The greatest comic book writer ever could pen the greatest, most emotional Batman story ever by killing Alfred the butler, but it would sure suck to be the next guy.
This is a comic book theory I thought up and have been pondering for some time, and one that everybody should be thinking about now that Alfred is in the clutches of the Joker in writer Scott Snyder’s epic ‘Death of the Family’ storyline. We already know that Alfred has been beaten and blinded by the Joker, but will Snyder go all the way and kill Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler?
It’s kind of expected that someone important will die by the Joker’s hand during this crossover, but everyone in the Bat-family stars in their own comic, all of which have been previewed for the months following Death of the Family’s big ending. It looks to me like everybody else is going to pull through. But there is no Alfred comic. Get rid of Alfred and only one or two comics will feel the impact, and those comics could truly explore some new dramatic ground by telling the story of Bruce Wayne’s emotional turmoil after the death of Alfred, who was like a father to Bruce. And considering what happened the first time Bruce lost his father, this could be a pretty big deal.
The death of Alfred could lead to some truly gripping material, and Scott Snyder is such a good Batman writer that I know he could do a very good job. But should he do it?
I argue that it doesn’t matter how good a story Snyder might write, because once he’s done, he’s still killed Alfred. And in the world of serialized, never-ending comic books, the loss of Alfred to the overall Bat-family is not worth the price of a good story, or even a great story. Alfred brings more to the table as a supporting character than the story of his murder and the aftermath could possibly provide. Alfred is the heart and soul of the Batcave, always nearby with a sandwich or a dry quip whenever the Batman is in a really bad mood. You won’t find anyone funnier or more charming in Batman comics than Alfred. Not to mention all the aid he provides, from his skills as a doctor to washing the Batmobile.
And Alfred is not alone. Comic books are filled with longtime supporting character who have become just as vital as the protagonists. Lois Lane, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson and many others; all supporting characters that could lead to good stories if they were killed for the emotional impact, but who would leave too big a hole once they were gone.
Take Gert from Runaways. She was the funny, sarcastic one, everybody’s favorite character; which made her the perfect one to kill for a little emotional impact. You always kill the one you love. Just ask Joss Whedon. But Runaways was all downhill after Gert was gone. It hasn’t been published since 2009. I guess readers lose interest after you needlessly kill their favorite character!
And that is the heart of my theory. No matter how much a writer may want to kill a character for the emotional impact, they’re just shooting themselves and every subsequent writer in the foot. At least when it comes to comic books that have no end in sight, like Batman or Spider-Man. If they’re writing their own story, and they know exactly how and when the comic will end (indie titles The Walking Dead, for example), then killing characters can be emotional and shape the story. Same with killing the protagonist of a series. We all know that when a writer kills Spider-Man, Captain America or even Batman that eventually those characters are going to come back. It’s the nature of comics. But supporting characters don’t have that ‘get out of death free’ card. Supporting characters are actually likely to stay dead. Killing important supporting characters in an ongoing comic is just ruining it for everyone.
Someday Scott Snyder is going to leave Batman. It’s just the nature of the business. And while all of his stories may have revolved around the death of Alfred, I’m sure the next writer would have his own ideas.
But he or she won’t have Alfred.
So that is my plea to all comic book writers: stop killing characters just because you think that’s the only way to get an emotional impact out of your story. Because even the most minor character has a lot more to offer than the cheap emotional thrill that their death could provide.
Plus, c’mon, he’s Alfred!
Without him, Batman’s just a lonely weirdo sitting in the dark who has to make his own sandwiches. And nobody wants to read that.