In post-WWII, pre-swinging London, a father advises his son to go into domestic service. “If you do well, you could be a butler someday.” The son is an army veteran whose official military record lists him as a quartermaster but his job was something much more lethal—he has no intention of spending his life as a butler. Yet that is exactly what he will do because the new series “Pennyworth,” premiering July 28 on Epix, is the backstory of one of the most famous butlers in literature—one played by actors like Michael Gough, Alfred Napier, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons, and Michael Caine—Alfred Pennyworth, butler of Wayne Manor and caretaker/mentor of Bruce Wayne, also known as Batman. It is produced and written by Danny Cannon and Bruno Heller of “Gotham.”
The first episode of “Pennyworth” was shown on the opening night of San Diego Comic-Con, introducing Alfred (Jack Bannon), his colorful and highly skilled friends from the army (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett and Ryan Fletcher), his actress girlfriend with a posh accent, his working-class parents, and some brutal and very nasty bad guys from a group called the Raven Society, including a ruthless, sharp-tongued blonde played by Paloma Faith. We also meet a young billionaire from America named Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and his love interest, Martha Kane. Her maiden name is a reference to the credited creator of Batman, Bob Kane. Since I’m writing this from Comic-Con, though, I note that many people believe the secret identity of Batman’s real creator is Bill Finger, and this year’s Con featured a panel on the subject.
Comic-Con fans love to get up close and personal with their favorite series, and this year one of their best opportunities was “The Pennyworth Experience,” located in San Diego’s Oxford Social Club. Visitors literally entered the world of the series, with costumed characters and many of the sets imported or replicated down to the smallest detail. One room is an elegant club called The Scarlet Rope, where a drag queen in a blonde wig lip-synced to songs with two girls in miniskirts and go-go boots dancing behind her. Past the bar were two secret rooms, one a small padded cell where a young woman playing Alfred’s actress girlfriend sat on a cot and pled for help. Past that was the torture room, where it seemed perfectly natural to see the “Pennyworth” star, Jack Bannon, chatting with the other guests (a little less natural to see him in 2019 attire).
Filled with intriguing period detail, a lot of very intense action, and sometimes mordant humor, “Pennyworth” looks promising enough that, speaking of creators, Cannon and Heller may be working on a series about the contractors who built the Batcave next. If they do, we will report on “The Batcave Experience” at Comic-Con next year.
Note: We will have a full review of "Pennyworth" on Friday.