Worth Every Penny
Batgirl: “How are you staying so calm, Alfred? Aliens! I think that would warrant one of your signature cocked eyebrows?”
Alfred: “I keep house for a man who dresses like a bat and works in a cave. At this point in my life, there’s little that phases me.”
The Batman, “The Joining” (Season 4, Episode 13)
The sun rises over a mansion. An elderly gentleman rises to begin the day’s work. He puts a meal in the oven and dusts as it cooks. A concealed staircase opens. He carries the meal down to the mansion’s cave.
The man cleans the accumulated guano after setting the food by a supercomputer. Next he restocks the various smoke bombs and Batarangs in the spare utility belts. A car’s engine echoes as he passes the trophy room. The Batmobile looks as though it has been through a war, and Batman barely gets out before falling unconscious. Alfred grabs a first aid kit and frowns. It will be a long day.
Alfred Pennyworth is one of the most famous butlers in fiction. Alfred has no superpowers, secret identity, or other superhero attributes, but has become one of the most iconic Batman characters. So who is he? How did he become Batman’s butler? Why is he the coolest member of the Batman family? Let’s find out.
From Soldier to Servant: Alfred’s Backstory
Alfred Pennyworth: “Bruce’s father gave me very firm orders was him and his missus to die. Now, I will raise the boy the way his father told me to raise him.”
Jim Gordon: “Which is how?”
Alfred Pennyworth: “Trust him to choose his own course. He is, after all, a Wayne.”
Gotham, “Selina Kyle” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Alfred debuted in Batman #16 in 1943. He was created by Don Cameron and Bob Kane. He was intended to be a comic foil to Batman and was portrayed as a portly amateur detective. The artists changed his appearance to look like William Austin, the actor who played Alfred in the 1943 serial Batman
Prior to becoming the Wayne family’s butler, Alfred was a combat medic attached to the British SAS. He served with distinction and retired from the military to become a stage actor. Alfred received a letter telling him that his father had passed away and journeyed to America to take up the Pennyworth family’s traditional role as the Wayne family butler.
Alfred was a hit with the older Waynes but had difficulty getting Bruce to like him. After his parents were gunned down, Bruce came to see Alfred as a father figure. Alfred was unable to dissuade Bruce from becoming Batman, so he taught him all he could and helped find other mentors.
Head of the Family: Alfred’s History
[Alfred is patching up the fourth Robin]
Damien Wayne: “I’ve been hurt worse than this sparring with my grandfather.”
Alfred: “I’d hardly hold Ra’s al Ghul as an example of enlightened child rearing. Master Dick was quite explicit. At least twenty-four hours of observation.”
Damien: “He’s not my father… and neither are you.”
Alfred: “And for that, young man, you should be profoundly… grateful.”
Son of Batman
Alfred acted as Batman’s batman, with his duties ranging from first aid and information gathering to espionage. Somehow, he managed all of this while keeping Wayne Manor spotless. Alfred’s skills with children became especially useful as Batman recruited several Robins and Batgirls.
Despite tolerating Batman’s antics, Alfred was once pushed too far. Bruce had been crippled after a fight with Bane and tried to keep fighting crime despite being in a wheelchair. Alfred realized that Bruce no longer cared if he lived or died and quit his job. Nightwing convinced Alfred to return once Bruce had been healed.
Alfred’s worst fear was realized when Batman was seemingly killed in Final Crisis. The loss of his adoptive son broke Alfred. The only way he was able to cope was by working with the various members of the Bat-Family, Batman’s son Damien in particular. Batman was soon brought back, to Alfred’s relief. He has since resumed working for Bruce while helping to set up a worldwide organization called Batman Inc.
Vicious Valet: Alfred’s Powers and Personality
Alfred: “There’s a saying in this country. “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman.” But sadly, I can never be Batman. [gets behind a mounted machine gun] Because Batman doesn’t use guns.”
Batman: The First Ally
Alfred gained a lot of skills in the SAS. He’s proficient with hand to hand combat, demolitions, stealth, espionage, assassination, and firearms. He is the only member of the Bat-Family that Batman allows to use guns due to his age. He primarily uses a shotgun, but has used everything from laser guns to crossbows.
Alfred has studied several scientific fields to help his boss. Engineering, chemistry, programming, hacking, nanotechnology; if you can name it, chances are that Alfred does it. He also somehow keeps Wayne Manor clean in addition to his other duties, even taking time to feed the bats in the Batcave. He also breeds roses and created a breed called the Pennyworth Blue.
Alfred might be the snarkiest character in the DC Universe. Like a good fictitious butler, he constantly makes droll comments about his boss and allies. Alfred is fearless, protecting the home and his charges from anything that attacks them. He’s beaten Superman unconscious, gunned down hordes of ninjas, tried to stake Count Dracula, and has even shot a Predator with a blunderbuss. Yes, the one from Predator. Don’t screw with Alfred’s family.
The Actors Who Play Alfred
Alfred has appeared in every Batman show and movie, so listing every appearance would be tricky. Let’s just stick to the bigger roles.
Alan Napier played Alfred in the 60’s Batman show. His last name was given to The Joker in 89’s Batman. Alfred appears in Gotham, played by Sean Pertwee. Emmy winner Jeff Bennet voices Alfred in Young Justice. JB Blanc voiced a younger and more active Alfred in Beware the Batman.
Michael Gough played Alfred in the 90’s Batman film series. Two time Oscar-winner Sir Michael Caine played Alfred in The Dark Knight trilogy. Oscar winner Jeremy Irons played Alfred in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
2019 is a banner year for Alfred. Douglas Hodge will play Alfred in Joker, and Epix is premiering a Batman prequel starring him. Titled Pennyworth, the show will examine Alfred’s past as a soldier while he runs a private security firm.
Didja get all that?
The man behind the Batman looking cool with a feather duster.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.