Disclaimer #1: This story is set on a hypothetical parallel world within the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but is not limited by that story or any other.
Disclaimer 2: This story features characters based on copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics, but is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.
Disclaimer 3: This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended, especially those who are not comfortable with themes of gender transition.
The television talked to itself while John James Zatara adjusted his shirt front and straightened his tie. As he looked over his reflection, he considered how male dress had changed over the years: once, a black swallowtail coat, boiled shirt front, white tie and top hat had been the nighttime formal uniform. His father, Giovanni Frederico Zatara, had performed in evening dress to show that, like the guests he entertained, he was a gentleman.
As the heir to a famous name and the proprietor of a famous act, John Zatara wore white tie and tails because people expected it of a magician. Some of the younger ones even thought of them as "magician clothes", having never seen anyone else dressed that way. He liked it that way, and he liked even better that standards of fashion were now so relaxed that he could wear evening dress in broad daylight and be thought merely colorful, rather than boorish. As far as John was concerned, every man owed a debt of gratitude to the hippies for that.
Still, perhaps evening dress was getting a little too traditional as magician wear. He wondered how he might look, performing in some other outfit, like the fringed buckskin jacket and beaded headband worn by that beginner at the last meeting at the Magic Castle. He'd used his shoulder-length hair for some clever misdirection.
Zatara glanced at the television, where a group of colorful dressers were being interviewed: The Human Torch, a huge woman holding a mallet, and a robot -- no, not a robot, it was that armored mercenary, Iron Maiden. They were announcing the formation of a group of superheroes to respond to crime and disaster as a team.
That was a reminder of the other career he had inherited: the use of real magic in the cause of justice. Since his father had departed on a long tour of otherdimensional realms, there seemed to be more and more call for Zatara in that line, too, using his last name as his nom de plume, just as he did for the stage show. Maybe he should even consider joining these "avengers", or one of the better-established groups.
Zatara smoothed his thin moustache, inspected his slicked-down hair, placed his equally shiny top hat on his head and inspected himself.
"Rorrim esrever," he said softly, and the mirror's image turned about, showing Zatara himself as others would see him from every angle. Everything looked all right that way, too.
Zatara whirled about. Nobody should have been able to enter without tripping at least one of several wards. But here was this small, slim man in blue tights and loose blue blouse, smiling maliciously, a gaudy red cloak spread behind him.
"Make it quick," Zatara snapped, trying to sound casual. "I still have to practice for tonight's --"
The stranger's hand rose in a classic sorcerous gesture.
"Redurtni eb sselrewo-"
A steel clamp seemed to close around Zatara's mouth. As he struggled with the silencing spell, the stranger began a longer and probably more powerful one.
"By the power of the dread Dormammu, let John Zatara be enclosed by the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak!"
Something began wrapping itself around Zatara, something that was not a red ribbon, nor a curving beam of red light, but more like a long strip of red space.
He knew now who this was. Other magi had encountered this man, who wrought spells of immense power, invoking the names of beings which did not exist in this universe. He called himself Doctor Strange, and he was apparently a sorceror from some other universe. He was dangerous, and probably mad, and wizards more powerful than Zatara feared him.
"And now, in the name of Satannish and the Vishanti, may the Nullity of Agamotto fall upon this wretch! Let him join the ranks of the Unmanned!"
Zatara's jaw was free again, and at once he began trying to break Strange's spells. But "Sdnab evlossid" proved as useless as "Egnarts llaf peelsa"; Strange kept on reinforcing his spell, and Zatara felt a disturbing sensation from his crotch.
He understood what was happening. Some wizards gained power through sex; others built up power by denying themselves sex. But a man who had been castrated, or made impotent, had almost no chance of working any sort of powerful magic. And Zatara could feel that his fate was not merely to lose his genitals, but to be stripped of all sexual identity and nature at the most basic level. The space within these bands was inimical to maleness, so Zatara's manhood was being erased from existence, and there seemed no way to stop it.
"Doctor Strange! Why are you doing this?"
Strange chuckled. "Power, of course. There's a limited supply of magic in any given universe, so by...neutralizing other magi, I make myself more powerful."
That was nonsense. Like when Father Reynolds had told the "Boys' Health" class that masturbation would use up your supply of sperm. But Strange clearly believed it, and Zatara was going to pay the price for his stupidity.
Zatara felt his organs shrinking in his pants, and knew that his manhood and his power would soon be gone. He raged silently against his fate, trying desperately to find an out. He was in a space where a man, where masculinity, simply couldn't exist. He couldn't get out of the space, and he couldn't survive as a man inside it, but...
He threw back his head and screamed, "Arataz emoceb elamef!"
Strange threw up his hands, not to cast a counterspell, but simply from shock and fear. "No!" the otherworldly sorceror cried.
"I MA NAMOW!" Zatara shouted vehemently, and the sensation between the wizard's legs changed dramatically.
"Sdnab enogeb!" a new voice called, and the alien bands obeyed, shattering and dissipating. Strange gestured frantically, and an oval doorway opened behind him. He stumbled through it, followed by the command, "S'egnarts sllab kcik sevlesruoy!" Zatara heard a satisfying cry of pain as the doorway closed, too fast for pursuit.
Then the only child of Giovanni Zatara looked into the mirror to survey the damage. "Emutsoc hsinav," she said, after a long look at how absurd she looked in John Zatara's evening dress. She swallowed hard, and ran her hands down her naked body, over her breasts and belly, toward her crotch.
There was no going back, of course. Strange's spell had made the survival of John Zatara's manhood impossible, and it was gone, gone, gone, forever. She would have to make a new life as...Anna Zatara, she thought. Her grandmother's name.
Anna Zatara was good looking, aside from a little too much in the belly. It had looked all right on John, but standards were different for women; she'd have to go on a diet immediately. She took after her Turkish mother more than John had; her skin was even a little darker, and John's strong black eyes had become devastating. Her breasts were small and firm, her legs absolutely perfect.
"My name is Anna Zatara," she said aloud. For good measure, she repeated it backwards.
If she tried to be John Zatara hiding behind a woman's face, she would never make it. She had to make a new start, a new life, and that life would begin with that name.
She would work a spell to create new records that would show John Zatara had a twin sister. She had been very ill as a child, and had been forced to live at a Swiss clinic for years. Afterwards, she had stayed at a boarding school to be near her doctors, until at last she was completely cured.
She would confide in the people closest to her. For the others, a subtle spell would give them the feeling that they'd always known, in a vague sort of way, that John had had a sister.
An accidental death for John, followed by a quick cremation (it would be simple to cast the illusion of a corpse over a mannequin), would finish the job, and Anna Zatara would begin her new life as...what? Who?
A magician, certainly.
"Emutsoc no!" Once again, she was covered by John's ill-fitting evening suit.
"Emutsoc emoceb eninimef." Anna felt the fabric shift and warp, fitting itself to her, John's undershirt shrinking and thickening into a brassiere. Boxer shorts become briefs, socks turned into taupe pantyhose, and his trousers turned into a knee-length skirt. His black patent dress shoes reappeared as similar slip ons. She no longer looked absurd. But she did look dowdy. Try again.
"Emutsoc emoceb...yxes?" The skirt became very short satin shorts, the hose became black fishnets, the vest brazenly thrust her breasts up and forward, the shirt front became very light and thin. Her aspect suddenly changed then, as her shoes became dress black pumps with elegantly shaped high heels.
"I do not mind looking like this, not one bit." She would look good on stage. Her career would survive.
She would look good to men. Was that what she wanted?
She looked at her watch (which had become a lady's watch without her even thinking about it) and decided there was time for a quick experiment.
"Tod dna Dot raeppa."
Dot and Tod, the near-identical blonde teenagers John often conjured up as stage assistants, emerged from a puff of smoke, just as they did on stage.
"Come here, Dot." The girl obeyed, smiling.
Anna took the girl in her arms and kissed her. Dot obeyed, putting her arms around Anna, keeping her lips together until her tongue responded to its cue from Anna's, breaking away as soon as Anna relaxed her embrace, stepping back, still smiling emptily.
Anna smiled sheepishly. It had been a pleasant enough kiss, but only pleasant. But perhaps that was simply because Dot and Tod were constructs. They seemed a little more real every time she called upon them, but she knew they weren't "really" real.
Then she kissed Tod, and knew for certain that Anna was as heterosexual as John had been. Kissing Tod felt very good. Feeling his body against hers felt better. Feeling the hint of a growing erection against her belly felt better still, and her head swam when she thought of what it would feel like to have him inside her.
But Anna was a virgin (literally; she had checked), and she didn't want her first time to be with a lifeless, probably soulless, certainly brainless creation of her own mind. She thanked them, and they bowed in unison and vanished in another puff of smoke.
She noticed that the magic seemed to flow more easily than it had for John; three changes of clothing (four, counting the dissolution of her clothes at the start) and the summoning of Dot and Tod had been almost effortless; it looked as though Anna would be much more powerful than John.
She wondered if that was because of the same influence that seemed to concentrate so much supra-normal power in women like Superwoman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and so on. True, there was Wonder Warrior, the Hulk, and a few others, but there did seem to be some force at work giving the most power to women. Perhaps it had even been fated that John Zatara should give way to Anna one day.
Which reminded her of another power she possessed that John hadn't. Parenthood had appealed to John more than marriage had; he'd thought occasionally about adopting children. Now she had the option of becoming a mother, and the prospect was far more thrilling -- and intimidating -- than fatherhood ever had been.
And children born to a magically-powerful mother were likely to inherit the trait. John had been concerned for the future of the family, unless he could find a compatible mate among the female mages. Perpetuating the power would be much easier for Anna.
Such matters would have to wait for later, though; it was almost showtime. She hurried through the maze of corridors backstage, ducking under pipes and stepping over cables as even the biggest stars were forced to, using a near feline grace even in her new heels. In the wings, she whispered, "BoB, raeppa."
A gorgeous golden cloud burst on center stage, and a silver-haired gentleman addressed the audience. "Good people, I regret to inform you that Zatara the Magician will be unable to perform for you tonight."
A murmur rose form the audience, composed of groans, yelps of outrage, and cautious pleasure from those who suspected this was a setup for a treat.
"In his place, I hope you will welcome the mysterious, magical and very lovely...Zatanna!"
Anna found herself blushing at Bob's words, which she had not composed for him. As he disintegrated back into golden fog, Anna stepped out onto the stage, and her new life began. Yes, Zatanna sounded perfect.