Batman: The Animated Series

Episode Six- The Underdwellers
harkovast at 8:06AM, Oct. 1, 2009
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Plot Synopsis
Batman uncovers a community of orphaned children living in the sewers of Gotham. They are enslaved by a cruel villain calling himself The Sewer King, who attacks Batman with a horde of giant crocodiles. While Batman deals with The Sewer King, Alfred has trouble with one of the young children who comes to stay at Wayne Manor.

High Lights

Villains
In this episode, the villain is an original creation for the cartoon series, The Sewer King. Personally, I like this guy. No actually, that is a bad choice of words, this guy is horrible! But he does make an effective bad guy!
He is the master of an army of child picket pockets. His inspiration is obviously Dickensian, and this is made more apparent by his old fashioned costume.
Dickensian Britain was a place of great social inequality, where the most appalling child labour was common place, so this is a very fitting model for this villain.
Someone who took in stray children and offered them shelter and food in exchange for teaching them to commit crimes were historically known as “kidsmen” or (after Oliver Twist was written) “Fagins”. Sadly, Charles Dickens did not just make the concept up!
His most noticeable physical feature is that one of the lenses of his glasses has been darkened over, suggesting he is missing an eye. The cause of this injury is unclear.
Since the children are all skilled thieves and pick pockets, and The Sewer King states that he trained them, we can assume he is also very skilled at theft. Clearly, though, he has decided that it is far easier to let the children he controls do all the work and take all the risks while he simply collects the rewards.
The Sewer King is the kind of villain that you can’t wait to get his just deserts for his appalling behaviour. He rules the children with absolute terror, forbidding them from speaking, leaving them filthy and dressed in rags and sending them to steal for him. He also keep them in darkness, meaning they find bright light painful and frightening. This is a fear he encourages by using a flood lit chamber he calls “The Light” as a punishment for infractions.
The Sewer Kings abuse is psychological as well as physical or neglectful, and in his strange, ranting speeches (“lessons” as he calls them) he constantly reminds the children that the outside world has abandoned them while he took them in, that the owe everything to him and that terrible punishment awaits those who do not obey.
Batman is so disgusted by The Sewer Kings exploits that he states that “I don’t pass sentence, that’s for the courts. But this time…this time I am sorely tempted to do the job myself.”
When even Batman is having to restrain himself to not want to kill you, you really are a complete dick!
The Sewer King’s most dangerous weapon is a host of large, ferocious alligators that he considers his pets. He seems very skilled at handling these reptiles, at one point seemingly falling to his death in a pool of them, only to reveal that they have not harmed him.
I find him a good villain- creepy, menacing and above all cruel.

Bat Crap Crazy
The Sewer King is a very disturbed individual, seemingly acting out a desire for power and authority in his own private kingdom. There is a sense that he is putting on airs and graces, dressing in fancy clothes, eating at big table with a candelabra, sometimes speaking in an overly polite manner (“Frog, the rolls, if you please.”)
But there are constant signs of this veneer slipping- his ragged cape, his unpleasant table manners, his wild bouts of rage.
This is a man desperate for control, respect and authority who, unable to achieve it in normal society, has taken in homeless children, who he can easily bully and condition to obey him.
Like many abusers though, The Sewer King seems to genuinely believe he is doing good for the children, explaining how he has clothed and educated them, as well as teaching them a trade (theft.) In his own mind he sees himself as a tough but fair parent, protecting the children from the outside world, a world we can assume has rejected him in the past.
At one point he holds a boy hostage, threatening to feed him to his crocodiles, and then only shortly afterwards says to Batman “you’ve frightened my beloved children.”
Sewer King’s idea of love is so twisted, cruel and selfish, that it is hard for anyone to relate to it, but in a lot of ways this is a more realistic portrayal of an abusive individual.
Another obvious sign of The Sewer Kings unbalanced mental state is his mode of speech. He constantly reaffirms his own states “You hurt my pretty pets, yes, yes you did!” and is prone to sudden out bursts of shouting.
If I had to hazard a guess I would say The Sewer King must have suffered a very disturbed childhood of his own that led him to believe that his behaviour is reasonable.
At one point The Sewer King points to a boy and accuses him of having spoken. The audience has not heard the boy speak so I got the impression that The Sewer King was just picking one of them at random to make an example of. It is, of course, perfectly possible that The Sewer King was delusional in believing the boy had spoken, convincing himself it had happened and then acting upon this sudden conviction.

The children, while not insane, are also worthy of psychological consideration. They are conditioned to obey The Sewer King without question. This goes so far as to never speaking, even when injured. They have been emotionally beaten down to the point that they accept this cruel treatment, genuinely believing that they can expect nothing better in the outside world.
It is a dread of the outside world, lights and speaking that keeps the children isolated and dependant on The Sewer King as their carer (all be it a twisted one). This is probably a bigger part of his control over them then even his threats of violence or starvation.

Batman twice attempts to save The Sewer Kings life. First when he falls from some pipes towards the gator pit, Batman tries to grab him. The Sewer King refuses to take his hand and falls to the water. At first this appears to be The Sewer Kings arrogance but we then learn that he is able to handle the gators and is unharmed.
Later he is knocked into the path of an on coming train while trying to escape. Batman pulls him to safety (at great personal risk.)
Though as I mentioned, even Batman’s code against killing (or at least beating someone to a bloodied pulp after they are defeated) is sorely tested.

Death Trap

The sequence where Batman hangs over a pit of gators serves as an effective death trap this episode.
Also, before the main plot kicks off there is a sequence with two children playing on top of a train. Their game is chicken and the last one to jump will be the loser. Batman steps in to stop this, causing one child to leap off immediately on seeing him. The other child begins to celebrate, believing he has won the dare, only to discover that his foot has become tangled in some cables and a bridge is fast approaching. Batman pulls him to safety in the nick off time and warns the children off this type of foolhardy game in future.
Though it had nothing to do with the main story, I enjoyed this little diversion. It was nice to see Batman getting people out of danger rather then his usual solving of crimes.

Bat Blood
While not technically blood, Batman does dislocate the jaw of a gator with his hands in order to incapacitate it. Batman is hardcore!

Alfred is Awesome
The topic of abuses children is pretty dark, even for Batman! But here it gets off set against a more light-hearted subplot of Alfred taking care of one of the orphaned children. This works pretty well I think to lift our spirits. Watching the boy pocketing all the silverware every time Alfred turns around is very amusing.
Alfred also gets in a classic line when Batman says “you think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“In what sense, Master Bruce?”
This is followed by some nice interactions where Alfred initially mocking of what Batman is saying, but then shows more sympathy when he sees that Batman is stressed.

Holy shitty moments, Batman!
The actual creators of Batman: TAS didn’t like this episode. The reason was that the Korean animators they used did not entirely capture the normal look of the show, giving it a slightly more anime feel.
They almost broke ties with the Korean studio over this, but ended up retaining them.
Personally, I didn’t find the difference too jarring, but I can see how someone might be annoyed by it.

The aspect of the plot that didn’t complete ring true to me was early on when a woman identifies a child thief as a leprechaun and people seem unsure of whether the criminal really is a leprechaun or not. I think most people (especially the worlds greatest detective) can tell the difference between a leprechaun and a child in a green cloak!

Another small point is that Alfred states that he knows nothing of children. Come off it, Alfred! You raised Bruce Wayne, the guy you are talking too! Perhaps Alfred is just desperately looking for an excuse and this is the best he can come up with on the fly?

Summary
I enjoyed this episode. Though the shift in art style is a problem, it isn’t a crippling one. The story telling is pretty tight and there is a lot of tension and drama, while balancing some of the dark elements with more light hearted sections. This is an interest, different adventure.

Final Batscore
3 out of 5 (though 2 out of 5 if the art change bothers you)

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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
Phillby at 9:07AM, Oct. 1, 2009
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The Sewer King, like all the best Batman villans, is gloriously unhinged.

It's interesting how well a subterrainian Fagin works in Batman but the other character inspired by literature of that period, the Mad Hatter, ended up being terrible. I guess that's the difference between taking inspiration from a source and overtly referencing it.

Although The Hatter's second episode is one of my favorites.

I didn't even notice the different art myself. I'll have to re-watch it.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
harkovast at 9:29AM, Oct. 1, 2009
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posts: 5,198
joined: 10-12-2008
The difference in art is subtle, you can mainly see it with the way the kids are drawn.

I just thought of another possible shitty momment.

The kids are seen farming underground early in the episode.
What are they farming? what grows under ground in total darkness? You dont need to hoe the ground to grow mushrooms, so what are they doing?
My explanation would be that the sewer king, being entirely insane, decided that “good children should work hard” or something to that effect and just set them to work doing a pointless task to keep them occupied.
Certianly, he doesn't need them to produce food for him, as with the stolen money he is buying the very best food for himself already.

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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
Wordweaver_three at 9:21PM, Oct. 10, 2009
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Oh. I forgot to comment on this one.

I never particularly cared for this episode. Possibly because it is so obviously inspired by Oliver Twist. Not that there is anything wrong with Dickensian, he was a brilliant author, but I had never felt such seething rage for characters as I had when reading Twist.

It's probably the abuse of children that makes this episode so unpalatable to me. The “fun” factor that you usually associate with Batman is missing. You actually wish Batman would set aside his priorities and toast the Sewer King like a holiday chestnut, preferably slow and painfully. It's no wonder I had difficulties recalling the specifics of this episode since I had a tendency not to watch this one when it came on.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM
harkovast at 8:17AM, Oct. 11, 2009
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posts: 5,198
joined: 10-12-2008
Wordweaver, I can see what you mean. The subject matter here is very dark, even for this show.
If it makes you feel better, a rodent like the sewer king doesn't stand a chance in the prison system.
this guy is such a failure in the real world that he has to make his own private sewer kingdom of children that he can control.
Clearly in a situation where authority is being determined between adults (such as is very much the case in a harsh enviroment like the Gotham Prison system) this guy won't stand a chance! If this guy had any ability to not be at the bottom of the food chain, he wouldn't have to resort to such bizzare behaviour to gain a sense of authority.
He is going to spend the rest of his days on the absolute bottom wrung of the prisoner pecking order.
*Insert jokes about getting raped in the showers here*
If the guy was unlucky enough to end up in Arkham, he is going to be even worse off! Rendered powerless, he would be exactly the sort of weak willed, bottom wrung loser that people like Joker or Scarecrow could amuse themselves by tormenting at every opportunity.
He is too much of a freak to have any hope of forming friends or allies, and will be completely along in the face of any suffering anyone else cares to inflict on him.

If anything, this guy got unlucky that Batman doesn't just kill people. A quick trip under that train would have got it over with.
His only hope is that someone in prison finds out about his crimes, takes exception to someone abusing kids, and gives him the old shank in the exercise yard.




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last edited on July 18, 2011 10:17AM

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