Spoilers ahead for this week's Batman #77.
Alfred Pennyworth is dead.
Or at least, he appears to be dead.
In Batman #77, Bane broke Alfred’s neck in front of Damian Wayne, fulfilling a promise that Alfred would die if any Bat-family member entered Gotham City. And the issue showed that Damian Wayne did enter Gotham City, so the villains made good on their promise.
But then… comic book deaths sometimes involve hijinks.
Did Alfred Really Die?
There are several reasons to believe this is the sort of thing that would happen in the story right now.
First of all, Batman writer Tom King promised that something would happen in the current “City of Bane” storyline that would change the Dark Knight “maybe forever.” The death of Alfred would certainly change him forever.
King has also been setting up a long-term relationship between Batman and Catwoman since the beginning of his run. This issue even featured Catwoman cooking for Bruce. With an accomplished, lock-picking and dinner-making woman by his side, does Batman still need his father figure at home?
The death also seemed real – it was made clear that Damian believed Alfred just died in front of him. Damian heard Alfred begging that his death not be carried out “in front of the boy.”
Alfred’s neck was broken on the comic book page for readers to see, and it was done in front of Damian Wayne, who would know whether a person’s neck was really broken.
And now that Damian has taken the place of Alfred as a hostage for Bane and Flashpoint Batman, it makes sense that a future solicitation (Batman #81) specifically points out that Batman’s actions will determine the life of his son (but not, we now notice, Alfred).
There are also a couple reasons to think maybe the death of Alfred was not real.
First, Alfred has play-acted before to protect the people he loves, even within King’s run. And as Flashpoint Batman mentioned to Damian in this issue, the threat of his death was Alfred’s idea – his way of protecting his family.
Bane and his friends also have access to mind/emotion control with the use of Psycho Pirate and his mask. Could they have used it on Damian to heighten his worst fears?
Alfred’s death was also an unceremonious ending for such a key character, and DC hasn’t been promoting his death or this issue (as they often do when a major character dies).
Plus, Doomsday Clock already showed Alfred alive in the future … that is, if Doomsday Clock is still in current continuity.
Why Alfred Was Killed
Damian Wayne started the issue sneaking into Gotham City, which immediately resulted in Gotham Girl attacking him.
But Damian turns the tables on her and uses the Wand of Klarion to magically bind her on a rooftop.
Now free to wander Gotham, Damian next encounters Scarecrow and Zsasz, who are acting as Bane’s police officers - but abusing their newfound civic powers.
After the two begin to harass a Gotham citizen, Robin easily takes them down.
Next, Robin finds Flashpoint Batman, perched on a gargoyle overlooking Gotham. Despite the elder’s confident warnings, Damian isn’t impressed. He points out Flashpoint Batman’s list of failings (which he learned from the Justice League’s computers) - his wife becoming Joker, the destruction of his earth, and his service to a villain like Bane.
While the alternate Thomas Wayne tries to communicate with the boy (calling him, “my grandson”), Damian isn’t happy.
Damian punches him in the face.
As they begin to fight, Flashpoint Batman tells Damian that he’s going to have to kill Alfred now.
(In a previous issue, it was established that Alfred was being held hostage in Wayne Manor so that no other Bat-family members would enter Gotham. The heroes were warned that Alfred would be killed if they came into the city.)
But again, Damian doesn’t seem impressed.
Thomas eventually defeats Robin, and he knocks him out. Readers are later shown that Robin is tied to a chair at Wayne Mansion.
And as Robin awakens, he sees Bane killing Alfred by breaking his neck.
Thomas tells Robin that the boy will be their new hostage. They will now tell other Bat-family members that Damian will be killed if they come into Gotham.
That means Batman will have to risk his son’s life if he wants to come back to Gotham City.
The issue also showed Bruce waking up in Catwoman’s pad, where she has been nursing him back to health after she rescued and patched him up.
In a tender moment, Bruce admits that he “lost,” something Batman doesn’t often have to do.
As he heals, the two discuss whether he should return to Gotham. “You’ll die,” Catwoman says.
“I know,” Batman replies, “but at least I’ll die in Gotham. Like Mother. Like Father. It will be a good death.”
Catwoman is disappointed that he’s determined to die alone. “You want to take back our city, Bat?” she says, now donning her Catwoman costume. “You want revenge for what they’ve done? Let me show you the way.”
Solicitations for upcoming Batman issues promise a showdown between Batman and Bane. King will finish up his Batman run by issue #85, after which he’ll launch the 12-issue maxi series, Batman/Catwoman.
The story continues September 4 with Batman #78.