As a kid, I was always attracted to covers that showed a special guest was showing up. Batman and Superman may be a common staple of the Justice League once more; but in the 90s when they were guests of the B-list heroes holding down the fort, that became a comic I had to get.
Sometimes the cover would introduce a new character: villain, ally, or this person was so cool looking that the book had to be yours.
And then there was that one time where Batman had a hunchback on the cover.
His name was Harold.
The more I think about it, the popular Christopher Nolan Batverse really could’ve used a disformed hunchback as Batman’s best friend. Fans of the franchise appreciate and point out the gritty realism shining through all the details of the series. As opposed to the supernatural and super powered elements of the traditional superhero world, the Nolan Bat movies stuck to a grounded reality from the choice and background of Batman’s villains to more grounded scenarios faced by our hero and even the controversial choice to have lead female Rachel Dawes become less appealing as she aged, recasting Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Batman 458 titled Night Monsters, opens with gang members, making fashion faux pas in any era, trying to inject a child with a needle. No reason given, just that he is going to, “LOOOOOOVE this.”
Batman lays waste to the baddies with an interesting choice of sound effects:
Before dropping the great line, “Scum like you never learn. There’s only one thing comes out the end of a needle—DEATH!”
We discover the subpar sound effects are likely due to this not being the real Batman but rather some random old guy fantasizing about being the Dark Knight.
Not just any old guy. That Stan Lee lookalike is really Commissioner Jim Gordon, working a double shift and postulating about wearing a bat suit before he can haz cheezburger.
We get images of some girl carrying a baby doll onto what appears to be an abandoned construction site as Gordon goes on with a monologue about having all your dreams die as you get older. One example is once you hit five, you can no longer be the Gerber Baby. Maybe I am too far separated from being a five-year old but I cannot remember knowing any children with aspirations of being a strained carrot model.
The little girl wanders into a poorly lit shack, seeking a “Mr. Fix-It.” Please be Gangster Grey Hulk, please…
As awesome as that is, it is somehow better in Spanish…
Anyway, the girl identifies herself as Melissa and explains she got his name and whereabouts from some kid who had his bike broken by the big kids. Her dad doesn’t have the money to get her doll fixed but this doll is Melissa’s favorite, which you can tell by the way she holds it out like she is performing a sacrifice.
Bud had given Mr. Fix-It some apples so Melissa brought candy as payment. Melissa clearly isn’t old enough to know about the dangers of diabetes. Wilford Brimley is rolling in his grave. Despite still not being dead 23 years after this comic’s release.
Melissa leaves before her dad gets mad that she wandered into a construction site with a broken doll and a candy bar in the middle of the night and we go back to Gordon, busting teens who are tagging the railway station with graffiti. I shrugged off a cough that Gordon had upon waking up in the earlier panels but as the cough reappears while chasing those punk teenagers, I start to think maybe our Commissioner has tuberculosis.
Jim notices the Batman in flight in the distance, so he decides to ease his cough with a cigarette.
It seems like a trend in comics I have looked at from the early 1990s recently where something happens to a homeless guy and this one is no different, as the taggers wake up a hobo by spraying his eyes with their paint cans.
The thugs point out the homeless guy is sleeping on their turf but they will take their rent payment in fun and beat him.
Batman breaks the beat down up with a batarang to the wrist. Before things can stay interesting, we have to cut back to Melissa’s panicked dad. Her panicked dad, Tom Selleck.
Despite looking vaguely abusive, Daddy Selleck is purely worried about his daughter’s safety. He knows she has been listening to the other kids but in checking her whereabouts, he first consults their neighbor Bob, who really reminds me of “The Ventriloquist” Arnold Wesker.
Melissa’s Daddy PI talks about going after Fix-It and again the story is back to Jim Gordon. Loitering at a train station before he notices a lady cop that he had an affair with in the early days of his marriage, Sarah Essen. All the boring dialogue seems to point to Gordon being a creeper and loitering at the train station on his shift to see her, so that’s cool.
Jim tries to get away before being seen but a purse snatcher blows his cover. In the distance, it appears Sarah notices him but a page turn shows the story jumping once more. Batman, done breaking the wrists of thugs, is now landing in the middle of a mob created by Melissa’s angry dad.
An awkward shadow is holding the doll with some fear in its eyes as the mob continues to yell. Batman drops in and asks the mob if they have notified the police of his missing daughter. Showing his choices are as smart as his white jacket, Melissa’s dad says they know she is in with “the freak,” when other dads recount the mutant that has been fixing their children’s toys.
Batman points out that this Fix-It doesn’t sound very monstrous before Daddy gets handsy.
The mob rips down the fence surrounding the lot, deeming Fix-It a PERVERT. Our cowled detective stays behind, noticing there are only footprints from a little girl going in. He begins his investigation as the comic returns to Gordon, knocked down on the ground.
Sarah Essen has saved the day with the purse snatcher, aiming her gun at him like a boss. Gordon offers up that he surely must’ve blacked out and gets more cops to do his work for him.
Gordon gets caught in his snooping, justifying that Sarah was about to report to him, so if he spied on her, it would be his last chance to see her. Not as a report but as a woman. His demeanor is just as bumbling as his excuses.
Somewhere in there the authors manage to sneak in a joke about cab drivers not speaking English.
Someday I hope to learn how to pronounce that.
The action jumps back to a shadowy, hunchbacked figure lurking in a battered room as the mob continues to scream. The door gets knocked down and the hunchback lays on the ground in terror, clutching Melissa’s favorite doll.
Melissa’s dad winds up to crack Mr. Fix-It in the head with his bat when Melissa’s voice stops him. Batman found her under some fallen scaffolding and clears the name of “the monster.” Melissa checks on the tears of Mr. Fix-It while Batman makes dad feel like a jerk for worrying about his daughter’s safety.
Melissa is super excited that Mr. Fix-It fixed her doll. Her father assures her that the doll was not fixable but when the doll starts magically speaking, Melissa is now cleared to kiss the wart-covered face of the doll’s savior.
As Melissa’s dad takes her home, she asks Batman if Mr. Fix-It is going away. Batman tells her that he will but not to worry, he will be well taken care of. I really hope Mr. Fix-It is going to a farm full of toy-fixing monsters that resides upstate.
Batman somehow knows the name of Mr. Fix-It, identifying him as Harold, an electronics genius that was once used as a pawn in one of The Penguin’s evil plans. Batman questions aloud what to do, pointing out his talents are lethal in the wrong hands and letting the reader know that Harold cannot talk to communicate. I beg to differ, given the eloquent response Harold provides.
Batman is confused, Harold is dejected, so logically we cut to Gordon and the victim of his stalking in an all-night diner.
Gordon and Sarah pretend they care about each other’s spouse but thank God they are both dead.
Sarah pretty quickly admits the second her husband went cold, she tried to transfer back to Gotham to ride that Jim Gordon Baloney Pony.
The two leave the diner because Sarah, “has a new job to start in the morning.” They make out for a minute and smug Gordon starts talk about feeling like a kid again, I guess to make us feel better about that boring monologue in the beginning.
Sarah clearly must have one magical tongue or it has been some long years since Gordon’s wife died, as he suddenly reflects on being glad he is not Batman now. As Batman has no room for choices.
The Batman speeds along. Bats, with Harold, the man the cover speculates is his best friend, tells Harold that he will work for him now. And he seems thrilled.
They throw in one more panel where Batman checks if that is okay and Harold does like this blurry nod that I guess is supposed to show excitement… but that last picture really matched my expression reading this one.
Without all the crazy deformities.