Alfred Pennyworth returns this week in DC's Batman books, and now we realize how much we missed him
Batman vs. Robin begins with the apparent return of Alfred Pennyworth. Here’s how the Wayne Family butler evolved into a father figure for the entire Bat-Family
One of the most heartbreaking moments during Tom King’s Batman run was the death of the longtime Wayne family butler and valuable Bat-Family ally Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred was brutally murdered by Bane as part of the muscular supervillain’s renewed bid to break Batman physically and mentally while Bane moved to subjugate Gotham City. Alfred’s murder shook the Bat-Family to its core, leading each of the heroes to reevaluate what exactly Pennyworth meant to each of them and honor his memory in their own respective way.
But now he's back.
No, that's not a spoiler - it's something DC has been promoting since May 2022, even revealing the page where he returns back in August. But what is the spoiler is how and why.
Spoilers ahead for September 13's Batman vs. Robin #1.
After years of teases for a potential resurrection, Alfred appears seemingly alive and well in the opening issue of Batman vs. Robin by Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar, showing up at Wayne Manor with no memory of his untimely demise. This shocking return coincides with Chris Burnham crafting a story from Alfred’s untold past in the pages of Batman: Urban Legends #19, reminding readers just how formidable Pennyworth is beyond his prim and proper exterior.
Here’s how Alfred has evolved in the Batman mythos, from a stoic and stodgy butler to Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, to a surrogate father figure, combat medic, and capable covert operative in his own right.
Alfred Pennyworth... back from the dead?
On a dark and stormy night, while Bruce is revisiting Wayne Manor after recently setting up his headquarters as Batman in the heart of Gotham, he is startled by the sudden appearance of Alfred at the manor’s front door. Alfred recalls Damian Wayne being in trouble, which occurred moments before he was killed by Bane, a memory that Bruce observes could only be remembered by him and Alfred themselves. Alfred has no recollection of how he returned though his apparent concern and compassion for Damian, even after the wayward Boy Wonder attempts to kill him and Batman, leads Bruce to finally accept that he is truly reunited with his old friend and paternal figure.
The opening issue of Batman vs. Robin revolves around the state of the magical side of the DC Universe being in widespread turmoil, with heroes like Zatanna, Swamp Thing, and John Constantine all under attack from a mysterious source. Even magical supervillains appear to be affected, with Eclipso briefly seen trapped within his signature black diamond. Damian is revealed to be allied with the Devil Nezha and his great-grandmother Mother Soul, with the demon introduced by Mark Waid and Dan Mora in the opening story arc to Batman/Superman: World’s Finest.
Sealed away for centuries, Nezha resurfaced to menace Superman and Batman, using his powers to possess heroes to carry out his bidding and send Dick Grayson and Supergirl traveling through time. With these abilities, Nezha could have possessed Damian to continue his vendetta against the Dark Knight while the time-travel aspect of Nezha’s magic could have resulted in Alfred being plucked from the timestream before his death. However, with Damian attempting to kill Alfred too, the kindly butler’s return may not be a part of the demon’s plans as the Caped Crusader is hunted by his son.
Alfred Pennyworth, the quiet superhero
Though Alfred was initially introduced by Don Cameron and Bob Kane in 1943’s Batman #16 as a source of comedic relief and an amateur detective, he became a much more competent character over the years. 1981’s Detective Comics #501 by Gerry Conway, Don Newton, and Dan Adkins revealed that Alfred served with British Intelligence undercover in France during World War II, where he fathered a daughter named Julia who would briefly become a love interest for Batman. Though the timeline of DCU continuity would be moved up several decades by Crisis on Infinite Earths, this more seasoned and capable Alfred would persist into the rebooted canon.
In Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s 'Batman: Year One,' Bruce observes that Alfred is a skilled combat medic whose expertise saves his life from the grievous wounds he endures on his disastrous first night out crimefighting in Gotham. Alfred is more explicitly revealed to be Bruce’s legal guardian in post-Crisis continuity, raising the boy at Wayne Manor as Bruce’s sole parental figure. This brought the two men closer together, while Alfred would use his background as a combat veteran, intelligence operative, medic, and actor to serve as a valuable ally.
This is showcased in Burnam’s “The Pennyworth Files,” running in Batman: Urban Legends #18-20. The story follows Alfred on a day off as he tries to take in the sights around Gotham, peacefully viewing art exhibitions and trying to enjoy his rare time off the superhero clock. This proves to be impossible as Alfred finds himself in death-defying situations without Batman swooping in to save the day. Forced to fend for himself, Alfred taps into his wide range of acquired skills to survive and investigate the organized crime organization that is behind the dangerous situation he has been thrust into.
Alfred: father of the entire Bat-family
Given Alfred’s familial relationship with Bruce, he is one of the few people that can stand up to Batman in his more cold, calculating moments, quick to clarify in heated moments that while he is under the Wayne family’s employment he is not a slave. The clearest moment of respect and familial love between the two men is showcased in 2009’s Batman and the Outsiders Special #1 by Peter J. Tomasi, Adam Kubert, John Dell, and Sandu Florea. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of Batman’s apparent death during the crossover event Final Crisis, Alfred confesses that he saw Bruce as his son while a parting message from Batman reveals that he came to see Alfred as his father.
This sentiment was shared by Dick Grayson in the 2005 storyline 'Nightwing: Year One' by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Scott McDaniel, and Andy Owens. Set at a time when Dick and Bruce’s relationship is strained, leading Dick to leave him to take on the Nightwing mantle, the outgoing Robin dryly observes that Alfred is, without a doubt, the friendlier and warmer parent between him and Bruce. Alfred leaves a trust fund for Dick to inherit and, influenced by his father figure’s endless compassion, Dick uses his newfound fortune to embark on a philanthropic enterprise in Alfred's name in Blüdhaven throughout Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s Nightwing run. Following Alfred’s death, each of the Bat-Family would recall their own similar experiences with Pennyworth, including the normally taciturn Jason Todd and Damian Wayne.
Alfred’s death haunted Batman, leading the Caped Crusader to reevaluate his life and never-ending crusade while the Bat-Family were similarly left reeling from the traumatic loss. Alfred now appears to be back at a time when Bruce is under attack from one of his family, fighting for his life against his own son. While Pennyworth’s return is a welcome sight, it raises larger questions on how exactly the kindly butler came back from the grave, how it relates to Nezha and Damian’s current vendetta, and if Alfred’s new lease on life is just a wish from the monkey’s paw that comes with a dark price.
Written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Mahmud Asrar, colored by Jordie Bellaire, and lettered by Steve Wands, Batman vs. Robin #1 is on sale now from DC Comics. “The Pennyworth Files” is written and illustrated by Chris Burnham, colored by Nathan Fairbairn, and lettered by Rus Wooton, concluding in Batman: Urban Legends #20, on sale October 11.
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