Alfred Pennyworth has always been the heart of the Bat-Family, and that’s even more true now that he’s been dead for the last few years.
Warning: SPOILERS for Batman: Legends of Gotham #1One of the most beloved Batman allies actually works much better when he’s dead: Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred has always been the heart of the Bat-Family, and that’s even more true now that he’s been dead in the central DC Universe for the last few years.
Alfred Pennyworth has been a central player in Batman’s cast of allies for decades, proving himself to be more than just Bruce Wayne’s butler. In turns, he has been an essential intelligence agent, a fighter, and a father figure for more than one generation of Bat-Family members. His 2019 death in the “City of Bane” storyline came as a shock to both in-universe characters and DC fans alike. In Batman #77 by Tom King, Mikel Janín, Tony S. Daniel, Norm Rapmund, Jordie Bellaire, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles, Bane takes Alfred hostage in order to dissuade the Bat-Family from entering his territory. When Damian Wayne attempts a rescue as Robin, Bane kills Alfred. Despite superhero comics’ notorious relationship to death—few essential characters actually stay dead for long—Alfred’s death, it seems, has actually stuck.
The Bat-Family’s Shared Grief for Alfred Unites Them
For the last few years, Alfred’s death has been providing more emotional story material than the butler could if he were still alive. The latest example comes from the one-shot Batman: Legends of Gotham #1 by Andy Diggle, Karl Mostert, Romulo Fajardo Jr., and Troy Peteri. The central story follows a team-up between Red Hood, Black Lightning, and Katana, but interspersed within the central action is Jason Todd’s memory of Alfred. This flashback to Alfred providing support for a young Jason is the main emotional beat of the one-shot, providing a not-insignificant amount of Red Hood’s motivation. Plainly put, the Alfred flashback is meant to tug at the reader’s heartstrings—and it’s not the first book in the last few years to use this exact tactic.
Alfred Pennyworth’s tragic death—and the Bat-Family’s reaction to that event—has been featured in almost every Gotham book since the Infinite Frontier era began. Nightwing, Robin, and Task Force Z are notable examples—Robin in particular features a spectral Alfred that sometimes appears to Damian Wayne, who feels deeply guilty about Alfred’s death. Even more than when he was alive, Alfred has been a central part of the Bat-Family’s stories since 2019 as the family grieves and mourns the beloved butler. His death has provided a uniting emotional beat that makes each of these stories—and these characters—feel connected, even when they’re on opposite ends of the universe. It seems in death that Alfred is more the heart of the Bat-Family than ever before.
It appears that DC plans to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. Despite seemingly resurrecting Alfred in the event miniseries, Batman vs. Robin, that version of Alfred has already “passed” in Batman’s arms—at least giving Bruce a sense of closure he never got in “City of Bane.” Despite the ever-present love for the character, hopefully Alfred Pennyworth will stay dead at least a little bit longer; there’s surely more emotional drama to be discovered in his death.
Batman: Legends of Gotham #1 is available now from DC Comics!