Written by Joel T. Lewis
Trapped under the waves in a compromised submarine, Batman commandeers control of the craft with the following announcement to the crew and guests, ‘Listen up, people! As of this moment, you have a new captain...Captain Batman.’ You could fault Scott Snyder for riding the Pirate element of this final arc of All-Star Batman so hard if it wasn’t so damn fun. Batman narrowly escapes a watery grave with the assistance of a pair of torpedoes trained on the screaming voice of Alfred patrolling above the ocean’s surface and a trio of mermaids (sure, they’re actually underwater performers hired by the Pirate Tiger Shark but hey, they’re Mermaids all the same). Snyder then time-jumps back to a revived young Alfred who has been taken to a dungeon underneath the infamous Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London and we finally learn about Alfred’s association with the twin-bladed knight from the previous issues.
Alfred joins what was called the Nemesis Program, a tradition of errant knights who did the will of the British Crown as an enemy of the state in order to protect King and Country from the messiness of direct engagement via military force in the past or MI6 later in history. Agent Codename Briar became Alfred’s mentor with an eerie similarity to what Alfred in turn became for Bruce Wayne. Alfred became England’s Black Knight, and trained to serve the Crown by becoming its most cunning traitor.
Now we as readers discover this truth several pages before it is revealed to a recovering Bruce Wayne whose dogged pursuit of the mysterious knight inspires an uncharacteristically violent objection from Alfred. Sitting up from his recovery bed next to a still incoherent Hush, Bruce senses his surrogate Father’s tone and inquires about Alfred’s history with the knight and as the Butler is explaining the folly of pursuing Briar and his new knight, machine gun fire from a helicopter interrupts their discussion. Turns out that the now-conscious Hush and the rapidly descending members of the Black and Whites (Black Mask, Penguin, and Great White Shark) had plotted together to manipulate Batman into obtaining the Genesis Engine from the very start and the issue concludes with Alfred bleeding from machine gun wounds and the building that Batman had made their base of operations crumbling around them as two wrecking balls smash into the walls.
With every arc of All-Star Batman Snyder has chosen specific touchstone elements to explore with the characters of Batman. With ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ he showed a new layer of intimacy and immediacy to Batman’s stake in Harvey Dent’s fall from grace, with ‘Ends of the Earth’ he wove one-shot issues with distinct and unique villains together into a complex plot orchestrated by Ra’s al Ghul. But what I’ve loved about this final arc has been the care with which Snyder has dealt with the connection between Alfred and Bruce. Alfred has narrated every issue in this arc and the care and fatherly affection that is evident from how he talks about Bruce and his crusade is very satisfying as a Batman fan.
Especially as we have become aware of the tension caused by Alfred’s absentee father and the specific cause of that void being the Wayne family it is truly touching to see the flawed, but loving father figure that Alfred has become. Too often Alfred is set dressing or comic relief. In this comic for the first time I really feel that I have a deeper understanding of the man behind the man behind Batman. The Batman paradigm doesn’t function without Alfred, and with this story Snyder has shown us just how lost Bruce would be without his Butler, and how lost Alfred would be without Bruce. Until next time, Geek On!