We all know that two of Gotham City’s biggest heroes reside in Wayne Manor: Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth.
Batman: Overdrive, a new DC Kids graphic novel aimed at readers ages 7 to 11, is a story of new beginnings. Written by Shea Fontana and drawn by Marcelo DiChiara, it’s a retelling of the iconic story of how Bruce Wayne took his first steps towards becoming the Dark Knight, a tale of new friendships and an inventive origin for the Batmobile. But most of all, Batman: Overdrive is the story of how Bruce Wayne came to rely on his biggest supporter and closest ally, Alfred Pennyworth. (And while Batman: Overdrive is unconnected to regular comic book continuity, it’s still made all the more poignant by recent events in the pages of Batman.)
Fifteen-year-old Bruce Wayne doesn’t trust anyone. Not kids his own age, not his martial arts teacher and certainly not his butler and guardian, Alfred. Bruce can’t help but blame Alfred for not being there the night his parents died. Perhaps if the butler hadn’t had that ill-fated night off, he would have been waiting right outside the theater to take the Wayne family home.
When a classic car in an old photo of his father catches his eye, Alfred leads Bruce through the Waynes’ enormous garage, where he discovers the crumpled black shape that was once his dad’s prized car. Bruce is determined to fix it up—by himself—but fate has a different plan for the young hero.
His mission to repair the car will lead Bruce to unexpected new friendships with Mateo Diaz, a mechanically inclined teen who fixes up cars as a hobby, and Selina Kyle, a talented fellow student in his martial arts class. As they work together on restoring Thomas Wayne’s old ride, a new lead in his death comes to light, and Bruce tells his friends that there’s more to it than a mugging gone wrong.
With a name like Batman: Overdrive, you’d expect incredible, action-packed car chases, right? This graphic novel delivers those and more. High-octane excitement explodes from the pages as Bruce follows up on the lead and finds more than he bargained for. With smoke, squeals of spinning tires and the newly minted Batmobile smashing through obstacles, the artwork captures the same energy as your favorite car chases on the silver screen. You can practically hear the V8 engine revving when Bruce and Mateo fire up their finished car for the first time. (Coincidentally, Bruce’s Batmobile in Batman: Overdrive has a fair resemblance to the muscle car inspired roadster in The Batman that director Matt Reeves unveiled yesterday.)
While Mateo and Selina come along for the ride as Bruce investigates one of Gotham’s most influential criminals, it turns out there’s an unofficial fourth member on his growing team.
On almost every page with Bruce and Alfred, you’ll find small ways Alfred shows his affection and care for his ward hidden in the colorful panels. Whether it’s a bottle of water and an ice pack waiting in the backseat after martial arts class, remembering everyone’s favorite cookies or just a comforting hand on the shoulder, Alfred Pennyworth knows just how to cheer up and support those in his care.
The kind gestures appear to be wasted on Bruce. The teenager thinks of him resentfully as “Prison Guard Pennyworth.” Later, when a photo points to Alfred having a connection to Carmine Falcone, he accuses the longtime family friend of having a hand in his parents’ deaths. Alfred explains the truth and accepts Bruce’s anger, never once raising his voice at the boy he knows is still grieving. Alfred’s patience never wavers, a true superpower that very few possess.
When Bruce finds out that Alfred stayed with him not because he had to, but because he wanted to, he realizes that blaming him for his parents’ deaths was a way to avoid blaming himself. Bruce lets go of the guilt and forgives himself, and the steadfast Alfred becomes an official member of the budding Bat-team.
“I’ll always be there to pick you up,” Alfred tells young Bruce as he sits behind the wheel of their town car. But there’s a different meaning beside the obvious behind his words. Alfred will always be there when Bruce needs him the most, to help him get up again when anyone or anything knocks him down. It’s a delightful callback to Alfred’s wisdom imparted on a much older Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins: “Why do we fall, sir? So, that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Batman: Overdrive is an action-packed book for Bat-fans of all ages, giving Bruce Wayne a fresh beginning with new and familiar friends at his side. Bruce, Mateo and Selina make quite the formidable team. Can you imagine a Gotham City in which the Bat and the Cat fight crime together from the very start, with Alfred helping them navigate whatever twists and turns life throws their way? Criminals wouldn’t stand a chance.
Kelly Knox writes about all-ages comics and animation for DCComics.com and her writing can also be seen on IGN, Nerdist, Geek & Sundry and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk superheroes, comics and crafts.