Supporting Characters Week, Day Six: The Undiscovered Country.
It looks like we’re almost at the end of Supporting Characters Week. You wish! You know why? Because I’m probably going to extend it through to the end of January. I have a question for you readers: Who hasn’t shown up that you’d like to see? And can you think of any awesome female supporting characters who deserve the spotlight? I can think of a couple, and there’s a surprising lack of pictures of them on the internet. I may require some scanning abilities of those of you in the audience!
Anyway. Everybody love’s today’s character. If you don’t, you are a heartless person who hates the service industry.
26. Alfred Pennyworth
Alfred is the world’s greatest and most lovable fictional butler. I dare any of you to come up with a better fictional butler.
I mean, here’s a guy who goes around and cleans bat guano off a giant robotic dinosaur. And he does this every day. The Batcave is freakin’ huge, man, and he’s got to maintain both it *and* stately Wayne Manor. That’s probably how he lost so much weight back in the Golden Age.
Alfred Pennyworth used to be a portly chap named Alfred Beagle, but once the Batman serials hit theaters, he adapted to the appearance of the actor who played him, William Austin, and became the thin, mustachioed figure we know today.
His Post-Crisis origin is much better than his Pre-Crisis one. Pre-Crisis, he just showed up on the Wayne doorstep one day and ended up as the butler, and found out Batman and Robin’s secret identities by accident. In the modern era, he’s kept his background as a former actor and spy, but he’s also been taking care of the Waynes for all of Bruce’s life. He’s Bruce’s best friend, his confidante, and the closest thing he’s got to a father.
Alfred is also Batman’s primary medic. And, of course, he’s got the spy skills. He’s also been trained in hand-to-hand combat, presumably by Bats himself, so he can also kick your butt.
Apparently he’s been unsuccessfully kidnapped 27 times. Awesome. (I saw “awesome” too much. I’m going to need to get a new thesaurus.)
Alfred is also, research tells me, the only member of the Bat-family allowed to own a firearm. Why? I can only assume Bruce is scared of him. I know I would be. Alfred is badass, even if he isn’t as badass as I-Ching. Oh well.
Sometimes, he is a zombie. Still won’t stop him from being the Wayne butler! Even death won’t stop him from polishing the giant penny!
He even supports the war effort:
He should go back to wearing the deerstalker. It suits him.
Who is your favorite portrayer of Alfred in outside media? I mean, Efram Zimbalist, Jr. was a perfect voice for Alfred in the Dini/Timm animated series. Michael Caine, of course, lends integrity to anything he does, and was a terrific father figure for Christian Bale’s Bruce in Batman Begins. It was probably the best and most sympathetic representation of Alfred on film, but it’s not my favorite.
My heart lies with either Alan Napier, of the 1960’s Adam West-centric show, or Michael Gough of the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies. These were the Alfreds I grew up with, and the ones that stick with me.
In terms of the current comics, I’d say Grant Morrison’s portrayal of Alfred has been the best in recent memory. He really nails Alfred’s sarcastic wit, but we can still tell how much the old guy cares for Bruce. He just shows it through his dry British humor ways. That’s why he’s around: to say what needs to be said, to keep Bruce on the right track.
Even if Alfred thinks Bruce is completely insane, he stands by him, he takes care of him, and he loves him. In a fatherly “bad enough dude” way, of course. He’s a kind, usually gentle, noble human being.
I also quite like the mentorly role he took during Tim Drake’s early years as Robin. Somebody had to drive Robin around on adventures when Bats was off doing whatever he does.
Alfred: Kickin’ ass and sweepin’ floors since 1943. And there was that one time they killed him off, replaced him with Aunt Harriet, and turned him into the evil Outsider. …Let’s just forget about that one.