Batman has gone through a myriad of iterations over the years; yet, for every comic book adventure, every movie, and every TV show, Alfred has always been there to dispense advice and patch up the Caped Crusader. In many ways, Alfred has gone through just as much change as the Dark Knight himself, appearing in the Caped Crusader’s first live-action appearance portrayed by William Austin, and in the classic 1960s Batman series played by Alan Napier. When it came to the Batman film series initiated by Tim Burton, I always found it a great comfort that despite the frequent recasting of our titular hero, Michael Gough always stuck around as Alfred, along with Pat Hingle as Gordon. While I waited for Batman to begin, Efren Zimbalist Jr. played the character in Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe universe until 2004, while future voice of Emperor Palpatine, Ian Abercrombie, would voice him for Birds of Prey, a show I had often felt should’ve gotten more time on the air.
I remember reading Batman: Earth One and seeing how mindful he was of the security of the Waynes, something that was echoed in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s Alfred, portrayed by Jeremy Irons. Irons modeled his portrayal after SAS soldiers, an aspect that will be at the forefront of Pennyworth. When it came to Gotham, we got a lot of more of this portrayal in Alfred, as it essentially fell to him to raise Bruce in a controversial way(i.e. giving him too much autonomy), much to Gordon’s chagrin. That being said, I’ve often been critical of how Alfred has been treated on the show, especially this season; it appeared he was more or less just a conduit for the Knightfall storyline, only for it not to have a lasting impact for more than two episodes. However, the show has always been a lot of fun to watch, and when the creators announced they were making another Batman prequel, this time about Alfred and how he first met Thomas Wayne, I was instantly intrigued.
Initially, I expected it to land at Fox, but when the Disney-Fox deal closed, that scenario became less likely. The show coming to Epix was a pleasant surprise; the network has been ramping up original content since former head of TNT Michael Wright took over the network. I almost see this as a bit of a redemption tale, given the fact that Wright had flirted with the DC universe before when they were developing their version of what became Titans. With Pennyworth coming to Epix, there is an opportunity for a brand new take on the Batman mythos still in keeping with what the producers had done on Gotham, something that producer/director Danny Cannon had alluded to, stating that Pennyworth was set 20 years before the Waynes’ arrival in Gotham. Much like the recently concluded Fox drama, Pennyworth is set in a heightened version of reality; in this case, 1960s Britain, where things are not quite what viewers might expect. This is an element that I’m extremely keen on; being a big history buff, exploring the sixties in the heightened context of a comic book drama is something I really can’t wait to experience. In addition to the period setting, the cast is also an aspect of the show that will bring an added flair.
In recent years, what characters could be featured on-screen has changed drastically. Thirty years ago when Batman premiered in theatres, if you said to a fan they were making a TV show centered on Alfred with Thomas and Martha Wayne featured as major characters, there’s no way it would have been taken seriously. None the less, that is exactly what this show is going to give audiences. It’s shows like this that make me think of the words of Robert Meyer Burnett, “What a time to be a comic book fan”. While some fans may be upset at the prospect of two consecutive series where the Caped Crusader isn’t in the limelight(aside from a brief appearance in the Gotham series finale), I can’t help but feel that Pennyworth is an opportunity for the supporting members of the Bat-family to become better known. While Alfred’s history has been the subject of mystery and vague allusions, most of what we’ve heard about Thomas and Martha on-screen is how they were killed on Crime Alley. Yes, we got to hear how the Waynes tried to help people in Batman Begins; likewise, we learn about Thomas’s quest to root out corruption from WayneTech in Gotham, but now we’ll get a complete picture of the people who shaped Bruce Wayne and what or who they went up against in their younger years.
The latter is one of the most interesting facets of this show when one considers the implications of Alfred facing off against a myriad of literary icons. Despite this, all eyes seem to be on Paloma faith’s villain Bet Sykes. Yet at its heart, this show will be about the relationship between Alfred and Thomas, something that was exemplified in the new trailer that was released this week. And this is all while managing to show off more of this bold new setting we’ve never seen put to screen before, at least in live-action, in the DC universe. Pennyworth has the opportunity to expand the mythology of the DC universe. If they are able to honor past portrayals of Batman’s butler while making various side characters the focal point, perceptions of these characters will change and a whole new generation will have a new entry point into the DC mythology. I will definitely be watching when the show premieres July 28th.