Respect the Butler: History of Alfred Pennyworth

We soldier on undaunted, you and I, Master Bruce. And if I may say so, sir… I couldn’t beg, borrow or steal a finer way to live my life. 

Alfred Pennyworth, Batman: The Return

Alfred Pennyworth, the astute, prim and proper butler to Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. The Batman. When most comic book heroes come home after a long night of crime fighting, they find their family or partner to comfort them when weary. When Batman stumbles into the Batcave however, there is no gentle touch of a loved one, there is no humorous gaggle of family to lift his spirits. Instead, Bruce Wayne comes home to Alfred Pennyworth, insisting he eat his dinner, get a good nights rest, and ultimately when these are rebuffed, give a sarcastic remark. Alfred is Bruce Wayne’s oldest friend and confidant. He practically raised him after Bruce’s parents’ murder and has been the savior of Batman time and time again with his medical expertise, skill with a rifle, and the sage advice to keep him going. Perhaps nobody cares about Bruce more than Alfred does.

With the Alfred prequel TV series that premiered yesterday, this marks nearly the sixth live action interpretation of the character. We’ve run the gamut from the old gentleman butler, to the cockney war veteran. With such a rich background in the comics, lets take a look at the history of Alfred, some of his defining characteristics and some fun moments from the comics.

Publication History

Alfred Pennyworth was created by Don Cameron and Bob Kane for Batman #16 (1943). Initially Alfred was an overweight and clean-shaven man who was created as sort of as a comedic contrast to Batman and Robin. He would solve some crimes of his own, almost always by accident. In the 1940s Batman serial, William Austin was cast as Alfred and rather than fit the comic book mold, he was trim and mustached. Later the comic was changed to reflect Austin’s portrayal of the character as a stoic and bemused butler at Batman’s side. Since that time, he has gained numerous plot elements to his backstory, but has always remained the same. Mustache, balding, slim, coat-tail clad, and often with a silver tray and a white cloth.

Origins of the Butler

As a young man Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth (born Alfred Beagle) was a member of the British Guard. During his service he became proficient at the use of firearms and medical care. After his service he pursued his passion for acting; later using this skill to teach MI5 agents the skill of subterfuge through stagecraft. In previous continuity it is Alfred’s father, Jarvis, who urges him to take up the mantle of butler at the Wayne household while on his deathbed.

In the New 52/Rebirth continuity it was retconned that while acting on the stage, his father, Jarvis Pennyworth, was the butler at Wayne Manor. Thomas and Martha Wayne trusted Jarvis completely. Jarvis was blackmailed by the Court of Owls to murder the Waynes. He declined, but the Court successfully caused a car accident involving the Waynes which caused a pregnant Martha to miscarry (she would give birth to Bruce Wayne years later). Jarvis wrote to his son that the Wayne household was cursed, and to decline following in his footsteps as butler. Jarvis was murdered before the letter could be sent.

Guardian of the Bat

Regardless of either timeline, Alfred became the butler of the Waynes as Bruce was just a little boy. When Bruce’s parents were killed, Alfred became the legal guardian of Bruce as outlined in Thomas Wayne’s will. When Bruce went missing for years Alfred took care of the manor and made sure it was ready if Bruce should ever return. Finally when Bruce did return with aspirations to become a masked vigilante, Alfred reluctantly agreed to help Bruce become Batman. With that, Alfred has spent many nights nursing Bruce back to health, keeping him well nourished and always putting away the cape and cowl when Bruce was too tired to do so himself.

Penny One and Penny Two

During the events of Batman: Eternal, Alfred was reunited with his estranged daughter Julia who was working for the British government in the Special Reconnaissance Regiment. Bruce Wayne encountered her in Hong Kong and, after she was injured, took her to Gotham. She was eager to leave and held resentment towards Alfred for not being there for her earlier in life, and was disgusted that he was just a butler to a rich billionaire. Later she discovered the Batcave and, while Alfred was injured by Hush, she acted in Alfred’s capacity as the eyes in the sky for Batman. Later Bruce gave them distinguishing names such as Penny One (for Alfred) and Penny Two (for Julia).

Alfred’s Legacy

Alfred has become the archetype of the loyal butler. Whether his is an old army buddy of Thomas Wayne (Batman: Earth One) or the balding tweedly mustachioed butler of the Batman serial that started the standard look, audiences have always been on board with Alfred and his persevering loyalty. He truly loves Bruce even when Bruce hates himself, and no matter what, has always and will always be there for his master (even when it’s well above his pay-grade and out of the job description). So I look forward to seeing how this prequel series will pan out, as well as the version we’ll get in Matt Reeve’s The Batman in 2021.

Best Moments:

Suggested Reading:

  • Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #59-61
  • Batman: Earth One
  • Nightwing: Alfred’s Return
  • Batman: Gotham Adventures #16
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #118
  • Batman: Night of the Owls
  • Injustice

What are your favorite Alfred moments? Let us know in the comments below!

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