John Zatara (DC Comics)

Giovanni "John" Zatara is a fictional character in the DC Universe. He first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), and was created by writer and artist Fred Guardineer. He is a stage magician who also practices actual magic. He married Sindella, a Homo magi, and they have a daughter, Zatanna, who, like her father, is both a stage magician and a real magician. He is perhaps best known for being among those who trained Bruce Wayne in a process that would eventually lead him into becoming Batman.

Publication information

Publisher: DC Comics
First appearance: Action Comics #1 (June 1938)
Appearance of Death: Swamp Thing Vol 2 #50 (July, 1986)
Created by: Fred Guardineer

In-story information

Alter ego: Giovanni "John" Zatara
Notable aliases: Zatara, Giovanni Zatara, The Master of Magic
Relatives: Leonardo DaVinci (ancestor, deceased); Luigi Zatara (grandfather, deceased); Sindella Zatara (wife, deceased); Zatanna Zatara (daughter); Zachary Zatara (nephew)
Affiliations: Allura (Earth-One), Charity, Madame Xanadu, Speedy, Phantom Stranger, Sargon the Sorcerer, David Sargent, Tong
Team affiliations: All-Star Squadron, Black Lantern Corps, JSA
Enemies: Spider, Oscar Hampel, The Tigress (Earth-Two)
Abilities: Can use magic by speaking the desired effect backwards.
Base Of Operations:
San Francisco, California


Alignment: Good
Identity Secret: Secret
Race: Homo magi
Marital Status: Widowed
Occupation: Occultist; former Stage Magician


Height: 180.34 cm
Weight: 77 kg
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Black
Unusual Features:


Universe: Earth-Two, New Earth 


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).
His 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.

Reign In Hell

Zatara is leading the resistance in Hell and currently wonders what reaction his daughter will have.

Powers and Abilities


  • Sorcery: 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.

Strength level

John Zatara possessed the strength level of a man his age, size and weight who engaged in minimal regular exercise.


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".