John Zatara was an accomplished stage illusionist. That could be considered his greatest illusion, for he was actually Homo Magi. This powerful race of magic users include such names as Leonardo Da Vinci and Nostradamus, to whom he is related. His profession as illusionist was handed down to him by his uncle at a young age, and he stayed in the family business until well after his end.
Zatara received some guidance from the Phantom Stranger, and his power grew. Through the diaries one of his ancestors, he found the key to his magic was of course to speak his spells backwards.
He decided to use his powers for good after using them to avert a stage accident involving a fire. Together with a manservant from India named Tong, Zatara had many adventures, and even became a member of the All-Star Squadron. He married another Homo Magi named Sindella. During the birth of their daughter Zatanna, Sindella faked her death and returned to her people in Turkey. Zatara was then cursed by Allura, an evil elemental. The terms of this curse meant both his death and the death of his daughter should he ever see Zatanna again. Zatara then embarked on a quest to find a counter to the curse in another dimension. Twenty years on, Zatanna went after her father and was able to put an end to the curse, reuniting with him.
Zatara was seen in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and shortly after he would meet his end in the land of the living. During a battle in hell, a being known as the Great Evil Beast threatened all that was. The most powerful mystics, like Phantom Stranger and the Spectre went to hell directly to try to defeat it.
Meanwhile, John Constantine helped to gather Zatara, Dr. Occult, Mento, Sargon, and even Zatanna to fight this evil in their own way. Meeting at Baron Winters house, they Linked hands they wove their magic. Sargon was the first to die. By fire, it took some time, Zatara was disgusted by his pleas as he burned to death. Next, Zatanna started to heat up. Zatara used his powers to channel the fire to himself, instead of letting his daughter die. This of course ended his life in an explosion. His last words were for Constantine to save his daughter under the threat of his shade hounding him for eternity. Constantine was inevitably blamed for Zatara's death.
Reign in Hell
Zatara is leading the resistance in Hell and currently wonders what reaction his daughter will have. He is forced to save her and her travelling companions and leads them to a resistance safe-house. While there they compare notes, and Zatara explains the situation to them. He then begins leading them to a rendezvous point, but on the way they run into Lobo who has recently been freed and is on a rampage through Hell. Zatara attempts to subdue him but is killed, not wanting to be consigned to Hell, he asks Zatanna to consign him to the void. She does, and in a rage launches herself against Lobo for the last true loss of her father.
Zatara was recruited into the Black Lantern Corps to thwart Zatanna and the Justice League. Pretending to be her father failed, since Zatanna knew that his consignment to the void was permanent.
Zatanna defeated Black Lantern Zatara away from the other Justice League members, in an effort to protect them.
Another magician named Zatara was featured in the Kingdom Come said to be the son of John Constantine and Zattana Zatara making him the grandson of the original. He is described as "a youthful Harry Houdini" and is the successor to the magician super-hero lineage. Rather than speak backwards just for his spells he does it all the time, which annoys his friends and colleagues.
Batman the Animated Series
Zatara appeared in a Batman cartoon in the early nineties. In this version, during a flashback, he trained Bruce Wayne escapology. Bruce had a brief fling with Zatara's daughter Zatanna before he ran off to become Batman. Later Bruce met up with Zatanna and it was revealed that Zatara had passed on.
Zatara also appeared in the Young Justice cartoon. In this series he is a member of the Justice League
Zatara contacted the Justice League at the Hall of Justice, informing them about an attempt by the sorcerer Wotan to blot out the Sun by using the Amulet of Aten. He requested full League assistance
The entire League arrived at the site of the destroyed Cadmus facility after the sidekicks Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash battled with Blockbuster.
Zatara attended the funeral of Kent Nelson at the Tower of Fate.
After Red Tornado's "betrayal", supervision of the Team was done in week shifts. Zatara was the second, after Captain Marvel. During his stint, the Injustice League attacked world cities with mutated plants. Batman sent the Team to the group's hideout, whilst Zatara, Batman and Captain Marvel battled the plants in to destroy the plant spore in Gotham. After the defeat of the mother plant, the Justice League turned their attention to the Injustice League. Zatara disarmed his old enemy, Wotan.
After his turn as den mother was over, Zatara returned to the Cave with his daughter Zatanna, in the hopes of getting her trained by Black Canary. He was infuriated when the Team "kidnapped" her, and Black Canary had her hands full reassuring him. She failed, however—Zatara threatened to ground his daughter for life.
When Klarion, Blackbriar Thorn, Felix Faust, Wizard, and Wotan cast a spell on Roanoke Island, the Team saw Zatara, Batman, and Red Tornado disappear. To Zatara, Batman, and Red Tornado, the Team had disappeared. Zatara, Batman, and Red Tornado learned from Captain Marvel that the spell separated the Earth into two dimensions, one for persons older than 18 years of age and one for those younger. Captain Marvel's alias of Billy Batson also relayed this information to the Team and the energies were tracked to Roanoke Island.
Zatara joined Batman and Red Tornado in the fight against Blackbriar Thorn, Felix Faust, Wizard, and Wotan on Roanoke Island in the adult dimension. Zatara discovered the source of the magic was a mystical gem in the center of the sorcerers' pentagram. It was retrieved by Captain Marvel and Kid Flash on either end, and merged by Zatara and his daughter. Zatanna had put on the Helmet of Fate to amplify her magical abilities, but now, Nabu refused to give up his host body. He argued that Zatanna was an ideal host, with her affinity for magic. Zatara persuaded him to take him instead. He was a far greater sorcerer than his daughter. After Zatara gave his word, Nabu agreed. He said his goodbyes to Zatanna, and became the new Doctor Fate.
Zatara, as Doctor Fate, destroyed the fourth ice fortress along with Superman and Captain Marvel.
By Zatara's wish, Doctor Fate still attended League meetings. He thought it was a good way to keep both of them in check.
Smallville (TV Series)
John Zatara was the world's greatest magician and the father of Zatanna. He gave his life, to save his daughter from an unknown danger.