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Sunday, December 13, 2020 

Pennyworth TV show builds on political divides

In this sugarcoated Captain Comics column on Arcamax from last week, it's told that a new TV show starring Batman butler Alfred Pennyworth set in his youth during the 60s has some fishy sounding politics injected, along with what are ambiguously described as "fascists" for baddies:
I've always wanted to watch this show, which stars Batman's butler in his 20s during London's swingin' '60s. But I didn't pop for Epix when the show debuted in 2019. I finally did when Roku gave me an offer I couldn't refuse: $1.99/month. So now I'm binging season 1.

And I am hooked!

As all Bat-fans know, Alfred began as comedy relief in 1943, a bumbling butler who was both fat and dim. But over the decades he has been upgraded time and again, eventually becoming an irreplaceable aide-de-camp and surrogate father for Bruce Wayne. His past has been revealed in bits and pieces, with careers both on stage and in the UK's Special Air Service, explaining the many skills he brings to bear in the comics.

"Pennyworth" makes use of the military angle, with Alfred — despite being only 26 — being ex-SAS and highly trained in espionage, weaponry, hand-to-hand combat and counter-intelligence. While not at all a Batman show, elements of the mythos are occasionally parachuted in, like Batman's parents in the first season (pre-Bruce), and Lucius Fox (Simon Manyonda) in the second.

But what really sets this show apart is that it takes place in an alternate London.

Yes, the show does capture the era of real 1960s London very well, with cars and clothes and so forth. I especially appreciate the '60s British Invasion style of music (and occasional actual period song, like "The Look of Love" and "Inna Gadda da Vida," presumably because the rights were cheap). There's also a distinct 1960s James Bond vibe, borne out with an animated credit sequence that bears a strong similarity to the one on "Archer," which parodies Bond, and soundtrack elements that seem lifted from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," which is Bond-adjacent. (Robert Vaughn's "U.N.C.L.E.," not Henry Cavill's.)

But this alternate London is one on the brink of Civil War, between the fascist Raven Society and the leftist No Name League, which bears no resemblance to the actual England of the 1960s. There are dirigibles in the sky, people in stocks on the street and hangings, which include disembowelment, on the telly. If you listen to the occasional TV news shows in the background, various bombshells are dropped, such as the one indicating that the Netherlands is part of "The Reich," indicating World War II didn't end in this world like it did in ours.

This London is so awful, Batman's Gotham City suddenly makes sense. No wonder Alfred doesn't bat an eye at Joker and Penguin.

Also, most of the episodes are named for female British singers of the '60s, for no reason I can figure out.
I wouldn't be shocked if the leftist movement in this TV show is depicted as the preferable crowd here. And as for the fascist movement in this show, I wouldn't be shocked if they were intended as right-wing stand-ins, which the article avoids clarifying, but if any mention of right-wing in a negative sense turns up in the teleplays, that won't be a shock either; in the past, I'd watched TV shows up to the turn of the century where, no matter the quality of the scriptwriting, there were occasions when rightists were made out to be the baddies from a political perspective, even if then, most screenwriters usually kept it more subtle than they do now.

And the London of this alternate reality is really that awful? Well how come a London of a past era is suited for a background, but not that of today, which has become a nightmare flooded with violent crime in over a decade? It's insulting to the intellect when only a past that's actually been visited more than often enough can be used as a backdrop in stories like these, but not modern settings, where things in real life have taken a turn for the horrific. Most people I know who lived in the 60s in Europe would tell you it was a lot safer then than it is now, when there's jihadists and other anarchists destroying the countries, mainly in the west end of the continent, while ineffective politicians do virtually nothing to mend the damage. An alternate reality setting in the past is no substitute for a modern meat-and-potatoes setting, and certainly not when it relies on such cliches as Pennyworth does.

On which note, it reminds me of how sad it is that even in comicdom today, you have almost no examples of combatting Islamic jihadism, if at all. Not even in Batman, whose editors in 2010 practically went out of their way to whitewash it, and if a title so steeped in darkness can't confront such subjects just as past decades and writers could confront the problems of their times, it's exactly why corporate owned comics today are failing so badly. That aside, as I've argued before, there's way too much emphasis on Batman-related material today, and it clouds everything as a result.

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"Well how come a London of a past era is suited for a background, but not that of today, which has become a nightmare flooded with violent crime in over a decade?"

The link you post for this mentions only the murder rate in London. But the murder rate in London is still lower than in New York and San DIego, two of the safest major cities in the US, and much much lower than deadlier cities like Dallas or Chicago. The murder rate in London is lower than in Tel Aviv, a city which is itself safer that way than most American big cities.

Apparently, you didn't see my last comment to you, Anonymous.


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