Wednesday, September 14, 2022

God Save the Butler

 Well, well, well. Look who's back.

O.G. Alfred.

Alfred, the faithful butler.

Tom King's killing off of Alfred--by Bane (of course it was Bane)--was one of the final straws that put a stop to my reading any comics.  It was a sure sign that there were no adults at home at DC any more and that the children were running amok, breaking toys and setting fire to things just see what would happen.

Tom King was about five years old when at Marvel Comics the Kingpin put Matt Murdock through the ringer during Frank Miller's run on Daredevil, creating the template for "a great story is when you break a hero down as much as possible". Or at least that was the takeaway for less talented writers than Frank Miller. 

It must have made an impression on little Tommy because those less talented writers certainly includes Tom King, who probably swore on the graves of his parents to do the same thing to Batman when he grew up. Since Batman is a greater character than Daredevil, that would make him a greater writer than Frank Miller!

I also assume young King killed his parents so that he could make this vow.  And because he believes you can't be great unless you suffer and other people die for you. No wonder the CIA snapped him up.

And so he did. He made Batman an emotional basketcase, set up a wedding fake-out that would have shamed a telenovella writer, and, when he was running out of barns to burn, used Batman's most lazily-conceived villain to kill one of comics most beloved, well-known, and long-standing supporting characters, purely for shock value.

LITERALLY long-standing. Have you ever seen Alfred sit down? It's his super-power.

Now, look; Alfred's been dead before. I remember the last time (well, now it's 'the first time', I suppose).   Motorcycling bad-ass Alfred died heroically sacrificing HIMSELF to save Batman & Robin because OF COURSE that's how he would die. Detective Comics #328 (1964):

I should rather think Alfred would make more of a "squish"
but that would probably have set the wrong tone.

So there was an in-story reason that Alfred died. And there was a real-world reason to: so that the writers could bring in Aunt Harriet to make Batman seem less gay. Is that a good reason? Does it make sense? Obviously not.  It was achingly stupid. 

But at least it had a purpose, compared to Tom King's use of Bane to murder Alfred. Tom King is just playing Angry Greek God: he just wants to see Batman suffer.  

If you're a bigger asshole to heroes than Mr. Mxyzptlk is, should you really be writing comics?
Because Tom King will not try being guilty for a while, I assure you.

Even if I could forgive being gratuitously dickish to Batman for shock value, I would draw the line at using BANE.  Really, I don't want to say a bad word about (Bane creator) Chuck Dixon, but Bane leaves me little choice.  Everything about him is absurd (and not in a good way).  The Mexican wrestler get up, the cheesy origin, the utter lack of motivation as a Batman villain. All of it is made 1000 ties worse by his creation as The Villain to Outvillain All Other Villains, when he's obviously much more like disposable muscle hired by an ACTUAL villain.  

Even Joel Schumacher knew that.

Bane BEGS to be taken seriously and writers of Bane beg for you to take him seriously. You know who doesn't beg to be taken seriously? SERIOUS VILLAINS.  Think of most versions/portrayals of, say, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler. PLEASE underestimate me, they say. Look how goofy I am! Right before they murder the **** out of you. That's what makes them scary; they don't give a hoot what you think about them. 

You know who else begs to be taken seriously? Tom King. So of course he had to use Bane; they are two of a kind.

This is how you really do it, TK.

I suppose I'm not being fair to Tom King for ruining Batman; it's a limited view of his work. He's ruined other characters, too, mostly notably Wally West.  

All things considered, "ruining Wally West" is a VERY impressive accomplishment.

Nobody who was in Heroes in Crisis came away unsullied; even the robot therapists had to be scrapped. Robot therapists; where'd you'd get those from, Tom; Professor Ivo?

Like Professor Ivo, Tom King believes the JLA must be punished.
People like Tom King are the reason Vibe died.

So, thanks to Tom King's thirst for blood and fame, harmless, humanizing Alfred has been missing for, what, two years now; three? But the adults like Mark Waid are back home from date night and ready to put the house back in order, no matter what absurd plot devices (Demonic Damian! Jakeem Thunder! Tim Who Remembers Me Hunter!) are required.

Never despair, Batfans. Because there is always Superman.
And as long as there is Superman, there is Mxyzptlk.
And Mxyzptlk implies Bat-Mite.
And through Bat-Mite, anything can be fixed;
he's here to help.

I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to reading Batman vs. Robin #1 (because Damian is truly the Tedious Character Find of 2006), but I certainly welcome Alfred's return. Batman's world hasn't been the same without his snappy comebacks, his dry wit, and his ability to put Bruce in his place.

You know who actually originated that characterization of Alfred?
Frank Miller.

I would also welcome the return to sanity I hope it signals for DC editorship.

Hey, look, he's sitting down.

The King is dead.

Long live the Butler.


Dave said...

I agree that pretty much everything King writes is drivel (his Adam Strange series was an incoherent mess and the less said about whatever TF Rohrshach was, the better), but I'm actually enjoying his Human Target series. Maybe it's the art and design, but it's been a very entertaining series.

Jeff McGinley said...

Honestly, this is why it didn't upset me. I knew he'd be back. So I enjoyed the "What If" story to see how the Bat-family functioned with his loss.
(I mean...the answer is "they function poorly" I knew that part.)

Scipio said...

I agree, Dave; it's the art and design.
Note that because The Human Target is a character absolutely NOBODY cares about, Tom King couldn't find any joy in wrecking him so he had to use him as an opportunity to wreck Guy Gardner instead. I suppose even a blind pig will find a truffle now and then, though.

Scipio said...

Jeff, I knew he'd be back, too. But that's part of why it DID upset me. Just give me a one-issue "Imaginary Tale/Elseworlds" like Ye Olde Days for this sort of thing. Not three-year derailments of the entire DCU where we are all expected to pretend that Jackson Hyde is now Aquaman and Jon Kent is now Superman and some gal with weird sunglasses is now Green Lantern etc. and that we've always been at war with East Asia. It's self-deceiving and disingenuous and, and...

Imitorar said...

In Tom King's defense, I believe he's said in interviews (see here: that he planned to bring Alfred back at the end of the story in which he killed him, because of course he did. Dan DiDio was the one who insisted that Alfred remain dead, presumably because DiDio firmly believes that enraged comic fans are engaged comic fans.

I'm not arguing that the decision bespeaks incredible shortsightedness and lack of direction from DC, and I'm not arguing that Tom King's writing hasn't generally distorted beyond recognition the characters it's highlighted, I'm just saying that in this particular case, the fault seems to have come from above.

Scipio said...

Hm. Well, even if I DID believe that...
is killing a character for shock value and bringing them back yourself sooner that much better? In some ways, it's that much more patently shameless.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back!

I am almost always opposed to character deaths, because they're almost always for shock value, and at the end of things there will be a stupid resurrection that people complain about. But the stupid resurrections aren't the problem; they're the solution to the problem, which was killing the character off in the first place.

We'd do much better if writers, and more importantly editors, considered themselves custodians of lore, which means it's their job to keep it in good repair. Killing off characters almost always diminishes the lore.

Scipio said...

"they're the solution to the problem, which was killing the character off in the first place."

Scipio said...

"he planned to bring Alfred back at the end of the story in which he killed him, because of course he did. Dan DiDio was the one who insisted that Alfred remain dead, "

I thought about it a little longer.
Dan Didio could certainly prevent him from bringing back Alfred in a later story.
But he couldn't do that MID-STORY.
If Dan Didio said, "You can't kill ALfred and bring him back at the end of the story, BECAUSE THAT'S STUPID" , I 'm not sure I blame.
King had the simple choice NOT to kill Alfred. He chose otherwise, and trying to shift the blame to the editorial of ghost of Didio thinking "everyone already hates him anyway" is cowardly.

Imitorar said...

"is killing a character for shock value and bringing them back yourself sooner that much better? In some ways, it's that much more patently shameless."

Better writing? Certainly not. It's definitely poor storytelling. But it's a lot less harmful to the DCU in the long term.

Like I said, I wasn't trying to argue that King's writing wasn't poorly thought out and given to shock over substance. I was just making the point that permanently getting rid of a venerable and beloved supporting character wasn't his idea. As for the story itself, the blame is all King's.