SHOWCASE PRESENTS: The Madness Of Alfred Pennyworth
(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
He lost his parents as a kid. He doesn’t like to talk about it and they were, as some might say, well-to-do. So he doesn’t really have to talk to anyone if he doesn’t want to. He wasn’t the same after that night. I guess some people think he was sad. But that isn’t the right word for it. The feeling is too big.
In his late teens, he left. Just disappeared. “Vanished,” as the newspapers put it. People looked. Of course they looked. And some even pretended to be sad. But life moves on.
Years later, a man walked into the city. He was taller. Stronger. But he didn’t have that same intensity. That same almost-sadness. He was carefree. He was happy. Some people say he’s vapid now. Other people have different theories. Better theories. More exciting theories. They make jokes and say that the real him died years ago, and this new guy? Just something parading around in his skin.
They’re not far off. Not really. Nobody makes the real connection though. Nobody takes the stories seriously. The bums and muggers and rapists that skulk around back alleys… they say they’ve seen a monster late at night. The more religious among them call it a demon. It growls at them from the shadows. It speaks their names and whispers unknowable truths. It takes the worst among them into the dark and hurts them.
One of the bums walked into the police station one day and told them what he thought it was. And they laughed him right back out. A giant bat? Drunk fool…
And the vapid man, sitting in his castle, wearing another man’s skin… he laughs.
A lot of people, both critics of the character and fans, have brought up that Bruce Wayne is clearly insane. Some posit that he’s a high functioning sociopath. Some say he’s an overgrown man-child. The generally agreed upon thing is simply that any man who does what Batman does can’t be entirely normal.
He fights a never-ending war against crime. He leaps off rooftops. He hangs around with gods. He’s ever-prepared, even going so far as to create backup personalities for himself in case of assaults on his psyche. Perhaps the greatest appeal of Batman is that he’s a human being with no superpowers of any kind who pushed himself to become something greater than even his most powerful comrades.
But this isn’t an article about Bruce Wayne. No, there are plenty of those. This is about Alfred Pennyworth. The man who let it all happen.
Recently, I’ve heard some people questioning whether Alfred is really insane. I mean, really, he’s the one enabling all of Bruce’s actions. But is he crazy?
After Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered, Alfred essentially raised Bruce. He often calls Bruce his son. Years later, when Bruce returned to Gotham and decided to be Batman, Alfred didn’t stop him. He didn’t call the police or a therapist. He just sat there and said “well, alright, this seems like a very bad idea but I’ll have this costume sewn in a day or two.”
When Bruce brought in Dick Grayson and Jason Todd and Tim Drake and even his own son Damian, and taught them to be soldiers in his impossible war, Alfred went along with it. In spite of all the crazed madmen running around Gotham like the Joker and Two-Face, Alfred went along with it.
That’s crazy, right? Well, I don’t think so.
Have you ever seen someone do something amazing? I mean truly amazing, not just “pretty cool.”
Have you ever seen anyone embark on an incredible journey, unlike anything anyone else has ever done… and you know it will destroy them. You know the dream is impossible. But to let that dream die would be an unendurable tragedy.
One of my favorite one-shot stories is “The Game.” It’s written by Chris Priest and it shows up in a 1999 JLA 80 Page Giant. It’s about Green Arrow trying to prove that Bruce Wayne is Batman after an odd coincidence links the two.
There’s a scene at the end. Bruce and Ollie are playing racquetball. Ollie, having seen Batman barely survive an explosion the night before, doesn’t think Bruce will show up. But, to keep the mystery alive, Bruce gets there bright and early with a smile on his face and a crap ton of make up covering his bruises and burns.
And Ollie realizes something. As a kid, Bruce saw his parents murdered right in front of him. And it broke him. So he made this mask. This party boy rich kid playboy mask, just to keep himself from sticking his head in the oven. This man couldn’t be Batman.
Now, Ollie didn’t take the idea that one extra step. The broken thing survived. Bruce needs to be Batman. He has, throughout his life, been tempered by so much tragedy, that he needs Batman in order to keep going.
There can be something great borne out of sadness sometimes. Batman is that great thing. Alfred sees that. So, every single day, he asks himself one question: “Would I rather see my son’s legacy be a nightmare that haunts the monsters of the world, or a suicide note?”
Alfred chooses the hero the world needs. Not the easy ending.
I don’t think there’s anything crazy about that.