ALL-STAR BATMAN #14 by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Scott Snyder ends his run with a terrific tale that's equal parts thrilling and touching, reminding us why Alfred will always be Batman's greatest partner.
93 %
Fathers and Sons
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ALL-STAR BATMAN #14 marks the final issue in Scott Snyder’s seminal run, bringing to a close a tale of two fathers and two sons. Alfred has been getting a lot of page time recently, in both All-STAR BATMAN and in last week’s BATMAN: THE MURDER MACHINE #1. In that story, the Batman and Alfred relationship was subverted into something vile and wrong, as the two became an evil cyborg entity bent on eliminating all weaknesses.

ALL-STAR BATMAN #14 takes the opposite approach, presenting a Batman and Alfred dynamic that’s as deep, touching, and riveting as it’s ever been. Alfred and Batman are both out in the field this time, as they battle against Alfred’s old mentor and his fearsome new pupil, Nemesis. This confrontation brings out the truth from everyone, as we see just how strong Batman and Alfred’s relationship really is, and what would happen if said relationship were ever robbed of its heart and soul.

ALL-STAR BATMAN #14
ALL-STAR BATMAN #14 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Alfred recounts his love of the pirate stories he heard as a child. In these stories, the final battle consisted of a conflict between the hero and the dark captain. The dark captain was always a father figure, who at the last moment was revealed to be cruel and selfish, using the hero for his own gains. The final battle was thus an extremely personal one, fought for the soul of the hero. This concept plays out in real time, as Alfred attempts to save Batman from the clutches of Briar, Alfred’s old mentor and current master of Nemesis, a mysterious armored agent who seems programmed to do Briar’s bidding.

Briar claims that Alfred was weak because of his soft heart, as proven by his coddling of Batman. Briar thinks his new mentee is the solution — Nemesis, an armored knight with a heart of steel and no weaknesses to speak of. In Briar’s view, Nemesis is the perfect son, because he has learned to remove all attachments. As the final battle ensues, the secret of Nemesis’ identity makes a shocking impact on all involved — especially Alfred.

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Much like the pirate tales of Alfred’s youth, Briar takes on the role of dark captain. Alfred was the hero who escaped. Nemesis is a different, unnamed character from Alfred’s stories: the former hero who the dark captain converted into an agent of evil. In this case, the reversal is quite literal. During the final battle on the shores of a remote island, Nemesis lifts off his helmet and reveals the face of Alfred himself!

It’s a clone of Alfred, who was built from Pennyworth’s genetic material, obtained while in the armed service with Briar. This genetically perfected Alfred contains all of his skill and prowess, but none of his heart. He’s a killing machine. It’s interesting how similar this concept is to the robo-Alfred seen in BATMAN: THE MURDER MACHINE #1. This seems to be an interesting period for in-depth analysis of the Batman and Alfred relationship, and how it can change in fascinating and bizarre ways under different circumstances.

ALL-STAR BATMAN #14
ALL-STAR BATMAN #14 page 10. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment

In ALL-STAR BATMAN #14, Batman and Alfred fight like a true father and son team. They fight efficiently but interrupt each other on the battlefield to see how the other is doing. They care for each other deeply, and this component is always at play. For Briar, he scoffs at this, viewing the depth of their relationship as their undoing. But Briar’s lack of interest in emotional attachment comes back to haunt him. Considering Nemesis, his true son, Briar demands that Nemesis cut out his own heart, and kill the person he cares about most. Nemesis complies and stabs Briar right in the chest.

This ultimately reveals the folly of removing love and feeling from the equation. Batman and Alfred always win because of the love they have for each other — not in spite of it. Briar and his lab-grown son had no connection other than efficiency, violence, and death. Briar shamed Alfred for trying to save his own father; it’s therefore fitting that Briar dies by the hands of his own son. Briar raised the Alfred clone to be an efficient killer — and that’s exactly what Briar got.

Since the beginning of “The First Ally” arc, reading about Alfred’s exploits as a soldier of Britain have been remarkably fun. Those old experiences fuel and drive him to Bruce’s side in the present. Indeed, Alfred’s voice has been the driving one throughout the storyline, and it’s made for a fascinating departure from the brooding monotone of Bruce Wayne. Alfred’s narrative is more nuanced, fraught with uncertainty and hesitation, but a bloody stubborn resolve.

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Alfred constantly tries to key into Bruce’s mind, attempting to figure out the best way to help him while simultaneously protecting him. There’s a lot of similarities in how their minds work, but also some key differences. Alfred, unlike Batman, isn’t afraid to have some fun. This becomes most clear when Alfred shows up in a military plane, firing barrages of bullets at Briar’s plane. “Sadly, I can never be Batman” Alfred bemoans, “because Batman doesn’t use guns.”

All-STAR BATMAN is always a packed book, each one containing a vignette. The side-story this time around reflects on the theme of fathers and their children. It tells the story of two opposing Russian crime families. Much like “The First Ally,” the second storyline has a heated father-daughter relationship. This relationship ends with papa Myasnik revealing to his daughter, Vik, that he murdered her mother. Vik reacts by promptly stabbing him in the chest. Much like Briar, Myasnik reacts proudly, affectionately calling his daughter “princess” as he dies. Vik winds up taking over the entire Myasnik crime family, the end result of a father and daughter relationship that prizes efficiency over feeling. One might wonder whether Nemesis is headed in a similar direction.

ALL-STAR BATMAN #14
ALL-STAR BATMAN #32 page 11. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The art by Rafael Albuquerque enhances Snyder’s storyline with many excellent juxtapositions between past and present. Scenes of Alfred confronting Briar on a plane while his mentor tries to murder Alfred’s father perfectly mirror imagery in the present day as Briar tries to kill Alfred’s son. The transitions often contain an amazingly fluid visual juxtaposition, such as when Alfred jumps out of a plane in the past, and in the next panel opens a parachute in present day. Albuquerque brilliantly uses the spaces between panels to depict the passage of time. It also helps that Albuquerque is both the artist and writer of the second story. This allows him to create deliberate parallels between dying fathers, both of whom are stabbed in the heart by their own son or daughter. Visual moments like this help to create unity and coherence between two disparate storylines.

ALL-STAR BATMAN #14: A Pirate’s Life for Me

Snyder has left ALL-STAR BATMAN with a definitive tale of Alfred and Batman. Here they’re not just father and son, they’re allies through thick and thin, always having each other’s backs. Whether intentional or not, ALL-STAR BATMAN #14 is the perfect answer to BATMAN: THE MURDER MACHINE #1. Where the latter presented a dystopian, horror-story version of their relationship, the former gives us a story of purity and love that definitively tells us how Alfred sees his role in Batman’s life. Alfred is a father, a teammate, a savior, and a friend. When Alfred returns to Wayne Manor, he embraces Bruce as his true son — the way Briar could never do for him.

As they walk down to the cave together, Alfred notes that Bruce is living his own pirate story now, with Alfred as his captain. Where Briar led Alfred astray, the old butler intends to lead Bruce in the right direction for as long as he can. Alfred worries he might wind up being a dark captain himself; but in this case, the title works perfectly. Who better than a dark captain to lead a Dark Knight?

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