Written by Joel T. Lewis
A father-son narrative, an epic revelation about our favorite Bat-Butler, and real honest-to-goodness Pirates? Scott Snyder is back in a major way with issue 10 of All-Star Batman. It’s not often that I’ve read a Batman story narrated by Alfred, and I have to say his is one of the most fascinating perspectives in the microcosm of the Bat-Family. What compels a man to support a willful vigilante year after year, how does he cope with the carnage his son in all but name sustains on a nightly basis, and what perspective does the first member of the Bat-Family bring to the Batman narrative? Well, Snyder’s Alfred takes it all in stride and contributes the same levity and fun that has made me love the All-Star Batman series’ portrayal of Batman.
We begin issue 10 by following Batman and Alfred as they pursue Hush on the streets of Miami. Hush, once again impersonating Bruce Wayne, has attempted to infiltrate the criminal underground treasure trove known as Fort Dexter. Hush planned to intercept a mysterious device known only as the Genesis Engine as it arrived at the legendary storage facility of pirates past. A location with a long history associated with legendary thieves, the modern Fort Dexter is managed by the direct descendants of actual pirates. Planning to locate and secure the Genesis Engine himself, Bruce arranges to meet with the scions of Black Caesar, John Rackum, El Diabolito, and Blackbeard himself. In an ironic twist, Bruce is mistaken for Hush by the Pirate descendants and as he wades his way through a storm of bullets he discovers the leader, Thatch, has been murdered with ruthless efficiency.
Interspersed throughout this present storyline, Snyder guides us through a misleading set of flashbacks that appear to show a young Bruce Wayne dodging a set of British constables over the rooftops of London. Leaving behind a unique graffiti tag, the masked youth leads the Bobbies on a merry chase before being laid out on the top of a double decker bus. As we reach the final pages of the issue we discover that the wound inflicted on Thatch in the present storyline is identical to the graffiti left behind by the man we were led to believe was a young Bruce Wayne. But it's not Bruce Wayne. The anarchist artist is actually Alfred Pennyworth.
In recent weeks it seems that the guiding philosophy with both Batman titles (All-Star and Rebirth respectably) has been to hammer home the theme of fatherhood. I often forget that Alfred is Bruce’s adopted father and that’s understandable given that for the most part the faithful butler seems almost a part of the furniture of Wayne Manor and the Batcave. Pennyworth is always within earshot and primed to cater to the eccentric billionaire and his unusual nocturnal habits. But, this is the first time I’ve seen Alfred refer to Bruce so pointedly as 'my son.' The intimacy, concern, and pride that Snyder conveys about the father/son dynamic between butler and Batman through Alfred’s narration fills in a void about their relationship I had never noticed before. Snyder gives Alfred some of the most poignant lines the butler has ever uttered when describing his son, 'Over the years, my son has developed a bit of a flair for the theatrical. I like to think he gets it from me. But really, if I’m being honest with myself...it’s something all his own.' The honesty and levity of these words drive at the heart of paternal pride and self-awareness so precisely that they could be lifted out of the Bat narrative and applied to any father-son relationship. Getting to see Alfred beam with pride over his son’s style and dramatic nature was something I hadn’t experienced before and it adds so much to the intimacy of their relationship.
Alfred continues with an honesty that only comes from the unconditional love of a father for a son, 'The world knows my son as a hero. And he is. Never stopping...even when I beg him to. He’s an absurd human being, is the truth...bloody absurd. And I love him for it.' Snyder has really reshaped how I think about Bruce and Alfred’s relationship, and I cannot wait to learn more about the butler’s past anarchy. Also, artist Rafael Albuquerque does an outstanding job with this issue finding a unique line somewhere between the techno-noir style of Francesco Francavilla and the stark cutting sketches of Jock. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a cooler interpretation of the Batmobile than the one Albuquerque brings to life in this issue. I am definitely looking forward to seeing the powerhouse combination of Snyder and Albuquerque continue to produce spectacular comics as this arc continues. Until next time, Geek On!