Getting Lost in the Pirate Tale of All-Star Batman 12

by Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Comic books love revisiting and revitalizing the past — it’s Marvel and DC’s bread and butter. With “The First Ally,” Scott Snyder is revisiting one of Alfred Pennyworth’s many backstories: British Secret Agent Man. In All-Star Batman 12, Alfred is the one taking charge as he unfolds the mystery for The Dark Knight Detective.

As much as “The First Ally” is about Alfred’s origins it also has a lot to do with pirates. The adventure began in Black Beard’s lair, and now Batman is working with modern-day Gotham pirate Tiger Shark to save a sinking ship — all while Alfred’s narration discusses the allure of the pirate story.

Both Bruce and Alfred are fans of pirate stories, and now they pretty much live them. Young Bruce questioned why the hero ever left the adventure of a pirate island for the convention of civilization. Alfred wonders if he’s prolonged Batman’s adventure too long, becoming the “bad captain” and “bad mentor.” At one point Batman even gets in on the pirate fun, dubbing himself “Captain Batman.”

As delightful as Captain Batman is, All-Star Batman has lost me a bit by putting too many balls in the air at once. While Alfred is giving Batman some background on his mysterious “Knight” foe, they are blindsided by a helicopter fire. Hush escapes with the “Genesis Engine” and joins Penguin and Black Mask in their copter. The whole thing is very disorienting — which is likely intended — and makes it hard to focus on what’s actually important. The Genesis Engine appears to be the latest McGuffin of All-Star Batman.

I think that the unsung hero of All-Star Batman 12 is letterer Steve Wands, who writes a brief conversation between Batman and Tiger Shark in “The Argot of the Ancient Sea People.” Wands gives us a language that can only be presented to us visually: with emoj-esque bats and tombstones.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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