WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #79 by Tom King, Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Batman #77 delivered a shocking and grisly climax, when Alfred Pennyworth was apparently murdered by Bane. The move was in retaliation for Damian Wayne's seemingly impulsive strike against Bane's forces that issue.
Tom King, Clay Mann and Seth Mann's Batman #79, however, gives some hope. Alfred's death wasn't necessarily as it seemed, and neither was Damian's impulsiveness. And Batman hasn't exactly just been sitting on the sideline while he recovers, either.
As seen this issue, Batman and Catwoman have reconciled, and Batman has nearly recovered, both physically and emotionally. Physically from his last encounter with his alternate-reality father, and emotionally from his newfound understanding that Selina can truly be a part of his life. The couple are ready to leave their tropical paradise and return to Gotham, but not before Batman makes a surprising revelation: Alfred was already safely away from Bane.
And, Damian's confrontation with Gotham Girl and Thomas Wayne was of Batman's own doing.
A wisely placed footnote early in the issue states the story takes place before Alfred's apparent demise two issues ago. Batman's admission means that Alfred was already safely relocated from Wayne Manor before Damian confronted Bane. So whoever -- or whatever -- the unfortunate individual was who had his necked snapped by Bane, it wasn't Alfred.
Which comes as no surprise to many, as few honestly believed that Bruce Wayne's longtime and trusted family friend would go out so easily -- if at all. But if that wasn't Alfred who was killed, who was it? The identity of faux-Alfred remains a mystery, but it's worth noting that the shapeshifting Clayface hasn't been seen in King's run so far, and Batman does have a couple of magic-wielding allies.
Perhaps more importantly, Damian's confrontation with Bane's allies wasn't as ill-planned as initially believed. A move like his was right in character with his historically impulsive nature, but that was undoubtedly part of Batman's plan all along. It's an ironic indication of Damian's burgeoning maturity -- he's still Robin, after all, and as such still follows Batman's orders. The scenario also spares Damian the heartbreaking guilt he would have forever carried for his indirect role in Alfred's death, although Damian himself might not yet know that Alfred isn't really dead.
Most importantly of all, however, is that the issue shows that Bruce has been doing more than just soul-searching and sipping cold drinks with Selina on the beach. He didn't just leave his allies, and family, to fend for themselves in Gotham while he recovers. Batman has actually had some level of communication with them, influencing their strategy against Bane while he regains his strength. Even after being broken in every way possible, Batman has continued to fight from afar, grooming the path for his return to Gotham and eventual takedown of Bane.
So, fans need not worry about the fate of Alfred. The Wayne family's faithful friend and servant is alive and well, somewhere.
Damian's going to need some help, though. Batman returns to Gotham in Batman #80, on sale Oct. 2.