“Master Bruce, Some people just want to see the world Burn”
Alfred Pennyworth to Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight” referring to The Joker
The name of Alfred Pennyworth might not ring a bell in your mind but the name “Alfred” has been mentioned umpteen no. of times in the Batman film and TV franchise. Experts and Bat-Enthusiasts have long ignored the importance of Alfred and his indelible impact on Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Batman unlike other superheroes deploys and borrows the wit and intelligence of trusted lieutenants and advisors like Lucius Fox (CEO Of Wayne Enterprises at some point given the unavailability of Wayne due to his extra curricular activities schedule), Commissioner Jim Gordon and more. To identify Alfred amongst these luminaries might be difficult for some given his humble designation on the surface. To the real Batman fans, he is the trusted confidante, keeper of Gotham’s biggest secrets and also the CEO of the Wayne Manor and Batcave. To fully realize his importance and his impact on the Bat Pantheon, one has to look into his origins. Created by Batman authors Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Alfred’s first appearance can be traced to 1943 in the comic book Batman #16.
THE NEED FOR ALFRED IN THE BATMAN/DC PANTHEON
Most of Batman films/ animated TV shows portray Bruce as a lonely kid who lost his parents at an early age and lives in a large mansion all alone.Long before Bruce’s initiation in the League of Shadows (as shown in The Dark Knight) , Alfred has been a sounding board, guardian and parent to Bruce Wayne/Batman. He also had access to which none of the characters in the Bat pantheon enjoy. In the hardware department, he manages the upkeep of Batman’s gadgets and crime fighting toys , on the personal front Alfred also consults Bruce on his personal relationships on a regular basis. In the recent blockbuster Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Alfred takes a peculiar interest in Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman when she has her first encounter with Bruce in a party. On a wider scale , Bruce in his adulthood too has a very small group of friends. This is also the beauty of the Batman character as he is in turmoil mentally with the all the wrongs in Gotham City and the rest of the world , He prefers to fight these demons and personal issues in his own way
EVOLUTION FROM THE 1960’s to present
Alan Napier was the first major actor to come on the global scene by playing Alfred to Adam West as Batman in the famed 1960’s T.V. Show. He might be referred to as the Archetype of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves , the faithful butler who gives counsel and coffee to his master from time to time. More of a ‘yes’man but also the one who watches out for Bruce.
From here on Michael Gough took on the mantle in the 1989 Tim Burton version of Batman. Gough was a departure from Napier as he bought great screen presence as a moral guardian who would stop his master if he finds anything wrong. Gough also has the unique record of serving 3 Batmen in his acting career, ie Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. He is still considered as the most visible actor for this famed character.
THE CHRISTOPHER NOLAN- MICHAEL CAINE ERA OF ALFRED
In the coming years , Alfred underwent a whole makeover under the guidance of Director Christopher Nolan in the production of “The Dark Knight Trilogy”. By recruiting the legendary Michael Caine as Alfred, Nolan bought a new dimension to Alfred’s character. For one, Caine’s screen presence is formidable and brings his weight as a superstar, but in Nolan’s version of Alfred, he is largely seen as a spiritual Godfather to Bruce. Right in Batman Begins where Bruce is undergoing an identity crisis and is initiated in Ra’s Al Ghul’s The League Of Shadows , Alfred guides him to the education he needs to fight crime and also explains why needs to fight his inner demons. In “The Dark Knight “, More Screen time and more conversations of personal issues is what is the hallmark of Alfred’s character in Batman films now. Even in the latest outing of Dawn Of Justice, Alfred shines out as the tech savvy ally and even without a typical butler wardrobe. Jeremy Irons by no means conveys a sidekick or a trusted lieutenant but more like eyes and years to Bruce Wayne.
The sense of indispensability of Alfred is visible even in the animated film “The Dark Knight Returns”. It shows him dying of a stroke in his last years in the Wayne Manor. Many comics speak of his allegiance with the Wayne family. In a nutshell, serving the Waynes and the Batman is his only given job till date..
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER COMIC BOOK PEERS
There have been several comparisons of Alfred with his peers like Jarvis, the A.I. support system of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Keto the affable sidekick of The Green Hornet. Etc. Both these characters are out there mostly on the streets fighting injustice with their Alfred is pretty much different most of these characters as deep within Alfred is a homely man, a crime fighter who is happy doing household chores and also looks after the caped crusader’s business interests.
ALFRED’S INTEREST IN BRUCE WAYNE’S WOMEN
One of the regular features of Alfred’s work is facilitating communication between Bruce and his female counterparts and love interests. Notably in “The DARK KNIGHT “…..Alfred opens a personal communiqué written by Rachel Dawes (played brilliantly by Maggie Gyllenhall) in her final moments to Bruce. In addition, he is also the first to welcome and charm Vicki Vale, Rachel Dawes, Selina Kyle (as a waitress in disguise). Bruce’s loneliness needs proper counsel so that he doesn’t lose his own focus and Alfred becomes that internal compass for him who keeps him on track.
ALFRED PENNYWORTH’S FUTURE
Over 18 actors have essayed the role of Alfred in animated, Television, Films , Games since 1968. Jeremy Irons is the latest one to don the hat and with over 4 Justice League films in the pipeline , Alfred’s work is far from over. His substantial presence in mega hit video game “Injustice: Gods Amongst Us “ is a testament to that fact.
Without him it will be not possible to maintain the strategic equilibrium in Gotham City and its residents.