Before Bruce Wayne was Batman, his British butler was James Bond. That’s the premise of Epix’s Pennyworth, the posh new production from the makers of Fox’s Gotham, executive producer/writer Bruno Heller and executive producer/director Danny Cannon. On Friday, the pair brought the show’s cast to Comic-Con in San Diego to showcase a series that is part Alfred and part Alfie.
The series follows Batman’s future butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), and picks up with the character in his 20s and fresh from his duty as a British SAS soldier. The intrepid Pennyworth launches a new venture, a security company, and his first client is young American millionaire Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), future father of a boy named Bruce.
“Alfred’s story came first. It’s a character that everybody knows and loves that hasn’t been explored at all,” said Heller, whose other credits include Rome and The Mentalist. “But on the other hand everyone knows what happens in the end. So it’s telling an origin story with a great deal of freedom. It’s both within the Batman world but a bit more relatable, I think.”
Bannon, with a wink, said he had to make special preparations to take on the role. “The minute I read Bruno’s script, I knew this was a story worth telling and one I wanted to be a part of,” Bannon shared. “I had to go out and buy a suit, because I didn’t have a suit… I had to get a haircut. I had to get a tie…”
Heller noted that the series is the first period-piece television series based on DC Comics (although the 1970s series Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter was set in the 1940s for part of its run). Cannon seemed to hint that the series could be framed as a unofficial prequel to the Fox series Gotham but for months now Pennyworth has been consistently described as untethered to any existing Batman mythology.
A connection would make some sense: Alfred was portrayed as a rough-and-tumble manservant by Sean Pertwee for five seasons on Gotham, which aired its series finale in May. The show’s 100-episode run chronicled tales of Bruce Wayne’s hometown in the years ramping up to his first masked-man exploits.
With or without a Gotham linkage, there’s not a whole lot that connects the project to DC Comics, its mythology, or its familiar costumed characters. No super powers are involved in the plot and (by all appearances) there are no recognizable villains waiting in the wings. Also, breaking from tradition, this version of Thomas Wayne is not presented as a medical doctor, making him seem even less related to the comics and movies about Gotham City.
The pilot, which airs July 28, was given a special free premiere screening Wednesday night and was well received by the crowd, although the large contingent of fans wearing Batman T-shirts (or Batman hats, Batman capes, Batman masks, Batman utility belts, or Batman tattoos…) might have wondered if they were watching an expanded edition of John le Carré espionage classic (as in Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy & Butler).
The premiere and the panel were just part of the heavy promotion of the show at this year’s Comic-Con. There’s also a elaborately detailed takeover activation at a local hotel that lets fans tour a high-society lounge and 1960s-era casino, as well as the secret headquarters and S&M dungeon of the Raven Society, a nefarious group that is up to no good on the show.
The drama is from Warner Horizon Scripted Television, which is also using the way-back machine approach with its Superman prequel series Krypton, the Syfy show set on hero’s doomed home-world before his birth.