Major Batman Character Dies in New DC Comic

A major change to the Batman status quo may change Bruce Wayne's life forever.

Batman #77 Death Explained

This Batman article contains MAJOR SPOILERS.

The release of Batman #77, the third part of the climactic “City of Bane” arc, has some…very big changes for Batman’s friends and family. In fact, this may be the big status quo change writer Tom King teased a few months back, a change he was surprised DC was even allowing him to make.

Naturally, we’re about to head into heavy spoiler territory. Seriously, if you haven’t read the issue yet, it’s best you leave now. Okay, ready?

Alfred’s dead. Or at least, so it seems.

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“City of Bane” is the arc where Bane’s big plan stretching back over three-plus years of King’s Batman stories comes to fruition. He hasn’t broken Batman’s body this time. Instead, he broke his will, taking Batman’s city from him and ruling it (with an outside Year of the Villain assist from Lex Luthor) alongside most of Batman’s rogues. The Riddler and the Joker are his police force, and his enforcers are Flashpoint Batman and Gotham Girl. And his insurance policy against any heroes trying to dethrone him? Alfred Pennyworth, held captive and under threat of death if any heroes attempt to even enter Gotham.

One of them does in this issue – Damian, the arrogant son of the Bat, bursts into Gotham, takes down Gotham Girl, Scarecrow, and Mr. Zzasz before falling at the hands of his Flashpoint grandfather. Damian is then forced to watch as Bane snaps Alfred’s neck, all while the villain declares Gotham his city. (With Bruce’s father figure now dead, Damian becomes the next hostage whose life is at stake.)

This is a shock, to say the least, but it’s also comics. King’s Mister Miracle was a masterpiece, but it was also packed with plot and perspective ambiguity, and we still don’t have a definitive answer about what precisely happened to Scott Free (this is, of course, the point of the book and part of why it’s a masterpiece, but that’s neither here nor there). The point here is there are a thousand ways this could be undone in issue 78 alone.

But…it feels pretty real.

Further Reading: Batman Celebrates 80 Years – Why the Dark Knight Still Matters

It feels real not only because of how it’s presented. Clayface might have been able to mimic the sound effect, or it could have been a really brittle android or Flashpoint Alfred, but it’s too graphic to not be true. It would lose some of its punch.

And the punch is the point. King is one of the most successful (and strictest) formalists in comics today. The form of a story is often as important to understanding it as the plot is. So it’s worth looking back at the three and a half years that brought us to this point.

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The first year was spent putting the pieces on the board, a prologue to introduce the main characters of the story with a hint at the main plot. “I am Gotham” introduced this version of Batman and a new character for him to project his own sense of tragedy on. “I Am Suicide” brought Catwoman and Bane in to kick off the main conflict. “I Am Bane” defined the terms of the relationship, and “The Button” started to present the central thesis of the run: Can Bruce Wayne be happy as Batman?

“The Button” transitioned into the War of Jokes and Riddles, where Batman laid himself bare before Catwoman in an attempt to find a way for both sides of his life to be happy and maintain an equilibrium. When she said yes to his proposal, “Rules of Engagement” started socializing their relationship around the DC universe, establishing this Batman’s place with the other heroes and building social ties for them as a couple (that could later be ripped away). Year two ends with a glimpse of the trouble to come – the Poison Ivy and Booster Gold stories worked as lead-ins to Heroes in Crisis, but also as reminders of the trauma lurking everywhere in the superhero life.

Year three is all about tearing hunks off of Batman. First, he loses Catwoman to Bane at the wedding. Then the Twelve Angry Batmen story (the INCREDIBLE Lee Weeks/Mister Freeze courtroom drama) takes Batman’s infallibility. Then KGBeast takes Dick Grayson from him. The Penguin shows him that he lost these things to Bane. The Scarecrow strips away his pretense in “Knightmares,” and Flashpoint Dad even tries to take his raison d’etre as Batman by giving him back his family in “The Fall and the Fallen.”

Year four is about the comeback. While all of this is going on in Gotham, Catwoman has come back to him, helping him recover from his ordeal in the desert with his dad before heading back into the city. Alfred and possibly Damian may be taken from him, but even with this unspeakable and graphic tragedy, the story has started to turn.

The best Batman stories peel back all the layers of the character one at a time and examine them before piecing him back together with something new for the next creators to play with. Scott Snyder did it with his Joker stories and the extended run with Gordon and his Bat-Appleseed mech. Grant Morrison did it with Batman’s wacky history and the power of friendship. You can even see that structure as far back as “Knightfall.” The only outstanding question regarding King’s run right now is if Alfred is one of the pieces that gets put back.

Jim Dandy is a freelance contributor. You can read more of his work here.

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