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Alfred Pennyworth... alive? Looking at something DC is teasing for Batman vs. Robin

Alfred Pennyworth died four years ago, and the Bat-family found a way to move on - but what if he was to return?

Batman vs. Robin #1 excerpt, redacted
Image credit: Mahmud Asrar/Jordie Bellaire (DC)

When Popverse exclusively revealed details of DC’s upcoming Batman vs. Robin miniseries earlier this year, we unveiled Mahmud Asrar and Nathan Fairbarn’s amazing cover for the first issue. The cover is a thing of wonder, showing the title characters in mid-leap, battling against a backdrop of the background players in the story. Look, there’s Talia al Ghul, swords drawn and ready for battle. And on the left, that’s Flatline, Robin’s maybe-possibly-girlfriend from the current (and wonderful) Robin series, and then there on the right is… Wait. That’s Alfred Pennyworth.

Batman vs. Robin #1 cover by Mahmud Asrar and Nathan Fairbairn
Batman vs. Robin #1 cover by Mahmud Asrar and Nathan Fairbairn | Image credit: DC

As in, the late Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred 'Heart of the Bat-Family, Dry-Witted, Hyper-Competent, and Good at Sandwiches' Pennyworth. Who’s currently very dead.

Except, perhaps that's not the case; a newly-released preview for the issue seems to feature Alfred walking up to the door of Wayne Manor looking particularly alive and well, if a little damp.

For those not entirely up-to-date with Batman continuity, Alfred was killed in 2018’s Batman #77 by Tom King, Tony Daniel, and Mikel Janin. I mean, Alfred was technically killed by Bane, but King, Daniel, and Janin were the men truly responsible (although King has since said it was intended to be a misdirect but DC pushed for the character's death to be real). He died when Bane broke his neck right in front of Damian Wayne, to illustrate the cost of defying Thomas Wayne and Bane’s despotic reign of Gotham City at the time. It was a shocking moment, and unexpectedly, it was one that seemed to stick: four years later, Alfred Pennyworth is still dead. Unless… he’s not.

So... is DC really resurrecting Alfred Pennyworth? (And if so, how?)

Let’s get the obvious possibilities out of the way first. Batman vs. Robin is a spin-off of Batman/Superman: World’s Finest, which takes place at some unspecified time in the past of the DC Universe; in that title, Alfred Pennyworth isn’t just not dead, he’s an important player who became even more important with the end of the series’ third issue. (Spoilers, everyone.) Perhaps Batman vs. Robin also takes place before Alfred died?

Sorry, folks; that’s not it – Mark Waid and DC are very clear that the five-issue Batman vs. Robin miniseries launching in September takes place in the present-day DCU, and the appearances of both Flatline and Talia would appear to bear that out. (Damian is also wearing the Robin costume he adopted for his new series on the cover, to underscore the fact.)

Well, maybe Alfred’s appearance either denotes a flashback inside the issue to a time before he died, or else, it’s entirely symbolic of something else? That’s certainly possible; the first issue of Batman/Superman: World’s Finest features characters who have yet to show up in the series itself – I don’t know about you, but I’m particularly excited at the possibility of a Darkseid appearance; he’s right there underneath the “T” of the logo – so, maybe when it comes to these Mark Waid-written books, we shouldn’t be taking everything quite so literally just because of a cover appearance.

The impact Alfred's death has had on the Bat-Family

Alfred’s death has been a big deal across the Bat-Family of comics in the past year or two. It’s not just that Bruce Wayne had to struggle through the Joker War and the Scarecrow’s strategic Fear State plans without the wise counsel of his father figure, nor that his diet had almost certainly gone downhill over the past couple of years without a faithful butler to prepare his meals; having to watch Alfred’s murder left deep emotional scars on Damian, distancing himself from his father and getting involved in the League of Lazarus Tournament in the process. (We’ll come back to the League of Lazarus Tournament soon enough.)

Dick Grayson’s life was perhaps the one most heavily impacted by Alfred’s death, however. Not only did he lose one of his two core father figures, but as the current Tom Taylor/Bruno Redondo run on Nightwing has revealed, Alfred left a sizable inheritance to Dick in his will, allowing the hero to create the Alfred Pennyworth Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to helping those in need. If Alfred was to suddenly be discovered alive, what would happen to that inheritance? What would happen to the Alfred Pennyworth Foundation?

Alfred Pennyworth's previous dances with death

Detective Comics #328 excerpt by Sheldon Moldoff/Joe Gielle/Gaspar Saladino
Image credit: DC

Of course, the possibility that Alfred could return to life is hardly an impossible one in superhero comics, especially considering that Batman has been assumed dead more than once, and Damian Wayne has also died multiple times. Even Alfred himself has previously died – in 1964’s Detective Comics #328, when he was crushed by a falling boulder after saving Batman’s life – only to return to life a couple of years later, in Detective Comics #356. Recent comics have even explored the notion of Alfred’s potential resurrection, with Robin contemplating using Lazarus Pit formula to bring Alfred back to life at his graveside. He didn’t, but is there any more clear Chekhov’s Gun situation?

Batman/Superman: World's Finest #3 page by Dan Mora
Batman/Superman: World's Finest #3 page by Dan Mora | Image credit: DC

Don’t forget that 2021’s Infinite Frontier #0 established that certain people have just mysteriously come back from the dead after the events of Dark Nights: Death Metal, either; for all we know, Alfred has been wandering around in the back streets of Gotham City for some time now. For that matter, the spoilerific cliffhanger of World’s Finest #3 puts Alfred literally in touch with a demonic presence who could probably bring him back from the afterworld if he really wanted to. Any creator looking to bring the faithful butler back to life is almost spoiled for choice if looking for suitable methods.

So is Alfred Pennyworth actually coming back to life?

Sure, all of this might be jumping the gun. Even the actual appearance of Alfred on panel doesn't necessarily mean that the real thing is coming back – even if his return would be a big deal in the DCU, provoke all kinds of plot lines and drama in a number of comic books, and delight a significant number of fans in the process. (But who really cares about those kinds of thing, really?) It’s probably just a coincidence that he played a role in the first arc of World’s Finest, a storyline we know for a fact will lead into Batman vs. Robin, and featured the death-defying villainy of the Devil Nezha, who's also the villain of Batman vs. Robin. Probably. After all, bringing Alfred Pennyworth back to the land of the living would be a crazy idea… wouldn’t it…?

Speaking of resurrected or undead heroes, the DC zombie superhero epic DCeased is returning this y ear for its grand finale, DCeased: War of the Undead Gods.
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