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.