If you're a fan of Batman, chances are you're a fan of Paul Dini. The man is one of the most renowned writers to have ever tackled the Caped Crusader, and for good reason too. Dini was the man behind stories such as Heart of Ice, Return of the Joker, Harley and Ivy, Heart of Hush, and of course, Mad Love, all of which have been met with critical acclaim and adoration from the millions of Bat-Fans that grace the globe. One of the key architects of the now deceased DC Animated Universe, Dini also contributed heavily to the success of both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, the latter of which featured a roster equating to (basically) the entirety of the DC Universe as we know it. Previously little-known characters were given ample screen time and were, like the creator himself, met with adoration from the masses too. Characters which included The Question, Huntress, Green Arrow, and of course Black Canary and Zatanna.
If you're worried this review is coming off as more of a love letter to Dini than a review for his newest Comic Book then don't worry, I'm going to get onto the actual reviewing part now, promise! As you have probably guessed by now, the story centres around the two eponymous heroes, Black Canary and Zatanna, in a tale incorporating both martial arts and magic in one. It's just plain old fun and the plot itself is interesting enough to keep you turning pages over and over and over. This is a book that certainly plays to Dini's strengths as a writer, a key one of his being dialogue. Dini knows how to do dialogue in comics like Tarantino knows how to do dialogue in film, the main qualities being that it's always witty, clever, relatable, humorous, and most importantly, human. Dini plays Zatanna and Canary off each other very well and I found it very hard not to smile at every panel the two were featured in, it really is just that good. Green Arrow and Canary also get some great scenes together, with Quinones' art complimenting the tone of the book flawlessly.
Speaking of Quinones, I can't help but really enjoy his art style. I don't believe I've ever seen his work prior to this, but his style is unmistakably cartoony and unique and that's fabulously fitting for this story. He doesn't dish out one bad panel and is able to master facial expressions to a brilliant extent, highlighting Zatanna's quirky nature in particular:
Quinones is also able to deliver very well in regards to... pretty much everything. Action on the pages looks superb and the colouring again helps to enshrine the story in a very 'animated' way. It very much feels like a two part episode of Justice League Unlimited, and that in itself is fantastic. We get to see how Zatanna and Canary met for the very first time, and how their friendship has developed over the years in which their crime-fighting careers have also advanced. As the story progresses, you really can't help but get the feeling that these two are really in sync. Personally, I feel as though they should be the definitive 'BFFs' of the DCU.
It's not all fun and games though. Dini crafts a plot that deals with some dark themes, and the risks themselves are extremely high. Despite the sheer power of both Zatanna and Canary, they are both very susceptible to the threat presented within the text, both physically and emotionally. The antagonist of Bloodspell preys on the emotional connections of the two, with death itself also lingering throughout the tale as well. Whilst the book may have a 'cartoony' feel, it most certainly deals with themes and plot-elements that would not be tackled on a Saturday morning, with one panel in particular displaying something particularly gruesome.
Perhaps one of the most refreshing things about Bloodspell is that it has no affiliation with the 'New 52' whatsoever. Yes, that means by reading this you can take a trip back down memory lane to the days where there was a universe worth caring about and getting invested in.* Dini incorporates elements from the DCU of old, showing the old Justice League squaring off against Granny Goodness and other foes. These flashbacks not only demonstrate the evolution of the two fishnet-clad heroines' costumes, but also their relationship and their level of experience as well. Dini demonstrates to us on multiple occasions that both these women are, whilst friendly, likeable, humorous and quirky, not to be trifled with; they are very much adept in their respective areas of ass-kicking.
In short, this book was a joy to read. You can really tell that Dini was having a blast constructing this with artist Quinones, evidenced by just how much fun this graphic novel is. The script is sharp and fresh, the art is crisp and vibrant, and the price is more than reasonable considering the content that is included with the hardcover. Needless to say, I hope it won't be too long until Dini returns to do another of these self-contained stories, because this was the most fun I've had reading a newly released DC book in a long time now.
Oh, and be on the lookout for a Dini cameo! It may just be his best yet.
*apologies to those that enjoy the New 52, it couldn't be helped.