I got this issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD while out on a shopping trip with my Mom and brothers. It came from an unfamiliar and irregular outlet, so my selection was limited, which somewhat explains the choice. I was iffy on B& B (it was still one of those series that read “weird” to me”) and I had no interest in the Demon or in supernatural comics of any kind. Still, it was a Batman book, and I would never turn down the opportunity to pick up another comic. So here we were.
Sadly, this issue was a fill-in, at least on the part of the art team. Rather than Jim Aparo, the iron man who was a consistent part of the series for over 100 issues, this particular story was drawn by John Calnan. Calnan wasn’t a bad artist, but he was a bit unspectacular, a journeyman. But I found that I enjoyed this issue, so it’s possible that the absence of Aparo’s art (or even his lettering–he lettered almost all of the stories he drew) was a part of the reason.
The story is a typical Bob Haney adventure of the period, with a strange version of Batman who walks around in the daytime and whom nobody seems to care is dressed up like a giant bat. In the opening, Batman is visiting Gotham’s Chinatown, where he and the Specter years before had defeated the menace of Shahn-Zi, a sorcerer. He immediately stumbles over a gambling den–and after getting clobbered by the retreating felons, his friend on the force, Danny Loo, tells him that this is why he had requested the Masked Manhunter’s aid. The Dragon gang must be broken up.
As batman and Danny talk on the street, they run into Jason Blood and Glenda. Jason’s met the Batman before in another previous issue of B&B, so they accompany Batman and Danny when the latter two are summoned to the residence of a prominent merchant, who has been found dead. Evidence at the scene suggests that the Shahn-Zi is still alive and operating, so Batman and Jason Blood move to investigate. Batman is convinced this must be the Dragons using Shahn-Zi’s name to further their own ends, but Jason isn’t so certain.
And Blood is right, for when he and Batman separate, Shahn-Zi appears before him, and transforms him into a common housefly–lacking the voice that he’d need to speak the incantation and release teh Demon inside him. Meanwhile, Batman tracks down the Dragons’ leader, who is indeed kitted up as Shahn-Zi. And even in his fly form, Jason is able to write out the incantation in the grime of the floor he’s on, which is somehow enough to bring about his transformation into the Demon. He and Shahn-Zi tussle, but the bout is inconclusive.
Commissioner Gordon doesn’t have enough evidence to hold the leader of the Dragons–there’s no law against dressing up as the Shahn-Zi after all–but Batman tails him back to the Dragons’ headquarters. Unfortunately, the real Shahn-Zi has gotten there first. Somehow, the Dragons’ impersonation has resurrected him, but he’s still not happy about it–he slays the leader of the Dragons and takes over the gang himself for some reason.
The issue paused at this point for, among other things, this ad for the upcoming BEST OF DC treasury Edition. Oh, how I wanted it. But I was never to find a copy, and so it would be years before I’d get to read the six stories reprinted in it.
Batman bursts into the Dragon’s hideout, only to find the quite-alive Shahn-Zi there–and the sorcerer promptly transforms the Caped Crusader into a bat, a situation that will become permanent at midnight. Elsewhere, licking his wounds, the Demon communes telepathically with his master Merlin, and is granted the power to change his form, but he can only use it once. That evening, at a celebration welcoming in the Year of the Snake, the Demon confronts the Shahn-Zi, who has taken on the form of a gigantic snake.
Etrigan avails himself of the power granted him by Merlin, transforming himself into a mongoose in order to vanquish Shahn-Zi’s snake-form. Even when Shahn-Zi attempts to divert the Demon by causing the Batman in his bat-form to attack Glenda, the Demon will not relent–and he is able to kill Shahn-Zi before the final toll of midnight, thus restoring Batman to his rightful form as well.