SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for All Star Batman #11, on sale now.
Alfred Pennyworth has been bandaging Bruce Wayne's knees since he was a tween, raising him as his own to become the world's greatest detective. In a new story arc of All Star Batman, New York Times bestselling writer Scott Snyder is questioning Alfred's worth as a parent as he continues to patch up his ward, be it bangs, cuts, bruises or worse, and pushing him back out of the Batcave into harm's way. If Alfred is truly responsible for the Dark Knight, is that a good thing?
With All Star Batman #11 on sale now, Snyder spoke with CBR about the importance of father-son relationships in the current story arc. He also opened up on the connection between staying young forever and how that pipe dream relates to a legendary pirate paradise that may have existed in the 17th century.
Snyder revealed exclusively to CBR last week that All Star Batman is ending in September, and this week, he shared his love for his artistic collaborators on this final arc of his popular DC Comics' series, Eisner Award winners Rafael Albuquerque and Jordie Bellaire.
CBR: The Genesis Engine is one of the all-time great MacGuffins. For readers, confused or living under a rock, what is it? And why does everyone, Bruce Wayne included, want to control it so bad?
Scott Snyder: For this story, I really wanted to do something about fathers and sons and also about Alfred and his secret past while marrying it to this notion of the Lost Boys and pirates in Miami. That is the challenge that I set for myself. [Laughs] They were things that felt like they weirdly fit together in this magnetic way. I wasn't exactly sure how to do it do so I had to figure out how they were attracted to one another. Ultimately, I came up with this idea that Alfred is, at least for me, a father to this boy in Bruce, who won't grow up. Sometimes, Alfred feels culpable because he enables Bruce. And sometimes, he feels like he has been a good father and has given him exactly what he needs. And what this story deals with is Bruce coming down to Miami because he has heard word that this Genesis Engine is being bid on by different Miami criminals and they are all descendants of pirate families.
Essentially, the Genesis Engine is a mechanism that allows you to print cells but also reprint cells that already exist. It rewrites cellular lines allowing you to have a stylus of life. It's an incredibly powerful device and part of the reason that I thought it fit this story so well was that pirates, in a lot of ways, are not only rebels but they are also childhood fantasies. Thanks in large part to Peter Pan and the legend of Blackbeard, our childhood love of pirates comes from the idea that they want to stay young forever and they will try to stay young forever at all costs. One of the great dreams of all pirates was to set up place called Libertalia, where they could all live together and share treasure and hopefully find the Fountain of Youth and bring it there.
There is also this idea of perpetually living outside of the laws of both physics and different countries and the world, which also felt perfectly right for a story that was about a mechanism by which you could almost rewrite your own self to stay young, recreate yourself in all kinds of different directions in the real world. That was all of the pieces that we were playing with. It's almost like the search for the ultimate pirate treasure and there are all of these different forces at work coming after it.
The reason that it seemed to fit with an Alfred story for me was in a lot of the ways, he has set up a world for Bruce without these similar limitations. Ultimately, what fathers try to do is protect their sons from the knowledge or eventuality of death. There is that sense of growing up and growing old and all of the hardships that happen to you, as you get closer to being at the far end of the spectrum in age. Alfred has hidden things from Bruce to protect him and here, he learns that in some way, it might be time to let go.
There is definitely a sense of guilt with Alfred, especially in terms of how he has taught Bruce that there is always a way out.
That's exactly what we're trying to do here. We are answering the question: Is Alfred being a good father by protecting Bruce from harm and constantly patching him up and sending him back out? Would he be a better father to just make him stop? Is he being a bad father for hiding things from him? Those aren't easy questions to answer. As a father, there are no easy answers for those things and a lot of the time you wind up doing things that you realize are detrimental to your kid that you thought were positive because you were being protective. This story is emotional certainly. It's one of the most emotional stories that I think I have told. But it's also meant to be over-the-top fun. We wanted every issue to be packed with pirate goodness and sunken ships and mermaids and all kinds of craziness. There are scenes right out of an Errol Flynn movie coming up. It's pretty fun.
I'm already on the record saying that I would buy an Alfred solo series, and now, especially a young Alfred series. How much fun is it exploring and basically developing his fictional past?
It's great, dude. I could write a whole series about young Alfred. One of the fun things is creating this past that mirrors Bruce's past in a way. It gives you a greater understanding about the depth of his connection to Bruce. For me, the idea that he worked for MI5 and worked under somebody who was a mentor to him, who pushed him and protected him the way that he protects Bruce now and might have, similarly, made good and bad decisions is endlessly rich territory. Without making Alfred a supervillain or a superhero of any kind whatsoever, it's fun to explore his past and show the things that he did as a special operative and also, as a lone wolf. That's one of the things that we really wanted to establish and that's the idea that there was a period when Alfred worked alone or with just this one other person.
It's not a long period but it's an important period in his military past. That's what this story is headed towards, this time when Alfred worked outside of the boundaries of public knowledge but still through the secret service. In a lot of ways, this is parallel to what Bruce does. He's not really working within the law and he's not really working in sight of anyone but at the same time, he follows a code that he thinks makes what he does justified. There's an interesting parallel in there, just to see why he is so sympathetic to Bruce's cause now.
Despite the fact that the next issue is titled "Death of a Legend?" and the fact that he is still living and breathing in today's DCU continuity, it appears that Alfred gets killed at the end of this issue during a flashback. At least, you usually die when you get a bullet in the head.
You never know. Maybe he died and Alfred is really a clone. [Laughs]
I hate giving spoilers, but yes, Alfred obviously survives. It's more a story about how he's helped Bruce become this legend that Bruce sees as something that is going to live forever. Bruce sees himself as larger than life and this story shows how Alfred feels about that because of his own experiences. And in a way, Alfred feels guilty for perpetuating this feeling in Bruce that he can accomplish anything, do anything. On the other hand, he remembers his own experiences and wonders if he is doing the right thing because of what happened to him.
I grew up on Super Friends and I thought it didn't get any better than the Legion of Doom in terms of supervillain team-ups, but man, I love Penguin, Black Mask and Great White.
I love them too. I call them the Black & Whites. They are my three big crime lords. And they come back in this story too in a big way. I know that they are in the issue but they play a larger role too. They are menacing and they are threatening and they are dark but they also very funny, especially when you take them out of Gotham. I loved having them at a gas station in the first arc and here in Miami, decked out in Hawaiian shirts on Penguin's yacht. [Laughs] It makes me happy. I love taking these characters out of Gotham because they are still incredibly deadly but they are also comically out of place.
Finally, I have to ask you about your artistic collaborators, the dream team of Rafael Albuquerque and Jordie Bellaire.
Oh yeah. I really love this one. And it's a blast working with Rafael and Jordie. They are two incredible partners on this one. Rafael and I have shorthand at this point where I can get on the phone with him and describe stuff and he can just do it. We've been working together longer than Greg [Capullo] and me. And Jordie is a great friend and an incredible talent. I have been incredibly lucky. I'm in such good hands and it's a great way to finish this series.
All Star Batman #11 is available now.