The Letters Page: Episode 10
Time to talk about H.R. "Slim" Walker!
'Run time: 83:28'
We're doing things slightly differently today: instead of moving through the character's life chronologically, we go in order of what stuff appeared in the pages of Sentinel Comics.
We start by talking about the character Black Fist! This art is the only depiction of Black Fist in the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game. (Hint: In this art, Black Fist is neither Legacy nor the giant green space alien person. He's the other person. The one next to Legacy.)
Twelveish minutes into the episode, we move forward to talking about "Slim" - who then becomes Mister Fixer - he looks like the first image posted above. Just a guy who works in an auto shop.
Around the 18 minute mark, we rewind to actually go into Harry Robert Walker's complete backstory, starting from his youth.
At 19:20, we talk about terrible cities. Adam mentions Baghdad. Turns out, the city with the highest murder rate in the world is Caracas, Venezuela. Which is where Christopher grew up. So, that's cool? No worries, though - we live in St. Louis now. Which is #15 on this list. OH GEEZE.
Around 33:30, the Dark Watch story comes up. When Expatriette, Setback, and NightMist go to the Temple of Zhu Long, this is what they find:
Christopher and Adam talk for almost an entire minute from 35:10 to 36:00 just on the viscosity and taste of the liquid in that vat. You're welcome (to just skip that part of the episode).
I want to apologize right now for the "wolf hunting" sub-plot that happens during the Q&A portion of the podcast. It was not planned, and I really don't know where it came from.
Just after the 65 minute mark, we talk about the art above that depicts Black Fist and Legacy with Jansa Vi Dero. We don't look at the art - just talk about it from memory. Christopher thinks that Legacy's boots do a "flop-over thing". They do not. Adam thinks Legacy is wearing his underwear on the outside. Legacy is not. Both Christopher and Adam were wrong, and are ashamed.
- Started off in Sentinel Comics in the '60s as Black Fist, a "blaxploitation" character - he's caricatured to the pop-culture expectations of the time (compare to things like Shaft). The guys are well aware of the optics of this looking back on it now, but chose to include a history of the character as comics of the time would have represented things. He's got the total stereotypical look going - big afro hairdo, bell bottom pants, sunglasses that he always wears, etc.
- Black Fist was a secondary character, filling out the back pages of things like Justice Comics. He was thrown in as a one-off character, but people liked him, so they kept him around. By the '70s he'd gotten his own stories - fighting drug dealers and urban decay, etc. He predates "Rook City" as a specific, canonical location. "Fighting crime with kung fu".
- As the '70s progress and the books get more "hero-y" he starts to be more focused on being a "kung fu guy" and his opponents start being more things like sorcerers or ninjas. Zhu Long becomes a thing in this time as a recurring villain - "sorcerer king" who leads the ninjas, etc. Vampires also seem to show up a bunch here for some reason.
- There's not a lot of "notable" stories from this period. Zhu Long winds up being important in retrospect, but the comics stories themselves, not so much.
- One exception is a fight with some vampires. They were attempting to set up a Court of Blood in Rook City. He's winning (because he knows kung fu and has nun-chucks). They take out the lights, assuming that because they can see in the dark that they'll have an advantage. Turns out that Black Fist can fight just fine in the dark. He eventually manages to channel some of his kung fu awesomeness into a strike with Radiant energy and blasts the vampires to dust. This fight reveals that 1) his kung fu is that strong (and beyond "just punching"), and 2) that he's blind.
- As the blaxploitation era winds down, he kind of just fades away. There's no event or anything, writers just stop using him.
- Fast-forward to the '90s. The Operative shows up as The Chairman's right hand. Up to this point, the Chairman and the Organization had been kind of just representing the background corruption and "normal" street crime (thugs, muggers, etc.). The Operative was a specific, aggressive instigator of events, though, which was a change. This starts to reintroduce some of the martial arts themes that had been present in the Black Fist books.
- Expatriette is hired indirectly by the Operative to kill this old auto mechanic guy (I wish I could put in a comic book-style cross-reference box here to "See Episode 4, True Believers!") who stymies her ability to harm him, asks her a bunch of cryptic questions involving self-reflection, and sends her on her way. Long-time comics readers could realize that this guy used to be Black Fist, but much later in life now, but it wasn't spelled out anywhere. This guy is known as Slim Walker. He owns the shop, but has an assistant, Charlie, who helps with customers for the most part since Slim isn't the best with people.
- The store policy for "how to exist in Rook City" is to not put up a fight when a robbery happens. Once, after the more aggressive Organization starts moving on the area, however, Charlie gets the shakedown from some enforcers while Slim is out. Charlie not putting up a fight makes them suspicious that he's holding out on them in some way and they wind up shooting him and leaving him to bleed out.
- Slim discovers the body, blames himself for trying to keep things running and not just telling Charlie to get out of town long ago. He decides that "not fighting back's not working."
- One-shot comic issue comes out that gives the backstory of one Harold Robert Walker. Born blind in Rook City. He doesn't remember his parents, he's barely surviving on the streets as a kid. He's found by Shuen Zhang, a martial arts master who takes him in. The master has been on an endless worldwide pilgrimage to places of great suffering as part of his own philosophy to try to alleviate suffering. Shuen Zhang sees Harry's suffering, but also his strength and great inner peace and so asks Harry to come with him to be taken care of, but also training.
- This training starts with turning his "inner eye" in on himself, understanding who he himself is and through that understanding he understands the world around him. They describe it as him projecting his aura out and that aura interacting with the world around him is what allows him to perceive the world without his eyes. It's not a matter of his other senses being superhuman, just that he has this extra ability to perceive the auras of people and things around him.
- Harry travels with Shuen Zhang for around 15 years, traveling around the world and easing suffering. Eventually, when he's in his 20s he decides that he needs to return to Rook City as he has a connection to it and recognizes that there's a lot of suffering to be mitigated there. Master Zhang is fine with this and lets him go. Harry returns to Rook City as Black Fist.
- As he ages, he's realizing that his work as Black Fist isn't really doing the trick. Sure, he's stopping that individual bad thing from happening, but he comes to the conclusion that if he's really going to make a lasting difference, he needs to elevate the people themselves. He opens a dojo and offers free classes to orphans. His school is a safe haven; he doesn't put up with shakedowns by criminals.
- This doesn't go so well with his students, however. A group of them reject, but try to be reasonable with some drug dealers and get mowed down by gunfire for their trouble. This makes Walker question his whole approach to life, tells his remaining students to not resist or fight back, but to just keep their heads down. He then closes the school.
- He had started working on cars as a hobby (machines are less complicated than people) and so he wound up opening his shop under the name "Slim".
- That worked for a few decades, but then after Charlie's death, he's once again done taking a passive role.
- Enter "Mister Fixer" (in Sentinel Comics and the SotM card game), waging a one-man war against the Organization and the corruption of Rook City, dismantling the Chairman's hold on it piece by piece. He's mostly showing up as a guest character in Mystery Comics or other books if they're in Rook City, so he winds up actually working with a lot of heroes.
- In this process, he runs into the Operative several times - she had been a student of his back in the day and so knew that he would be a problem down the line, which is why she'd put out the preemptive hit with Expatriette. He recognizes her and is able to neutralize her any time they run into one another since he's simply the superior martial artist - he doesn't try to harm her, but he wants her to give up working for the Organization since she's "part of the problem" as it stands. Eventually, the Chairman takes steps to give her an edge (tune in next week!).
- Following whatever shenanigans he arranges, the Operative and Mister Fixer wind up having a brawl on the roof of the Pike Industries building (Chairman is present, observing, but also present so Fixer can't just ignore him as a possible combatant). The Operative has just enough of an edge here to defeat him (see the card "Undivided Attention" for the death of Mister Fixer).
- Expatriette had a particular fondness for him, and visited his grave frequently. About a year after his death she finds it empty - somebody has stolen the body. Dark Watch is pretty much instigated by this event: Expat calls up Setback for support and they get Nightmist involved to help track him down with magic - this points them to, what turns out to be, the Temple of Zhu Long, bringing back an old Black Fist enemy who hadn't really been around much in the Mister Fixer era other than the fact that he was an ally of the Chairman and supplied some power here and there (more next week).
- At the Temple, Zhu Long comes out to greet them when they arrive and invites them in. [Insert rambling bit about the viscosity and taste of the weird red liquid in the resurrection pits here] Mister Fixer emerges from the pit with his new look, and attacks the heroes. Zhu Long laughs and ducks out of the room. The heroes don't want to hurt him, but it's not like they'd really be able to because he's just that skilled and isn't showing any of that inner peace garbage that he'd always been so big on. Expat and Setback do pretty much all they can just to hold him off long enough for Nightmist to do her thing to sever whatever magical weirdness is going on. They get him to the point where he knows who he is and who they are again, much to Zhu Long's annoyance, but Nightmist manages to get them out of there quick.
- Dark Watch stories happen here - Urban or Magical threats (Gloomweaver mentioned), Expat and Setback are "at their best" at this time, Nightmist is still getting better, but Mister Fixer is not himself. "Brutal, angry and bitter." He's younger/more vital (but by no means "young" again), but much more violent and lacking his inner peace. The person with the most calm and experience on the team is actually Expatriette, which might tell you something about the way the team operates. Mister Fixer would be the heart and soul of the team if it was the old him, but that guy is gone and it kind of falls to Setback to fill that role. More in the Dark Watch episode.
- During Vengeance, they're fighting a bunch of Proletariats and it's mentioned that Mister Fixer is doing things like taking their hammers away and smashing their chests in, that kind of thing. During that fight, though, the assassin Heartbreaker shows up to attack him (this isn't the first time, Equity and other less important assassins or super-powered thugs had shown up occasionally for the same purpose - to remove him from the field). Heartbreaker manages to get the drop on him, however, due to the distraction of the existing fight - Heartbreaker drives a blade through his chest, whispers a greeting from the Chairman to him, and leaves. The Chairman remembers how close Mister Fixer got to taking down the whole Organization and has been trying ever since he came back from the dead to negate that threat.
- He's not dead yet, though. The rest of the DW team still had their hands full with Proletariat and couldn't offer immediate aid, but he stands up anyway and helps them win the fight. He definitely should be dead, but he isn't. Nightmist determines that whatever Zhu Long did to restore a body is still active. It's a two step process - restore the body itself (think "healthy zombie") and then a separate step to actually grab the spirit of the person and put it back in the body. Since the body isn't actually really alive again, he can't really die. This is a kind of revenge by Zhu Long, putting his foe into this state of unlife, unconnected to the world and deprived of the final peace of the grave. This explains the source of bitterness.
- Does he carry around these mechanics tools with him? Does anybody suggest he use more traditional weapons? Are the tool cards just placeholders for whatever martial-arts or improvised weaponry he winds up using? The tools aren't specific to his fighting style, they represent the idea that he's improvising with what's available. He's not using traditional weapons (Black Fist would have), but now he goes in unarmed and just makes use of whatever's available.
- Why not start using the Black Fist name again? How does he feel about fighting alongside other heroes (before and after resurrection)? Modern writers changed the name - the Black Fist name is a product of a specific time and modern writers didn't want to dredge that back up. Beyond that, there's an outlook change between them - Black Fist was pretty ideological, Mister Fixer is more cynical (even the name is kind of ironic, he can't fix everything, but he tries to fix what he can). This is the first time he's really working with heroes as he was mostly a solo hero up until Dark Watch. He liked having allies on the occasions he worked with others before his death; after he's just angry about literally everything.
- Does he have any wuxia/chi abilities or is his skill just 100% martial arts? His abilities are 150% martial arts, he's elevated his skill beyond what you would normally call "martial arts". Sure, you can call it "chi" or whatever, and you could say that he has superpowers, but the powers are in the form of "is so good at kung fu that he's able to do stuff that we kind of have to call super powers because what else are you going to call them". It's not "magic" that he can Grease Monkey Fist his punch into doing fire damage or something, it's just down to his martial arts training.
- During the first fight with Expat he just disarms/blocks, no attacks - would he have taken that approach with anybody or did he see something special in her? Prior to his death, when being attacked by an unknown assailant he probably would have at least started with this approach, moving on to defeating (not killing) them if necessary. With Expat he could tell that there was something else going on and started asking the questions (which could have happened to other people too, but still a different reaction than random thugs would have gotten).
- Is Mister Fixer's fighting prowess something he adapted his mechanic skills to? Prior martial arts training/extra powers other than that? Prior training, see previous discussion/answers. But they want to be specific on this, his only other "power" would be his ability to sense things around him with his aura. It's what makes him such a good mechanic too, but if he'd focused his life on being a mechanic he'd be light-years beyond his current mechanic-skill level.
- The Organization is big in Rook City, why not more focus on the Wraith given her presence? Why is Fixer the Nemesis of both the Chairman and Operative? Operative has a personal connection with him and that history is the source of the animosity. A difference with the Wraith is a matter of focus - she's dealing with symptoms (individual crimes) while Fixer is going after the source (going after the Organization directly). She's an annoyance, but also has the rest of the Freedom Five to back her up if they take her out. He's just a guy operating on his own.
- How many heroes know that he's blind? Most that he's worked with know because they have seen his eyes - the shadows are just a stylistic art choice. He still moves in a way that might give it away, but they can't really show that in card art. It's not a secret, but the guys liked not giving it away up front and giving clues over time.
- Did he have a family or romantic relationships? "Slim" never had any romantic relationships, "Black Fist" had a ton. This is a result of the type of comics he was appearing in. Opening the school was a way for him to have surrogate children.
- Does Fixer have any problems with Nightmist's magic in opposition to his martial arts thing? It's complicated due to the fact that he was never part of an official "team" until after his death, at which point he doesn't care. [Aside here about how Zhu Long's reanimation process is dealing with stuff older and darker than anything Nightmist is working with - Zhu Long "has forgotten more magic than Nightmist will ever know."]
- [Another Arcanus Lupus limerick] Why is he Black Fist in the Enclave of the Endlings? The Enclave is a '60s event (and this is a flashback scene), thus the style, so that's why he's Black Fist. It's a rare crossover story where both he and Legacy appeared in the same story instead of Black Fist being in a separate "B" story in a Justice Comics issue.
- Is it true that if he's shown not wearing his hat in the card game, that he's dead? Yes.
- What happened to him in Freedom Six timeline, how did Unity get the hat? He was killed in that timeline. Prior to that, when Unity was injured and was dying, he helped her transfer her mind into the Unity bot. He didn't have the heart to tell it that wasn't really Unity and maintained their friendship. When he died, she kept the hat as a memento.
- Who/what are the Rook City Renegades? It's the title of a comic series that is used as a source for the quotes on many cards. The book itself is an anthology series dealing with Rook City events, but isn't the name of a team. Well, not a hero or villain team - it's the local baseball team. They're all jerks. The Hippo used to play for them. Fixer's hat is actually for this team.
- Any specific philosophy? His is largely informed by his master, Shuen Zhang. There's definitely some Buddhism in there, but it's beyond just that.
- Is he the most skilled hand-to-hand combatant in the game? If not, where does he rank? Does this change after his death and resurrection? Who else could "go the distance" with him? Yes, the most skilled. Others may punch harder. Fanatic and Haka are both really good melee combatants, but Fixer is the most skilled/trained/precise. Part of it is if you're above a certain threshold in strength, skill starts to not matter quite as much. Operative can go the distance, Fanatic and Haka could but not because of their skill and more just the ability to take punishment, K.N.Y.F.E. is quite good but is more of a bar-room brawler type. It's hard to do one-to-one skill matchups - Expat is very skilled, but all of her training is in ranged combat (but even then, there's a question of how far away do they have to start from one another before that would give her a definitive edge).
- The Scion Faultless "fixes" him during OblivAeon, what is he fixing here? As has been established earlier, Fixer has reason to be furious about - his body is broken/dead, his soul is stuck haunting his own corpse, etc. Faultless was able to restore him, he's actually alive again after this point.
- Tactics - Back in Dark Watch, using tool/weapons. Kind of the "Best case scenario" Mister Fixer in which he's still an active combatant - he's got more of the Black Fist outlook than he had in earlier Mister Fixer appearances.
- RPG - Now he's fulfilling the heart and soul of the team role of Dark Watch - remember that Dark Watch is bigger than just the original heroes now and he's more of a mentor figure and teaching new heroes at Back Alley Dojo.