Bizarro Back Issues: Beware The Dragon God! (Oh Don’t Worry, It’s An Octopus) (1981) [Fantasy Week]
Every October, I like to scour my own archives for the spookiest back issues available, but this year, one found me. It's like something out of a scary movie --- I went to my barber for a haircut and, mixed in with the regular magazines in the waiting area, they had an issue of The Brave and the Bold. It was one that I'd never read before, a terrifying team-up between Batman and the Spectre where they confront a mad sorcerer who wields the eldritch power of the Dragon God.
And when I looked up from reading it, I discovered that the barber shop had closed down... ten years ago this very night!
Okay, the last part's not true, but the thing about finding this issue while I was waiting for a haircut is definitely true. To be honest, you'd think I'd be used to living the kind of lifestyle where running across random '80s Batman comics was just something that happened, but in this, the season of spookiness, I can only see it as a sign that I should share it with all of you.
This particular tale, The Brave And The Bold #180, comes from the team of Michael Fleisher (you remember him from Hex, right?), the great Jim Aparo, and Adrienne Roy, and it doesn't take long for it to ramp up the supernatural aspects.
It starts on page one, in fact, at the Metropolitan Museum, on what Fleisher describes as Gotham City's "fashionable museum mile." And look, far be it from me to doubt Fleisher on this, but I honestly have a pretty hard time believing that Gotham City can support one museum, let alone enough of them to warrant an entire mile of Upper East Side real estate --- not because they don't want them, you understand, but because you can't exhibit anything more valuable than a collection of Pogs without the Riddler or somebody showing up to bash you over the head with a question mark-shaped cane.
Heck, I don't think you can even do that anymore. Not since Professor Pogg was introduced back in 1993.
Case in point: A museum guard who walks past a new exhibit of ancient and mysterious artifacts finds himself being attacked by a suit of samurai armor animated by pure evil! But this being Gotham, and Museum Mile being a pretty ripe target, there's someone else swinging by, too:
No kidding: Batman taking a moment while karate-battling animated samurai armor to think, "Man, my entire deal is just really weird" is one of the best things that happened in comics in the '80s.
Anyway, Batman's too late to save the guard, but really, that's the least of his worries. As revealed by the museum's curator, Professor Exposition, the animated armors can only mean one thing: The Wizard of the Dragon God is back from the dead!
And now that he's back, Wa'ar-Zen --- whose name has both an apostrophe and a hyphen, so you know that he's twice as evil as most wizards --- just needs one thing to achieve complete mystical dominance over the rest of the world: The Dragon Staff. The good news, though, is that it's currently in three pieces, and the museum only had the one.
Oh, and also that the other is currently being protected by The Spectre, who I remind you is the literal embodiment of the Wrath of God.
You'd think the Wrath of God would do something a little more intense than just turning a statue of a snake into a real snake. Like, I'll concede that this might not be the time to go straight to a rain of fire, but if he'd busted out one of the minor plagues here, the next ten pages probably could've been avoided entirely.
Instead, Wa'ar-Zen has time to counter the Spectre's magic with his own, summoning a hellish beast from the infernal fires of the netherworld when Batman arrives on the scene:
It's... it's just a... Look, did I miss something? Is there a line in the back of the Bible about octopuses being servants of evil or something, and I just never got there? It's just an octopus. It's not that scary. You are Batman and a magic ghost angel. A moderately-sized squid should not present this much of a threat unless it is holding a machine gun in each arm.
With Batman and the Spectre waylaid by a betentacled devil-fish, Wa'ar-Zen makes his escape with the second fragment of his staff, leaving the heroes to play catch up. Sadly, the Spectre's ability to magically transport them to Japan means that we don't get a panel of Batman and his guest star flying coach on a commercial airline in full costume like we do in the one where he teams up with Richard Dragon.
And when they get there, it's even worse. It turns out that Batman is completely unprepared to deal with the darkest of magics:
With the Caped Crusader out of commission, it's up to the Spectre to take on Wa'ar-Zen by himself in a battle of mystical powers. And as it turns out, that proves to be a pretty daunting task. With the three pieces of his staff reunited, Wa'ar-Zen's sorcery is backed by the full might of the Dragon God, which makes him capable of taking on the Spectre in the aetheric planes accessible only to cosmic forces.
Truly, he is far more powerful than either of them could have imagined at the start of things. And with that being the case, you may be asking yourself just how these two heroes are going to defeat their foe. If Wa'ar-Zen has godlike abilities that can reshape his own form, transverse the dimensions and threaten to destroy even the night-omnipotent Spectre, then what can they possibly do against him?
Simple: They just, y'know, throw something at him.
And that is pretty much that. Without the power of his staff, Wa'ar-Zen dissolves into dust, which raises a lot of questions about whether this counts as killing someone, which Fleisher and Aparo just go ahead and skip out on answering. Either way, there's a lesson here that I think we'd all do well to take to heart:
Even the mystic might of the Dragon God is nothing compared to Batman straight-up throwing something at your face.