by Spencer Irwin
This article will contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Alfred fills a peculiar role in Batman’s world. He’s Bruce’s father figure, but also his servant; he’s the Dark Knight’s staunchest ally, but also his greatest critic. The one thing these disparate titles have in common is that they cast Alfred as a supporting player — indeed, it’s often easy to forget that Alfred Pennyworth is a man with his own life and history, not just someone who cleans up after Batman. That’s something Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque are out to change in “The First Ally,” a storyline that dives into Alfred’s past and uses his history with his father to shine a new light on his relationship with Bruce.
Snyder makes no bones about it; in every way that counts, Bruce is Alfred’s son, and their close, tender relationship is in stark contrast to the father-son Pennyworth dynamic.
Alfred grew up furious at his father and distant from him as well, and it’s that rage that led him into a life of service with the S.A.S. Armed Forces and eventually MI5. It’s pretty clear that the constant support with which Alfred raised Bruce was a direct response to the lack he received from his own father. How did that work out? Frustratingly, Alfred sees much of his own young zealotry reflected back at him in Bruce, and he worries that he may have swung too far in the other direction, coddling Bruce to the point where he’s blind to the realities of the world.
This is a common cycle fathers and sons (or I suppose parents and their children in general) often find themselves stuck in. Fathers overcorrect, trying to not make the same mistakes raising their children that their fathers made, but just make new mistakes in their stead — and eventually their sons will do the same (lord knows Bruce is much harder on Damian than Alfred is). This works wonderfully to humanize and flesh out Alfred; it’s nice to see that his practically superhuman support of Bruce isn’t always a good thing, but that it’s born from a good place (love, and an attempt to do better for Bruce than his father did) regardless. Taking this peek into Alfred’s history has already made him a far richer character, and there’s plenty of room for this character growth to continue — after all, Snyder and Albuquerque have barely begun to dig into the way Alfred’s past relates to their present-day villain yet.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
So what’s everybody else’s feelings about the “new Batman every 27 years” machine? It was a cool alt-universe idea, especially when used to celebrate the legacy of Batman, but I’m not as happy with it being brought into canon, and it’s starting to feel a bit like a pet idea Snyder’s ramming down my throat.
It was a fun idea in Detective Comics 27, a cute Elseworld thing that acted as a really cool meta actualization of the effect that Batman has on our world – the same story being meaningful, generation after generation was a great idea for a celebration issue. Especially when that issue got rereleased for Batman’s 75th. And the idea of it is thematically appropriate, Batman has always fought against death.
But yeah, the canon legacy of Batman should be his ‘children’. That the family he built to replace the one he lost grows to become a greater champion of his values than he could ever be.
I think the machine works as something in continuity only if the development never progresses. It worked great in Superheavy, where it was a mothballed project that never worked – the fact that the machine could only work by killing meant that it could only return the original Batman, not create a new one. But to treat it as a legitimate future is wrong, because Batman can never conquer death. If he could, there is no Batman. Which is why it worked in Superheavy, but not Future’s End. In fact, I think the Future’s End issue is possibly Snyder’s worst issue of his main Batman run, by a decent margin, in large part because of the machine. Honestly, after Superheavy, I don’t know why you would keep writing it in continuity. The only story it really works in has already been written.
It isn’t the worst Batman endgame. That belongs to Arkham Knight’s terrible twist on Dark Knight Rises’ ending (it is actually ‘Batman’s quest ends in failure, necessitating the appearance of a Batman worse and less heroic than the previous one’).
If Snyder and Murphy want to do a Batman Year 101 mimiseries built on this premise and DC has sorted its shit out, it would be worth reading. But keep it as Elseworlds stories, because I don’t think it works in canon outside the context of Superheavy – a failed project, locked away, that Batman can never, ever use