The Matt Signal – Episode 6: The Underdwellers

Title Card

Plot summary: Batman discovers an underground network of kidnapped children in the employ of the Sewer King and fights some alligators.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode: ‘The Under-Dwellers’

Directed: Frank Paur (1)

Written: Tom Ruegger (2) (story), Jules Dennis (1) & Richard Mueller (1)

Original Air Date: October 21st, 1992

The first instance of an original villain created for the show. Spoilers: He sucks.

Bruce Timm almost fired Studio Junio because he didn’t like the work they turned in. While they did ultimately work with them again they later went out of business.

Director Frank Paur joined Sean Catherine Derek in complaining about the storyboard artists making life difficult. One specific examples was that he wanted the opener with the game of chicken cut but got overruled.

Frog

Recap

A pair of teens play chicken atop a speeding train, with Batman having to rescue the ‘winner’ from a face full of brick, scolding them for their actions. I can see why the director wanted to cut this…

Next, Bats unsuccessfully pursues a purse snatcher, who the victim describes as a leprechaun. It’s a kid in a green cloak. Yikes.

But wait, there’s more! Bruce himself believes he saw a leprechaun, giving Alfred shit for doubting him. What on earth is going on here? He dismisses Alfred’s suggestion he needs a vacation and heads back out.

Sewer King

Somewhere in the sewers, a horde of children perform various backbreaking labours, including sewing and mining, as well as unloading their pickpocketing wares.

A bell rings and they gather before The Sewer King who scolds them for not being quiet enough despite working in complete silence..

Batman spots a fake wall in an alley using infrared goggles and enters the underground network, not heeding a warning about the Sewer King scrawled across a wall.

Beware

He happens across the kid in the green cloak and chases him for a while, eventually taking him back topside and into the Batmobile. Our adult hero drives the small boy to his underground lair, covering his eyes shortly before the entrance so he doesn’t deduce his identity.

Alfred is tasked with looking after the boy, who is mute and overly sensitive to light. He pockets the cutlery Alfred lays out and eats with his hands. Batman finds all of it extremely funny. Poor Alfred. Eat the rich.

Alfred Dishes

Sewer King notices ‘Frog’ is missing and screams at the other kids as if they’re in any way responsible, sending them to look for him. They don’t have to go far though, as Batman has already had the boy lead him back to the underground kingdom (after giving him a lecture about guns).

Grunting the single word “Evidence”, he proceeds to photograph the children and then… just walks off? He rings the assembly bell to gather all the kids (though it looks like the exact number he was just with) and then breaks it, promising to rescue them.

Sewer Gators

Sewer King objects and sets two of his pet alligators on the Caped Crusader. Bats knocks one out with the bell, and then hogties the other, so Sewer King unleashes two more.

They fare slightly better, but Batman KILLS one of them by forcing its jaw open too wide. Wild. The other one presumably runs away in fear. I watched this sequence four times to try and make sense of it and that’s the best I’ve got.

Bat Murder

Furious, Sewer King seizes one of the kids and threatens to feed him to two more gators, but Frog swings past on a rope and saves the other child, who might be his brother, but who knows (or cares)?

Batman chases the Sewer King but nearly falls into a pit of yet more alligators! He remarks about them being on the endangered species list despite them being removed from it 5 years prior to the episode.

Sewer King claims to love and provide for the children which enrages Batman. Still, when he begins to fall into the gator pit himself, Bats does try to save him.

Sewer King Caught

But for some reason this episode isn’t over, as Sewer King swims off, unharmed. Batman zip-lines over the alligators and says “later” (seriously) to give chase, tackling him onto some train tracks. Bats says he leaves judgement to the courts (ummmmm) but this time he’s tempted to do it himself. Heavy.

GCPD assist in getting the kids to the surface and Frog smiles when he sees the sun and freakin’ talks for the first time! He was with Bruce and Alfred for a whole day, saw light, and did not say one word. Urgh. Batman smiles. Episode over. Mercifully.

Ending

Best Performance

There are six speaking roles in this episode and Kevin Conroy performs half of them. It’s not his best work, but the other three actors offer no real alternative.

His Bruce Wayne voice sounds more like Batman when he’s alone with Alfred here, which I would call a nice touch, if not for the fact it’s not normally this pronounced. It’s certainly higher when he talks to others than Alfred in other episodes, but it’s so much more gravelly here.

Michael Pataki’s Sewer King sounds vaguely like an ethnically ambiguous Mark Hamill (his normal voice, not his Joker voice). He shouts a bunch. It’s nothing special.

Batman Kid

Ranking

Woof. This is easily the worst episode to date. The writing is weak, the action is weaker, and the villain is weaker still. It’s also not saved by the art, the editing is disjointed and a number of the scenes feel just plain redundant.

The gimmick of the kids not talking on orders of Sewer King makes for some overly quiet stretches, and not in a good way. Silence can be effective (and in fact there were rumours of an entirely silent episode that never got made, which could have been cool), but this wasn’t one of those times.

Even something that should have been a slam dunk like Alfred babysitting a difficult child whiffs completely. He raised Bruce, yet says he knows nothing about looking after a child. Sloppy.

They don’t even take the opportunity to give him one of those wise mentor moments where he finally gets the better of the kid and gets through to him. It’s just a 60 second scene where Batman gets a laugh out of his manservant failing to wrangle a child.

I understand that on paper Batman vs some alligators sounds fun, but I assure you it’s not. It’s one of those episodes where Batman just chases the villain a bunch until he gets them. Skip this.

  1. On Leather Wings
  2. Pretty Poison
  3. Christmas with the Joker
  4. Nothing to Fear
  5. The Last Laugh
  6. The Underdwellers

Sewer King 2

Villain Watch

Sewer King (Michael Pataki) (first appearance)

This series introduced a lot of original characters that have made a lasting impression on the franchise. This is not one of them, though he did appear in a single issue of the 52 comic. He was killed almost immediately.

The writers wanted Sewer King to be more explicitly torturing his army of children in addition to irrationally screaming at them all the time, but standards and practices nipped that right in the bud. Alligator murder is A-OK, though?

There’s not much to him, he’s just a mean little king of the underworld. It’s Mole-Man. You’ve seen it. He’s dressed like a pirate, has some ‘Lost Boys’ and an army of reptiles, but we’re really clutching at straws at this point.

  1. Joker
  2. Poison Ivy
  3. Scarecrow
  4. Man-Bat
  5. Sewer King

Poster

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies has just reviewed one of the finest films of the decade, The Social Network.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, uploads new episodes every Thursday.

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus continues its look at the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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