NOTE: This article contains (minor) SPOILERS for "Batman" #5
It's truly dark days for the Dark Knight, despite "Batman: Rebirth" beginning with a truly promising twist: that after spending most of his adult life in service to Gotham City, Bruce Wayne had finally found a superpowered successor, every bit as dedicated to preserving the city and its innocents. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, absolute power was corrupted, turning the new hero 'Gotham' into a threat, not an ally.
It's a tragic turn, but with Issue #5 hitting physical and digital shelves today, it isn't the future of Gotham or Batman that is guaranteed to have fans talking. No, the honor goes to writer Tom King and artist David Finch for making the dream of just about every Batman fan come true. After waiting what feels like years, the new creative team took only five issues to deliver fans to the promised land: Alfred Pennyworth finally suits up as the Dark Knight.
We won't spoil any major plot beats in the issue, or go too in-depth on the actual origins or power of the masked hero-turned menace 'Gotham' (it really is a story worth reading for yourselves). But to make sure fans understand just why Alfred is forced to suit up while Bruce Wayne still has a pulse, allow us to explain. You see, for all of Bruce Wayne's gadgets, bravery, and stick-to-it-ive-ness, he can't actually fly. Kind of a major problem when dealing with those who can, when you really stop and consider it.
So with Issue #4 concluding with Gotham reaching the very depths of his Psycho Pirate-induced rage, and setting out to destroy Gotham, ruling it no longer worth saving, Bruce Wayne was in a bit of a jam. With the superpowered psycho heading for downtown Gotham, and no way to actually beat him back to town, Bruce had no choice but to call up his faithful butler, and ask for a favor. A... pretty sizable one, at that.
Telling Alfred that all he really needs is for A Batman to show up at the scene, and buy Bruce the moments or minutes needed for him to devise his plan and strike, Pennyworth obviously obliges. He obliges, and as he suits up in Batman's costume and cowl, he can't help but recall another time he was obliged to give a Wayne his word that he would do something he once thought a non-issue. When promising to look after Bruce Wayne should anything happen to his parents, what possible dangers could Alfred have seen in the future for the quiet, caring, goodhearted boy?
Obviously, the death of the Waynes changed all that, with Thomas deciding to do something truly "absurd" and escort his wife and son down Crime Alley - leading his son, and his butler down this insane path. A path now ending with an aging servant putting on the suit of a Justice Leaguer, and heading into battle against a demigod here on Earth. Obviously, it's a more anticipated moment for the readers than it is for Alfred himself.
The Moment of Truth
Thankfully, artist David Finch and inkers Sandra Hope, Matt Banning and Scott Hanna more than do justice to the reveal of Alfred behind the wheel of the Batmobile, conjuring up images of the very best DC artists to ever draw Bruce Wayne inside the cockpit of his iconic ride. Alfred continues his monologue to the departed Thomas Wayne as he gains speed towards the scene, clocking in at just under 200 mph before slamming full steam into Gotham (all things considered, probably little more than an inconvenience).
Still, it's the kind of distraction/delay that Bruce requested, and Alfred sure knows how to make an entrance. With Gotham dazed, and the Batmobiel wrecked (again), Alfred puts on his very best impression of the Bat, alerting "citizens of Gotham" that "the Dark Knight has returned!" Shockingly, Gotham takes only a moment to realize that the elderly man swimming in the famous armor is not the same one who trained him to be a superhero. Luckily for Alfred, his job is done, and he's free to make what may be his greatest exit to date:
The real fight begins shortly after, and is sure to have comic book fans talking for some time, given the new stories launched, and others concluded(?) in the process. But no matter how glorious the battle of man and demigod that follows may be, it really can't overshadow the true courage, the true victor of the day. Sure, Alfred Pennyworth may have fled the scene (literally), but by even agreeing to enter it, he showed the kind of courage that explains why Bruce Wayne is able to achieve what he has.
And so we, as King clearly intended, must ask: in the wake of "Batman" #5, who is the real hero of Gotham City? The Dark Knight who watches over its streets? Or the Englishman who fills in for him at a moment's notice?
Batman #5 is available now.
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