The Life and Death of Alfred Pennyworth
If you couldn't already tell based on my other posts, Batman is probably my favorite comic book character.
He is my favorite for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is the dimensionality of the world around him. Gotham City itself often comes across as a sentient city. Figures such as Robin, Batwoman, and Commissioner Gordon continuously provide Batman tales with nuance and contrast.
With this, one of my favorite figures within the Batman mythos is none other than Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. He is undoubtedly an iconic figure in Batman comics, one that Batman needs in order to exist.
Now, in the "City of Bane" arc from writer Tom King, Batman's loyal confidant meets his fate at the hands of the notorious Bane. As a result of this monumental moment, the issue featuring Alfred's demise, Batman #77, sold out of comic book shops across the country.
Many readers, including myself, thought that there would be a workaround to Alfred's death, but the events of Batman #83 seem to confirm that Alfred Pennyworth has indeed passed away.
Retrospectively, Alfred has served as one of Batman's tethers to his own humanity. It is no surprise that Batman is haunted by the traumas of his past. However, he maintains boundaries within his own methods to ensure he does not become the evil he strives to combat. Of course, Batman's perception of evil can be understood as subjective in nature. So, one cannot help but wonder, what keeps him in check besides himself?
Well, Alfred appears to have been an exemplification of this boundary while simultaneously ensuring that Batman never felt alone in his duty.
Consequently, Alfred Pennyworth's death was gut-wrenching to say the least. His impact on comics and The Dark Knight in general is one that cannot be understated.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at the life of Alfred Pennyworth and the legacy he lives behind.
The Bat and the Butler
DC Rebirth has comprised some incredible stories centralizing on Alfred and his relationship with Bruce Wayne and, thus, Batman. The first I want to touch on is Batman Annual #3 from writer Tom Taylor.
This particular story maintains a focus on Alfred's anxieties regarding Bruce's role as Batman. As a result of these sentiments, Alfred maintains a complex perception of The Dark Knight himself.
On one hand, Alfred fervently believes that Bruce will eventually kill himself. So, Alfred feels quite helpless as a guardian and father figure as he is failing to stop Bruce from going out every night and fighting crime.
Thus, it is safe to say that Alfred would be content if Bruce were to one day hang up his cape and settle down, living an orthodox life.
However, Batman Annual #4 and Batman #83, both from writer Tom King, present another facet to this perspective. Sure, Alfred cannot help but worry about Bruce's life every time he puts on the cowl. Though, Alfred understands the gravity the symbol of the bat holds upon Gotham City.
Oftentimes, it can be difficult to pinpoint Batman's motivations in crimefighting. Yes, the murder of his parents was the push that drove Bruce into becoming The Dark Knight.
One cannot help but wonder though, what keeps him going? What pushes Bruce Wayne to don his cape each and every night?
Batman Annual #4 addresses this question, a comic that may in fact be my favorite Batman story of the year.
Batman Annual #4 depicts Batman's daily grind through the perspective of Alfred's personal journals. Oftentimes, we witness him fighting notorious supervillains and cracking down on intense investigations. In the context of this annual though, Batman does much more than that. He saves the common person, saves cats from trees, and takes on thugs who think they can live as predators.
Batman does so for the sake of saving lives, nothing more and nothing less.
Now, as Batman Annual #4 traverses this daily routine through Alfred's narration, the issue reads as though a parent is proudly discussing the successes of their child.
As aforementioned, Alfred has his qualms about Batman, and those qualms are inescapable. However, Alfred understands that Batman serves as a gateway for hope, not only for Gotham City citizens but for Bruce himself.
Thus, if Alfred were to abandon Batman and leave him alone in his mission, he'd be giving up on that symbol of hope as well, one that inspires the most important person in his life.
In the context of Batman #83, Alfred acknowledges that death is an inevitably and, thus, Batman will continuously face loss throughout his career. However, Batman should not lose hope in the symbol he has built because the city, and frankly the world, needs him.
Batman #83 depicts Alfred's final words to Bruce in the form of a letter he composed prior to his death. In this letter, he reminds Bruce that he loves him and he will continue to be loved by those who believe in him.
Yes, the impact of Alfred's death upon Bruce will be great. Bruce will struggle and question himself. It is safe to say though that Alfred's letter provides some composure. He reminds Bruce that though he has lost one of his most formidable and persistent allies, he is not alone and truly has never been alone, even in his darkest moments.
One of my favorite aspects of Batman Annual #4, an aspect that trickles into Batman #83, is the tone of Alfred's narration. As aforementioned, Alfred appears to be proud of the man Bruce Wayne has become. Despite his anxieties over Bruce's wellbeing, Alfred innately knows that Bruce is Batman because he wants to do some good.
Bruce wants to save any life he can and protect anyone he can from harm.
Thus, Alfred acknowledges the fact that Bruce has taken innumerable sacrifices to be the hero he has become.
Thus, perhaps my favorite motif in Batman Annual #3, Batman Annual #4, and Batman #83 is the concept of tenacity. Alfred remains steadfast in standing by Batman's side despite his personal qualms over the role. Batman remains steadfast in his role because he wants to be Gotham City's guardian.
Oftentimes, in both the comic book realm and the real word, individuals will find themselves losing faith in the principles they upheld for so longer. Motivation and creativity can get stunted by mundanity. Boldness and grit can get parried by defeat.
With this, one thing anyone can learn from both Alfred and Batman is that defeat is inevitable as is a loss of belief in oneself.
However, one must note that loss is not necessarily a permanent thing. Sure, loss of any form may feel permanent, but it is the way in which one manages and interprets that loss that is most vital.
The Boy and the Butler
Yes, The Dark Knight has lost Alfred. He has lost his father figure, his friend, his ally, his mentor, and every other role Alfred took on during his life. Truly, those roles are innumerable as Alfred never faltered in his faith in Bruce.
Alfred was Batman's greatest champion, even when he had his own trepidations. Even when he had his own worries, Alfred continued supporting Bruce in his endeavors because he truly did believe in his mission and that he was an inherently good person trying to make a difference in the world.
An event of this magnitude is surely capable of breaking The Bat, but it won't.
Alfred's steadfast nature is one that permeates throughout Bruce Wayne's being. Thus, Bruce won't give up on The Bat as Alfred never did.