John Zatara, a descendant of the Homo Magi as well as being an illusionist, had genuine magical powers, which he focused through speaking backwards: he could do anything so long as he could describe it in sdrawkcab hceeps ("backwards speech", spelled backwards).
John Zatara's love of magic began early when he was given a magic kit by his uncle, himself a professional illusionist. Although he began learning the craft in childhood, his early attempts at performing professionally were unsuccessful until he realized that he needed to work on his showmanship.
To that end, he dug up old diaries of Leonardo da Vinci, who was a direct ancestor. While reading the diaries, which Leonardo wrote in backwards spelling as a security precaution, Zatara learned that his family had the command of magic. He discovered this inadvertently when he accidentally gave a command to a mannequin to begin waving an arm wildly. Zatara realized that he could command it to stop by giving the order in backwards spelling.
With this new knowledge, Zatara developed a successful show. During the premiere performance a fire broke out on stage, forcing Zatara to use his command of real magic to put it out. While the audience mistook the incident as part of the act, Zatara realized that this power could be invaluable in helping people and he resolved to use it as such between shows.
John Zatara, his daughter Zatanna, John Constantine and Sargon the Sorcerer, among others, come together to help demonic and divine forces in other hellish dimensions battle the Great Evil Beast. The Beast takes notice of their group twice. The first glimpse burns Sargon, whom Zatara convinces to "die like a Sorcerer" and not break the holding of hands. Sargon burns to death nobly. The second glance literally heats up Zatanna but Zatara willingly takes the effect onto himself, dying but sparing his daughter's life. The Beast is ultimately neutralized by other forces.
Since then he has made sporadic appearances in the afterlife, including resurrecting Mason O'Dare.
His nephew, Zachary, now uses the Zatara name as a stage magician and crimefighter.
Reign In Hell
Zatara is leading the resistance in Hell and currently wonders what reaction his daughter will have.
Powers and Abilities
- Magic: Zatara speaks his spells backward as a aid to concentrate. For example, saying "tegrof" would cause the target of the spell to forget something. The limits of Zatara's powers are unknown, and are far from concrete.
- Prestidigitation: Zatara is skilled in stage magic, performing simple illusions.
- Hand-to-Hand Combat (Basic): John Zatara is an accomplished hand-to-hand combatant.
- Mnemonic Incantation: The only known limit to Zatara's magic is the time it takes for him to say the spell, including figuring out how to pronounce a phrase in "back-speech".
In other media
- The first broadcast depiction of Zatara was in a flashback in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Zatanna," in which he was voiced by Vincent Schiavelli. Zatara had trained Bruce Wayne as an escape artist. Zatara has already died under unspecified circumstances by the time that episode took place. Zatara is also mentioned by Batman as his mentor in ventriloquism in the episode "Read My Lips".
- Zatara is mentioned several times by his daughter in the Smallville episode "Hex". In that episode, his daughter, Zatanna attempts to bring him back to life with a magic spell, but in order to do that, she must sacrifice a life, which she intends to be her own.
- Giovanni Zatara appears in the Young Justice TV series voiced by Nolan North. He appears as one of the 16-member roster for the Justice League in that show. He makes a brief appearance in "Independence Day" informing the rest of the League that Wotan is attempting to blot out the sun. In "Fireworks", he was with the rest of the Justice League when they arrived at the Cadmus building following Blockbuster's defeat. He also appears in "Revelation", along with several league members to stop the giant plant monsters unleashed by the Injustice League. In "Humanity", Zatara brings his daughter Zatanna to Mount Justice in Happy Harbor. He was angrily displeased that the team brought Zatanna with them to find Red Tornado. In the episode "Misplaced," desperate to save Zatanna from the control of Dr. Fate, he convinces Nabu to release her in exchange for him wearing the helmet, appealing to Nabu by pointing out that his skills and powers are much greater than his daughter as well his body being more adaptable to the helmet's power. After Nabu removes the helmet, Zatara says goodbye to Zatanna before putting on the helmet, becoming the new Dr. Fate and disappearing, devastating Zatanna. In "Agendas," Zatara's Doctor Fate form was seen with the Justice League when discussing about adding some new members to the Justice League. He does express his opinion not to add Zatanna to the Justice League yet with Wonder Woman claiming that Zatara is still stating this from within the Helm of Nabu. In "Auld Acquaintances, after defeating Doctor Fate who was under the control of Vandal Savage, Zatanna tries to take the helmet off him but the helmet stayed on, remarking, I may have saved Fate from Savage, but I can't save my father from Fate. In Season 2 (set 5 years after Season 1), Dr. Fate is still a member of the Justice League (presumably with Zatara still as the host).
- Zatara is rumored to appear alongside his daughter and other magic-based DC Characters in Guillermo del Toro's upcoming film, based on the Justice League Dark comics.