The “trial” storyline from last issue continues here, with a gathering of villains trying to get the truth about which one of them killed Batman. This time, it’s Riddler’s turn to tell his tale, which he does in another extended flashback. He tells his fellow crooks about how he lay in wait on one of Batman’s patrol routes so he could give the Caped Crusader a clue to his next crime—which is the Riddler’s shtick, as I’m sure you all know. He put a mirror in the middle of the road and Batman stopped just before running into it. The mirror contained Riddler’s clue, then exploded in Batman’s face—but that’s not what killed him. Batman solved part of Riddler’s clue which led him to a random dead guy. Riddler headed off to complete his big score, which entailed him intercepting an armored car. But Batman was hiding inside the armored car and surprised Riddler, who shot him with a machine gun. The armored car got away, but Riddler figured he could still score the loot with a bit of subterfuge. So he dressed up as Bruce Wayne and let his thugs into a fancy party for some shipping magnate. The rich dude bought his wife a gold and jewel encrusted typewriter for her birthday (which is what Riddler was after all along), so Riddler’s men pulled guns at the party and grabbed the typewriter. But Batman showed up again and tried to stop the robbery. Riddler stayed in his Bruce Wayne disguise and seeing him there distracted Batman long enough for one of Riddler’s men to conk him and take off with the priceless typewriter. Riddler (as Bruce) helped Batman get back on his feet, but knowing his archenemy was still alive compelled Riddler to whip off another clue. Still masquerading as Bruce Wayne, he pretended to find a note left by the Riddler. Batman solved the riddle and took off, leaving Riddler to gloat because Batman’s solution was wrong. Riddler went to rendezvous with his men at a quarry, but Batman anticipated him again and was waiting for him, having already taken out the robbers and recovered the typewriter. Bats says he spoke to Bruce Wayne on the phone shortly before the party and Bruce was in Florida, so he knew Riddler was pretending to be Bruce all along. The Riddler managed to drop some big cement blocks on Batman, trapping him. He then piled dynamite around him, lit a fire, and took off. Minutes later, the quarry blew up, taking Batman with it. Back in the present, Two Face (the prosecutor) says Riddler is full of shit and asks to reconvene the court out in a field someplace. Two Face brings in a wooden platform with a stake in the middle and has Riddler tied to it. He piles dynamite all around and lights a fire. Everyone freaks, but Two Face says it’s fine, since dynamite doesn’t explode from being heated, only from electrical impulse or percussion—which he demonstrates by tossing a stick of dynamite that promptly explodes. So Riddler’s story about the fire blowing Batman up is deemed to be bullshit and his claim is dismissed. Several other pretenders to be Batman’s killer withdraw their claims, setting the stage for the last two heavy hitters to step up. More on that next issue.
- When Riddler asks how Batman survived getting shot in the chest by a machine gun, Bats won’t tell him (or us), saying it’s a secret he may want to use again. I’m thinking that may have been the author’s voice coming through.
- Lex Luthor is present in this story, hanging out with Joker. Lex is the focus of next issue, as he also claims to be Batman’s killer.
Okay, this one’s kinda weird, even for Bob Haney. We start with Batman in Chinatown, looking for his cop friend Danny Loo. But he finds a brawl inside an illegal gambling den and jumps in to stop it. He gets conked out and when he comes to, Danny Loo is there to greet him. Danny says the gambling den was being shaken down by a gang called the Savage Dragons, who have been extorting illegal businesses all over Chinatown. He worries the Dragons may cause trouble at the the next day’s New Year celebrations. Batman tells Danny to put the word out that the Caped Crusader is on the scene. The next day, Batman strolls around Chinatown and runs into Jason Blood and his fiancée, Gloria. They reminisce until Danny shows up and tells Batman he’s needed. They all head to a nearby shop where the owner (a respectable businessman) was found dead. By the look on his face, he was frightened to death and his servant comes out screaming about the Shahn-Zi being responsible. Batman doesn’t want to believe it, but Shahn-Zi’s calling card, weeds from the Yellow River, were left behind. We get a recap of the Shahn-Zi—ancient evil wizard who wreaked havoc in China for years, then popped up in Gotham and was defeated by Batman and Spectre in Brave and Bold #75. Batman figures the Savage Dragons are using fear of Shahn-Zi to help their extortion, but Jason Blood thinks there might be an actual supernatural threat and volunteers to help. That pisses off Gloria and she freaks out. (What’d she expect when she got engaged to a Demon?) Blood uses himself as bait, but he and Batman get separated. Blood is confronted by the real Shahn-Zi, who turns him into a fly, thus rendering him incapable of saying the incantation that turns him into the Demon. Meanwhile, Batman confronts another Shahn-Zi on a nearby rooftop who turns out to be the leader of the Savage Dragons. Blood—still in fly form— manages to rub an incantation onto a grimy windowpane and changes into the Demon. He and Shahn-Zi fight, but Etrigan gets the worst of it and Shahn-Zi takes off. Etrigan figures he may need some special help. At the police station, Batman and Commissioner Gordon interrogate the Savage Dragons’ leader, but end up letting him go. Batman trails him to the gang’s hideout, which cleverly isn’t in Chinatown. At the hideout, Shahn-Zi shows up and mugs the gang members and when the leader comes in and tries to stab him, Shahn-Zi makes him fall on his own knife. The other Dragons decide to back the winner and say they’ll follow Shahn-Zi. Batman busts in and goes after the wizard, but gets turned into a vampire bat and flies off. Shahn-Zi says that since it’s the New Year, Batman’s transformation will become permanent at midnight. Bats feels a blood hunger welling up inside him and wonders where Jason Blood got off to. We find out, as Etrigan communes with Merlin and asks for a Polymorph Self spell to fight Shahn-Zi. Merlin grants him the power to transform himself, but says it can only be used once. Batman gets shot at by a cop near the New Year’s parade and Etrigan searches for Shahn-Zi. Most of the rowd turns to stone and Etrigan finds Shahn-Zi and the Savage Dragons inside a snake costume. Shahn-Zi turns into a real snake and Demon uses his Merlin-granted power to change into a mongoose. Shahn-Zi sees Batman (still in bat form) flying overhead and commands him to attack Gloriaand Danny. Etrigan knows he can’t transform again, so he goes after Shahn-Zi, using his mongoose form to kill Shahn-Zi’s cobra form. The clock starts striking midnight, but Etrigan kills Shahn-Zi before the last stroke, which changes Batman back to normal before he goes all Dracula on Gloria and Danny.
- Are we really supposed to believe that Batman can get knocked out by a bunch of teenage punks?
- This whole issue is full of “old Chinese sorcery” stereotypes. There’s a slight Big Trouble in Little China vibe going on.
- Demon doesn’t speak in rhymes in this issue; maybe Haney didn’t trust his own poetry skills.
- Would a cop really shoot at a bat on a crowded city street?
- Gloria and Danny seem to think the Demon is the one who turned the crowd to stone … but why would he? To protect them? In that case, why wouldn’t he turn Gloria and Danny to stone too?
- I have no idea what happened to the Savage Dragons when Shahn-Zi turned into a cobra; they’re not shown again and all Batman says is that they’re “no problem”.
- John Calnan isn’t a bad artist, but he’s no Jim Aparo. I can definitely see the difference.