Written by Joel T. Lewis
After narrowly escaping a jumbled bloody death under the tons of concrete and glass sent tumbling to the ground by the Black and Whites, Batman and Alfred begin a short-lived pursuit of Hush and company to the Silent Key Retreat owned by Hush’s parents in his youth. As our heroes draw nearer to their would-be murderers, Snyder sends us back in time once again to uncover another layer of Alfred’s history with the Nemesis Program. We catch up with a turbaned Alfred nearing the end of his Nemesis training in Morocco. Through panels of spectacular quality, we see Alfred complete a mission to transport a deadly disease to his mentor Briar using his own body as a host. The dexterity and commitment to the mission that Alfred demonstrates in these flashbacks mirror the qualities that he shapes and encourages in Batman later on.
In a quiet moment of rare vulnerability following the mission Briar reveals to Alfred that his own son took on the mantle of the Black Knight and was killed when he jumped in front of a bullet meant for Briar. Briar laments the weakness and vulnerability of his former pupils because of their preoccupation with the loved ones they've left behind. Briar’s unsettling revelation leads Alfred to snoop around in his mentor's files and he discovers that in order to make him a more perfect Black Knight, Briar has plotted to murder his father.
In the present, Snyder shows us that as Batman catches up with the Black and White’s helicopter which he discovers was ambushed and that the people aboard are seriously injured. Unwittingly springing their well-placed trap, Batman is quickly dispatched by Briar and the Black Knight. Briar taunts Alfred over Batman’s comm system, telling him that he plans to use the Genesis Engine to reprogram Bruce into the perfect Black Knight that Alfred failed to be. Filled with righteous rage, Alfred returns to the Pirate Base from a few issues previous and recruits the now-leaderless compatriots of the Pirate Thatch to assist him in rescuing his son. Issue 13 closes with an image of Alfred strapped like a pirate version of the Punisher, ready for war saying, ‘Yo $%^& Ho. Get your guns, mates. You're coming with me.’
Apart from particularly gorgeous art and color work courtesy of Rafael Albuquerque and Cris Wands and Punisher Pirate Alfred, issue 13 of All-Star Batman presents perhaps the best and most pointed visual representation of the effect that Batman has on those closest to him. As Batman and Alfred careen towards the earth surrounded by tumbling sheets of glass and concrete in the opening sequence, their desperate struggle mirrors that faced by those tangled up in the Batman Crusade. Alfred, seeing the impending demise of his precious son, struggles to free Batman from the duty of saving his life. Were he not bound by duty to save his surrogate father, Batman’s descent would become simple and easy. However, Batman clasps all the tighter for Alfred’s struggling, overcoming even the ripping of his cape (their only hope for slowly down and landing safely). Batman wills his success into existence, defying the physical limitations of his equipment, and finding a way to win, a way to continue his impossible quest.
In those moments of struggle, Alfred stands for all who come into contact with Batman. Grayson, Todd, Drake, Barbara and Jim Gordon, have all resisted and inevitably fallen victim to the twisted web of Batman's mission. The significance of this sequence of pages is that we see the person most near the center of the Bat-Family fight and kick and scream against the will of the Batman. All to no avail. The mission is accomplished and Batman comes out on top regardless of how Alfred feels about it.
With the strength of the fatherly themes Snyder has developed in this arc, it's important to remember that Alfred, compassionate father that he strives to be, is powerless against the whims of the cruel Batman crusade, more so than any sidekick, collaborator, or even Arch-Nemesis. Alfred truly is Batman’s First Ally but in many ways he is Batman’s first victim as well. The next issue of All-Star Batman will be the last, and though I'm sad to see this series end, I'm very excited to see how this final storyline wraps up. Until next time, Geek On!