As some of you may or may not be aware, the Batman family (and pop culture in general) may be getting a new origin story added to it. It’s being reported that Epix is picking up an order to produce a show about Alfred Pennyworth. That’s right, Bruce Wayne’s butler, right-hand man, and surrogate father may be coming to television in his own tale. Before fans get too excited, however, it’s also being said that the show is not completely related to Gotham, which is about to wrap up its run on Fox. There’s been no word yet on when the show will air, or even who has been cast, but we here at PCU will be sure to fill in the blanks as more information becomes available.
This brings us to the meat of today’s discussion. Unless you are a dyed in the cowl, hardcore Batman fan, you should probably be asking yourself if we really, truly, need this story. Seriously: who out there was clamoring to find out how Alfred came to be in the employ of the Wayne family, and ultimately became Bruce’s right-hand man? In my opinion, it’s the same as wondering why there was a need for a show which recounted Bruce Wayne’s formative years, since we already knew he’d become The Batman. Sure, Gotham has had its measure of success, but how much more successful or interesting would it have been if we really just got a full-blown Batman series (and not one skinned as Arrow)?
Part of the blame for the whole prequel frenzy, I believe can be placed on the Star Wars prequels. Regardless of how some others may feel, I always thought that the prequel trilogy (Episodes I – III) was an unnecessary exercise. It took a great villain like Darth Vader, and reduced him to a whiny emo mess of a character in Anakin Skywalker. At the same time, those three movies created even larger plot holes in the Star Wars universe. To be brutally honest, I think that George Lucas & Co. made as much money as they did off of those, because they were the first Star Wars movies that fans had gotten in nearly 20 years after Return of the Jedi, and it made us clamor for more. So, we accepted the crumbs given to us even though we wished (and of course eventually got) for more movies beyond RotJ. At the end of the day, however, did we really need Vader’s/Anakin’s story to understand who he was as a character, especially since we knew that the outcome would be his eventual death at the hands of his master? I’m not convinced.
This is even akin to my wondering why television fans are watching SyFy’s Krypton. We already know that Krypton is a planet doomed to explode, Kal-El will come to Earth, and for the longest time he’ll be known as one of the last remaining Kryptonians. So, why are fans getting invested in characters for which they already know the outcome, especially when we’re talking about Kal-El’s grandfather?
But I digress. In essence, this is why I take issue with the idea of a show like Pennyworth being created. I am not saying that it won’t be good; far from that, in fact. It could potentially be a very well-written and compelling show, given the right team. That being said, we still all know that, in the end, Alfred ends up washing Bruce Wayne’s dirty drawers, stitching his wounds and handling his business dealings in Gotham City. Still, it feels like Hollywood has been so stuck in not only needlessly remaking movies (e.g. Footloose, Clash of the Titans and Robocop), but trying to fill in story points that no one ever asked for.
Another issue I find when dealing with any kind of prequel story, is that there seems to be almost no reason to get attached to the characters – especially if they were made to be disposable. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great example of this. No matter how much you liked Jyn Erso’s feisty nature, K-2SO’s snark, and Chirrut being one with the Force, you are not going to see them again. Seriously, how much did we really need an entire movie – 40 years later – showing how the Rebellion got the plans for the Death Star, when we know that in the very next movie, it’s going to be destroyed? This kind of thing is exactly what bothers me about the Star Wars prequels that I talked about earlier. The prequel movies ruined Darth Vader for me, and I am afraid that Solo is going to do the same thing for Han, even though we know that **SPOILER** he dies at the hands of his son.
Come on, Hollywood: some of these story holes don’t need filling, especially when we get pretty specific implications as to how a plot point or character got to their current point. The absolute worst part of these prequel shows and movies (in my opinion) is that they frequently end up feeling like cash grabs, just vying for the attention of fans; some lack originality, and some are just plain bad. The one exception I’ve seen being Smallville, but even that had us sit through ten years of it, just to give us a brief glimpse of Kal-El in the iconic Superman suit. I’m not mad at it, but I am going to say that this kind of thing really isn’t my cup of tea.
As far as Pennyworth goes, if one really wants to make a story about Alfred, there are so many ways to show how he functions in conjunction to Bruce/Batman, and those have been deftly told in the comics over the years. THAT’S what we need more of as fans. We don’t need prequels, we need writers and producers who can and will take chances to add on to what we already know, and actually progress our favorite stories.
I suppose that a good analogy for my view on prequels is this: It’s like taking any media platform (be it a movie, a book, a song, etc.), start it about three quarters of the way through, go all the way to the end, and then saying, “Hey, let’s go all the way back to the beginning and see how we got here”. I may be in the minority here, but to me, this is weird storytelling. You’ve already spoiled yourself for the conclusion of the story, so why go back?
My bottom line is this: Some characters have become great just because of who they are, and how they’ve been written into our fandoms. We don’t necessarily need to have entire backstories thrown up on screen to fill in what makes these characters tick. The main reason we don’t need those stories, is because we’ve each formulated our own ideas and impressions of who these people are, what drives them, and how they got to their current state(s). Additionally, having those back stories left up to the audience also adds an element of mystery to the characters themselves. Leave just enough off the table, fans can imagine who a character was before they got to their present point. An audience’s imagination is a powerful tool, so we should be allowed to use it.
This is why I am left wondering why someone felt the need to make a whole show about a character like Alfred Pennyworth. There have already been so many great comic stories told over the years that fill in his life quite nicely, but I guess someone felt that a televised version of his origins couldn’t hurt. Again, Pennyworth may end up being well-acted and tightly-written. We may even find out some new things (or have things added into canon) which we never knew about our friend Alfred.
I’m just not on board for it.