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At Comic-Con, Pennyworth serves up secret societies and a smidge of torture

Pennyworth tells the story of Bruce Wayne's butler as a young man. At SDCC, Alfred's world is posh, but dangerous.

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Pennyworth's world is posh but dangerous. 

Erin Carson/CNET

The tray of utensils -- the kind that would come in handy if you were trying to extract information from someone -- was the first clue I wasn't just hanging around a yet another dimly lit, posh-looking bar. The tray were sitting by a cot, in a dark little room hidden behind a bookcase housing books, pictures and an assortment of decorative knick-knacks, all meant to evoke 1960s London. 

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Erin Carson/CNET

Or at least, a certain part of 1960s London. This isn't exactly Carnaby Street. I'm out at San Diego Comic-Con and this interactive experience mixing booze and intrigue is a promotion for Pennyworth, a show from DC Comics, airing son on Epix. 

Pennyworth tells the backstory of Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred, best known as Bruce Wayne's childhood caretaker, butler and confidant, is portrayed in the show as a young man and former British SAS soldier, who creates a security company with Bruce's dad, Thomas. 

Pennyworth, which premieres on July 28, isn't the first show to dig into the pre-Batman world. Fox's Gotham, which ended in April after five seasons, followed Jim Gordon, who goes on to become Gotham's police commissioner, as well as Bruce Wayne as a boy and a middle-aged Alfred. 

At SDCC, Batman is an even more distant figure. There's talk of secret societies called the Raven Society and the No Name Society. Constables are looking for information on them, and attendees are poking around the plush furniture, black jack table, post card station and, you know, torture dungeon. 

In a room surrounded by bars, with what looks like an electric chair in the middle, a constable asks me if I know anything about the Raven Society. 

I don't. Secret societies aren't really my thing. But I'm told if you download the Epix app, you earn admission to this mysterious organization. He says if I'm lying there will be consequences. Another one says, "Either way there will be consequences."

Ain't that the truth. 

"As a side note, it's also a photo opportunity," the first one adds. 

I watch as groups of people pretend like they've just been torturing each other and having a ball doing it. Having flown through Chicago Midway Airport last week, I've had my fill of torture. As one group exits and another takes its place, I zip out to the exit, past a red phone booth and back into 2019 San Diego.