Everyone is delighted, except Fauncewater who seems a little concerned. When Zatanna finds she can’t make the cash reappear his concern turns to outrage. Kane accuses her of stealing the money, and Zatanna soon finds herself in cuffs she either can’t escape, or chooses not to.
Bruce knows Zatanna is no thief, and he immediately jumps into costume to investigate. Feeling the police will only focus on Zatanna, Batman decides he needs to free her from custody in order to investigate who really stole the money. He busts Zatanna out of the paddy wagon and she joins him in the Batmobile, somewhat reluctantly for he has now made her a fugitive. Batman explains he can help her, and she inquires if they’ve met before. Batman, somewhat surprisingly, seems a tad flustered and offers a lame excuse about having a familiar face (even though he’s wearing a mask).
Batman and Zatanna return to the scene of the crime in order to figure out how the real crook managed to make the money vanish. Batman, because of his seemingly infinite knowledge, reveals Zatanna’s secret. The trick relied on a hologram to take the place of the actual money. Someone got to the trick before her show, probably the night before, and stole the money replacing it with yet another hologram to make it seem like the money was still there. Zatanna is impressed, and the two suspect Kane of being the one behind it, because who else? The guy both looks and sounds like a bad dude.
The heroes head off to Kane’s mansion to investigate further. Along the way Batman attempts to pry at Zatanna to learn more about her love life, and about her father. Much to his enjoyment, I presume, he finds out Zatanna has no one in her life from a romantic standpoint. She claims to have no time for relationships now that she has taken over for her father, who passed away. Batman offers his condolences while revealing he saw Zatara perform as a child, which once again causes Zatanna to question if they’ve met before.
When Batman and Zatanna arrive at Kane’s home, they find a trap waiting for them. They wind up in a cliché, the old spiked-wall closing in on them after falling through a trap door. Batman some-what crudely disarms the trap by jabbing at the wall’s gears with one of the spikes. They then use the spikes to climb out of the room. Batman takes note of a picture of a seaplane and assumes, correctly, that Kane is using such to flee Gotham. Batman and Zatanna are able to get to the plane and confront Kane, who like any good villain in this town, has some goons to throw at Batman. They’re no match for him, but Zatanna is apparently not accustomed to crime fighting and finds herself in the clutches of Kane himself. Using her as leverage, Kane gets Batman to surrender. He makes a gross comment towards Zatanna suggesting there are things she could do for him in order to spare her life, which results in him getting a stiletto jammed in his foot.
Kane, now angered, has his men chain Zatanna to Batman. Kane’s plan, with the plane airborne, is to toss the two out of the cargo door to a messy end. Batman, referring to Zatanna as “Zanna,” tells her to reach into his glove. The little nickname was something John used to use with her and it alarms Zatanna to hear it from the lips of Batman. She does as she’s told and removes a lock pick. She’s able to free the two from their chains, but unfortunately not before Kane’s men tossed them from the plane. Batman was able to hook his foot in some sort of cargo net in the plane which was fastened to the plane itself. The goons start firing while Kane tries to cut the net as the two dangle in midair. Batman uses the chain that once bound them to lasso Kane and pull him out of the plane forcing him to order his men to stop shooting. Kane is able to climb the net and reach the plane before Batman and Zatanna, allowing him to shut the door.
With the door shut, Batman and Zatanna are forced to scale the plane’s hull. Kane heads for the cockpit to try and jerk the plane around and dispatch the two. He also orders his men to go after them, apparently not at all concerned for their well-being. Once again, the nameless goons are no match for Batman, who dumps them off the plane (they’re over water and fairly low, so Batman isn’t a murderer). As the two scream, Kane thinks they’re the cries of Batman and Zatanna and prematurely celebrates only for Zatanna to appear behind him to deliver a swift right fist.
With that all out of the way and the plane docked safely, the Gotham police are able to arrest the real crooks. Apparently, they’re not at all concerned with Zatanna’s fugitive status as she’s free to have a little chat with her new/old buddy Batman. Batman apologizes for never writing to Zatanna as he had promised to do as John, but she doesn’t seem to mind and acknowledges that he’s been a busy man. They trade words of encouragement, with Zatanna assuring him her father would be so proud to see how he’s made use of his teachings. Batman offers her a ride and gestures to the Batmobile, only to turn and find Zatanna has vanished in a puff of smoke (how does it feel, Batman?) leaving behind a signed poster for “John” imploring him to write this time.
“Zatanna” is another episode that reveals a small piece of Batman’s past. It’s nice to now have an explanation for how Batman could wrangle out of some pretty dangerous traps in the previous episodes, and for fans of the comics they got to see someone make the leap from print to television. This version of Zatanna doesn’t appear to possess any remarkable talents beyond being a good illusionist. It’s also possible she kept her true powers a secret too, but I would think if that were the case the audience would have been treated to something behind Batman’s back. The added wrinkle to both character’s back story is a nice addition. It’s a little surprising she doesn’t make another appearance in the show as a featured character, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s disappointing.
Fans of Zatanna may have been disappointed to see her costume was altered slightly to not include her traditional fishnet stockings. That’s due to the medium as fishnet would be harder to animate than Spider-Man’s costume. This is another episode handled by Dong Yang Animation and it looks pretty good. Dong Yang handled more episodes of the show than any other company and their work is always consistent. The designs of Kane and his goons are a little on the dull side, since this isn’t a villain with a gimmick, but the plane sequence is pretty thrilling. And if you were worried Zatanna wouldn’t look good without her fishnets, don’t worry, she’s got plenty of sex appeal and it’s easy to see why Batman seems to have taken a liking to her.
Overall, “Zatanna” is a tight little story that works just fine as a stand-alone episode and as a fun cameo piece for the character Zatanna. It’s the first superhero team-up episode for the series (Gray Ghost feels like the first, but that character did not exist outside of this show), though if that’s something you like don’t get too excited. Batman will largely resist those temptations, though we get more when the show returns as The New Batman Adventures as DC was more interested in building an animated universe come then. Not being a huge a consumer of DC print material, the cross overs never added anything for me, but the good thing about this one is I didn’t need to know anything about Zatanna to enjoy the episode. And for a show that tries to tell self-contained stories in 23 minutes, that’s the right approach.