Review: All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally (Rebirth) hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

March 14, 2018

In broad strokes a majority of Batman stories follow (retroactively) the James Bond framework: Batman gets a mission; his "Q," Alfred, provides him the tools he needs to succeed (with a side helping of witty banter); and then Batman wreaks vengeance on the criminals of Gotham in answer to the murders that left Bruce Wayne an orphan.

But late in Scott Snyder's original Batman run, there began to creep in a paradigm not often found in Batman stories and almost unheard of among the Justice League set, that eventually Alfred became surrogate and de facto father for the young Bruce, and now Bruce fights crime neither as a loner nor orphaned, but rather supported by and often in partnership with his parent. This modifies Batman significantly (though not, I don't think, unfairly), eroding at least some of the core reasons for his mission, but in line with Snyder's pervading portrayal of Batman as less the vengeful Dark Knight and more the aspirational hero of the people. It is not out of sorts that Snyder's Batman should have a family.

All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally addresses all of this from Alfred's perspective. Branching from Batman Vol. 8: Superheavy (indeed, despite Batman's post-Superheavy costume, there's some suggestion this takes place prior to those events), First Ally plumbs Alfred's misgivings over the very role he plays, assisting and abetting and giving tacit permission for his son Bruce to continue living this life. Here at All-Star Batman's conclusion, this is perhaps the most self-contained of Snyder's tertiary Batman stories, the most standalone and the most fully realized, with lofty, seemingly effortless art by Rafael Albuquerque. This is the best saved for last, Snyder finally hitting his groove on All-Star in a manner that will hopefully inform Snyder's standalone Batman stories to come.

[Review contains spoilers]

I'm not sure if I read or simply assumed that "First Ally" would refer to some early partner of Batman's prior to Robin Dick Grayson, but the book's first surprise is that the first ally is Alfred's, not Batman's. The book is modeled on classic pirate stories, and takes place as much in the daylight of Miami as it does in the night. To that extent, though First Ally is neither as gory nor wonderfully vulgar as some of the All-Star Batman stories that preceded it, it does again see Snyder playing fast and loose with Batman-as-caped-superhero, not necessarily as Dark Knight, up to and including dangling the Bruce Wayne identity in front of Batman's greatest foes (though they believe it's just a disguise). Snyder has been wont to say recently, "This is not a Batman story," and indeed First Ally -- perhaps more so than All-Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends of the Earth -- is really not a Batman story, but in its wild adventurousness it feels more of the cloth than the stories that came before.

Again, of late to have a parent in the DC Universe is something of an oddity; especially near to the end of the post-Crisis continuity, we saw the loss of Flash Barry Allen's parents and also Superman's Pa Kent. If we posit the hero's journey, the loss of or moving beyond the parent is almost de rigueur, though for over twenty years one of the most recognizable Supermen did just fine with his father alive. And if anything, I found First Ally's musings on Alfred most interesting in apposition, that I couldn't see Jonathan Kent quite taking himself to task for encouraging his son's superheroics the way Alfred does here for Batman.

It speaks perhaps to Superman's heroic life arriving by birthright while Batman's came by tragedy, though mid-western farm boy Clark Kent was not necessarily fated to be Superman. Indeed Bruce receives more bumps and scrapes, and has perhaps denied himself the more rounded life that Clark has, but this almost seems a matter of perspective. Alfred could greater embrace Bruce's nocturnal activities instead of feeling guilty about them, though fantastically at the end of this book Snyder ends uncertainly, leaving Alfred no more resolved about his role in things than he was at the outset.

It's a sometimes-rare treasure to find a book totally drawn by one artist (in the main story), and Rafael Albuquerque's work here is flawless. Albuquerque's active but semi-cartoony take befits an Alfred pirate story exactly, not to mention the glossy Miami backdrop. Despite full main issues, the book also has back-ups, a tale of a Russian mob heiress by Albuquerque and writing partner Rafael Scavone. "Killers-in-Law" is slightly besides the point, but there's so much material already that the back-up feels like a bonus; artist Sebastian Fiumara resembles Leonardo Manco, evoking Vertigo's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo comics, which shares as a matter of fact a pretty close aesthetic with this story.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally

By the time All-Star Batman closed, Scott Snyder's Dark Nights: Metal was already underway, but due to the vagaries of collected comics, of course, I'm reading All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally before that crossover. Snyder's Batman stories, especially toward the end, have been feel-good comics, with a clear and reoccurring humanist thesis that's fun to spot, a la the recurring themes of Snyder's Batman predecessor Grant Morrison. First Ally is fun and funny, dramatic and interesting, and whets my appetite significantly to follow Snyder into Metal.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
All-Star Batman Vol. 3: The First Ally
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

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