No Joke, Pennyworth is DC’s Most Consistently Surprising Show

I can’t say that I’ve been a true fan of Alfred Pennyworth for long. Yes, he’s always been around my Batman fandom, bringing Bruce Wayne his dinner, his suits, and some much-needed fatherly advice (and occasional sassy retort). All admirable qualities, especially when you think of all he’s done for Bruce over the years. But he’s never been someone I thought of as a main character of the franchise…until watching Pennyworth, the DC show about Alfred (and a lot of other Batman folk) that recently arrived on HBO Max.

I binged the first season of the show back in the early days of the pandemic but hadn’t gotten around to checking out where things went after the (literally) explosive season finale. Finding out that the show was now on HBO Max—and with the promise of a third season to come—now felt like the perfect time to find out how things escalated in the second season. Because it was clear that things were only getting more intense.

The first season of the show introduces us to a young Alfred Pennyworth who isn’t quite sure where to go with his life. He’s spent some time in the military, making a name for himself as someone with a particular set of skills. Finding himself a civilian, Alfred goes to work in security, but also makes connections with members of the English government, Scotland Yard, and even the United States’ CIA. He quickly becomes a go-to man for missions of the utmost importance that need to stay hush-hush. He works alongside his brothers-from-other-mothers Dave Boy and Bazza, and crosses paths with Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane (pre-Bruce). The season ends with an escalation of tensions between two sets of folk who think they know best for England, and with Alfred…well, I won’t spoil it other than to say I literally gasped when I saw it.

My assumption that the second season would only ramp up the action wasn’t at all wrong. Pennyworth Season 2 finds our hero in a London under siege, in an England embroiled in a civil war between the Raven Union, led by fascists who seem all-too timely, and the English League, helmed by the Prime Minister and the Queen. It also finds Alfred struggling with his actions in the previous season and his place in the world, yet again. He’s a darker Alfie, plagued by visions of those he’s lost and attempting to find solace in the arms of women who aren’t right for him at all. He’s still the man everyone looks to solve problems that otherwise might seem insurmountable, but he’s leaning a bit more to the black side of the tightrope he walks, rather than balancing more in the gray. (No one tells him he needs therapy, but I certainly think he would benefit from it.)

Thomas and Martha are there, too, along with a young Lucius Fox. Together, this motley crew must foil the Raven Union’s plans to use a horrifying chemical weapon against the people of London (a weapon that just happens to be slightly reminiscent of one Jonathan Crane’s fear toxin). Along the way, Alfie finally realizes, although somewhat begrudgingly, that he is the kind of guy who doesn’t run from a fight, especially when he’s on the side of the right. Also, Thomas and Martha finally get together after nearly twenty episodes of sniping at each other, paving the way for a future Wayne generation…albeit not the one you might be expecting.

The characters and nearly non-stop action are certainly reasons to jump into the show, but the fascinating world-building and fleshing-out of backstory for folks who until now have never been central characters is a great reason to stick around. I also can’t stress enough how different of a DC show this is—it’s literally unlike any other comic book show on the air right now. Pennyworth is set in an alternate universe from ours and even what we typically see in Batman comics, which means to expect surprises—even some of the smallest moments of change had me fist-pumping in delight. (Y’all know I smiled at the somewhat throwaway mention of America’s madam president.) The show also doesn’t shy away from the more gothic and gritty nature of the franchise. The first season sees a satanic party/orgy at Aleister Crowley’s house, while the second has a very dark The Most Dangerous Game-style scene, along with some pretty violent fights. Like I said, expect surprises.

The world of Pennyworth is far more intriguing and fun than a show about “Batman’s butler” has any right being. It will delight both new and longtime fans of the Batman franchise, as well as fans who don’t like Batman at all. I have no idea where the third season will take us—although I have some theories!—but I know it’ll be filled with even more high-octane moments, soul-searching, and hopefully, more moments that lean into interesting changes for the characters and their legacy to come. Best of all, now that it’s on HBO Max, there will soon be even more fans of the series to discuss it with. And that’s good, because we have got to talk about Thomas and Martha’s baby. Say whaaaat?

Catch up on Pennyworth Seasons 1 and 2 on HBO Max, before Season 3 debuts later this year. For even more on the war-torn world of young Alfred Pennyworth, visit the official Pennyworth series page.

Pennyworth has also come to comics! You can now read the first issue of DC’s Pennyworth comic series for free with registration on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.

Mandy Curtis writes about comics, specifically DC’s Young Adult line, and TV for DCComics.com. You can find her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are those of Mandy Curtis and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.

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