Monday, May 22, 2006
My two pennies' worth
Frank Miller invented Alfred.
I think it's fair to say I'm not Frank Miller's biggest fan. Far from it, in fact. But one must give the devil his due.
Alfred began unspectactularly as just another Fat Funny Friend. He was well-meaning bungler, a wanna detective, and an intruder on the Wayne household.
How things change! Alfred skinnied up and grew a mustache to resemble his first movie counterpart, retconned his name from the comic "Beagle" to the dignified "Pennyworth", stopped speaking in dialect, and acquired responsibility for upkeep of the Batcave. That evolution saved Alfred from the fate of other comic relief characters of Golden Age. At some point (help me out on this one), he was retconned in as the family butler when Bruce was a boy, becoming a surrogate parent after the Waynes died.
But Alfred was still, on the whole, a colorless faithful retainer type for decades.
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is credited with revitalizing, darkening, and solidifying the Batman. Pfah. What Miller really did was revitalize, darken, and soldify Alfred. In not too many scenes, Miller created the image of acerbic, painfully dry and understated retainer that is now Alfred. So right was Miller's characterization, so desperately needed to give Alfred the larger and deeper role readers have always wanted him to have. So successful was he in doing so, that not only did every writer afterwards follow his lead, but readers began to think that Alfred was always that way.
Thank you, Frank Miller, for re-inventing Alfred as someone who could both "fight" Batman to a standstill and make Batman part of one of comics' greatest comedy duos.