So the credits appear on the last page of the story, and while the image isn’t a spoiler in itself, it might ruin the punchline that’s set up. Click the tags at your discretion.
When we last left Batman and Alfred Pennyworth, they were caught inside a crumbling building. Despite their best efforts (and some particularly strong gauntlets and/or cape material), it looks as if the Penguin, Great White Shark, and Black Mask finally got the best of the duo.
And yet, this issue opens with Alfred narrating from Cuba. See, Alfred has a home in Cuba that he’s had since Bruce was just starting out his crimefighting career. He knows that if he just leaves, Bruce will come to his senses, hang up the cowl, and live a normal life. Will his theory prove correct? Will leaving Bruce on his own truly force Bruce to reconsider his oath?
Alfred sits alone in Cuba, waiting for Bruce to do what he must.
Just kidding: they’re still falling to their dooms.
Now, that scene does open the story here, but it’s all hypothetical. A dream, in more ways than one. This is Alfred’s story, and with that comes greater insight into his mentality and worldview. That’s one of the things I’ve particularly loved about “The First Ally:” Alfred is the focus. He’s a huge part of Batman’s story, a character who may not have been there right from the beginning but has become one of the most important pieces of the Batman mythos.
Yet, more often than not, he is an observer. He vocalizes his feelings and laments and celebrates along with anyone, but scarcely has a story focused on him instead of Bruce. That’s what’s refreshing about this arc: it’s about Alfred and told from his point of view. Not unprecedented, but too rare an occurrence.
One of the recurring themes of this arc has been that of fatherhood. Alfred was estranged from his own father, became an accidental father to Bruce, and even gained his own father figure somewhere in between. Whether you like Alfred outright vocalizing how he perceives his relationship with Bruce, it’s still affecting taken in context.
A large portion of that context comes from an extended flashback that details Alfred’s relationship with Briar. On the surface it’s interesting enough, particularly seeing Pennyworth carry out special ops missions and escape death more than once.
More moving than that, though, are the parallels between his relationship with Briar and his future relationship with Bruce. At one point, Briar is referred to as both a mentor and a squire. Initially, I thought this was a goof. Historically speaking, squires serve knights in hopes of one day becoming a knight themselves. How can someone be both a squire, a servant, and a role model? From a humility perspective it makes sense, wherein someone can still learn from and be inspired by even a person “beneath their social standing,” but the traditional roles seem to conflict.
Then I realized that that is precisely who Alfred is to Bruce. He helps his employer, his son in his crusade while still also providing encouragement and wisdom. Alfred’s role is a paradox, and his role is reversed in his relationship with Briar.
Truth be told, Alfred’s conditioning to be part of the “Nemesis” program is almost an afterthought, to the point that I keep having to be reminded of it. Part of that is the “mysterious masked villain from somebody’s past” trope is a bit played out, and the fact that Nemesis has only popped up in the story a handful of times so far. He doesn’t feel like a legitimate threat, just a plot point to tie Alfred’s past to the present events.
The strength of that backstory keeps it afloat, though, so it’s not a loss. It’s Snyder’s exploration of different types of father figures that really moves everything forward: Alfred’s fractured relationship with his own; Briar’s failures with his own son and, eventually, Alfred; and then Alfred’s attempts at being a good father figure to Bruce. As a dad, these themes really hit home, and make Alfred an even more well-rounded figure than he already was.
Not to say it’s all serious, though. Dramatic themes aside, the story is still loads of fun. The opening sequence with the collapsing building is absolutely thrilling, as gorgeously illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque. His style is almost abstract in some sense, with spare backgrounds in place of highly detailed scenes. It works remarkably well, though, by conveying the intent of the situation without needing to be overly busy. His use of color and imperfections in pen and brush strokes work perfectly with this story, to the point that I’d gladly hang some of these pages on my wall.
The book also keeps a sense of humor about itself, which is a real strength of Snyder’s. The e subject matter may be serious, but that doesn’t mean Batman can’t make a quip about liking the demolished hotel. It’s not too much, just a nice bit of levity in a story that may be serious, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Here’s hoping the finale delivers, as this could easily end up being the best arc of All-Star. We’ll find out for certain next month, but at least the journey has been a good one.
Look, I’m a simple guy. I love my wife, medium rare steaks, and ridiculous fights stop moving vehicles. This installment of “Killers-In-Law” has one of those, and you may be surprised what it is.
Hint: it’s the third one.
This backup has taken a while to get somewhere, but I think I’m finally on board. It’s starting to feel like one of those two-fisted action movies from the Eighties and Nineties, something that a Seagal or a Van Damme would have starred in. I mean this in the best possible way, too, bus use it’s lacking in any sort of pretension. Sure, there’s an attempt at a compelling narrative, and it succeeds after a fashion.
The real appeal of this story, though, is how… well, straightforward it is. Granted, there are some twists and double-crosses here and there, so I don’t mean it’s simple. All Albuquerque and Scavone are trying to do is tell an entertaining story, and it’s working.
And entertaining it is. The bulk of this installment is the aforementioned fight atop a speeding truck, and it’s as crazy and ridiculous as you’d expect. Sebastián Fiumára’s style continues to impress, with a look that evokes the dirtiness of the situations at hand while still being clear in presentation. I believe that Batman has truly infiltrated the seedy underbelly of the Russian mob, with the leather jackets and metal studs on the gangsters, the grime in the environments, and the polluted haze that covers everything. Paradoxically, it still looks good, even though it’s all pretty dirty.
It’s also gotten pretty funny, too, particularly with sight gags like these:
I totally want that steering wheel.
Really, the best thing I can say about this story is that it’s entertaining, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter that there’s not an awful lot of depth to it; it’s fast and fun with some cool Batman moments. What more do you need?
BONUS: The standard cover this month is one of my favorite covers in months (love the neon lighting effect), but that doesn’t mean there can’t be some sweet variants as well.
Rafael Albuquerque with a sweet motorcycle…
…and Sebastián Fiumára with an equally striking image.
- You like peering into Alfred’s history.
- You’re a fan of slightly abstract, yet nonetheless gorgeous art.
- You like a high energy narrative with great action set pieces.
- You’re a dad, or can relate to father figures.
Overall: Less crazy and more straightforward than earlier installments, the penultimate issue of both “The First Ally” arc and All-Star Batman as an ongoing focuses largely on character work. By and large, it succeeds, with quite a large part of that focus placed on parenting and fathers in particular. That’s to say nothing of Rafael Albuquerque’s art, which is so distinct and so beautiful that it could tell the story on its own. The highly entertaining backup feature is a nice bonus, recalling cheesy action movies of yesteryear in the best possible way. Truth be told, it’s going to be sad seeing this book go.