Cover art of Batman #686 (March 2009)
Art by Alex Ross
|First appearance||Batman #16 (April 1943)|
|Full name||Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth|
|Supporting character of|
Pennyworth is depicted as Bruce Wayne's loyal and tireless butler, legal guardian, best friend, aide-de-camp, and surrogate father figure following the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. As an ex-Special Air Service operative of honor and ethics with connections within the intelligence community, he has been called "Batman's batman". He also provides comic relief with his sarcastic and cynical attitude which often adds humor to dialogue with Batman. A vital part of the Batman mythos, Alfred was nominated for the Wizard Fan Award for Favorite Supporting Male Character in 1994.
In non-comics media, the character has been portrayed by noted actors William Austin, Eric Wilton, Michael Gough, Michael Caine, and Jeremy Irons on film and by Alan Napier, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Ian Abercrombie, David McCallum, and Sean Pertwee on television.
In Alfred Pennyworth's first appearance, he was overweight and clean-shaven; however, when the 1943 Batman serial was released, William Austin, the actor who played Alfred, was trim and sported a thin moustache. DC editors wanted the comic Alfred to resemble his cinematic counterpart, so in Detective Comics #83 (January 1944), Alfred vacationed at a health resort, where he slimmed down and grew a mustache. This look has remained with the character ever since, even surviving his apparent "death"[Comics 1] and resurrection.[Comics 2]
Alfred was originally conceived as a comedic foil for Batman and Robin. In most early tales, he made bungling attempts to be a detective on a par with the young masters. He was given a four-page feature of his own,[Comics 3] and the feature lasted thirteen issues, skipping Batman #35, with the last story in Batman #36.[Comics 4] The stories followed a simple formula, with Alfred solving a crime and catching the culprits entirely by accident. In later years, the comedic aspects of the character were downplayed.
The Pre-Crisis comics (the comics that were published by DC Comics between 1938 and 1984) established Alfred as a retired actor and intelligence agent who followed the deathbed wish of his dying father Jarvis Pennyworth to carry on the tradition of serving the Wayne family. To that end, Alfred introduced himself to Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson at Wayne Manor and insisted on becoming their valet. Although the pair did not want one, especially since they did not want to jeopardize their secret identities with a servant in the house, they did not have the heart to reject Alfred.
Initially, Alfred discovered their identities by accident; while fighting a burglar in Batman #16 (Alfred's first appearance), he accidentally hit a switch and opened a sliding panel leading to the Batcave. He is helpful to the duo, following them to a theatre where they are captured, bound and gagged by a criminal gang, and rescues them after Batman attracts his attention by knocking a rope down before the crooks return. This was revised in Batman #110 (September 1957); during his first night at Wayne Manor, Alfred awoke to moaning and followed the sound to the secret passage to the staircase leading to the Batcave and met his would-be employers in their superhero identities. As it turned out, the wounds were actually insignificant, but Alfred's care convinced the residents that their butler could be trusted. Since then, Alfred included the support staff duties of the Dynamic Duo on top of his regular tasks.
Ironically, Alfred's loyalty would lead him to become a member of Batman's rogue's gallery. While pushing Batman and Robin out of the way of a falling boulder, Alfred was seemingly killed in Detective #328 (June 1964). It was revealed in Detective #356 (October 1966) that he had been revived by a scientist named Brandon Crawford. His attempt at regeneration resulted in a dramatic change: Alfred awoke from his apparent death with pasty white skin with circular markings, superhuman powers, including telekinesis, and a desire to destroy Batman and Robin. Calling himself The Outsider, he indirectly battled the Dynamic Duo on a number of occasions, using others as his puppets – the Grasshopper Gang in Detective #334, Zatanna in Detective #336, and even the Batmobile itself in Detective #340 – and generally only appeared as a mocking voice over the radio. He did not physically appear in the comics until Detective #356, when he is bathed again in the rays of the regeneration machine during a struggle with Batman, and returns to normal, with no memory of his time as a supervillain. His time as the Outsider is collected in Showcase Presents: Batman Volumes 1 and 2.
Alfred was later reunited with his long-lost daughter, Julia Remarque, though this element was not included in Post-Crisis comics. Her mother was the DC war heroine Mademoiselle Marie, whom Alfred had met while working as an intelligence agent in occupied France during World War II.
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In the Post-Crisis comics continuity, Alfred has been the Wayne family valet all of Bruce's life and had helped his master establish his superhero career from the beginning. In addition, he was Bruce's legal guardian following the deaths of his parents. Alfred's history has been modified several times over the years, creating assorted versions. In one such version, Alfred was hired away from the British Royal Family by Bruce's parents, and he virtually raised Bruce after they were murdered.
Meanwhile, another version of Alfred's Post-Crisis life was slightly more closely linked to his pre-Crisis counterpart. In this version, Alfred is an actor on the English stage who agrees to become the Waynes' butler to honor his father's dying wish. At the time he begins working for the Waynes, Bruce is a young child. After several months, Alfred voices the desire to quit and return home to continue his life as an actor. However, these plans are momentarily forgotten when young Bruce returns home after getting into a fight with a school bully. Alfred teaches Bruce to handle the bully strategically, rather than using brute force. Following Alfred's advice, Bruce takes care of his bully problem. Upon returning home, Bruce requests that Alfred stay, and Alfred agrees without a second thought. Alfred raises Bruce after the Waynes are murdered.
Alfred later helps Bruce raise Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake, all of whom were adopted by Bruce Wayne and became his partner Robin. He also had close friendships with other members of the Bat-Clan including Barbara Gordon and Cassandra Cain. Alfred often acts as a father-figure to Bruce, and a grandfather to Dick, Jason, and Tim. He is also highly respected by those heroes who are aware of his existence, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the original Teen Titans.
Alfred has also been romantically linked to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, though his relationship with her never came to anything, particularly after she apparently allowed Stephanie Brown to die from neglect. He also developed feelings for Tim Drake's stepmother, but again, nothing came of it.
During the events of Knightquest, Alfred accompanies Wayne to England and becomes enraged when Wayne insists on endangering his own health while paraplegic. This was the culmination of several weeks of Wayne's self-destructive behavior, and when Wayne returns to Gotham City, Alfred remains in England, tendering his resignation. He spends some time vacationing in Antarctica and The Bahamas before returning to England. Dick Grayson tracks him down several months later and convinces him to return to Wayne Manor. In that story, it was revealed he had walked out of his own wedding years earlier.
His resourcefulness came to the fore in the No Man's Land storyline, especially in Legends of the Dark Knight #118. Batman is missing for weeks, leaving Alfred alone to watch his city for him. He uses his skills as an actor, storyteller, medic, and spy to survive and collect information on the recently destroyed society. Alfred even uses hand-to-hand combat in a rare one-panel fight sequence between him and a pair of slavers that ends with his rescue by Batman.
In Batman #677, agents of Batman's mysterious enemy the Black Glove attack and beat Alfred in front of Bruce and Jezebel Jet, severely injuring him. In the same issue, a reporter from The Gotham Gazette suggests to Commissioner Gordon that Alfred may be Bruce's biological father and that this may be a reason for the murder of Martha Wayne. Alfred later denies the entire story, agreeing with Bruce that it was a fabrication. In Batman and the Outsiders Special, Alfred is seen apologizing at the graves of Thomas and Martha Wayne at the loss of Bruce, commenting that he grieves as a parent, regarding Bruce as his son. Later, a secret panel in Alfred's room opens, the result of a fail-safe planted by Bruce in the event of his death. Bruce leaves his one final task and also gives him an emotional goodbye, telling Alfred he considered him as a father.
Alfred is left emotionally shattered, commenting more than once that, even if his biological fatherhood is a fabrication, in a deeper sense he actually was Bruce Wayne's father, having watched over him for years and feeling he failed him in the last moments.
After the event of Final Crisis, when Batman was apparently killed in action, Alfred finds himself with the task of raising Bruce's biological son Damian with Grayson. Batman: Battle for the Cowl sees Alfred allowing Damian Wayne to take on his first mission as Robin, giving Damian a Robin tunic and calling on Squire to assist the new Boy Wonder in finding Tim Drake, who went missing hunting down Jason Todd. Alfred also assists Grayson in his role as Gotham's new Dark Knight.
After discovering that the original Batman was actually lost in time after his battle with Darkseid, Alfred immediately seeks clues to his whereabouts. Eventually, Bruce finds his way to the present. After Batman successfully expands his mission globally with Batman Inc., Bruce assumes full responsibility as a father, and Alfred assists him in raising Damian.
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In The New 52 (a reboot of the DC universe), it is revealed that Alfred's father Jarvis Pennyworth was the butler of the Wayne family before Alfred when Bruce was still a child. Jarvis was blackmailed by the Court of Owls to set a trap for the pregnant Martha Wayne. Despite declining, the Court managed to cause a car accident that caused the child to be born prematurely and eventually to have died. Jarvis attempted to resign from his services and write a letter to his son in which he describes the manor as a cursed place, and tells Alfred that he should not begin his service under the Wayne family. However, Jarvis was unable to send it as he was murdered that night.[Comics 5]
During Batman: Eternal, Alfred is reunited with his long-absent daughter, Julia Pennyworth, an agent of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, when Batman finds her in Hong Kong and takes her back to Wayne Manor for medical treatment after she is stabbed with a samurai sword through the chest by a Chinese gang boss she was hunting. Although Julia is initially hostile to Alfred, feeling that he has wasted his life going from a soldier to tending to a fop like Bruce Wayne, after Alfred is attacked by Hush and infected with a fear toxin, she discovers the Batcave and takes on her father's role to coordinate the Bat-Family's efforts against their foes. Alfred is briefly transferred to Arkham before it is attacked as part of the conspiracy, but he manages to survive the explosion and trick Bane into helping him reach an emergency cave Batman had installed under Arkham, the cave's defenses knocking Bane out and allowing Alfred to call for help.
When Hush was briefly kept prisoner in the Batcave, he managed to break out of his cell and lock Alfred in it before sabotaging the Bat-Family's equipment via the Batcomputer as they fought various villains, including crashing the Batwing with Batman still in it. However, he was swiftly returned to captivity when Alfred escaped the cell and knocked Hush out, Alfred harshly informing Tommy that he was hardly going to be locked up in his own home.
During the Batman: Endgame arc, the Joker broke into the Batcave, and during a confrontation with Alfred, cut off Alfred's hand. Julia confirms to Bruce later in the issue that Alfred survived the encounter and is in a stable condition.[volume & issue needed] Following the death of Bruce Wayne, Julia says that with current medical technology, they can have Alfred's hand reattached without any complications. However Alfred refuses, stating that with Bruce dead, he no longer has need of it as he has no one left to serve.
Even with the loss of Bruce as Batman, Alfred still assists the Bat-Family in the Batcave along with Julia. After Bruce is discovered to be alive but with no memory of who he is or his life as Batman, Alfred tells Bruce everything that had happened in his life up to the point of the creation of Batman, but accepts Bruce's request not to learn any more. Alfred did this so that, after years of service to the people of Gotham and the world, Bruce could finally accept his reward of a life without pain and the burning to desire to be Batman, allowing his life as Bruce Wayne to finally begin. However, when the new villain Mr Bloom launches a mass attack that apparently kills Jim Gordon- the new Batman- the amnesic Bruce pieces together enough information to deduce that he was once Batman, and convinces Alfred to subject him to a machine that will theoretically download all of his memories as Batman into his mind.
Bruce's original plan was for the machine to be used to create a series of clones of himself that could be programmed to continue his mission, but although the process failed because simulations confirmed that the human mind could not handle Batman's trauma, Bruce comes through the process by having Alfred take him to the point of brain-death and then download his memories onto his blank brain. With his master restored, Alfred's hand is subsequently reattached, Bruce joking that they used a random hand from the reserves rather than keeping Alfred's hand on ice all this time.
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Following the 2016 DC Rebirth continuity reboot, Alfred appears in Detective Comics and the third volume of Batman.
In Frank Miller and Jim Lee's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Alfred is a tougher individual with a different backstory. Following Batman's assault on the corrupt Gotham City police, Alfred and Vicki Vale are caught in the devastating car wreckage Batman creates (not aware of their presence) and Vale is badly hurt. Alfred is seen, shirtless and muscled, applying a tourniquet and generally taking control of the situation. He is described as having been a medic in the Royal Air Force and as ex-British Secret Service.
In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, an elderly Alfred still acts as Bruce's butler, mourning Bruce's diminished social contacts while continuing to loyally serve his master even after Bruce becomes Batman once again after a ten-year retirement. At the story's conclusion, having set Wayne Manor to self-destruct to protect Bruce Wayne's full secrets after his faked death during his fight with Superman, Alfred dies of a stroke, his last thoughts being to consider how utterly proper it is that he should die as Wayne Manor ceases to exist.
In the sequel, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the Batcave computer has been programmed with an artificial intelligence named and apparently patterned after Alfred, to the point that it refers to Bruce as "Sir".
Alfred appears as a main character in Geoff Johns' and Gary Frank's Batman: Earth One. In this incarnation, Alfred was a member of the Royal Marines. Alfred met Thomas Wayne during a tour of duty in the Middle East and the two became good friends. During a battle, Alfred saved Thomas' life but lost his right leg in the process. It is also implied that both he and Thomas are keeping a traumatic secret. Discharged back to his home in London, Alfred received a gift from Thomas in the form of a very expensive prosthetic leg. He later traveled to Gotham City to visit his friend and found himself arriving on the night of a campaign party for Thomas' bid at the mayoral office. Afraid for his friend after hearing of the death threats on his life, Alfred tried to talk Thomas out of going to the movies with his wife and son, but Thomas refused to allow threats to keep him from enjoying his weekly movie night with Martha and Bruce.
Later that night, Alfred was called to the police station. Thomas and Martha had been killed by a mugger outside the theatre and Bruce had been orphaned. To Alfred's shock, he discovered that Thomas and Martha had named him Bruce's legal guardian some time ago. Unsure of himself, Alfred still made it his mission to look out for Bruce as he grew up.
When Bruce took on his costumed persona of Batman and began his war on crime, Alfred reluctantly took on the role of confidante and advisor, often telling Bruce to simply carry a gun instead of a belt full of untested gadgets. Alfred later saved Bruce's life by shooting Mayor Oswald Cobblepot.
Though Alfred introduced himself to the eight-year-old Bruce as his butler, it is obvious he never serves as a manservant in the story otherwise as Bruce's guardian and mentor. However, he is recruited by Thomas as his family's head of security prior to Thomas and his wife's deaths. He is also a skilled martial artist, and trains Bruce the combat skills he would eventually utilize as Batman. He has a daughter living in Seoul, South Korea with her mother, where Alfred had previously worked at a security firm, implying Julia Remarque's existence in this continuity.[Comics 6]
During the "Trinity War" event of The New 52, it is revealed that the leader of the Secret Society is Alfred from Earth-3 who serves Owlman of the Crime Syndicate of America. Flashbacks reveal that Alfred helped Thomas Wayne Jr. kill his parents and brother when he was a child, Owlman reflecting that Alfred was the only member of his family that he could control.
In the comic tie in to the video game, Alfred remained loyal to Bruce even when Bruce began the Insurgency and opposed Superman and had his secret identity exposed. When Superman invades the Batcave and breaks Batman's back, Alfred ingests the 5-U-93-R pill (which gives a person superhuman strength and durability) and subdues Superman, breaking his nose and beating him down. Alfred takes Bruce to the Tower of Fate, where Zatanna and Doctor Fate are hiding and will heal Bruce. For over seven months, Alfred oversees Bruce's slow recovery. When the Insurgency began their attack on Superman's Regime, Alfred provided a Kryptonite tipped bullet to Black Canary for her to face Superman.
In the following years, Alfred remained the caretaker of Wayne Manor despite Bruce's absence, and still maintained a close relationship with Damian Wayne despite Damian's decision to join Superman. He is visited by Superman in Year Five, the Kryptonian wanting to know the ever-elusive Batman's location. Alfred, unaware where Batman is and not willing to help nonetheless, ignores Superman. He is eventually killed by Victor Zsasz, whom Superman sent to get information on Batman's location. His death pushes Batman out of hiding to confront Zsasz and Damian wants revenge.
Alfred makes a very brief appearance in the 1997 Tangent Comics One Shot Green Lantern in a story revolving around the Tangent versions of King Faraday and Roy Raymond. In this version Alfred Pennyworth is the head of a publishing empire that owned "The House Of Mystery".
Alfred's name was later given officially as Alfred Beagle.[Comics 10] This name was subsequently given to an alternative version of the character from the world of Earth-Two, and Pennyworth became Alfred's accepted surname in the mainstream continuity.[Comics 11] Alfred has also used the alias "Thaddeus Crane", which is derived from his middle names.[Comics 12] His full name of Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth was depicted on his tombstone in Superman/Batman: Generations.
In the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne leaves the residue of his estate to Alfred, listing him in the will as Alfred J. Pennyworth.
A highly intelligent and resourceful man, Alfred runs the day-to-day operations of Wayne Manor and maintains much of the equipment of the Batcave beneath it. A former actor, he can use his acting and disguise skills to help Batman in the field when necessary, and is even capable of impersonating Bruce Wayne on the telephone convincingly, as well as giving Bruce various lessons that help him maintain his covers. He has also provided first aid up to and including suturing wounds and removing bullets, as well as occasional tactical support. He is also able to perform arthroscopy and other advanced medical procedures, thus limiting, if not eliminating, the need for hospital medical treatment even in the face of grievous injuries, helping to maintain Batman's secret identity by ensuring that Bruce Wayne has no need to visit hospitals for wounds inflicted as Batman. Nevertheless, Batman still requires professional medical treatment when Bane breaks his back (Batman: Knightfall) and Hush's machinations result in his suffering a skull fracture (Batman: Hush). On these occasions, Alfred admits that his own skills are inadequate for such medical procedures.
While not as skilled at martial arts as Bruce Wayne, Alfred is still nearly as resourceful. In one story in which he is kidnapped, he readily escapes and overcomes his captors without disturbing the cut of his suit. It was later mentioned that he had been kidnapped unsuccessfully 27 times (it should be noted, however, that these events take place in the Gotham Adventures comics, based on the animated adventures of Batman, and not within the standard DCU continuity).[Comics 16] During Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul, Ubu, Ra's al Ghul's musclebound bodyguard, attempts to use Alfred as a hostage, only to be disabled by a well timed sucker punch from Alfred.
Presumably due to his lack of superpowers, the advanced combat training Bruce's other associates have, and Alfred's age, Alfred is the only member of the "Batman Family" that Bruce does not mind using a firearm, in his case favoring a shotgun when dealing with direct attacks on his person.
Current issues of the various Batman comics seem to indicate that Alfred is a pioneer in and has also mastered several fields of rose breeding (even creating his own, the "Pennyworth Blue"), computer programming, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, nanotechnology, and biotechnology as he singlehandedly builds, programs, and maintains much of Batman's next-generational technology such as the Batcomputer.[Comics 17]