Batman: The Animated Series 25th Anniversary #6: The Underdwellers

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The Underdwellers, the 6th produced episode, was first broadcasted on October 21, 1992 with a script by Jules Dennis & Richard Mueller from a story by Tom Ruegger and directed by Frank Paur.

Batman traces a series of bizarre robberies on the streets of Gotham back to a band of homeless children, who have been raised to do the bidding of their master, the Sewer King.

This is one of those episodes that I think severely gets overlooked a lot but it’s one of my favorite early episodes.

Not only do we once again have great animation and great voice work but I do like that the show has the balls to do an episode that’s centering around child abuse.

Yeah, we’re only six episodes in and the Sewer King is basically abusing these children forcing them into his dastardly plans while he takes up a lot of the credit. It’s a pretty heavy episode. Granted, they don’t stretch the limits to insane levels but the show was so good at not overstating the obvious and just letting the imagery do the work, you see these children being horribly mistreated and it’s pretty messed up.

Speaking of The Sewer King, when I saw this episode the first time around and I heard the voice of him, I swear to god, I thought it was the same voice actor who did the voice of Rabbit in New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, Ken Samson, because it sounded a lot like him. Listen…

Turns out the voice actor for The Sewer King is Michael Pataki, who you will remember from another major supporting role from a 90s animated series:

Yep, the voice of George Liqour from Ren & Stimpy is the voice of The Sewer King. I had no idea the first time I watched this episode and when you watch the episode, you can’t tell. Just goes to show what range voice actors can have.

As far as The Sewer King himself, he is an over the top villain but a well presented over the top villain, he has this over the top tone to him but he can still send chills with lines such as early on when he screams out “NO….TALKINNNNGG!!!!!” to these kids, it can intense every once in a while.

A lot of what makes this episode work is the lack of dialogue, the episode does a great job of letting the animation and the music by the late Shirley Walker do the work for you, the visuals in this are impressive, the shadow work especially in the sewer scenes are top notch.

I also liked how they take their time with the overall story too, letting it build and build to the eventual outcome at the end, and they do such a good job of making the Sewer King just come off as one of the most detestable villains Batman has ever faced, right down to having Batman literally on the cusp of saying I will kill you for what you’ve done, it gets that close:

I mean, my god, that’s how mad it makes Batman and you know what, any decent good hearted human being is right there with him.

There’s even one part where the kid that Batman brings to his mansion goes into the armory and picks up an unloaded gun. Alfred tells him to put it down so he won’t get hurt and then Batman comes in, takes the gun, and gives the line “children and guns do not mix” which I thought was an obvious but still pretty poignant reference to what happen to Bruce when he was a kid and the unfortunate tragedy of his parents.

Even Alfred has a decent role in this dealing with the underdweller Batman brought home, Frog. It does lead to some pretty funny moments with Alfred and even Batman has a quippy one liner at Alfred’s expense….maybe The Lego Batman Movie makes a good point about the way Batman treats Alfred after all…though let’s be honest, we aren’t reaching Batman punching Alfred into pianos levels of insanity. But hey, for an episode centering around children being abused, you need to have those lighter moments in there.

There is a little nitpick in the beginning with the opening scene, you see these two kids riding on top of a moving train betting each other to jump first or else, they’re chicken. And all I can think to myself is, what kids think that’s such a cool idea? Plus, in real life, if a train was moving that fast, you would’ve fallen off the second the train moved out of the station. But to its’ credit, it does serve a little bit of what the focus of the episode is, Batman interacting with the younger kids of Gotham. There’s even a bit where Batman actually tells these two kids “you play chicken long enough…you fry.” Corny? Yes but I’m not gonna lie, it did make me laugh a little bit.

The Underdwellers is an episode that I think gets overlooked way too much, they did a good job tackling such a heavy issue and making an episode that both intense and can get some good laughs in the middle of this heavy storyline. The animation and voicework is great once again and there’s a ton of memorable moments in this one. Definitely gives the one another watch and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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