When Alfred died in Batman I steadfastly believed his death was not meant to stick. I kept thinking some twist would bring him back or that it would all be a fake out. As we’ve moved past it it’s become very clear that his death is here to stay for the time being and I don’t think I’m the only reader still upset by this. Alfred is more than a staple in Batman’s world, he’s a beloved character that is hard for everyone to say goodbye to. As hard as it is to lose him, it ultimately poses the question Tomasi and Tynion attempt to answer in this book: what is the Batfamily without Alfred?
The book follows members of the family as they gather to honor Alfred’s memory and last wish: everyone coming together, outside of the manor and masks for one evening. I’m sure Alfred hoped it would be a moment that helped strengthen them, and bring everyone together, but the mood is far from that. It’s very obvious that everyone is still hurting over his loss and that there are a lot of unresolved issues that need to be sorted out before everyone can move forward. Woven through the narrative in the bar each of the family members gets a chance to tell a story of their own relating to Alfred and what he’s done for them.
I’ve had a hard time putting how I feel about the main narrative into words because the optimist in me desperately wanted the family to support each other and come out stronger in the end, and that doesn’t really happen. Instead, the group is broken and hurting. No one is okay, and that feeling is palpable in just about every line shared between the characters. It’s a good representation of a family struggling with the loss of a beloved father and grandfather and it hurts to read. It also highlights Bruce’s need to stand up and hold the family together, and his inability to do that without Alfred by his side. Tomasi and Tynion go to great pains to show through characters interactions with Bruce how Alfred and even Dick have held Bruce in place in the past, and point out how that’s different now that Alfred is dead and Dick is not himself.
While I liked the character work with Bruce, I wanted more from the rest of the family. I’m desperate for more content featuring the family together in any sense, especially when they’re attempting to work out some of the many issues between them. They may be there, telling their stories and responding to losing Alfred, but so much of what everyone is trying to say feels truncated and in desperate need of more time. For instance, there is a section where Damian is still blaming himself over Alfred’s death and walks out of the bar. After, Barbara attempts to get Bruce to do something about it, but this section is literally interrupted by Tim jumping into his own story. It’s a jarring transition that feels like there’s more that should have been said there but had to be cut to fit everything in. Part of this problem is the fact that the book is only one issue and cannot focus solely on these intermediary scenes. It is really almost two books in one, the celebration of who Alfred was and the question of where does the family go next, with both sections leaving me wanting more from them.
As for the individual stories told by each character, I really enjoyed them. Damian, Tim, Jason, Barbara, and even Dick all get a chance to share one of their own memories of Alfred. Each story celebrates Alfred and his individual relationship with the character in question. I’d honestly have loved to see more time spent on these. This is probably the last time we’ll really get to see Alfred in action in a comic for a while, and I for one adore reading stories where he gets to interact with each of these characters. I could have easily enjoyed this book simply as a collection of Alfred’s adventures with his family.
Out of these stories, I found Damian, Barbara, and Dick’s to be the strongest. Damian’s takes him back to his early days with Bruce, where he and his father were still often at each other’s throats, and shows how Alfred guided Damian into a better understanding of his father. Barbara’s highlights how insightful and caring Alfred is as he takes her on a trip designed to celebrates Barbara’s regained ability to walk. Dick’s story is told by Bruce, and while it’s less about Dick himself it’s a moving story that shows how deeply Alfred cares for Bruce and misses the Waynes. Jason’s story is nice, but it doesn’t really hit me as emotionally as I’d wanted it to. Tim’s is the weakest out of them all, and feels a bit lost. It’s focused more on Tim and Dick training while Tim tells another story of Alfred retrieving missing Robin equipment for him. While it’s nice that he does that for Tim, I’d liked to have seen them actually interacting.
It wouldn’t be a DC special without a number of artists lending their skills to the pages, and this book has its fair share of them, each one providing some stunning work. The main story is drawn by Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira and they do a great job of showing just how much grief each character is dealing with. One moment in particular I loved was after Damian’s finished telling his tale. Everything about the way Damian’s drawn, from panels featuring him crying to the dejected body language he displays as he’s walking out is really just heart wrenching.
Between the main story the rest of the artists –Chris Burnhan, Marcio Takara, Diogenes Neves, David Lafuente, and Sumit Kumar– each cover one of the Batkids stories. The range of artistic styles here is wide, but I feel like each artist really fits the story they’re telling. Even though they’re all different, none of the art feels too jarring through the book. The fact that each artist works on their own story helps this, and makes it easy to know where one starts and ends. In addition, Lucas, Lokus and Fairbairn are on colors and mostly keep things the same through the whole book lending a nice overall consistency to things to help tie the larger story to the shorter ones being told.
So is Pennyworth RIP everything I’d wanted it to be? Not really, but I don’t think it was ever going to be, because ultimately I would rather have Alfred back than a tribute to him. That said, Tomasi and Tynion hit on a lot of solid points inside and created some really nice stories featuring Alfred and the family. While the overall tone of the book is painful, we are left in the end with some hope that perhaps things will get better from here.
- You love Alfred
- You’re curious about how the Batfamily reacts to losing him
- It’s worth it simply for the new stories featuring Alfred
Pennyworth RIP is a somber tale. It takes a good look at how grief and sorrow affects a whole family and asks the question: Where do we go from here? But it also celebrates Alfred and gives readers a number of new stories with him showing just how important he’s always been to the members of the Batfamily. If you’re anything like me, it’ll leave you with a mixed bag of feelings and a little unsure of where you stand regarding it. For a story like this, featuring such a beloved character I honestly don’t think that’s a bad thing.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.