Alfred Pennyworth has been a staple character of Batman and his mythos for decades. When things were at their lowest for Bruce Wayne as a child, Alfred was there, and when things were at their lowest for Batman as an adult, Alfred was still there – a stalwart and loyal companion for his entire life. That was, until Batman #77 – where Alfred was killed at the hand of Bane. Bruce had no idea this was the case – in Batman #79 he mentioned that he received the signal that Alfred was safe, and in Batman #81 his family mentions that they never told Bruce what happened. This issue, still reeling from his victory being suddenly snatched away from him, Bruce finally learns what happened to the man who raised him.
This is honestly a very difficult review to write. The issue is details Bruce’s immediate reaction to Alfred’s death and Alfred’s last words to Bruce as he knew he was going to die – but that’s not what it is about. This issue is about a son losing his father and a father’s love for his son. While King has made a career writing heavy and emotional comics, this issue may take the cake. There’s a sense of realness to this issue that breaks all sense of detachment from the story and characters and instead evoked the feeling that I myself had lost my own father.
This past summer, my grandfather passed away suddenly and it was a massive shock to my entire family. My mother broke down crying and didn’t stop for days, and her siblings had equally visceral reactions in their own ways. Mikel Janin’s art throughout this issue brought me back to this summer, as every panel with Bruce’s face contained an expression that’s been burned into my mind. Jordie Bellaire’s dark colors deepen the emotional impact, There’s a primal sense of emotion baked into every page of this comic, as Bruce is forced to go through every single stage of grief on page. There’s no privacy or dignity afforded him, no time to grieve on his own. This issue is 16 pages of raw, unadulterated anguish that near anyone who has lost someone close to them can connect to.
There was a joy to you, Master Bruce. You smiled as no other child had. You laughed as no other child could. You embraced the curiosities of life with exuberance and poise.
Just as the art is incredibly powerful and occasionally painful to read, the writing for the issue is just as relentless. In these 16 pages of loss, Tom King provides 16 pages’ worth of the other side of the equation, as Bruce is forced to listen to Alfred’s final message to him. A message of hope, warmth, and pure unadulterated love. Knowing he would die, Alfred recorded this message for Bruce, as one last way to tell his son just how much he loved him. Recounting his memories of Bruce’s birth, his childhood, his parents’ death, and continuing all the way until the events of King’s Batman run, Alfred wistfully reminisces about his happiest days. Yet these final words are not just a dying man’s memories – they are a message for Bruce. These are the words parents wish to tell their children before they die; the words children wish to hear from their parents. Alfred tells the boy he raised, his son, the words that every parent truly wishes for their children: Bruce will be happy. One day, Bruce will smile again. The love in these words is palpable, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say this is the most overwhelmingly emotional issue of a comic that I’ve read.
This issue is a Batman issue, but its core is not about Bruce Wayne, the billionaire who fights crime. This issue is about everyone who has lost a parent; every parent who had to say goodbye on their deathbed. King and Janin bring the feeling of grief into this comic in a way that makes it one of the most impactful books they’ve ever created. By the time I finished the issue, I was crying as if I had lost my own father. This book is resonant and meaningful, and Alfred’s final answer to the very first question Tom King’s Batman ever asked ties this whole story together while still providing incredibly meaningful message for all the readers.
You asked me once, as you fell from the sky… Would this be a good death? Would your parents be proud? At the time, I gave you the answer you needed. As I did today, I lied. But now please forgive a man at his end a touch of the truth. There are no good deaths. Not for parents. Not for children. But there are good lives. And you, my son, are living one.