Written by Joel T. Lewis
In issue 11 of All-Star Batman Scott Snyder takes us through an accelerated character history of Alfred Pennyworth that focuses on the impact of his absentee father. Unlike his adopted son, Alfred’s father was never around because of his dedication to serving the Wayne family an ocean apart from Alfred and his mother. In recounting his history, Alfred reveals that his origin, much like Bruce’s, began with anger and rebellion which was not curbed by the influence of a father figure. Leading off where the graffiti chase ended in the last issue, Snyder continues his characterization of young Alfred as a punk rock youth struggling to define himself in a fatherless home and ultimately coping with the death of his mother alone. This cruel negligence is lightened a bit by Rafael Albuquerque’s rendition of Alfred as a mohawked youth with multiple ear piercings. This punk origin gives us the vaguest sense of why Alfred has gone along with Bruce’s vigilante crusade for so long: it's a righteous inversion of the status quo and that is so punk rock. Batman operates outside the established order, with an admittedly rigid loyalty to American justice, but nonetheless the boldness of Batman’s stand against the corruption of the establishment speaks to a youthful rebellion that lives in Alfred still.
After narrowly escaping an alligator-induced death thanks to a last-minute assist from the Black and Whites (Penguin, Black Mask, and Great White Shark) Batman discovers that the Genesis Engine he’s been tracking down is a device that can rewrite cellular biology, giving anyone with access to it the ability to create genetically designed monsters. Surprisingly, the Black and Whites are interested in the device because they want it destroyed and they saved Batman to help them.
Batman's search for the Genesis Engine and Thatch’s mysterious murderer leads him to the massive Submarine Casino known as the Flying Dutchman operated by the Gangster, Tiger Shark. Finding himself once again a step behind, Batman arrives on the Dutchmen to discover the dual-bladed murderer of Thatch has killed the thugs onboard the submarine and already has the Genesis Engine. Batman himself is quickly dispatched as the villain, whose outfit closely resembles a medieval knight’s armor, slashes at both Batman and the glass interior of the sub, crippling both as Batman fights for consciousness and the sub begins to sink. The caped crusader’s peril is punctuated by flashbacks showing Alfred’s dissatisfaction with his decorated career in the SAS and his recruitment by a mysterious MI-5 operative named Briar. As the issue concludes it appears that Briar, who we discover to be the architect of the trap laid for Batman, threatened Alfred’s life in the past and it appears that both Pennyworth and Batman were unable to escape the violent machinations of this operative.
One of the strengths of the All-Star Batman series has been how confidently and cleverly Snyder separates Batman from Gotham City, and this most recent arc has been no exception. Batman in Miami and Batman under the sea seem like very uncharacteristic combinations for the street-level vigilante however, the flair with which Snyder weaves in pirate lore into these settings suits the Bat really well. This fish-out-of-water setting (pun-intended) is reminiscent of the 90’s era of Batman action figures whose suits and gadgets corresponded to countless settings and scenarios. Snyder’s interpretation of Deep-Sea Batman is pure fun and manages to tell a compelling present and past story without getting too dark and gruesome.
Artist Rafael Albuquerque returns and skillfully executes Batman and Alfred in both sunshine and shade amidst explosions and crocodiles. A particular favorite panel of mine depicts Alfred soaring over the open sea in a bat-shaped glider as Bruce is seconds away from an underwater oblivion. With only 3 issues remaining as All-Star Batman will be the first casualty among the Rebirth titles, Snyder’s 'First Ally' arc continues to fascinate and deliver the fun and dexterity of the caped crusader and one of his most talented chroniclers. Until next time, Geek On!