Scott Snyder, the superstar writer synonymous with the Dark Knight for the past seven years, is casting the Batsignal over another DC Comics’ character in his latest arc of All Star Batman.
Alfred Pennyworth, who made his debut in 1943’s Batman #16, has a comic book history nearly as long as his ward Bruce Wayne, but very little has been written about the character’s past. That all changes starting this week in All Star Batman #10, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque and featuring the colors of Jordie Bellaire.
For this arc, titled “The First Ally,” Snyder says he’s channeling the brilliance of Paul Dini, who reimagined the world’s greatest detective for a legion of new fans in Batman: The Animated Series in the early-90s.
With Thomas Elliot the featured villain from Batman’s rogues’ gallery this time around, and KGBeast still lurking in the wings, Snyder sets this latest story in Miami. As it unfolds, it will showcase Batman facing off against a treasure chest of pirates and wreckers, ne’er-do-wells who steal valuables from shipwrecked vessels.
CBR: I’ve told you in the past that I would be the first person in line to read an Alfred Pennyworth solo series, so thank you for featuring him so prominently in this new All Star Batman arc. You’ve been looking to tell this story for some time, right?
Scott Snyder: 100 percent. I’ve been talking about doing this one for a couple of years, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get the space or the chance. It’s always been one that’s pretty big. It’s a five-issue story that essentially tells Alfred’s whole past, specifically his days in MI6 and what happened to him there. I’ve always wanted to explore that because everyone always says that he’s an MI6 but we’ve never seen it. Or at least, I can’t think of very many stories that have ever shown what actually happened there beyond some of the Julia stuff. For me, it’s territory that I’ve wanted to mine for a while but I wanted to do it in an All Star way.
It takes place in Miami. There are pirates. There are all sorts of elements thrown together that seem kind of disparate and crazy but ultimately are all supposed to circle the same subject matter, which is largely about searching for things buried in the past and buried beneath the surface that you think are going to reward you somehow but are perilous to find.
In comics, and really any entertainment medium, you can’t have a great story without a great villain. But you also need a rich, vibrant supporting cast. When you run down the list of quintessential supporting characters in comics, you have Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, Jim Gordon and J. Jonah Jameson, but right there near the top – if not the top – is Alfred. What makes him so essential to the Batman mythos?
I agree. Alfred has his own rich mythology and his own set of conflicts that people relate to. People love him and ultimately, the thing I love about him is that I relate to him a lot more than I relate to Bruce [Wayne]. As a dad, Alfred’s plight is really affecting to me. He’s a dad that essentially hates what his son does because it puts him in danger, but loves what his son does because he’s so extremely proud of him. I can imagine my son being a firefighter or a police officer, something that I’d be very proud of him being and would think of him as a hero, but at the same time, I’d hate what he did because he putting himself in the line of fire every day. That complicated set of emotions is really, for me at least, extremely emotionally affecting material.
I’m glad you mentioned Alfred as Bruce’s dad. It’s certainly not the first time that Alfred has been portrayed as a father figure for Bruce but in this issue, you go as far to have Alfred refer to Batman as ‘my son.’ Did you deliberate on that choice of wording?
I did think about it a lot, honestly, while I was writing it. I tried it as ‘Bruce’ over and over again but it really boiled down to for me was that Alfred does think of Bruce as his son and whether or not Bruce thinks of him as his father, I don’t think Alfred would ever impose on that relationship between Thomas and Bruce. In terms of his own affection for Bruce and the way he sees Bruce in his life, he loves him as much as any father could love a son.
And also, this story is largely about the things that we never understand about our parents until we’re older and the distance that we create of versions of our parents and the people that we get to know as we grow older.
In All Star Batman #11, the second issue of this arc, you’ll see that Bruce is still working on this thing for the Batcomputer called the Alfred protocol, which is essentially like Jarvis but it’s Alfred. It’s this running theme that the perception that we have of our parents and our fathers are often wildly different than the truth.
And speaking of truth, we get to see a character in this issue that has a long history with Bruce Wayne and knows many of his truths – the ones that you mentioned Bruce would rather see kept buried beneath the surface – and that’s Thomas Elliot, Bruce’s childhood friend, who later became the supervillain Hush.
Again, this whole arc is about the distance between the ways in which we see our parents and how they really are. And that can be a very uplifting thing, as well. This is not a story where you suddenly find out that Alfred is a terrible person. He does have secrets from Bruce but they’re not about horrible things that he did in the past.
My father as a doctor doesn’t always tell me about the hardships that he gone through, some of the cases that really troubled him. But as you get older and become a father yourself, you wind up connecting on different levels. I’m getting to explore new territory with Alfred but it will hue close enough to the core that I hope people will not see as off-color.
And the same thing can be said of Hush. He fits in that same mold. He’s a character that essentially hated his parents, tried to kill them and envies Bruce’s relationship with his parents and his relationship with Alfred and wants to beat him so bad that he’s changed his face to look like him. In that way, I thought he was a perfect foil for the material that we’re dealing with in this one.
And as promised, it looks like we might get some more KGBeast in this arc, who I thought was the real breakout character – if that can be said for a 30-year old character – in your first arc of All Star Batman.
[Laughs] He’s not coming back quite yet but I like to keep him haunting in the background of All Star because I do have plans to bring him back eventually.
While you loved working with Greg Capullo on Batman and you will be again soon on Dark Nights: Metal, one of reasons that you wanted to do All Star Batman was to explore the Dark Knight with some different artists and for this arc, you’re bringing Rafael Albuquerque on board, your co-creator on American Vampire. Why is Rafael the right artist for this particular story?
I talked with Rafael about doing this story and I knew from doing “Zero Year” with him and with him being from São Paulo that he loves when we take Batman out of Gotham and putting him in situations that reflect different sorts of cultural context. He loves when we bring Batman anywhere close to the ocean and the coast, so when I mentioned to him that we wanted to do Miami because of its history and culture – and the pirates and the wreckers – he got really excited about it.
And it was the same with Jordie [Bellaire] on colors. When I asked her to go pink, green and neon because we were doing Miami, she was excited. And I knew that we would have something really special with this one. It’s one my favorite arcs honestly. I say that all of the time, but it’s really true. [Laughs] I love this one.
Every arc of All Star I am trying to write differently. The first one with [John] Romita was a grindhouse death race. And the second arc was meant to be more cerebral with four interpretations, with four different artists, of how the world might end and all of them sort of linked in this loose story that ends in Ra’s al Ghul’s plot.
And this one is almost like a tribute to the way that Paul Dini writes Batman. His work is probably more deeply baked into the DNA of what I have done on Batman than almost anybody. I love the almost complete recreation that he was able to do with Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett on Batman: The Animated Series and also on Detective Comics. He was constantly so inventive but he also found ways of telling stories that offered these kind off-angle looks at Batman. When I was looking back at Batman: The Animated Series, I realized that more often than not, Batman wasn’t the main character of the narrative. It will be a low-level criminal or a rogue or a villain or it will be an ally or someone else who is going through something and Batman may get more screen time and still be the hero of the story but it will also tell an emotional arc of a character that is peripheral to him that learns from him or learns something from going through this adventure with him. It changes Batman too but the stronger emotional curve will be from somebody else that serves as a kind of lens for us through which to see Gotham and Batman himself. And I wanted to try that here with that propulsive, kinetic fun quality that Paul Dini is so great at with a classic whodunit feel. While Batman certainly gets the biggest lead, the most screen time and the most over-the-top action/fun – there’s undersea casinos and all kinds of crazy pirates – but this is Alfred’s emotional story to tell.
All Star Batman #10 is available now.
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