Fans love the character of Alfred Pennyworth, but is his own prequel story something that’s necessary? Let’s look at the arguments for and against.
Viewers may have been scratching their heads at the announcement of an Alfred Pennyworth origin series, but after it premiered on EPIX in 2019, they may be looking at Pennyworth in a different light. Set in an alternate version of the Bat-verse in ’60s London, it showcased a young and heroic Alfred as he took on shadow societies, fascists, and his own version of Batman’s “Rogue Gallery”. Working alongside Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane, fans finally got to see how he developed the wide range of skills he would eventually put to good use alongside the Caped Crusader.
Not everyone was charmed, and there remain skeptics who feel that not only is an Alfred origin story unnecessary, it’s superfluous in an already overcrowded landscape of Batman-inspired films and television series. Find out below whether there’s a case for following Alfred’s idealistic adventures, or if he shouldn’t remain independent of the Batman mythos.
ISN’T A BAD IDEA: IT SHOWS BRUCE WAYNE’S PARENTS BEFORE THEY WERE MARRIED
One of the joys of watching a prequel about Alfred’s origins is that it also includes the personal history of Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane, who get to be their own individual characters apart from the couple (and the son) they’re known for.
Fans didn’t know that Alfred would end up being present for the fledgling days of their unorthodox courtship, but having him there definitely adds a layer of complexity to the loyalty that he displays to the Wayne family decades later.
UNNECESSARY: FANS AREN’T INTERESTED IN AN ORIGIN STORY
For some Batman fans, an Alfred origin story isn’t necessary. They’re happy for him to occupy a place adjacent to Batman as his mentor, friend, and side-kick in his later years. How he became Batman’s trusted ally is of no consequence because it doesn’t affect their enjoyment of Batman’s story.
To them, an origin story well before Bruce Wayne is even born doesn’t promise any of the familiar components they’ve come to expect from a superhero narrative.
ISN’T A BAD IDEA: IT SHOWS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ALFRED AND THOMAS WAYNE
One of the most important relationships in the Batman canon exists between Batman and Alfred, but Pennyworth provides the chance for a strong foundation of trust, integrity, and loyalty to exist between Alfred and Thomas Wayne.
The two men have become more than simply employer and employee – they have become partners, teammates, and most importantly friends. Thomas Wayne (from the wealthy elite) treating Alfred (from the working class) like his equal is something that may be an important reason why Alfred decides to accept the butler position for the Wayne family.
UNNECESSARY: IT CONTRADICTS EXISTING CANON
In Gotham, created by the Pennyworth showrunners, Alfred already explained to a young Bruce Wayne how he met his father, and that story already has differed from the introduction between Alfred and Thomas viewers see in Pennyworth.
Not only that but, Thomas Wayne has been made a financial analyst/CIA agent, not a doctor, nor does he appear to be in any way a man of conviction, who desires to take on the corruption of Gotham City.
ISN’T A BAD IDEA: HOW ALFRED’S SKILLS ARE DEVELOPED
It was purportedly Michael Caine’s idea to push Alfred’s SAS background in The Dark Knight trilogy, and Jack Bannon’s Alfred is every bit the man of action that Caine’s Alfred appeared to be. To that end, he may even connect to the version of Alfred seen in Gotham, who also exhibited exemplary combat training.
Aside from showing his combat skills from years in the British special forces, the series will also have to show how Alfred became the consummate butler for the Wayne family. Other incarnations of the character have included lengthy years of training in hospitality, so it will be interesting to see how he acquires all of his culinary prowess, domestic knowledge, and decorum.
UNNECESSARY: BATMAN FATIGUE
Even if Pennyworth doesn’t end up showcasing any aspect of the Batman canon beyond references to Gotham City, Thomas Wayne, and Wayne Enterprises, the fact that it exists concurrently with other Batman properties may give even the truest of fans “Batman fatigue”.
Titans is currently on DC Universe following the adventures of Robin and the Teen Titans, The Batman is in production focusing on his early years as the Caped Crusader, and it will soon have a spin-off on HBO Max entitled Gotham PD, so fans may not feel the need to get invested in another story in the Bat-verse.
ISN’T A BAD IDEA: IT GIVES ALFRED A RICH BACKSTORY
Since most iterations of Alfred have depicted him as an older man, allowing fans to see him as a young and dashing hero is a refreshing change of pace. His technical prowess, combat skills, and apt intellect have earned him the title “Batman’s batman” for a reason.
Pennyworth showcases his first love, the formation of his own private security firm, his family life, as well as his problems confronting elements of PTSD from his time in the British special forces. The complex backstory makes his eventual decision to be the Wayne family butler much more intriguing.
UNNECESSARY: THERE’S NO BATMAN
For dyed-in-the-cowl Batman fans, a series that doesn’t have any reference to Batman but is set in the Bat-verse isn’t appealing. To them, it ceases to become a superhero show and becomes a series about the ordinary people set in a universe with superheroes, and therefore lacks any distinction from series not tied to them.
Without Batman, nothing prevents Pennyworth from being an aesthetically pleasing, fun spy caper series a la the James Bond franchise, the Austin Powers franchise, or The Avengers television series.
ISN’T A BAD IDEA: IT STANDS ALONE FROM THE BATMAN MYTHOS
For those fans unperturbed by the lack of Batman in Pennyworth, they’ll relish the fact that it features characters whose narratives are often inextricably tied to his, and therefore destined to seem like less fully realized individuals.
Without the long shadow cast by the Dark Knight’s presence, the series can take more creative license and find its own identity. By being set in an alternate universe, a breadth of possibilities opens up not just for Alfred Pennyworth but every character involved.
UNNECESSARY: IT’S BEEN COVERED ELSEWHERE
Some viewers will find little of interest in an origin story like Pennyworth because it won’t tread any new ground. They’ll find that the backstory laid out for Alfred in Batman comics like the New 52 issues is more than adequate.
For them, it’s enough to know he was born Alfred Beagle, he joined the British army when he came of age, and worked for both MI5 and other organizations until he was forced to retire and flee to America.
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