by John Wells
Alfred was introduced by Don Cameron and Bob Kane in 1943's Batman# 16, portrayed as a rotund, comical Englishman who had forsaken his acting career to serve as butler to the Wayne family as the result of a promise to his father, Jarvis, on his deathbed. Batman and Robin met Alfred first, when the amateur detective become tangled in a case at the docks. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were horrified when Alfred showed up at their doorstep and made himself at home. Out of respect to his beloved Jarvis, Bruce resisted sending his new butler packing. Eventually, Alfred helped B&R crack a case and followed up by telling Bruce and Dick that he knew who they really were. The butler credited his "deductive abilities" but he'd really accidentally stumbled onto the Batcave entrance the previous evening.
Swearing him to secrecy, Batman declared that "you're one of us now, Alfred."
"I understand perfectly, and you may rely utterly on my discretion."
Nine months after his debut, Alfred's appearance was remodeled to reflect the actor in the forthcoming "Batman" movie serial. He was now pencil thin and had a slim mustache. The official explanation, in late 1943's Detective # 83, was that Alfred had gone to a health resort when he "felt (he) lacked a certain dash and elegance that would enhance (his) value as your crime-fighting assistant."
Alfred went on to enjoy a solo series of four-page installments in Batman # 22-32, 34 and 36 (1944-1946). He was provided with a last name, Beagle, in Detective # 96's "Alfred, Private Detective." Alfred remained in the Wayne household until Bruce's daughter, Helena, had moved out and Bruce died. He subsequently managed the New Stratford Repertory Theatre (1982's Wonder Woman # 294-295) and continued to assist Robin when the need arose (1984's Infinity, Inc. # 9). The roly poly 1943 incarnation of Alfred Beagle returned briefly during "Zero Hour" in Shadow of The Bat # 31 (1994).
The origin of Earth-One's Alfred was presented in 1957's Batman # 110. This account found an already slim Alfred answering Bruce Wayne's classified ad for a butler and discovering the identities of Batman and Robin one night when Dick summoned him to the Batcave to help a wounded Bruce. Len Wein presented a variation on the story in 1980's Untold Legend of The Batman # 2, also adding the revelation that Alfred had "help(ed) countless Nazi refugees escape the Nazi oppression."
Batman # 104 (1956) identified Alfred's middle names as Thaddeus Crane and issue # 216 (1969) provided him with the last name of Pennyworth. The latter also introduced his actor relatives, brother Wilfred and niece Daphne. Daphne returned in Batman # 227 as did Wilfred, behind the scenes, in Super Friends # 5.
Alfred "died" in Detective # 328 (1964), belatedly revealed to have been the Outsider (1966's 'Tec # 356), who menaced Batman and Robin in 'Tec # 334, 336, 340 and 349 when the "Batman" TV series included the butler in its cast. He co-starred in a story with Commissioner Gordon in Batman Family # 11 and had subsequent solo adventures in Detective # 486 & 489 and Batman # 347.
Gerry Conway picked up on Alfred's World War Two service record in 1981's Detective Comics # 501-502. Batman learned that Lucius Fox and Alfred had both worked with Mlle. Marie during the war, "Fox in 1943, on behalf of the O.S.S. and Pennyworth, in 1944, as an officer in British Intelligence." In the course of the story, Alfred and Marie were revealed to have had an affair that produced a daughter, Julia. Marie was murdered soon after and Julia's foster father, Jacques Remarque, revealed the child's existence to Alfred when she was two. Alfred sent financial support for years with the agreement that she never learn of his existence or relationship with Marie.
Doug Moench returned Julia to the series in late 1983, wherein Jacques Remarque was murdered and avenged (Batman # 364, 366, 368-369; 'Tec # 532, 535-536). In 1984, Julia moved into Wayne Manor (Batman # 370) and got a job with Vicki Vale at Picture News (Batman # 373). She left the series when Moench did (1986's Batman # 400).
Meanwhile, Frank Miller had enjoyed using the sardonic Alfred in Batman: The Dark Knight so much that he couldn't resist breaking with tradition and establishing him in the Wayne household from the outset of Batman's career in 1986's "Batman: Year One" (Batman # 404-407). The details of Alfred's early days have been sketched in gradually over the past fifteen years.
The Pennyworths had a long history in the service of the Wayne family. Jarvis Pennyworth had served as butler to Thomas Wayne and his father, Patrick. Jarvis' father had been the Wayne retainer before him. Jarvis intended for his son, Alfred, to follow in his tradition but the young man had other plans (1989's Batman Annual # 13; script: Kevin Dooley).
Both Alfred and his mother spent much of each year in their native England, where the boy received "a traditional British education, graduating third in (his) class, although (his) main interest in school was stage acting" (1994's Batman # 0; script: Doug Moench). Jarvis and Alfred were reunited on regular vacations, however, and it was during their summer hunting outings in Essex that Alfred became adept at handling firearms (1997's Batman Secret Files # 1; script: Scott Beatty).
Once her eldest son, Wilfred, had begun to achieve success in the theatre (1969's Batman # 216; script: Frank Robbins), Mrs. Pennyworth succumbed to the lure of the stage and returned to acting in Britain. After stints in the British Secret Service (Batman # 599) and the military, where he enhanced his weaponry skills and received extensive medical training, Alfred followed his mother and brother's career choice (Batman Annual # 13).
Eventually, the young man fell in love with an actress named Joanna Clark and the couple made plans to wed. The ceremony was interrupted by a cad named Jonny Forsythe, who'd been having an affair with Joanna for months. When she admitted that Jonny was telling the truth ("I just didn't want to hurt you."), Alfred punched his rival and stormed out of the church (1995's Nightwing: Alfred's Return; script: Alan Grant).
Within months, Alfred suffered a second blow when Jarvis became terminally ill. With his father on his deathbed, Alfred agreed to abandon acting and travel to the United States to become Thomas Wayne's butler (1996's Batman Chronicles # 5; script: Alan Grant). "Mother, on the road, couldn't attend father's funeral" (Batman Annual # 13). Grieving for his father and angry over being forced to abandon his beloved career, Alfred became drunk for the first time in his life on the eve of his departure for America (Nightwing: Alfred's Return# 1).
Still, Alfred made the best of the situation, putting on his best face when he arrived at Wayne Manor and delivering a crisp summary of his credentials:
"While my accomplishments are modest, Sir and Madam, I assure you they fulfill all the requirements of valet, butler and waiter. My background consists of a traditional British education, graduating third in my class, although my main interest in school was stage acting. I specialized in character roles requiring makeup disguise and vocal mimicry. After school, among other pursuits, I performed medic duty in the service. Medical advances remain a keen area of interest to this day.
"I am also a fully trained chauffeur, four-star chef, and quite the all-purpose Mr. Fix-It and auto mechanic, if I daresay so myself. In summation, my sole ambition is to carry on in my retired father's place, serving the Wayne family for as long as I am fit" (Batman # 0).
Alfred's optimism lasted for exactly one week, at which point he tendered his resignation. "As you know, I took this position because of a promise I made to my father on his deathbed. As your family retainer for many decades, he made me swear I would follow him. But I am not a man who likes to be forced into anything. I feel that I am here under false pretense. ... The past -- and England -- is behind me. I don't know what I shall do -- only that it must be something I positively want!"
Alfred's conversation with Tom and Martha was interrupted by the arrival of young Bruce, sporting a black eye and bruises -- and refusing to divulge their origin. The butler discreetly brought a meal to the boy's room and pulled a copy of "Zorro" from his jacket. "I found this in the library, sir. Knowing your parents don't approve of such literature, I wondered if it might be yours ?"
A mutual passion for Zorro broke the ice and Alfred responded to Bruce's query as to how "the little things (could) ever beat the big things."
"By using the mind, Sir. Know what you want -- and then think how you can achieve it."
Taking Alfred's advice, Bruce plotted an elaborate revenge that climaxed with a bucket of molasses on the head of the bully who'd been terrorizing him. As Alfred and Bruce shared a laugh over the turn of events, Martha entered the kitchen with a copy of Zorro, demanding to know why Bruce had been reading such "corrupt" literature. Insisting that "the offending article is mine," the butler assured her that he would make penance by "retir(ing) to bed for a week without supper."
"But I thought you were leaving ... ?"
"Mrs. Wayne, my father once told me that the perfect butler is allowed to change his mind only once in his life. For Alfred Pennyworth, that occasion may be afoot" (Batman Chronicles # 5).
Soon after, Alfred met Wayne family friend Leslie Thompkins (in a flashback that depicts Bruce as much younger than he actually was) and it was Leslie that delivered the tragic news to the butler of the Waynes' deaths (Batman: Gotham Knights # 7).
The murder of Thomas and Martha added a new responsibility to Alfred's shoulders, that of surrogate father. Learning from Leslie Thompkins that "the state intended to assume his custody and care," Bruce "quickly prepared and filed various forms and documents - a blizzard of paperwork. The bureaucracy somehow lost track of him and young Bruce remained in Wayne Manor" under Alfred's tutelage (Batman # 0; also see Batman: Gotham Knights # 7).
Alfred and Leslie cared for Bruce as he grew up and prepared to avenge the deaths of parents. During the lonely years in Wayne Manor while Bruce traveled abroad, Leslie and Alfred grew closer and became romantically involved (Gotham Knights # 7). Still, the young man's long absence seemed to take its toll on the butler. When his now-adult charge returned, Alfred announced his intention to resign and return to the stage. Once again fate intervened and Pennyworth awoke a few months later to discover a trail of blood leading to a wounded Bruce -- who had decided to become a bat! Putting his medical training to use, Alfred observed that "by some nod of fate, we have the same blood type" (Batman Annual # 13).
Now the servant of The Batman, Alfred found a new series of challenges ahead of him, preparing a costume for the fledgling crimefighter, training him in the art of make-up, "coach(ing) him in the 'role' of Bruce Wayne" and deflecting suspicion away from Bruce's secret life. In the end, he told Bruce that "being your butler could be fulfilling. An actor convinces the audience of a reality. Every day I'll be convincing people you are less than you are."
"But you know, Alfred, as your father was to my father, you could never be just a butler."
"I also realize there's no shame in being a butler, to serve someone you care for," he thought to himself. "I will even act as if your nocturnal excursions don't bother me, that my heart does not cry with each wound. I'll know I am doing the good one man can do" (Batman Annual # 13).
John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.
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This piece is © 2002 by John Wells
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