Batman #458 (January, 1991)
Writer – Alan Grant
Pencils – Norm Breyfogle
Inks – Steve Mitchell
Colors – Adrienne Roy
Letters – Todd Klein
Assistant Editor – Kelley Puckett
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
It’s funny… was looking through my past several dozen posts here, and found a disturbing lack of Batman! Gonna try and rectify that.
We open with Batman rescuing a child from a group of heroin pushers… who are attempting to forcefully inject the lad with the stuff. Batman swoops in, whups ass, and takes the boy to safety… only, when he unmasks… it’s Commissioner Gordon! Okay, it’s just a dream… Gordon’s dream! He’s sitting outside the Gotham Train Station… waiting. He think about how he, if things were different, could’ve been the “Night Monster” that is Batman (you just wait, mister). He shakes it off and goes for a burger.
Nearby, a young girl carries a broken doll toward a ramshackle building. In a neat touch, it’s still Gordon’s narration… and he discusses how with every single day that passes, the choices we can make grow more and more limited. It’s wildly unpleasant, but so well presented. Anyhoo, the girl believes there’s someone called “Mr. Fixxit” living among this squalor (not that Mr. Fixit). A man who can fix literally anything… and so, she leaves her doll (along with a candy bar for payment) and leaves.
We rejoin Gordon as he’s finishing up his late-night burger… and just then, he catches some young punks spray-painting a wall. When he announces who he is… the kids just run off. He goes into a coughing fit as he attempts to give chase. Luckily, a certain caped figure just so happens to be passing by.
These punks… they ain’t the brightest. They only run a few streets over… and instead of chalking up tonight as a “win” (or at least a “non-loss”) they start spray-painting a homeless man’s face. Well… that was a dumb move, as it gave Batman more than enough time to catch up.
Remember that girl with the doll? Well, she hasn’t returned home… and her father is ticked! He grabs a baseball bat and heads out to deal with this mysterious “Mr. Fixxit”. Along the way he knocks on every door in their apartment building… looks like he’s forming a mob!
When we get back with Gordon, he’s loitering around the train station… again. But why? Well, ya see, Sarah Essen is returning to town. Folks familiar with Batman: Year One will know that Essen is the woman who Gordon briefly cheated on his wife with. Anyhoo, she’s transferring back to Gotham from New York.
Gordon wonders why he’s even here… it’s not like he’s ready to strike up a relationship (or even a conversation) with her. And so, he tries to slip away unnoticed. Unfortunately for him… a purse-snatcher picks just this moment to, well, snatch a purse.
Back at the dilapidated building, that mob has assembled… and they’re armed with just about every kind of swingable blunt object you might find in your home. They call out to Melissa (the little girl), and promise that they won’t let “that freak” hurt her. At this point, Batman swoops in to check the temperature of the situation.
He asks if anyone called the police… to which, nahhh… nobody did. Looks like they want to exact their own form of neighborhood justice. Batman suggests he go in first to get the lay of the land. The mob refuses… even going so far as to push him out of their way! They tear down the rickety fence, and head toward the structure. Batman decides to do some tec’ing, and follows the tiny footprints nearby.
Back at the Railway Station… Gordon’s down! Gordon’s down! Gordon’s down! Lucky for him, there’s another cop nearby… Sarah Essen! She holds the purse-snatcher at gunpoint… and the former lovers have a pretty awkward reunion. Once the creep is in cuffs, they decide to head out for a cuppa coffee.
Back at the building, the mob zeroes in on Mr. Fixxit… who, well… is that hunchback dude from the cover. Hold all gasping til the end. Anyhoo, Melissa’s dad proceeds to threaten the poor fella… and is just about to bash his brains in with the ball-bat before…
… Melissa enters the room! Turns out she just got stuck under some fallen scaffolding on her way out. Mr. Fixxit didn’t do anything to hurt her. Melissa’s dad drops the bat, realizing that he might have been the monster all along. We’ll talk more about this in a bit.
It ought to go without saying that by now Mr. Fixxit has repaired Melissa’s doll. Her father is beside himself with shock… because, as far as he knew… all of the dolly’s electronics were burned out. Melissa gives Fixxit a peck on the cheek, and they leave. Before exiting, however, she asks Batman if Fixxit will be going away. He replies that he will… but, that he’ll be taken care of.
Batman tries chatting up Fixxit… but the poor dude don’t talk. He recognizes him as Harold, a scarily-brilliant engineer and former associate of the Penguin (during The Penguin Affair… a story I’m surprised we haven’t yet discussed here). He wonders what to do with him. He knows he can’t turn him in to the authorities… he would just wind up being sent to an institution from there.
We rejoin Gordon and Essen at Mel’s Diner where they’re having some coffee and catching up. Looks like they’re both available these days. Jim’s wife passed… and Essen’s husband was killed in the line of duty. There’s really nothing keeping them apart now.
They chat a little while longer… and decide that, whatever their shared future holds… they should definitely take it slowly.
We wrap up in the Batmobile. Batman and Harold are heading back to the Batcave… looks like Harold’s going to be working for the good guys from now on!
Okay, so how great was this?
Gordon’s narrative here fit the issue perfectly. It was almost poetic in a way. The idea that every day windows of opportunity close all around us… is such an unpleasant thing to consider. It’s true, of course… but, wow… how sobering is that? Jim even goes as far as to say at a certain (very young) age, you know you’ll never be the Gerber Baby. It might sound crazy (and maybe a bit of an extreme example)… but, that doesn’t make it any less true!
Framing his story with a narrative discussion of “choices” is really so perfect. His entire night out is a choice he’s made… that he isn’t so sure about. He could be there to meet Sarah at the train station… or, he could just sneak away. It’s so very human that when you’re faced with a decision you labor over… you start thinking about other choices you could’ve/should’ve made along the way.
I mean, we get Commissioner Gordon dreaming that he’s Batman… and when he wakes up, he considers that… had he made a different decision (or twenty), that he could’ve been Batman! Don’t worry, Commish… your bat-bunny costume is only a couple of decades away.
The Harold story was pretty cool… though I did have one problem with it (which we’ll get to). I’ve always had a weakness for “boogeyman” type stories… the type of tall-tale that would go around the schoolyard. For us growing up, there was the Diaperman… a man (who may or may not wear a diaper) who lived in the woods behind the school. We spent many an afternoon trying to find him… because we were idiots. Couldn’t imagine a gaggle of geeky kids doing something that stupid nowadays!
Anyhoo… so, Mr. Fixxit… the phantom toy repairer of Gotham City. Such a fun (and creepy) idea… and, most scarily… one that you could see kids falling for! Heck, if the Diaperman advertised that he could make it so I wouldn’t have to blow in my Nintendo cartridges anymore… I… er, well… let’s just be happy that he didn’t.
So, yeah… really dig that premise.
Now, what I didn’t so much dig… let’s talk about that “Melissa got stuck under the scaffold” thing for a second. I get what we’re going for here. Mr. Fixxit/Harold isn’t a bad dude… and he didn’t do anything to hurt Melissa. But… if that mob didn’t assemble and come out to bash his brains out… Batman would’ve never searched the building… and so, at the end of the day… there’s a pretty good chance Melissa would’ve died under the debris! So, in essence, it’s a good thing that Mel’s father gathered the troops and stomped on in… right?! I realize that makes things a little less heartwarming… but, it’s kinda got to be said.
Also, what kind of a father would Mel’s Pop be if he didn’t wanna bash in the brains of the guy he thinks took/hurt his daughter? I mean, even as enlightened as we all claim to be nowadays… I couldn’t say with any certainty that I wouldn’t swing first, ask questions later. It’s kind of weird that Mel’s Pop is kinda framed as a bad guy from the first moment we see him. Would we prefer reading about a father who doesn’t care that his very young daughter is roaming the slummy Gotham streets in the middle of the night?! Just not really buying that bit.
Overall… for the most part, I had a blast with this… and I’m sure most Bat-fans will too! This story has been collected in the Essential Harold Omnibus, Volume 1… okay, no… that’s not a thing that exists… but, it is available digitally!