Golden Age Showcase: Alfred

Happy post Father’s Day everyone!

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For the non American readers of this blog, Father’s day is a holiday where we celebrate our fathers, and if marketing campaigns are to be believed it’s usually with MANLY gifts like ties and power tools.

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Last year I did an article comparing and contrasting two of comics’ greatest deceased father figures: Superman’s dad Jor-El and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.

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This time I thought it would be time to break out the big guns and celebrate the career and achievements of the greatest living father figure in comic book history: Batman’s butler, Alfred.

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Side note: if you disagree with the above statement please write a well crafted and polite rebuttal in the comments.

Origin and Career

Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16 in April of 1943.

On the cover of the comic it says he was created by artist Bob Kane.

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Although it is much more likely that actual creator was writer, and the man who got royally screwed out of getting the credit that he justly deserves, Bill Finger.

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Artist Jerry Robinson was also heavily involved, since he was busy doing the actual drawing of the issues at this point in Batman’s career.

Jerry Robinson

Alfred made his first appearance on the cover of the issue, and he looked like this:

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The original Alfred was a bit of an idiot.  At this point in the story Batman and Robin had been doing their thing fighting crime in Gotham when Alfred showed up fresh off the boat and claiming that he was fulfilling the wish of his dying father Jarvis in serving the Wayne family as their butler.

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Naturally, Batman and Robin were not very keen on having a near total stranger snooping around the house with their secret identities at stake.

Despite his background as an intelligence officer Alfred was…kind of an idiot.

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I only say “kind of” because he was actually a very good butler.  He did his job, he was loyal to Bruce and Dick, and when it came time to defend the Manor he wound up discovering who he was really working for by pure accident.

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My favorite part of this scene is the dialogue that the two men exchange during the fight.

Of course Alfred reveals what he knows to Batman and Robin and the two gain a new ally in their fight against criminals.

You may notice that the original Alfred doesn’t look a thing like the way we normally picture Alfred.

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For that we can actually thank the silver screen.

See, the idea that comic books could be adapted to the silver screen is nothing new.  In fact, Hollywood was quick to jump on the wave of superhero popularity and started churning out short little movie serials staring the two most popular heroes at the time: Superman and Batman.

In 1943 Columbia Pictures began releasing short Batman serial movies with creative titles such as “Batman and the Electrical Brain”,


The effects and costumes were…not the best.

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but one of its lasting impacts was hiring actor English character actor William Austin to play the Batman’s butler.

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The serials were so popular that the comics adapted and changed Alfred’s appearance to reflect the show.

So what happened?

Jesus, to describe everything that Alfred has done since his original appearance would take an entire book.

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Wherever Batman has gone, Alfred has followed.  He’s an integral part of the Batman mythos, and I would personally argue that he the most important supporting figure in any Batman story.  And yes, that includes figures like Robin and Batgirl.

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He has fulfilled the role of a caretaker, a guiding moral compass to a whole host of emotionally crippled children and warriors, and most importantly an eternally patient father figure.

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So, in an effort to keep this short, I’m going to break his long and storied career down into some of the more prominent highlights.

In 1964 Alfred was killed in Detective Comics #328 after heroically saving the Dynamic Duo from a falling boulder.

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He would be reborn as a mysterious villain known as “The Outsider” and fought the heroes off panel, usually using other villains as pawns and working behind the scenes.

His identity and appearance would be revealed two years later in Detective Comics #356.

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It…wasn’t the best look for him and I can see why they kept him out of the way.

In terms of backstory, Alfred’s has remained pretty consistent.  The comics have always given him some sort of military and/or intelligence background and in the 1960’s he worked as an intelligence agent during World War 2.  We know this because he had a daughter named Julia with a French co worker.

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In 1985 DC reorganized its comic books with the even “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and reworked the backstories of many of their most famous characters.

Alfred got a few minor tweaks but didn’t change that much.  He was an actor as well as an intelligence agent and instead of introducing himself to a much older Bruce, he became Bruce’s butler and confidant at a young age.

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The new Alfred had some pretty awesome moments as well and a lot of writers love giving him some really badass lines and small fight scenes.

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Seriously, the man’s gone toe to toe with Superman both in quips,

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and with fisticuffs.

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So he’s amazing in the comics but I would have to say that his film and television appearances deserve a special mention as well.

Alfred has appeared in every single movie, television, and cartoon adaptation of Batman since the beginning and has provided a steady stream of employment to classy senior British actors.

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All of them have been fantastic, but special mentions go to the Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series,

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where he was voiced by actor Clive Revill (who was actually the original voice of the Emperor from Star Wars)

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and the gloriously named Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

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Personally my favorite Alfred at the moment has to be the one from The Lego Batman Movie where he was voiced by Voldemort himself, Ray Finnes,

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but if you ask me the best Alfred of them all would have to be the late great Michael Gough from Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and the infamous Batman and Robin.

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I would actually go as far as to say that Michael Gough was so good that he actually made Batman and Robin halfway watchable.

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That’s right, I’m defending Batman and Robin, fight me.

Alfred is one of the greatest comic book characters ever created.  He is wise and talented beyond even his considerable years and has been at Bruce’s side through thick and thin.  Not only has he been a faithful and dutiful butler but he has been a kind, patient, and loving father to a boy who needed it most in order to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Mad Monk

Let’s take a bite into the comic book industry’s version of vanilla ice cream and talk about Batman.

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Batman is one of the most popular superheroes in the world for a reason.  He’s got a great design, he’s got a cool story, he’s got tonnes of history, but most importantly…he has great villains.

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Yes, it seems pretty cliche to talk about how awesome Batman’s villains are but we all know that Poison Ivy is awesome,

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Mister Freeze is tragic and deep,

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and the Joker needs no introduction.

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But how does Batman manage to have so many great villains?

Easy, because he doesn’t kill them.

Batman’s aversion to killing criminals (even if the justice system he’s sworn to protect would have put the Joker to death a long time ago) and distaste at using guns is well documented.  With that being said, we’ve talked about how the Batman of the Golden Age wasn’t above using guns, or even killing criminals.

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The Golden Age Batman was a much darker and violent superhero than a lot of modern iterations and as a result, he either needed equally dark and violent villains or a small army’s worth of disposable henchmen.

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Today we’re going to talk about one of Batman’s first adversaries, a creature of the night who wasn’t just violent and unquestionably evil, but one of Batman’s first important villains: The Mad Monk.

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Origin and Career

The Mad Monk made his first appearance in Detective Comics #31 in September of 1939.

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He beat out the Joker by 8 months.

The character was created by Bob Kane and Garner Fox.

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Kane is the man who is widely credited with the creation of Batman (while he did play a part, a lion’s share of the credit does go to Bill Finger) and Fox is the man who helped create little known DC heroes like the Flash, Dr. Fate, and Hawkman.

The Mad Monk is special because he was the main villain for one of the first multi part stories in Batman’s career.  While the first super villain to face Batman in a multi issue series was the imaginatively named Dr. Death,

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The Mad Monk was a bigger, and much more mystical and terrifying, threat.

The Monk’s real name was Niccolai Tepes, a homage to historical crazy person and real life inspiration for the actual Dracula: Vlad Tepes aka “Vlad the Impaler”.

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The Mad Monk was a literal vampire complete with the need to drink blood, the ability to turn into a wolf, the ability to hypnotize people into a trance, and an assistant named Dala.


While it is unknown why the Monk wants to kill Batman it is made apparent that the Monk does know his secret identity as Bruce Wayne when he kidnaps Bruce’s girl friend Julie Madison.

The Monk and Dala hypnotize her and use her to lure Batman into a trap in Paris where he has to fight a giant gorilla.

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After defeating the beast, Batman is captured and is trapped in a net dangling over a pit of snakes.  Because this is a comic book and nobody just wants to shoot their captured adversary.

Fun fact: This is the first time Batman ever uses the Batarang in comics.

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After escaping, Batman tracks the Monk to Transylvania (because of course) and confronts the villain in his mountain castle.  The Monk puts up a good fight by transforming into a wolf but Batman manages to knock the wolves out and escape.

The comic ends with Batman shooting The Mad Monk and Dala as they lie in their coffins.

If you ask me, this was a brilliant display of common sense.  While I think the idea for the Mad Monk is cool, I certainly wouldn’t want an immortal blood sucking creature  roaming the streets of Gotham or anywhere else in the world.

So what happened?

The Monk remained dead for a long time, probably because he was just two scary and dark for the censorship police known as the Comics Code Authority.

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But, like the vampires that he took his inspiration from, he would arise from the grave many years later.  In 1986 Gerry Conway, the co creator of the Punisher and the man who killed Gwen Stacy,

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reworked the original 1939 story into a modern origin for the Mad Monk in the 1980’s.

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In the new version the Mad Monk was a former plantation owner who owned slaves in post Civil War America.  He and his sister Dala were attacked by their slaves and turned into the undead in a voodoo ritual.

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Personally, I preferred the earlier version better.

The Mad Monk manged to turn Batman into a vampire but was eventually defeated by a wandering priest named Father Green.

The character would be given another fresh coat of paint in 2006 when a six issue mini series was published by DC Comics entitled Batman and the Mad Monk.

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It was pretty good.

The Mad Monk is a villain that has been mostly forgotten to history.  While he was a pretty one note character who didn’t have much staying power, and while he has been overshadowed by much more complex and interesting villains, he deserves a lot more attention and respect.

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He was one of Batman’s first true challenges and paved the way for the rogue gallery that keeps us coming back to Batman comics again and again.

Golden Age showcase #6: Batman

Today we are going to talk about Batman


Yes as a matter of fact, that Batman.

More specifically we’re going to take a look at the Golden Age Batman to see what his creators were originally doing with the character, the mythos, some of his most famous villains, and what if anything changed over the years.


Origin and career

With all due respect, if you don’t know Batman’s origin story than greetings alien visitor, welcome to Earth!

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What’s a bit more interesting is the real life story of the hero.  The first issue of “The Batman” appeared in May 1939, a little less than a year after the first appearance of Superman.  He was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (side note: it should be noted that while Kane gets a lion’s share of the credit for Batman’s creation it has slowly come to light that Bill Finger was the man responsible for most of Batman’s iconography, supporting cast, and early stories and doesn’t get all the credit he rightly deserves) and was a hero who introduced a lot of firsts to the superhero genre.

He was the first hero to have a troubled origin and motivation for his actions.

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and he was the first hero to have a kid sidekick in Robin, who appeared in April of 1940.


But what makes Golden Age Batman really interesting is just how dark and violent the original character was.  Most people like to use Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as the pinnacle of Batman as the dark and violent type,


But truth be told, the first Batman stories put Miller’s work to shame.

Before we delve into the character of Batman it’s worth looking into the characters that helped inspire him.  Batman has his roots in pulp adventures and other action novels that were popular at the time.  Looking at Batman throughout the ages it is easy to see the costumed heroics of the rich aristocrat from Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel


The swashbuckling heroics and black costume of the rich aristocrat turned defender of the innocent Zorro,


and the dark and often violent adventures of the radio serial heroes like the Shadow.


All of these influences would play a huge part in creating the Batman as a character and a pop culture icon, let’s take a look.

Let’s start with the character himself.  Right from the start Batman was a wealthy socialite who could become a superhero mostly because he could afford to become one.

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His equipment was pretty simple: some rope, a keen set of detective skills, his costume, and his utility belt.  There was no Batcave, no detective lab, no Bat computer, and no Batmobile (although there was a Batplane).  Instead he had a large black car with no roof, a confusing choice when considering it would leave him frightfully exposed to bullets.


The Golden Age Batman also had no qualms about killing people, apparently the creators realized that any rich kid who lost his parents would probably take their anger to the most logical extreme.


Batman had no qualms about letting his opponents die horrible deaths by either punching a man into a vat of acid and believing it was for the best,


kicking a man in such a way that he impales himself on someone else’s sword.


or straight up machine gunning two men driving in a truck because he believed it was “worth it”.


And while the Batplane has always been armed one thing always remained constant, Batman’s refusal to use guns.



Just kidding!  The original Batman had no qualms against using guns and would routinely break out the firearms against would be criminals.  Naturally this put him at odds with the police who had orders to arrest, or even shoot, Batman on sight.

With Batman being something of a cold blooded murderer himself it would make sense that many of his longest lasting villains would have equally violent beginnings, and for the most part it’s true.  The Golden Age saw the creation of two of Batman’s most iconic foes: The Joker and Clayface.  Out of the two of them Clayface was the one that changed the most.  Instead of being a mutated lump of clay


The original Clayface was an actor named Basil Karlo who wasn’t a mutant, he was just really good at disguising his face as a twisted and grotesque monster who started killing actors that pissed him off or threatened his acting career.


And then we get to the Joker.


Strangely enough the Joker’s journey is almost the complete opposite of Clayface.  While Clayface underwent a dramatic change the Joker has remained relatively consistent over the years.


The Joker, who was based off of the 1928 German Expressionist film (by the way if you ever want inspiration for a horror villain look at German Expressionist films from the 1920’s, they are terrifying) The Man Who Laughs,


is cold, conniving, brutal, and a master chemist who has perfected a serum which he calls “Joker Venom” that kills its victims by twisting their faces into smiles.


His origin was kept ambiguous and he remained an enduring foe of the Batman well into the modern day.

So what happened?

The 1950’s happened.  I’ve talked about the Comics Code Authority and its impact on the industry in the 1950’s in my article about the Golden Age Ghost Rider, but it hit Batman especially hard.  Parents didn’t like the idea of having their children reading stories filled with grotesque violence, death, and general mayhem and they made their displeasure known with public comic book burnings.


While Batman tried to be a bit more kid friendly with the addition of Robin and more fanciful storytelling it didn’t work and in response to public outcry the industry created the Comic Code Authority: a review board that censored comic books to make them more palatable to American parents.


Batman would obviously survive, he was just too popular.  That being said, his stories were significantly neutered.  In accordance to the Comic Code all criminals were to be caught and thrown into jail, there would be no violent deaths, and the police were to be always portrayed as a force of good resulting in Batman having a more friendly relationship with the police.

While Batman has changed significantly over the past 75 years, it is important to know where he came from…and what the original Batman was willing to do in the name of justice.