Why We Love Alfred Pennyworth
With all of his snazzy butler style, stinging wit and grandfatherly charm, Alfred Pennyworth has cemented his status as one of the foremost beloved Batman characters of all time. Whether he’s offering up a cup of tea, stitching and bandaging wounds, dishing intel on how to deal with the current villain or just cooking dinner, Alfred is one of the most integral parts of Batman’s operation.
Unlike the majority of Batman’s closest allies, Alfred does not wear a costume and go out on patrol at nights; but rather, he keeps things running behind the scenes. Without Alfred, many of Bruce’s gadgets would be rendered useless. He keeps surveillance on Batman and the other members of the Bat-Family in order to provide the most up-to-the-minute intel on enemies, warn of upcoming threats, serve as a mediator between the various Bat-Family members, provide more accurate GPS instructions than any Garmin or Tom-Tom and issue charmingly snarky comments and advice. In addition, he also single-handedly maintains the day-to-day functions of the Bat-Cave; maintaining equipment and computers, stitching and displaying costumes and maintaining and running a fully functional medical facility which has administered treatment to almost every member of the Family at one point or another.
Although Alfred is not an actual Wayne by blood, he is an honorary member in all but legal name. He is the life-force and caretaker of Wayne Manor and the crucial element that separates the property from being a mausoleum. He is responsible for the upkeep of the plethora of rooms and corridors. Thanks to Alfred, even rooms that have fallen into disuse over the years are clean and functional. He is more than well versed regarding the history of the Wayne family and their various contributions to Gotham and knows bits and history regarding all of the various members who have called Wayne Manor home. He is knowledgable regarding all of the paintings and other pieces of art contained within its walls and knows which members acquired which pieces. When Bruce went on his long walkabout that would eventually lead to him becoming Batman, Alfred continued to roam and maintain the vast, lonely and forgotten corridors; preserving the legacy of Wayne Manor when not even Bruce cared to.
Maintaining the legacy of the Wayne family is the ongoing legacy of the Pennyworth family. Alfred’s father Jarvis had originally wanted Alfred to follow in his footsteps and become the Wayne caretaker; and although the Night of the Owls story arc would show readers that in light of the attacks by the Court of Owls Jarvis recanted this wish, Alfred was unable to obtain this knowledge. In his younger days, Alfred did not take solace in the career path intended for him by his father. Rather, he desired to do many other things, chief among them was acting. But, as evidence of his guilt regarding his strained relationship with his father, Alfred eventually decided to work for the Wayne family.
When he went to work for the Wayne family, he never expected to become the adoptive father (for all intents and purposes,) of young Bruce. Following the tragic deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Alfred became the closest thing to a parent that young Bruce had left. Taking pity on the child, Alfred was there for every twist and turn of Bruce’s life that would follow. He helped guide him through every hardship and was always there to lend a helping hand. When Bruce eventually became Batman, Alfred voiced his concerns but still supported Bruce during his endeavor because he knew how important it was to him. He was the first member of Batman’s team.
Bruce becoming Batman eventually lead to the formation of their close and familial group that came to be known collectively as the Bat-Family. Alfred is hands-down the cornerstone of this makeshift family. As it is in life, one generation gives way to another. Without Alfred’s guidance of an angry, young and reckless Bruce, he would have lacked the hope and compassion that would lead to him assuming the mantle of the Bat. Alfred’s compassion to Bruce as a child granted him the capacity to feel the same way toward others; taking pity on them and becoming a surrogate father to an array of sidekicks. As Bruce’s roster of sidekicks continued to grow, they all maintained one prominent feature: Alfred was the person they turned to for support and guidance. Even when various members feud and refuse to speak to one another, they all continue to love Alfred and appreciate everything that he has done for them. He is the one who prepares all of the holiday meals as well. He is the glue that holds them all together and does what every grandparent should: he helps them find the strength within themselves and lets them know that no matter how dire things become, they will always be loved.
Unfortunately for Alfred, the problem with being a part of a family is that when the people he loves are hurt, he feels their pain just as deeply; and in the Bat-Family, something bad is always happening to someone at one point or another. While it seemed unlikely in the days of his youth, Alfred has grown into a person with perhaps the strongest emotional fortitude in all of the Batman mythos. Whether it’s having to watch Bruce struggle with the death of a son or witnessing someone he loves become disabled, Alfred is always the boulder that those around him continue to cling to for support. He carries out his duties selflessly and without hesitation even if they cause him great pain; just maintaining the former bedrooms of the deceased members and dealing with the memories of those living and dead, remembering things long gone must eat away at his soul bit by bit. And yet, Alfred is content with his place in life and does not lament for the things in life that he never got around to doing and simply finds the joy in what he has done and continues to do. He is a shining beacon of personal growth, self-acceptance and strength.
And that, quite frankly, is why Alfred Pennyworth is the best damn butler to ever grace the pages of a comic book and the glow of the theatrical screen.