No, it is not Bruce Wayne, nor indeed pretty-boy McGinnis.
Of course, it is Alfred, the loyal butler, the saviour of the saviour.
I can still remember the first time we set eyes on him, the princess and I, the first episode of Batman we watched, a couple of years ago, when the superhero obsession was just starting. It was the “Bane” episode, where some horrible human-monster-giant comes to town and starts robbing all the banks. He beats Batman up too, leaving him for dead. Alfred arrives in the batmobile, slings him in the back, and takes him to the bat-cave. He sews up Batman’s wounds, “using the skills he learned in the army”. Batman has a feverish dream, in which the police has just informed him of the death of his parents. Little Bruce is crying. Alfred comes to him, and says “although I cannot take the place of your parents, I promise I will never leave you”. Bruce gets better and starts building a giant robot, with which to defeat the evil Bane. Alfred helps him build the robot, and brings him nachos.
Although both the princess and I are blessed with affectionate, vibrant and forceful parents, that episode pushed some button in us, and we both fell deeply, madly in love with Alfred. It didn’t help that he actually does bear a strong resemblance to my father. But Alfred is better than a real-life father: being a butler, he does not nag or criticize or over-burden Bruce with unrealistic expectations, as real fathers tend to do. He serves and protects, and makes useful suggestions, something real fathers almost never do. He does all those soul-destroying tasks of mediocre daily life: paying bills and cleaning the house and arranging Bruce’s clothes, yet he does not hate Bruce, on the contrary, loves him and further helps him on his stupid crazy bat-adventures.
When we first started watching Batman Beyond, all of us, including the Golden Boy, were confused- what happened to Alfred? “Is this Alfred?” asked the Golden Boy, pointing to the image of the aging thin-lipped Bruce Wayne. No- it can’t be. There is no mention of Alfred. Gradually the horrible truth dawns on us all- Alfred has died. And what is worse, the unlovable Bruce Wayne has taken over his role, sort of, without the nachos, generally supporting the young McGinniss and helping him out of sticky situations. But where Alfred’s devotion to Bruce was heroic, Bruce’s continual electronic monitoring of the child McGinnis and his sarcastic put-downs is borderline creepy and sick.
Oh Alfred. Didn’t you promise Bruce never to leave him? He needs you. We all need you. Come back.