Pennyworth is a television show about Batman’s best butler Alfred and the adventures he went on long before he worked for the Wayne family. It’s a show that seemed to make no sense on paper but has been a success. So much so, DC Comics is launching a new seven-issue comics series. From creators Scott Bryan Wilson and Juan Gedeon, this story is a Cold War-era spy drama, but it all connects to Alfred in the modern era too. Expect gritty narration and spy tricks, but also a love story and a threat you won’t see coming.
The tricky thing about spy dramas is there are certain notes the reader and viewer expect. This first issue hits a few of them, not least of which is an opening interrogation on the top of the Eiffel Tower. There are also secret identities, the trouble with speaking languages and their dialects perfectly, and of course punching! For fans of spy dramas, you’ll likely find something here to enjoy.
Heavily narrated by Alfred, Wilson takes us through key aspects of Alfred’s life as a child, but mostly as an agent heavily focused on stopping Russia from committing heinous acts. Wilson puts you inside his head and while the narration can feel overly done, it gets more across than what the art may accomplish in a single issue.
Two things that work very well are how this connects to current events — whatever “current” is in this series, since Alfred is technically dead — and the main threat. Both are great at shocking the reader while supplying plenty of questions. It’s shocking to see what the threat is since it would be a threat modern superheroes should handle and not just a few spies. Both of these are bold storytelling choices that kick up the story quite a bit.
Gedeon’s art along with John Rauch’s colors do well to flesh out the world around Pennyworth. There’s a cartoony nature to the lines which simplifies the facial expressions, but it also gives Alfred a youthful look in the past. Rauch adds nice details like purples in the sky or hues in the frozen water. Two full-page splashes will resonate and linger with you thanks to the moody atmosphere that plays with shadow and color. Both are threatening in an intriguing way.
Having never watched the Pennyworth show, it’s safe to say there’s enough here for spy aficionados. The story structure leans a bit too heavily on captions, however, which sometimes cover panels far too much and slow the narrative down even when the action is picking up.
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