If there is an art to a good retort, then there’s art in writing Alfred Pennyworth, the Caped Crusader’s stalwart butler and surrogate father. And if there’s art in writing Alfred, then Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Alfred Pennyworth, appearing in the ongoing The Batman’s Grave, is the Mona Lisa of clapbacks.
Alfred’s dry sarcasm has been a hallmark of Batman stories for decades, providing an ego-puncturing balance to even the most self-serious incarnations of the Dark Knight. Given the long list of English actors who’ve leant their chops to the character — from Michaels Gough and Caine to Alan Napier and Jeremy Irons — it’s only fitting that Englishmen Ellis and Hitch have such a firm grasp on the character. And by firm grasp, I mean that Alfred’s lines in The Batman’s Grave go beyond withering to dessication.
With five issues of the miniseries on shelves and seven to go, we decided to round up some of Mr. Pennyworth’s bon mots for your perusal. They are arranged in ascending order of making you feel like you’ve been physically slapped by a comic book panel.
In these panels, Alfred and Bruce discuss LexCorp’s voice-activated personal assistant, called — of course — a Lexicon. Alfred rightfully calls an unrepentant Bruce out for supporting the surveillance of the innocent and the unconvicted when he does it. He’s right, and he should say it, and he says it eloquently, but relative to the rest of the series there’s a minimum of snap to his statement.
Follow the money
Sometimes withering isn’t the way to go. Positive reinforcement is a valuable tool in parenting your Large Adult Vigilante Bat-son.
The Hangover 2
This scene occurs the morning after an evening in which Alfred and Bruce argue about whether his crusade is really the most efficient way to improve Gotham. Neither man is ready to apologize, but even with a hangover Alfred’s ready to slam Batman’s methods, then stitch him back together.
Here, Bruce explains his reasoning for taking over a murder case from Commissioner Gordon, while Alfred counters with a bit of perspective on his supposed purpose. Bruce’s confident assurance smacks hard against the striking image of James Gordon on a toilet and the reminder of illegal police beatings.
What is there to say about this sublime moment? There’s Alfred’s utter deadpan face, even though he’s turned away from Bruce. Then Bruce’s face, entirely unimpressed with Alfred’s joke. Alfred’s follow up assertion that he only needs four hours of sleep a night — unlike Batman, who has to use illegally obtained drugs to stay awake, like a newb — is the final blow.
This is a gold standard for writing Alfred Pennyworth, and you may quote me, a Batman expert, on that.