knight terrors zatanna robotman cliff steele cover art

INTERVIEW: Dennis Culver and the Trauma Bond Between Robotman and Zatanna at SDCC 2023

Multiverse of Color sat down with Dennis Culver, writer of Unstoppable Doom Patrol and the recently released Knight Terrors: Zatanna #1, at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend. We discussed the tantalizing dynamics of a “magic lady” and a “robot man” in his issue of Knight Terrors, currently on sale now.

Interview edited for clarity. Spoilers ahead.

“I liked the idea of Zatanna being one of the few still awake. That’s really fun, because it’s different from the other things going on,” Culver said. “He [Joshua Williamson] asked me early on- he wanted to use Cliff and the Doom Patrol to show different heroes having the same problem of people falling asleep. It ended up getting cut, but I knew Cliff was going to be awake.”

knight terrors zatanna robotman cliff steele cover art
Credit: DC Comics.

In Knight Terrors: Zatanna #1, Zatanna finds herself still awake at the Hall of Justice under attack by the Sleepless Queen. Finding herself outnumbered, she desperately looks for help, which results in a team-up that has yet to happen on page in-canon. 

“Zatanna blindly reaches out with her magic and gets Robotman. That’s the kind of thing that tickles your brain as a writer, because that’s a really neat contrast: magic lady-robot man. You’ve got these two very different characters. All you want to do is put them in a room together and have them bounce off each other,” Culver said, with a big smile.

The enthusiasm for this peculiar pairing jumps right off the pages. “They’ve never ever been in a story together, barely on panel together. The only place I could find was Justice, which was an out-of-continuity series by Alex Ross. Cliff’s been around for 60 years, Zatanna nearly as long, so I get to do something brand new with these characters.”

Credit: DC Comics.

Things aren’t all roses, though, Zatanna is not excited to see our favorite robot because of past encounters her father had with the Doom Patrol. However, this tension leads to them form a bond over the trauma she and Cliff have experienced. That trauma gets resurrected in the grotesque form of their dead family and friends.

“I thought, has Zatanna had any encounters with the Doom Patrol? [I remember] Mento at the séance where her father died, she probably doesn’t like the Doom Patrol. It’s gonna bring up feelings. So when Cliff shows up, there’s this immediate friction. That was fun to play with, she’s like shut up and do what I say,” Dennis explains. 

“But how are they similar? They both lost people they feel a lot of guilt and responsibility for. That’s their commonality. Once she realizes that he has those same kinds of feelings, she lets her guard down, they start to become friends and then, of course, I take it away.”

The strange new besties are a gold mine of intriguing stories, so hopefully there’s a chance to see Zatanna pop up in Culver’s Unstoppable Doom Patrol series. “That Hex and Violence team, they’re just begging to be together again. We’re trying to find ways of doing that. There are a couple of unanswered questions at the end of this Zatanna thing. So if we get a chance to do it, we’re certainly going to try to find a way to put them together.”

Could we be getting a Zatanna/Robotman team-up series in the future? Only time will tell, folks! Catch up Knight Terrors: Zatanna #1 before #2 comes out in August!

Read part one of our interview with Culver about Unstoppable Doom Patrol.