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‘All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally’ offers a new look at one of Batman’s most trusted colleagues

The final volume of the series explores Alfred’s past.

Although Scott Snyder has been writing for DC for close to a decade, he particularly is fond of writing the adventures of the Dark Knight through numerous cycles, from his Jock-illustrated horror-based Detective Comics run to his New 52 Greg Capullo-drawn run on the main Batman title. However, these cycles have to end and although Batman will continue the good fight, Snyder is someone who likes to show a sense of finality in his stories, as seen here, his final volume of All-Star Batman.

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Following a pursuit against Thomas Elliot AKA Hush, Bruce Wayne gets details of an underworld auction for a mysterious Macguffin known as the Genesis Engine in Miami. With enemies old and new in pursuit the engine, Batman will delve deep into the past, in particular his trusted butler Alfred Pennyworth’s.

The previous issues were more about Snyder taking the hero out his comfort zone that is Gotham City and explore new sides to classic villains. Here, we visit the state of Florida and see the return of baddies such as Hush and the Penguin. However, what sets this apart is the heart of the story, which is Bruce’s relationship with Alfred, who is less of a servant and more of a sidekick, while retaining his role as the sympathetic shoulder for his young master.

We have seen numerous interpretations of Alfred throughout the years, from backgrounds in theatre to the military. He’s also seen his share of action as we’ve seen through Sean Pertwee in TV’s Gotham and the latter-day Sean Connery approach in the Earth One graphic novels. Sticking with the traditional visual template of Alfred, it can look unusual seeing this figure in these action-packed set pieces, but because Snyder really delves into the character through flashbacks where we see how he changes through numerous periods of his life, including his MI5 period that plays a big part in the central narrative, we are engaged by his numerous interactions with Batman, which are funny, devastating and emotional.

If there is a problem with the Alfred flashbacks, it’s the establishment of two villains, one of which is Aflred’s former mentor Briar, who is as much of a father figure to Pennyworth as he is a ruthless instructor when it comes to the darker MI5 assignments. The other is Briar’s new trainee, who is a faceless tech-ninja and with the aforementioned Macguffin, the villains ultimately lack a three-dimensionality, unlike the heroes. Being someone who likes to mesh the literal and the metaphor, the always-wordy Snyder also introduces a trio of gangsters who consider themselves modern pirates. This gives Alfred the opportunity to constantly refer to pirate stories, which works in the context of how he sees his relationship with Batman, but these characters can be silly in how they later become integrated.

Having collaborated with Snyder since the Vertigo title American Vampire, artist Rafael Albuquerque had dipped in and out of the Batman comics and really shines here with his style of heavy blacks and ink splats that nicely contrast with the bright colors from Jordie Bellaire. However, when it comes to the backup issues co-written by Rafael Scavone, Albuquerque isn’t quite as successful with a story involving Russian arms dealing in Gotham that doesn’t have much substance, despite how its conclusion sets up the main arc, while Sebastian Fiumara’s gritty artwork is an ideal fit the Dark Knight and his worldview.

The Verdict

Not without its ups and downs, Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman ends on a high note by telling a more intimate story about a masked hero and his butler who, despite their tough experiences in the past, they will always have adventures together in the future.

All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally
Is it good?
Not without its ups and downs, Scott Snyder's All-Star Batman ends on a high note by telling a more intimate story about a masked hero and his butler who, despite their tough experiences in the past, they will always have adventures together in the future.
A fun and emotional narrative about Batman and Alfred that explores the latter's backstory through flashbacks.
Vibrant art from Rafael Albuquerque, colored by Jordie Bellaire (followed by backup art by Sebastian Fiumara).
I wish we spent more time with the familiar villains than the new ones who dominate these issues.
The backup story co-written by Albuquerque doesn't much to say and steps into generic territory.

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