DCAU #7: The Underdwellers

IN THIS ONE... Batman rescues kids from sewer servitude.

CREDITS: Written by Jules Dennis (The Real Ghostbusters), Richard Mueller (also of The Real Ghostbusters, and later Robocop: Alpha Commando), and Tom Ruegger; directed by Frank Paur (who worked on Gargoyles and lots of superhero cartoons after this).

REVIEW: There was always something Dickensian about Gotham City and Batman's world, I suppose, not something merely Victorian, and this episode essentially offers a twist on, well, OLIVER Twist. With a Fagin-like villain in the Sewer King, who even dresses in cod Victorian attire. I'm not a big fan of his, mostly because his madcap vernacular and deliveries annoy me, but showing Batman interacting with children, in particular orphaned children, is worthy subject matter. While the older Robin (who has appeared only once at this point) denies us a young Robin gallivanting about (for now anyway), the character of Frog in this episode serves the same function. Batman takes him under his wing, has Alfred teach him manners - and not to use guns (what the hell are all those guns doing at Bruce Wayne's?) and then brings him out to play/make an arrest. It's the Robin story, and it was his, too. That Frog is a silent character means there's relatively little to this relationship, but it does suggest those past "Frogs".

A Gotham with orphan kids is a Gotham perpetuating the cycle of poverty and crime too. These kids are taught how to steal and obey a harsh master. What will they be when they grow up? The episode opens with Batman chasing some teenagers whose shenanigans are putting them in danger; who are they ABOUT to become? I don't think we have to look too far for the answer. Unless something is done, they'll become some of the many crooks and henchmen we consistently see on the series. Even if they ARE rescued, there's something depressing about kids walking into sunlight for the first time in Gotham. I'm always surprised that bright ball in the sky IS the sun. It's all so dark regardless! This is an episode where the Batmobile is hidden in a garbage bin. Can anyone really get out unsoiled?

There's some nice direction in the episode, like the use of Sewer King's lair as a sort of mirror of Wayne Manor, and the Bat symbol appearing in the eyes of a policewoman in a car about to hit Batman. There are lots of shadows, and Batman is often posed dramatically. The moment where the Sewer King seems to become a victim of his monstrous alligators is swift and slightly shocking, but he's unharmed as per the series' moral constraints. Similarly, I expect the gator who's jaw Batman snapped to make a full recovery. Batman's get more comfortable with Bondian "death puns" lately, I've noticed, but I love his restraint when he tells the "dead" alligator a simple "later". Went for it, but didn't do it the clichéd way. Nice job.

IN THE COMICS: The Sewer King was an invention of the series, but did manage a brief appearance in 52 #25 where appeared as one of Gotham's crime lords for all of one panel before he is killed by Intergang's Bruno Manheim.

SOUNDS LIKE: Michael Pataki is the Sewer King; to me he is Korax from The Trouble with Tribbles, but he's had small parts in many, many things since the 1950s.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Ultimately underwhelming, I chalk it up to the one-shot villain, not to the themes explored.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

Yikes- if this one rates Medium, is anything going to rate low? ;-)

"Can anyone get out unsoiled?"
...I think this may be one of the most depressing reads on your blog. :-)

Siskoid said...

Mediums are just okay. You really need to disappoint or irritate to get lower, but obviously, mileage may vary, and frequently does.

As far as depressing goes, I'm sure there's way worse. Space 1999's second season, for example.

LondonKdS said...

The Sewer King didn't previously appear in Batman comics, but this is fairly obviously inspired by a frequently anthologised Will Eisner Spirit story on the same theme.

LiamKav said...

Alfred claims to not have had much experience with children. So who raised li'l orphan Bruce, then? And we'll see that Dick moved in with them at a fairly young age, so that's even more experience.

Bruce: "Feed him, clean him, put him to bed."

Alfred: "Perhaps. Though not in that order."

No, Alfred, that's the exact order for a kid you've just rescued from the sewers.

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

Man I really enjoyed this one. You're very right about the dark mirroring of the Sewer King and his relationship in sharp contrast to Bruce's.

I just enjoyed him myself, one-shot or not.
My favorite part was at the end, after beating the Sewer King where he says to him "I took a vow never to end a life, but in your case I'm sorely tempted." And then he breaks his staff.
Love that line. So badass. And you just knew shit could've went down but the tone and delivery of Kevin Conroy. That's one of the many reasons why he'll always be Batman to me.

Siskoid said...

I hope it's cleat I'm not a snubbing one-shot or DCAU-specific villains. I think many are quite good, and I like it when the DCAU goes off the DC Comics map. I just wasn't keen on the Sewer King. Obviously, mileage through sewage pipes varies.


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