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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #26

Supporting Characters Week, Day Six: The Undiscovered Country.

It looks like we’re almost at the end of Supporting Characters Week. You wish! You know why? Because I’m probably going to extend it through to the end of January. I have a question for you readers: Who hasn’t shown up that you’d like to see? And can you think of any awesome female supporting characters who deserve the spotlight? I can think of a couple, and there’s a surprising lack of pictures of them on the internet. I may require some scanning abilities of those of you in the audience!

Anyway. Everybody love’s today’s character. If you don’t, you are a heartless person who hates the service industry.

1/26/07

26. Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred 1.jpg

Alfred is the world’s greatest and most lovable fictional butler. I dare any of you to come up with a better fictional butler.

I mean, here’s a guy who goes around and cleans bat guano off a giant robotic dinosaur. And he does this every day. The Batcave is freakin’ huge, man, and he’s got to maintain both it *and* stately Wayne Manor. That’s probably how he lost so much weight back in the Golden Age.

Alfred 2.jpg

Alfred Pennyworth used to be a portly chap named Alfred Beagle, but once the Batman serials hit theaters, he adapted to the appearance of the actor who played him, William Austin, and became the thin, mustachioed figure we know today.

His Post-Crisis origin is much better than his Pre-Crisis one. Pre-Crisis, he just showed up on the Wayne doorstep one day and ended up as the butler, and found out Batman and Robin’s secret identities by accident. In the modern era, he’s kept his background as a former actor and spy, but he’s also been taking care of the Waynes for all of Bruce’s life. He’s Bruce’s best friend, his confidante, and the closest thing he’s got to a father.

Alfred is also Batman’s primary medic. And, of course, he’s got the spy skills. He’s also been trained in hand-to-hand combat, presumably by Bats himself, so he can also kick your butt.

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Apparently he’s been unsuccessfully kidnapped 27 times. Awesome. (I saw “awesome” too much. I’m going to need to get a new thesaurus.)

Alfred is also, research tells me, the only member of the Bat-family allowed to own a firearm. Why? I can only assume Bruce is scared of him. I know I would be. Alfred is badass, even if he isn’t as badass as I-Ching. Oh well.

Sometimes, he is a zombie. Still won’t stop him from being the Wayne butler! Even death won’t stop him from polishing the giant penny!

He even supports the war effort:

Alfred 6.jpg

He should go back to wearing the deerstalker. It suits him.

Who is your favorite portrayer of Alfred in outside media? I mean, Efram Zimbalist, Jr. was a perfect voice for Alfred in the Dini/Timm animated series. Michael Caine, of course, lends integrity to anything he does, and was a terrific father figure for Christian Bale’s Bruce in Batman Begins. It was probably the best and most sympathetic representation of Alfred on film, but it’s not my favorite.

My heart lies with either Alan Napier, of the 1960’s Adam West-centric show, or Michael Gough of the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies. These were the Alfreds I grew up with, and the ones that stick with me.

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In terms of the current comics, I’d say Grant Morrison’s portrayal of Alfred has been the best in recent memory. He really nails Alfred’s sarcastic wit, but we can still tell how much the old guy cares for Bruce. He just shows it through his dry British humor ways. That’s why he’s around: to say what needs to be said, to keep Bruce on the right track.

Even if Alfred thinks Bruce is completely insane, he stands by him, he takes care of him, and he loves him. In a fatherly “bad enough dude” way, of course. He’s a kind, usually gentle, noble human being.
I also quite like the mentorly role he took during Tim Drake’s early years as Robin. Somebody had to drive Robin around on adventures when Bats was off doing whatever he does.

Alfred: Kickin’ ass and sweepin’ floors since 1943. And there was that one time they killed him off, replaced him with Aunt Harriet, and turned him into the evil Outsider. …Let’s just forget about that one.

23 Comments

Alan Napier is my favorite live-action version of Alfred as well, he just IS Alfred while other guys just play him.

“And can you think of any awesome female supporting characters who deserve the spotlight?”

Etta Candy, the golden age one, who would kick guys in the face.

Natt the Hat is my favorite supporting character. As for females, how about Abbey Arcane?

I agree that Alfred is a superb fictional butler, but perhaps you’re slighting Jeeves…?

But Jeeves is a valet not a butler.

Sorry, only one butler can take the position of ‘Best Butler Ever’, and that is Jarvis, Iron Man’s personal servant and the man who has kept Avengers Mansion in such great shape since they began…

How many times has Wayne Manor been blown up by the Kree? Or attacked by the Masters of Evil, only to have Alfred saving the expensive china?

Supporting-character-wise, I am waving the flag for Astoria from Cerebus

Anonymous:

I stand corrected, and hang my head in shame. :- (

It is going to take a while before I am convinced that Alfred is not the mastermind behind all the travails and shenanigans in the DCU over the last few years.

Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy are good female supporting characters, from the early years of Spider-Man. A current good one is Liz Allen from Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Journal is a good one from Ex Machina. And there’s a bunch in Y: The Last Man (355, Dr. Mann, Hero), although arguably many of them are lead characters. (Hey, speaking of Y, Ampersand is a good supporting character!). Adam Archer’s sisters are good in Godland. Maybe Alicia Masters, from early Fantastic Four? Tulip from Preacher (also arguably a lead)? Or maybe Featherstone. Or the one-eyed girl, I forget her name. Robin in The Dark Knight Returns (and Dark Knight Strikes Again, if you want)? Ooh, Agent Helligan in Seven Soldiers! She’s awesome! Death from Sandman. Or Nuala. Or Eve. Or Delirium. Or Thessaly. Or Foxglove and Hazel. Lenny and Kathy from Shade the Changing Man (also arguably leads). Crazy Jane from Doom Patrol (lead, probably). Zee from DMZ. Chakaal from Groo. Or Arba and Dakarba. Or Grooella. Moira MacTaggart from various X-Men comics? Mousy Jane from Ennis’s Punisher? The new Retro Girl in Powers. Joe from Madman! I could probably keep thinking of more, but I’ll stop there.

How about Everett K. Ross from Black Panther? Or Jeremy Rodriguez from The Adventures of Barry Ween? I know that he was reincarnated by Judd Winick into Ray Ray Lee, but I miss Jeremy.

I think Matt Brady’s suggestion of “Liz Allen from Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane” is an excellent choice.

Female sidekicks? Okay…would Queen Divine Justice fit the bill? She first popped up in the second year of Priest’s Black Panther run, about as fun to watch as Ross, but not nearly as pitiable. She also bonded with the Hulk a few times, and one scene had them hitting a dance hall, I kid you not. Also, Priest wrote a follow-up story in The Incredible Hulk…it’s a “Monster-Sized” issue.

Or how about Blind Alfred from Joe Kelly’s Deadpool? Deep down, some of us want our Aunt Mays to be downright nasty.

There’s something special about Alfred when reading Batman. Maybe its that he’s Bruce’s conscience and his outside link to the real world, or maybe that he’s really Bruce’s sidekick instead of Robin. He’s been there through his parent’s deaths, Robin’s death, and pretty much everything that’s involved Bruce and Batman’s lives. I haven’t seen a sidekick been this loyal ever.

As for female supporting characters goes:
Maggie Sawyer- Probably one of the best female supporting characters introduced in ages. She’s strong minded, smart and just a good role model. I’d rather have her back in Metropolis running the SCU, but hey…she was great in Rucka’s Detective run as well as Gotham Central.

For female supporting characters, two names stand out the most- Amanda Waller (though in some stories she treads close to being a protagonist) and Moira McTaggert.

I’ll second Amanda Waller, and argue for the Stan Lee-written Mary Jane Watson with her incomprehensible slang.

I’m an Alan Napier man too. Don’t forget, in the 1966 feature film he actually got to drive the Batmobile, while in a mask (and a bowler hat.) Not even Robin gets to drive the car.

In a perfect world someday I’d get to do a Day In The Life Of Alfred story. I don’t generally aspire to write comics, at least not mainstream DC ones, but that particular idea nags at me. I keep thinking that’s such an obvious hook to hang a nice little done-in-one Bat story on, and I don’t think anyone’s ever done it. Devin Grayson sort of almost did one in Gotham Nights implying a romance between Alfred and Leslie Thompkins but it came off kind of skeevy, and anyway I think DC’s decided it got retcon-punched away or something.

Gough was certainly good. And though Caine did him proud in the movie, it was still Michael Caine to me. My ideal Alfred would be Alan Napier, but getting to play the part as written in the Justice League episode “Starcrossed.” That’s how I see him. Nobody could do the Alfred slightly-skeptical-cock-of-the-head and say “Very well, sir” like Napier.

For female supporting characters, I dont think there’s anyone more deserving than the original golden age Etta Candy.

How bout Night Nurse, most prominantly featured in Brian K Vaughan’s Dr Strange mini.

In addition to the many great female supporting characters mentioned here already, I’d like to add Spider Jerusalem’s filthy assistants to the list.

The recent Robin two-parter featuring Klarion and Frazer Irving art had a nice bit with Alfred getting stern with Tim because he didn’t want to take care of Teekl.

Meanwhile … I wholeheartedly third the Etta Candy nom! She’s the best. Always stuffing her face with candy but also always ready to mobilize and kiss some ass. On the machiavellian side, Amanda Waller comes a close second. Ma Hunkel has had some fun moments, both way back then (from reprints I’ve read) and again in Johns’ JSA run.

Matt B. listed some great names but his best are all, as he suggests, arguably leads. Hey Bill, sometime after your supporting characters run is done, how about a couple weeks devoted to the “second banana” or “best B-listers”? That’d make room for characters who are too big to really be supporting. They stand out as much or nearly as much as the lead, yet they never quite managed to maintain their own title (though they might’ve had their own mini or failed ongoing).

I grew up watching Superfriends and reruns of the Batman and Superman live action shows, so I too have a soft spot for Alan Napier’s Alfred. I like how he knew Barbra Gordon was Batgirl before Batman and Robin did.

Otherwise, Efrem Zimbalist jr’s Alfred is a favorite, although really I haven’t seen a bad Alfred. Michael Gough was the only constant in the Burton/Schumacher movies and he even did OnStar commercials for a while. And I really like how Michael Caine helped Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne retain his humanity while becoming the Batman.

Another good one was Ian Abercrombie from the short lived Birds of Prey TV series, as mixed as it was I think he made an excellent Alfred too.

For female supporting cast, my favorite wasn’t in the comics but was in the comic related Batman Beyond- Max the friend of Terry’s at school and in my opinion a much better match for him then Dana. Sort of how Chloe is better for Clark than Lana was in Smallville.

If we don’t have Ben Urich included in this, I shall weep bitter tears. For a minute or so anyway as it’s just a blog.

I love Alfred. I’ve always thought that the measure of a Batman writer is how well they write Alfred and Jim Gordon. I haven’t read Morrison’s recent Batman yet, so I’d have to say that the last time I saw him written particularly well was in Dave Gibbons’s Batman vs Predator (which is so much better than any inter-company crossover cash cow has any right to be)

Dan

The Kirbydotter

March 10, 2007 at 10:44 am

The original Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz run on MOON KNIGHT had a great supporting cast(a tea-bag recycling bum, a black diner waitress and her two sons, a french caricature pilot, a gorgeous blonde but still strong-minded girlfriend).

There are so many good suggestions for female supporting characters here…
Amanda Waller (in the long Suicide Squad run by John Ostrander) and Maggie Sawyer are the coolest ones to me

Lois Lane is would be my obvious choice.
But is she really a supporting character?
I would say so even if she had her own long running series in the Silver Age.

Peter Parker had such a large cast of potential girlfriend cast of supporting characters for a nerd!
Gwen, Mary-Jane, Liz, Betty…

And what about Aunt May! (not in the potential girlfriend category though… brrr.. that’s why I listed separately from the other ladies).

Another cool idea for a weekly theme would be heroes’ girlfriends. Gwen Stacy would be by number one choice!

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