Kim Yale and Zatanna: Come Together
by Travis Hedge Coke
Without Kim Yale (1953-97), there is no Zatanna: Come Together. The first time women had controlled a Zatanna narrative, this 1993 comic was an editor’s work, solicited by Yale, shaped by not only the writer and the artist, but by the editor who put it all together. Her backmatter essays and responses in the letters pages reaffirm this.
Deliberately feminist. A comic made of genuine effort. Come Together is a vertigoesque DC comic, without being under the Vertigo imprint. The Batman: Knightfall ad before the first story page highlights the difference between the comic we hold, and what was big in mainstream DC.
Written by Lee Marrs, drawn by Esteban Maroto, lettered creatively by Willie Schubert, colored with care and craft by Linda and Eric Kachelhofer, under soliciting editor, Kim Yale, Come Together featured realist dialogue, naturalist figure work, and a European pacing, with specific, intricate, and intelligent color. A superhero who speaks backwards to make things magically happen, constantly chasing her father, here a magician who does not need to speak backwards, learning of her mother. All the pieces would be an odd fit for early 90s superhero comic, had it not been for the so-called Berger books, but also genuinely remarkable for not being a Vertigo book or featuring Vertigo’s distancing and warning labels.
There was immediate outcry that the dialogue and pacing of the comic were somehow incorrect or unfair. Men responded that Zatanna had been desexed. Yale pointed to DC’s own Black Orchid and to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s Sin City in an attempt to open the conversation around storytelling options adoptions of portrayal available in comics. Both of those comics, primarily from male hands, are incredibly intelligent and articulate in their pacing and deliberate in their representation, making them interesting go-tos as illustration. The makers of Come Together were trying to make something worth making, something to resonate then and resonate later.
I don’t want to pick on men unduly, but Joe Sewell’s homophobia in a letter printed in issue #4 is only a gilt on the foil on dental fillings of his comments regarding the celebrated soliciting editor, Yale, to the effect that she needs her husband to buy her a new computer. The late Kim Yale responds to that directly, but we cannot pretend that he was a rarity then, in the early 90s, or that he is a rarity now.
Many of the changes the series wrought did not stick past the miniseries. Zatanna’s boyfriend would fade. Moving past her gimmick of speaking backwards to make things happen – something the editor and writer considered playing into male fears of women speaking directly and speaking things into power – was immediately pulled away. However many visual, ethical, political and social elements of Come Together, find their way into the Seven Soldiers of Victory Zatanna mini a decade later.
Echoing a Scottish comics fan she had spoken with, Kim Yale asked readers of Come Together if they thought American readers often needed, “the story explained to them.”
Come Together uniquely focused on Zatanna’s mother in lieu of a traditional daughter seeks father framework of a Zatanna story. While earlier Zatanna appearances sometimes also had a feminist intent, they were male constructs and at times painfully blatantly male constructs. Come Together manages to put in perspective many of the male arrangements of Zatanna stories, those which came before it and those published after, including Paul Dini’s tin-eared address of rape and misogyny in her first ongoing in 2011, and the enjoyable but bizarrely male-gaze backup stories of the 1970s.
Well difficult to argue definitively, the male gaze and absence of is not difficult to argue. In Come Together, Zatanna may bend over and pick up something in tight pants, she can have sex, without it being delineated to attract our sexual attention onto her. She is not the object of our focus, but our perspective into a world.
Come Together places deliberate emphasis on faces facial reactions, panels are arranged to provide us Zatanna’s perspective, not the perspective nearest male or any implied male watching her.
The most physically-objectified character is John Constantine, in a brief dream sequence. A surprisingly rare occurrence for John, a character who has been around since the mid 1980s, supposedly very sexy and performatively alluring, and based visually on rock singer Sting.
When Zatanna makes love, in Come Together, with a musician named Josh, it is his body which is given emphasis him embracing her, him there for her. The potential for an uncomfortable racial read of their relationship and the sex scene, in that she is of Italian and Atlantean descent and he, African American, is minimized by the wealth of characterization provided Josh, but he remains a white-used black body for a temporary liaison.
Editor Yale’s back matter essay, Do You Believe in Magic, defines magic as a stage performance, blessings, intoning, and also writing. Will into act and artifact, from parting the Red Sea to making a comic like Come Together. That Yale is able to take back matter space in a non-Vertigo DC comic to discuss religious matters, addressing an audience and fandom who have traditionally treated such matters, outside of a dainty Christian toe in the tub, as kookiness, trickery, or a facade on the part of artists, is a feather in the cap of the comic.
Vertigo, itself, would lose its letters pages when the talent on those comics were too forthcoming with adult conversation in response to adults’ letters.
Originally solicited by Kim Yale, to writer Mindy Newell, author of two of DC’s finest 1980s comics, Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper and Lois Lane: When it’s Raining God is Crying, the issue of traditional portrayal of women in superhero comics was always on the agenda. Newell had a proposal in, however by the time they arranged an artist she had moved to a position at Marvel.
Lee Marrs (Equal Rites; Crazy Woman; Pudge, Girl Blimp) was brought on as the writer – a strong choice- and paired with Esteban Maroto, a Spanish artist, whose American comics work was mostly black and white horror. Maroto’s daughters, Gemma and Laura translated between English and Spanish for him, adding another facet of women’s perspectives.
The colorists’ work was traditional paint and digital in a much smoother fashion than most digital works in the early 1990s. There are no awkward blurs, no complicated artifacting, no lazy filters.
Even when pixelation does come into the color work, it seems so intentional and affecting, it makes many of the house ads look bizarrely dated despite coming from the same time.
Women speak to each other in Come Together more than – without exaggeration – potentially the rest of DC Comics’ output for each month Come Together released an issue.
In the DC house ads run four issues of Come Together, I believe the only ad to feature even one woman, visually, is for the Jo Duffy/Jim Balent Catwoman ongoing, a creative team that did not last long.
Kim Yale and Zatanna: Come Together
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