The man known as Alfred Pennyworth appeared Batman #16 clean shaven and a bit overweight. He was originally brought on as comic relief as he tried to learn how to be a detective and bungled through each case until he solved the case entirely by accident. He had a four page solo story in several issues until the comedy was taken down a notch. Of course, early on, comics were ‘funny books’ and had to have a level of fun for the kids, right? That’s the reason for the creation of some of Batman’s most outrageous villains.
It wasn’t until the 1943 15 part serial that William Austin starred as Alfred, the butler, and gave us the thin, mustached figure we’re used to today.
Early on, Alfred was written as a retired actor and intellegence agent who accepted the dying wish of his father to continue to serve the Waynes. Accidently finding the batcave, he began a life of aiding the dynamic duo fight crime; becoming an invaluable part of the team.
Alfred supposedly was killed in Detective #328 (June 1964), but as most comic characters do, he returned years later but, this time, revived with super powers and on the wrong side of the law. Oh, comic books, right? Of course, he was returned to his position of butler to become as big an icon as the caped crusader himself.
Since then, Alfed has been voiced and portayed by some great actors beginning like Alan Napier in the hit tv series of the sixties where, despite all of the campy humor, he kept his composure and only mildly played comic relief.
Batman: The animated series stands out next with Clive Revill voicing the iconic bulter until having to hand over the reins to Efrem Zimbalist, Jr who made the character.
In the debut movie Batman, Michael Gough portrayed Alfred to all three Batmen playing not only the doting butler, but father figure until nearly dying in Batman & Robin. In fact, Gough’s performance was the only redeeming quality in the closing chapter of the Schumacher series.
His performance set the bar; leading Nolan to go for star power in the impeccable Michael Caine. Caine filled the shoes well adding more personality to the legend.
And, finally, we have the new television series Gotham and a younger Alfred Pennyworth. He finds himself alone with a young man at the verge of finding himself in the world and having to do so with his parents. This rendition of Alfred is played by Sean Pertwee, son of Doctor Who legend, John Pertwee. I have read some scathing reviews of his performance as an ‘angry young man’ and Bruce as a ‘Goth’ (Do they even know a ‘Goth’ when they see them?) I think they mean EMO for Bruce and, if that is the case, they fail to take into consideration he has just lost his parents. As for Pertwee’s performance as Alfred, I believe it is riveting and real. His anger comes for deep inside a fear for the life of ‘Master Bruce’. He has promised to let the boy go his own way all the time knowing how dangerous that is. This is the most relate-able Alfred I have ever seen on any screen and in any form. And I watched the original 60s Batman till now. There have been some comics that have dug deeper mind you. But for an actor, Sean Pertwee is spot on.
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