Super Types

November 24, 2013

Character Spotlight: Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred_Pennyworth_032The man behind the Batman, a gentleman’s gentleman, a medic, an actor, a confidante, a spy, and a father. Alfred Pennyworth has been keeping the Batcave and its inhabitants up and running for years. Alfred wasn’t always there from the start, not originally. He showed up at Wayne Manor one day upon his father’s dying request to return to aid the Wayne Family. Batman and Robin were hesitant to welcome him, but upon learning of his master’s double life, he immediately sought to aid them, and so a bond was formed. The story has changed over the years, but one thing tends to stay the same: as long as there is a Bat-family, it will need someone at the cave waiting to help. Let’s find out who Alfred Pennyworth is.

Alfred Pennyworth pre-crisis_1943Originally, Batman and Robin worked alone, and it wasn’t until Alfred Pennyworth showed up on their doorstep that such a fundamental part of the myth came to be. Alfred was a comic relief character who would try to solve mysteries on his own, but would end up only doing so by accident. Alfred even died back in the day! Saving Batman’s life caused him to die, or at least that’s what it looked like. Alfred came back from the dead and had super powers, and became a rogue for a short while. This was all Pre-Crisis, and eventually Alfred was brought back to being the butler we know and love. Did you know that Alfred’s gaunt man with a little mustache look was from his first appearance in the Batman and Robin film serials? They had the heavy-set and clean-shaven Alfred of the comics go away on a retreat, and come back having lost weight and now donning a mustache to better look like what the theaters were showing. This look is pretty much THE look of Alfred in one form or another with a few exceptions.

Alfred_Pennyworth_Smallville_003After the Crisis of Infinite Earths reset the DC universe, Alfred had a more unified back story given to him. Born and raised in England, Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth would go on to acting school, and eventually go on to be an intelligence agent. As he was tiring of the spy game, Alfred’s father Jarvis would contact him about coming to replace him from work as the Wayne family butler. Alfred thought this would be a nice change of pace from his usual life in the danger and shadows. Upon taking over his father’s responsibilities, Thomas and Martha Wayne would go on to have a son, Bruce. Alfred would help the family in day-to-day life, frequently taking care of young Bruce. When Thomas and Martha are gunned down in “Crime Alley,” Alfred is left to raise the traumatized boy.

Alfred_Pennyworth_Batman_of_Arkham_01Along with therapist Doctor Leslie Thompkins, Alfred would raise young Bruce until his drive to continue his training had the young man leave Gotham and travel the world, leaving Alfred to look after Wayne Manor. Upon the return of Bruce after years abroad, he needed Alfred’s aid in his assortment of skills to begin a new plan. Bruce had decided that the best way to deal with the criminal element was to become a vigilante. Knowing that Bruce would do this with or without him, Alfred realized that it might be for the best if he helped, even if he was reluctant.

Alfred Pennyworth sewing“I did once consider resigning from my position in the Wayne Household. ‘I need a disguise’, he said and I thought he’d finally gone mad with grief, especially those next words… but when I saw what he meant. When I watched how he surrendered himself to an ideal. How he used each ordeal, each heartache and failure, to become a better man, in the service of others. What could I do but stand in humble awe? And keep his wounds clean and uniform tidy. And send him safely on his way.”- Alfred Pennyworth

AlfredPennyworthSo you can see that the guy had his reservations on the whole “I shall become a bat” thing, but Alfred would become integral to the formation of Batman’s operations. He’d provide wisdom and practical skill he’d garnered over the years. As the legend of the Batman grew, so did those joining him in his fight. As other heroes took to the scene in masks and capes, so too did extraordinary children who saw Batman as a way of becoming who they needed to be. As Robins would arrive, so too did Alfred’s fatherly nature shine brightest in that dark cave. Robins, Batgirls, and other heroes who Batman considered his closest allies, saw Alfred as a father figure for them all. If Batman would always be out fighting for justice, then Alfred would be always waiting to help back at the Batcave.

alfred pennyworth _480_posterWhen things were ever at their darkest in Batman’s life, Alfred would do his best to aid him, often at his own risk. While a capable combatant due to his years as a spy, he was still an older man fighting super villains, some with futuristic weapons or superpowers. That’s Alfred, though, that’s what makes the people who are affiliated with Batman different from the standard person. They see this guy who puts on a mask and becomes something more, so why shouldn’t they, too? Even if it doesn’t mean putting on a mask, but just being the best you can be because there’s more than you to the world.

Alfred_Pennyworth_055Alfred sees all these people in costumes, impressed by their powers and dedication, and just kind of laughs. He’s a man in a nice suit who can patch wounds and clothes well. He works for someone who is considered one of the smartest people, if not the smartest person, in the world, and one of the things he does is provide this man advice. He knows the names of people who wield the power of gods, and they always have a kind word to say about him. Terrible monsters have tried to kill him and failed. What’s not to find funny when you’re “just a man in a nice suit” surrounded by that?

Alfred Pennyworth is BatmanI’m not going to do a suggested reading, because really, most of the best Batman stories will have a great moment or two from Alfred. His television and film representations tend to get his charm.

Alfred_Pennyworth_bbDr. Alexander Bustos

drbustos@comicattack.net

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