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Batman's Enemies: THE OUTSIDER

Updated on March 7, 2017
The cover to DETECTIVE COMICS (1st Series)#356 (October 1966); cover by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.
The cover to DETECTIVE COMICS (1st Series)#356 (October 1966); cover by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.

Of all of Batman's enemies -- and the list is endless -- his most unusual and unexpected enemy had an equally unusual origin, and not just in the comic book pages. Today, the Outsider is best remembered by those reading Batman's comic book adventures during the 1960's -- as well as tuning in to the live-action Batman TV series which aired on ABC from 1966-68.

In DETECTIVE COMICS (1st Series)#334 (December 1964), in a Gardner Fox/Sheldon Moldoff story, a costumed criminal gang called the Grasshoppers attempted to get rid of Batman and Robin -- which only resulted in the former's defeat. But by story's end, the Dynamic Duo learned that a mystery villain called the Outsider was responsible for their predicament -- and worse still, he knew everything about them, including their secret identities!

The Outsider would attempt to get rid of Batman and Robin three more times in almost the next two years (in DETECTIVE#'s 336, 340, and 349) -- including using Zatanna (daughter of Zatara, one of DC's first Golden Age heroes, disguised as a witch) and the first Blockbuster as pawns in his objective -- with the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder emerging triumphant all three times.

Finally, in DETECTIVE#356 (October 1966), Batman and Robin finally met the Outsider face-to-face -- and defeated him near story's end. But Batman and Robin's victory over the Outsider was nothing compared to the far bigger surprise awaiting them when the Outsider was revealed as -- Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth?

Yes -- Alfred Pennyworth. And the story of how Alfred became the Outsider -- isn't nearly as complex as the real-life story of how DC Comics first conceived him.

In 1964, Julius Schwartz took over the editing chores of BATMAN and DETECTIVE, partly to bolster declining comic book sales -- not helped in part by previous editor Jack Schiff placing the Dark Knight in Sci-Fi and fantasy settings which didn't really suit the character to begin with. Schwartz helped inject new blood into Batman with new creative talent which would boost and sustain the character's popularity during the rest of the 1960's -- including writers John Broome and Gardner Fox, and artist Carmine Infantino.

Ironically enough, in DETECTIVE#328 (June 1964) -- Schwartz's second issue as editor -- it was longtime Batman writer Bill Finger who penned a story in which the Masked Manhunter and Robin captured by a band of criminals seeking revenge, and ended with Alfred Pennyworth saving their lives, but not before sacrificing his own life in the process. That story is also remembered for Batman's alter-ego of billionaire Bruce Wayne creating a charity organization in Alfred's memory -- and the introduction of Dick Grayson's aunt, Harriet Cooper, who came to live with both Bruce and Dick at Wayne Manor (and which would create a number of complications for them over the next few years).

Schwartz's decision to kill off Alfred may have been an important, yet short-lived goal in his editorial revitalization of Batman -- but it also stemmed from psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham's attack on the comic book super-hero in his 1954 book Seduction Of The Innocent, especially when he (unfairly) compared Batman, Robin, and Alfred to three homosexual men living together under one roof, a reminder of how Dr. Wertham went too far as far as attacking the comic book industry was concerned, not to mention his criticism of Batman becoming something of a joke over the next decade (which further hurt comic book sales and endangered his popularity).

But in 1965, 20th Century Fox and veteran TV producer William Dozier made plans to produce a live-action Batman TV series which would air on ABC in January 1966 -- and Alfred would play a prominent role in the show's success, which posed a problem for Schwartz and his creative team: how do you bring back a supporting character like Alfred back from the dead?

In late-1964, long before the Batman TV series was first conceived, Schwartz and Gardner Fox introduced the Outsider, named after the title of a short story written by legendary author H.P. Lovecraft (one of Schwartz's clients when he was a literary agent during the 1930's) which was first published in 1926. At first, the Outsider was supposed to be totally unseen -- making him as serious a threat to Batman and Robin as their other enemies, including the Joker, the Catwoman, etc.

But by 1966, Schwartz and Fox knew that the Outsider couldn't stay faceless forever -- which resulted in Batman and Robin clashing with him in DETECTIVE#356, ending with both learning that their mystery foe was in reality Alfred, who was never really dead in the first place. As Alfred returned to his old self, he revealed that he was turned into the Outsider by a scientist's experimental device which brought him back to life -- but at the same time, turned him into a twisted version of himself (both physically and mentally) dedicated to destroying Batman and Robin. (There was also one important side-effect of Alfred returning to his old self: he lost all memory of his time as the Outsider.) By story's end, Alfred -- once again alive -- returned to Wayne Manor to serve Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (and their costumed alter-egos). As for the Alfred Foundation -- it was renamed the Wayne Foundation (after Bruce Wayne's slain father, Dr. Thomas Wayne).

The Outsider would only make several more appearances over the next twenty years -- first in DETECTIVE#364 (June 1967), in which he animated statues of some of Batman's foes in order to eliminate him and Robin. Then, ten years later, in BATMAN FAMILY#11-13, published in 1977, writer Bob Rozakis conceived a several issue-storyline which culminated in the Outsider clashing with Robin, the second Batgirl, and Man-Bat, with Alfred reverting to his regular self by story's end. Eight years later, in DC COMICS PRESENTS#83 (July 1985), Alfred turned into the Outsider, courtesy of I.Q. Quimby, who used him as a pawn to get revenge on both Superman and Batman; however, the World's Finest heroes, plus the Outsiders (the super-hero team led by Batman and introduced in 1983), nipped Quimby's plans in the bud. The story in DCCP#83 marked the final appearance of Alfred as the Outside -- at least on Earth-One, where DC's Silver Age super-heroes lived on; by the end of DC's CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS limited series in 1985, the Multiverse that Earth-One was a part of it faded into history (if only temporarily -- at least for the next twenty years).

In this current decade, there have been two new versions of the Outsider -- with one of them being a nod of sorts to the original version introduced in 1964. The first came in FLASHPOINT: THE OUTSIDER#1 (August 2011), an Indian-born meta-human who takes over his country's crime syndicate, and which has brought him in conflict with many DC super-heroes -- including, not surprising enough, Batman. The second, introduced almost a year later, in JUSTICE LEAGUE#6 (April 2012), as part of DC's short-lived and unsuccessful "New 52" format which updated the comic book company's super-heroes for the 21st Century (the "52" in "New 52" refers to the number of Earths located in the revived DC Multiverse), led and financed the revived Secret Society of Super-Heroes, as he and other super-villains battled Batman and other DC super-heroes, including Batman. In a nod to DC's creative past, the "New 52" version of the Outsider was revealed as Alfred Pennyworth -- not of New Earth where the heroic Batman and him compatriots reside on, but of Earth-Three, an alternate world dominated by super-villains (including Batman's super-villain "twin" Owlman). The third Outsider's criminal reign, however, would be short-lived -- since he ended up getting killed by long-time Aquaman foe Black Manta (as detailed in FOREVER EVIL#6 [May 2014]).

Please visit John Lavernoich's official website: johnlavernoich.weebly.com

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