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Recap / Batman: The Animated Series E54 "Zatanna"

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While Bruce and Alfred watch Zatanna's magic act, Bruce remembers how he first met her while learning escape artist techniques from her father Zatara. She was clearly interested in him, and asked him to write... but he never did, and she had no way to find him since he was using the alias "John Smith."

The magic act concludes with an illusion in which the Gotham Mint and ten million dollars seem to vanish. The structure returns, but the money remains gone, and Zatanna is arrested on suspicion of setting the whole thing up to steal it. Batman breaks her out of the police van and enlists her help tracking down the real thief.

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Tropes in this episode include:

  • Call-Forward:
    • In a flashback, young Zatanna does a card trick with young Bruce (under the alias "John Smith") to predict his future. She thinks Bruce got "two of hearts" (it's implied that she set that up as an excuse to flirt with him), but he's got a Joker card.
      Zatanna: [throws the cards in anger] It's a dumb trick anyway!
    • In the same flashback, Bruce says that he's on his way to Japan for the next phase of his education. Bruce's time in Japan training in martial arts was covered in an earlier episode, "Night of the Ninja."
  • Chair Reveal: When Batman and Zatanna go to confront Kane in his mansion, they find him apparently sitting in a high-backed chair, but when Zatanna swings it around there's just a dummy and the speaker that was conveying his voice.
  • Cool Plane: Kane's escape aircraft appears to be inspired by industrial designer Norman Geddes' "Airliner No. 4."
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  • Disappearing Box: In the flashback, Zatara's equipment includes one, which Zatanna hides in to eavesdrop on a conversation between her father and "John Smith." Zatara goes over and looks inside and there's apparently nobody in there, but he's not fooled and makes it spit her out.
  • Escape Artist: Zatara was a renowned escape artist, which is why Bruce chose to study with him. In the present-day portion of the episode, Batman gets several opportunities to demonstrate what he learned, including a scene where he's imprisoned by chains that Kane claims even Zatara couldn't have escaped.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Dr. Montague Kane (magic is ambiguous in the original BTAS but beyond that, all bets are off). But to be fair, it's implied most of the magic he encounters really are illusions.
  • Heroic Vow:
    Zatanna: What happened that made you put this on?
    Batman: A painful memory and a promise.
    Zatanna: I'd say you're keeping that promise pretty well.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
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    • Zatanna seems like an ordinary stage magician until the end, when she pulls a disappearing act on Batman. Justice League simply presents her with her usual complement of magical powers.
    • The Joker card could be interpreted as a coincidence, or a genuine prediction of Bruce's future.
  • Mr. Smith: Bruce uses the John Smith alias when studying under Zatara, who clearly knows it's a sign of his student hiding something.
  • Mythology Gag: The magic word Zatanna uses in her act is "Arbadacarba," the reverse of one of the standard stage magic words. In the comics where Zatanna has real magic, it's activated by speaking words backwards.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Montague Kane is modeled on Orson Welles, probably because of Welles's own interest in stage magic.
  • Pick a Card: In the flashback, Zatanna invites Bruce to pick a card from a deck and attempts to not only identify it without looking at it, but describe what it foretells about his future.
  • Pretty in Mink: A lady in the audience wears a gray fur coat.
  • Ret-Canon: Zatanna as Bruce's childhood friend becomes canon in the DC Comics Universe.
  • Secret Keeper: It seems Zatara knows a lot more about "John Smith" than he lets on. And eventually, so does Zatanna, after Batman says Something Only They Would Say.
  • Soft Water: A pair of mooks fall out of a plane flying above the clouds and survive the impact with the ocean below.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Batman calls Zatanna "Zanna"—a nickname only "John Smith" called her, which she claimed to hate.
  • Smoke Out: Zatanna doesn't like long goodbyes any more than Batman does. At the episode's end, she drops a smoke bomb and disappears, leaving a note behind.
  • Stage Magician: Zatanna, and her father Zatara. Zatara has the traditional top-hat-and-tails magician look,note  while Zatanna uses a femme version of the same look that shows off her legs more.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye:
    • Here we see Batman's first (chronological) example, when in the flashback Zatanna cuffs him to the wall, turns around, and remarks that if "John Smith" were a real escape artist, he would have broken free by now. She turns around to face him and of course he's no longer in sight.
      Zatanna: Now you see him, now you don't.
    • Then at the end of the episode, it's Zatanna who does this to Batman, leaving a note saying that she also hates goodbyes.
  • Sword Cane: Kane has one.
  • Trap Door: Kane opens one under Batman and Zatanna when they go to confront him.
  • Uncovering Relationship Status: Batman uses the question of whether Zatanna has family or friends who can shelter her as an excuse to find out if she's currently in a romantic relationship.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: In Kane's mansion, Batman and Zatanna get trapped in a pit where the walls move inward and have Spikes of Doom on them. Lampshaded by Kane as being a bit of a cliché, "but effective."
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: After Batman breaks her out of the police van, Zatanna worries aloud about a possible prison sentence for evading arrest. Batman simply replies that they can find the real thief and exonerate her, as if that would settle the matter. Indeed, when they turn in Kane at the end of the episode the police don't seem interested in Zatanna anymore.
  • You Answered Your Own Question: Zatanna: "What do you care about some leggy dame in nylons? Or have I answered my own question?"
  • You Got Spunk: The villain tells Zatanna, while holding her at knife point, "You are most engaging, my dear—beautiful, impetuous... I could be persuaded to spare you if properly implored..." CRUNCH Cut to Zatanna's heel crushing his foot.

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