Everybody knows and loves the Dark Knight – high above Gotham, he’s the one swooping around in a black cape, fighting crime and showing off his epic gadgetry on a nightly basis. But when Batman heads home for the evening, who is there waiting for him? The steadfast Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, confidante, father figure, and occasional medic to the Bat Family.
He’s appeared in many different adaptations over the years, having starred alongside the Caped crusader in live-action, animation, even video games. Yet somehow, many people still see this loyal figure as little more than a useful sidekick in a penguin suit, even though he is so much more than that. In honor of the best butler in comics, here are fifteen things you probably didn’t know about Mr. Pennyworth.
15 His Name Used To Be Alfred Beagle
Alfred Pennyworth’s name is well known these days, but when the character first appeared, he did so with a different surname: the Golden Age version was actually named Alfred Beagle. This name was changed when the comic's creators altered the appearance of the character in the 1940s, becoming Pennyworth (presumably to better suit the new character’s appearance).
The original Beagle didn’t disappear entirely, though. Alfred’s surname remained Beagle for the Earth-2 adventures of Batman, a nod to his origins. His name changed again after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which effectively hit the reset button on the DC Universe. In the new continuity, Alfred’s surname is still Pennyworth, but he was born Alfred Beagle. When he moved to the US, he adopted a new identity, which involved the change of name. This new backstory combines the original and later names, but retains the more popular Pennyworth for common use. His current full name is Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth – although that’s a bit of a mouthful, so we rarely hear his middle names used.
14 His Appearance Was Changed To Match His Live-Action Counterpart
Most of the time, live-action adaptations are created to match their comic origins, but in some cases it works the other way around (*cough Nick Fury*). Alfred was one of these cases, as he was given a completely new look after a film serial that aired in 1943. Prior to this, Alfred was a fat, bumbling amateur detective. He wore a deerstalker hat and smoked a pipe (a la Sherlock Holmes) and although his intentions were good, his efforts usually hampered Batman more than they helped him.
But when Batman made his first live-action appearance, his butler was played by William Austin – a tall, thin man with a small moustache and an English accent. This was a huge departure from the look of the original character, but fans (and the creators) loved Austin’s take so much that they changed Alfred to match it. The useless, comedic figure was gone, and the dignified and capable butler that we know and love was born – moustache and all.
13 He Has Multiple Backstories
Most comic book characters who have been around for decades have had their origins retconned once or twice, and Alfred is no exception. Alfred has more than most, though, as he started out with two different origin stories during the Golden Age – a time where short-term storytelling was considered far more important than long-term continuity.
Alfred started out as a retired spy who came to live with the Waynes as their butler. In some stories, this happened during Bruce’s childhood, while in others he arrived after Bruce was Batman and when Dick Grayson was also living at the manor. During the Silver Age, Alfred was an ex-soldier who fought in World War II, and also had a history as an actor before he became a butler to the Waynes. Other stories over the years have also placed him as an ex-butler to the Royal Family, having come from a long line of butlers. Currently, he is an ex-spy who spent time as an actor before becoming a butler to fulfill his dying father’s wishes – an amalgamation of previous origin stories.
12 He's Been Trained By The British Army
In every major version (barring the very early fat detective), Alfred has training that no one would expect from the average butler. While he of course understands the finer points of etiquette, he also knows how to fight and act as makeshift surgeon to Bruce Wayne and the Bat Family. This is explained with a history in the armed forces – sometimes in the army, and sometimes in the Secret Service as a spy.
In fact, his time fighting for his country has included time with multiple branches of the Forces over the years. His surgical training comes from a stint as a medic for the Royal Air Force, and he has also been connected to the Royal Marines, the British Guard and the British Army’s Special Air Service. (Generally not all at once, of course – these references are connected to various versions of the character at different times in his history.) This history explains his familiarity with firearms, wounds, and hand-to-hand combat, and it also goes a long way towards explaining how Alfred is capable of doing everything he does for Batman.
11 He's One Of The Only Members Of The Bat Family To Use Firearms
His training with the army (or Secret Service, or Marines, or whichever branch of the armed forces he has worked for) explains why Alfred is so comfortable with firearms – he’s been using them for years. He's also continued his training as the Wayne butler, and is often packing some real heat. In fact, he’s one of the few members of the Bat Family to use firearms (including a handy-dandy shotgun).
He is the only one who Batman allows to own and keep firearms in the mansion. While much of this comes from his background, part of the reason for his proclivity for guns is pure practicality. Although Alfred is surprisingly fit, he’s not as young as he used to be, nor does he have a special suit or utility belt. Guns are a useful tool for Alfred to use to protect himself and those under his care when he can’t throw down like a superhero.
10 He’s Been An Actor And Make-up Artist
Although Alfred’s more violent job history gives him many of the skills he uses as Batman’s butler, he has had other jobs over the years that also help him in his current line of work. He spent several years as an actor and make-up artist after leaving the armed forces and before coming to the States – a career choice that his mother approved of, but that his father hated.
This may seem like a strange pursuit for an ex-military man and butler, but it comes in quite handy when fighting crime in Gotham. His experience with make-up and costuming helps him create disguises and repair various Batsuits that are damaged in the field. His experience on the stage also helps him in convincingly telling the various lies he has had to spin over the years, and even helps him do a very convincing Bruce Wayne impression on the phone from time to time.
9 He Breeds Roses (Among Other Hobbies)
With so much time spent acting as butler to Bruce Wayne and general helper/medic/costumer/sidekick to Batman, it’s hard to imagine that Alfred has time for hobbies. However, he has been revealed to enjoy several leisure activities over the years. Some straddle the line between hobbies and training – like his horseback riding, sword-fighting, computer programming, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering, biotech research and development and the maintenance of Batman’s various gadgets, machines and experiments.
Others, however, are almost purely for pleasure. Such as his penchant for gardening. Alfred is an accomplished horticulturalist, and grows and breeds roses in the greenhouses at Wayne Manor. He has even created his own breed of Rose – the Pennyworth Blue. He also reads fiction in his spare time, including the Artemis Fowl novels. Clearly, Alfred is the master of time-management, as he manages to combine his duties and hobbies seamlessly, and still have time to keep his suit perfectly pressed.
8 He Feeds The Wayne Bats
As if all that wasn’t enough, Alfred doesn’t just take care of the members of the human Bat Family. He also takes careful care of the actual bats that can be found under Wayne Manor. Although the Batcave (that underground cavern where Batman keeps his various vehicles, tech, and costumes) has gone through various incarnations over the years, a majority of them have involved a literal cave with literal bats in it. Often, the bats are confined to the more rustic areas (for practical and hygenic reasons, we assume), but they are still very much a part of the Wayne Manor grounds, so Alfred takes care of them.
Although they would presumably survive on their own (they are wild bats, after all), Alfred maintains and cleans the cave system, and even puts out food for them. Really delicious food, too, from the sounds of it. According to Alfred, the bats prefer “free-range corn-fed chicken goujons, gently fried in olive oil. With chives, sir.”.
7 He's Been Kidnapped Multiple Times
This shouldn’t be too surprising, given his proximity to the Bat Family and his outward appearance as a helpless older man, but Alfred has been kidnapped many, many times over the years. In The New Adventures of Batman, it was revealed that he has been kidnapped twenty-seven times – an absolutely huge number that doesn’t include attempted kidnappings and other attacks that he has faced over the years. This number may also include kidnappings that took place before he was a butler to Bruce, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
He’s not too concerned about it, either. He doesn’t even need Batman’s help with these various kidnapping attempts – his past with the military makes Alfred more than capable of handling his kidnappers solo. We’ve even seen him be kidnapped in the comics, only to easily defeat the people holding him (or attempting to hold him) and escape without so much as a stain on his carefully-pressed suit.
6 He's A Playable Character In Arkham Knight
Gamers who are fans of the Bat's butler can actually play as Alfred in the 2015 video game Batman: Arkham Knight. A mod called “Be The Butler” allows players to take on the persona of Alfred rather than Batman for a twist on the usual gameplay. Be The Butler only really changes the appearance of the central figure – Alfred speaks with the voice of the Bat, and other characters in the game call him “Bruce”, so it’s not a seamless change. His move set is also much more limited than the standard Batman move set. As Alfred, players are unable to counter-attack, or use environmental or dual takedowns.
However, this is a mod that exists primarily for the fun of it, and seeing Alfred do some serious ass-kicking is definitely enjoyable. He appears in a classic tux and wire-rimmed glasses, and (of course) manages to stay looking pressed and proper no matter what.
5 He Has A Romantic History With Leslie Thompkins
Dr. Leslie Thompkins is a doctor working in Gotham’s slums, one who knows Bruce Wayne’s secret identity as Batman. Also a friend of Catwoman's, she doesn’t approve of superhero antics or of Batman training young superheroes, as she sees the violence on the streets of Gotham firsthand. Still, she is close to the Caped Crusader, and has been since his childhood.
When young Bruce lost his parents, it was Leslie who comforted him, and who assisted Alfred with becoming his legal guardian. She acts as a godparent, and a mother-figure to balance out Alfred’s father-figure role in Bruce’s life. It should be no surprise, then, that Leslie and Alfred are romantically linked – in many ways, they are Bruce Wayne’s pseudo-parents. Although the two keep their relationship very private, it’s an accepted fact within the Bat Family, and they have shown their affection for each other many times over the years (despite not openly admitting to the relationship).
4 He Has A Daughter
Although Alfred is a father-figure to Bruce (and many other members of the Bat Family), he is also a real father outside of the superhero realm. His daughter, Julia Remarque, has been a very minor character in the comic books (both pre and post-Crisis). Originally, she was revealed to have been the result of an affair that Alfred had while serving with the British Forces in France during World War II. Her mother was Mademoiselle Marie, a member of the French resistance, and Julia was raised by her mother’s friend Jacques, with Alfred unaware of her existence.
Later, she appeared in Batman Eternal as a resentful girl with abandonment issues, angry that her long-lost father is just a butler to a rich playboy (as far as she knows). Alfred also has a brother, Wilfred Pennyworth, who is an actor, a sister, Margaret Wilson, and two nieces. Daphne Pennyworth is Wilfred’s daughter (and also an actor), while Barbara Wilson is the best-known member of Alfred’s family, as she took on the mantle of Batgirl for a time.
3 He's Had Superpowers In The Past
Although Alfred is one of the few members of the Bat Family without a superhero alter-ego, he did gain superpowers at one point during the Silver Age… and he used them for evil!
Alfred was actually killed off in a storyline that saw him sacrifice himself to save Batman and Robin – he pushed them out of the path of a falling boulder set to kill them, and was crushed in the process. However, in the grand comic book tradition, he was resurrected! A scientist named Dr. Brandon Crawford built a ‘regeneration machine’ that he used on the butler. The machine brought him back to life, but gave him superpowers and a new personality, turning Alfred into The Outsider, a pale figure with rock-like skin and telekinetic powers.
The Outsider wanted to kill Batman and Robin, but when they fought, Batman was able to figure out that they were actually squaring off against Alfred, and subsequently pushed him back into the regeneration machine, which inexplicably reversed the powers and blood-lust, leaving Alfred alive but back to his usual self.
2 He's Worn The Batsuit (More Than Once)
Bruce Wayne wouldn’t let just anyone don the cowl and impersonate him as Batman, but he trusts Alfred with his life – and his suit. Alfred first wore the Batsuit as a disguise in the 1960s live-action Batman TV series, as part of a convoluted plot against the Archer. His disguise was completed with a small microphone that was created to make Alfred’s voice sound like Bruce’s… and to hide his moustache, which the Bat-suit didn’t cover!
In Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Alfred put on the suit once again to help distract Lex Luthor in his Power Armor until the real Batman was able to come to the rescue. Most recently, Alfred was in the Batsuit once again in Batman: Rebirth, where he hopped behind the wheel of the Batmobile to help Batman out. With his wide-ranging abilities and devotion to Bruce Wayne, it’s almost more surprising that Alfred hasn’t put on the Batsuit more often!
1 He Beat Up Superman (In The Injustice Universe)
Few characters in the DC Universe can lay claim to having taken down the Son of Kyrpton, but Alfred Pennyworth is one of them…. At least, he is in the Injustice: Gods Among Us comics. In this alternate universe based on the fighting game of the same name, Superman and Batman are at odds when Superman decides to use his powers to take over the world (for its own good, of course). The two battle it out, and Superman breaks Batman’s back, crippling him. Alfred, seeing this, takes a nanotech pill that gives him super-strength and invulnerability… before beating Superman to a pulp.
He punches Superman again and again before wiping himself clean, picking up Bruce, and carrying him away (enlisting Zatanna’s help to transport him to another realm, far out of Superman’s reach). It’s a phenomenally brutal moment as Alfred gives in to absolute violence to protect his family, and while he may not have nanotech to give him superpowers in the primary DC Universe, he is just as passionate about his duty to Batman.
Do you know of any other fun Alfred-based factoids Batman fans should know? Sound off in the comments.