Alfred Pennyworth may be best known as Bruce Wayne's butler but the Batman comics give the iconic character a fascinating origin story that could form part of the forthcoming Pennyworth series. A key component of the Batman franchise, Alfred has been portrayed on the big screen by acting greats such as Michael Caine, Jeremy Irons and Michael Gough, but these interpretations almost exclusively focus on Alfred's paternal relationship with Bruce Wayne and the various ways in which the manservant helps his employer take down the undesirables of Gotham City.
Though Alfred's past in the military and secret service is sometimes mentioned, this side of the character isn't traditionally shown on screen, however in Fox's Batman prequel series, Gotham, Sean Pertwee's incarnation of Alfred offered a tougher, combat-ready, rough-around-the-edges version of the butler. Although Gotham is now on its final season, it appears that the exploration into Alfred Pennyworth's younger days as a hero in his own right is just beginning.
Most significantly, an Alfred solo series called Pennyworth is in the works starring Jack Bannon and promises to regale the butler's younger years serving Queen and country. Additionally, the Joaquin Phoenix-fronted Joker movie has cast its slightly older Alfred, Douglas Hodge. While plot details of both projects currently remain under wraps, Alfred has a comic origin story that could make for prime source material.
Alfred's Surprising Origin Story In Batman Comics
In Detective Comics #806 and 807, released in 2005, a two-part Alfred story called Regnum Defende: An Alfred Pennyworth Tale was published that takes place during the Cold War. The story finds Alfred teaching stagecraft techniques to rookie spies at MI5, having left the military and taken up acting. Then going by the name of Alfred Beagle, he is recruited by MI7 and asked to infiltrate a communist symposium of supervillains that includes Vandal Savage, Gudra the Valkyrie and an assortment of short-lived DC baddies. Alfred's mission is to protect an ex-Nazi called Parsifal, which he does so at the cost of blowing his cover. After Alfred makes his escape, he discovers that Parsifal possessed an ability which negated the superpowers of those around him and therefore needed to be kept alive so that another MI7 operative could assassinate a powerful villain called Red Scare, who was also at the meeting.
While the main plot of Regnum Defende is certainly interesting enough, the story also makes two sizeable contributions to wider Batman canon. Firstly, when Alfred returns home from his infiltration mission, he decides to keep a low profile by taking up the family tradition of working as a butler and the comic's final panel sees Alfred arriving on the doorstep of a certain Mr. and Mrs. Wayne.
Secondly, the story explains the origin of the Pennyworth name. Prior to his mission, Alfred is handed a small coin, a penny, that contains a reel of razor wire which a captured Alfred ultimately uses to free himself. However, when Alfred is first handed the James Bond-style coin, he's told that the penny will be "the worth of your life" should Alfred be caught. The implication here is that, when the time comes for Alfred to adopt a new identity, he chooses something that references the very item that led to his rescue.
Where You'll See Alfred's Origin On TV (And In Movies)
As arguably the definitive Alfred origin story, Regnum Defende is certainly something that could be adapted in Pennyworth. Given that the comic leads directly to Alfred becoming Thomas Wayne's butler, however, some of it is material that is perhaps most likely to feature in a season finale. If Pennyworth is seeking to delve into Alfred's early years then this would undoubtedly be a logical story to visit, or at least take elements from, and Alfred's dealings with the British Secret Service could potentially tie into the show's rumored Thomas Wayne-capture plot.
Joker's slightly older iteration of Alfred suggests that it's highly unlikely audiences will see any of the Regnum Defende story in that particular project but the movie could still provide a ripe opportunity for, at the very least, a passing reference to Alfred's comic antics. Alternatively, Joker's Alfred could still be very much in hiding following the events of Regnum Defende and this could create an interesting, dangerous dynamic between himself, Brett Cullen's Thomas Wayne and the Crown Prince of Crime.
Pennyworth is set to premiere in 2019 on Epix.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019