Batman: The Animated Series

Season 1 Episode 27

The Underdwellers

Aired Saturday 9:00 AM Oct 21, 1992 on FOX
out of 10
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135 votes

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Episode Summary


Batman stumbles onto a gang of runaways led by an adult madman who treats them less than human, but thinks he is doing right.

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  • "The Underdwellers"

    The Sewer King's first and only comic book appearance is in 52 #2514 years after his Batman: The Animated Series debutand he's dead before he even gets a word balloon. If we could only be so lucky. "The Underdwellers," the Sewer King's first and only B:TAS appearance, is one of the low points of the series. With all the rogues in Batman's gallery, why the producers would devote one of the series' first episodes to a cheap Fagin knock-off is a mind-boggling decision. Fox apparently agreed, and the episode was the 27th to air, well after the series had gathered a fan base that could forgive a scene where Alfred tries to get a little boy in Ray-Bans to take a bath.

    After an opening sequence where Batman saves two boys playing chicken on top of the Gotham elevated train, the action shifts to the streets, where a pick-pocketing "leprechaun" has been terrorizing the city's pedestrians. The leprechaun is just a little boy in a green cape, but he must have some sort of fairy magic if he can escape Batman, right? This entire scene just feels wrong and begins the streak of unexplainable events that plague the episode. Streets that were previously empty are suddenly packed with traffic, and Batman abandons any notions of stealth to jump across the hoods of cars as he pursues the child, although he has no idea which way the boy has gone. And when the Gotham . shows up, he abandons his search altogether, fleeing to a rooftop overhead. As confusing as the scene is, I do love when Batman delivers silly lines with absolute seriousness, and Conroy's gruff delivery of the single word "leprechauns" against the ominous full moon almost matches "Bees. My in terms of comedic value. Almost.

    The scene that follows is easily the highlight of the episode, a short conversation between Alfred and Bruce that provides a surprising amount of insight into their relationship. As Bruce tries to convince Alfred he indeed saw a leprechaun, he asks, "You think I'm crazy, don't you?" To which Alfred replies, "In what sense, Master Bruce?" Bruce assumes he's joking, but we already know that Alfred is one of Batman's only tethers to Bruce Wayne. Alfred is constantly trying to put Bruce's double life in perspective, and that often comes in the form of humorously criticizing his employer's mental health. But I think a part of Alfred is seriously concerned with what Bruce is becoming. Alfred spends the latter half of this scene trying to convince Bruce to take a break, leading to another revealing piece of dialogue:

    ALFRED: I do believe a break from Wayne Enterprises and crimefighting would do wonders. Perhaps a vacation. A little golf?

    BRUCE: Sounds boring.

    ALFRED: In the Bahamas?

    BRUCE: Hot. And boring.

    So it's more than just that whole avenge his dead parents thing. Apparently, Bruce Wayne has a bad case of ennui, and the only cure is dressing up like a bat and putting down criminals. Unfortunately, this week that criminal is the Sewer King, and he just plain sucks.

    The episode's above-ground action happens in Gotham's Theater District, and I hope that's an acknowledgment from story writer Tom Ruegger that Sewer King's children-as-pickpockets idea is taken from Oliver Twist's Fagin.

    There is no motivation for Sewer King's actions, no explanation as to who he is or where he came from. I try to suspend my disbelief the best I can with anything superhero-related, but Sewer King's underground empire is nonsensical. Where did all these kids come from? They're sewing clothes. Is this some sort of sewer sweatshop, too? And why are they mining coal? The situation is so absurd that I couldn't help but burst out laughing when one of the children accidentally hoes himself in the shin. Everything about the Sewer King, from his semi-British dialect and his never-ending arsenal of crocodiles to his wine glass full of urine, is senseless to the point of stupidity. This is the kind of villain the producers were adamant about avoiding.

    Batman eventually finds and rescues the leprechaun boy, and entrusts Alfred to watch over him while he puts a stop to the Sewer King. Another hole in the episode's logic is Alfred countering Batman's request with the argument, "I know nothing about Alfred's been tending to Bruce since he was a child; he should have no problem taking care of his green-cloaked charge. But it's not convenient to the story, and it leads to a series of scenes where Alfred comically tries to get Frog to eat, wash dishes, and take a bath. This all builds to a scene where Frog naively points a rifle at Alfred and Batman pulls it out of his hands, growling/preaching, "Kids and guns don't mix. Ever! You're lucky it wasn't loaded, but it could have been!" He then asks for Frog's help getting to the Sewer King, effectively throwing him back into danger. I feel like Batman's relationship with his kid sidekicks is like a game of Russian Roulette. The gun's not fully loaded, and five times out of six you walk away with the thrill of escaping death. Or the Joker beats you to death with a crowbar. Frog is lucky one of Sewer King's crocs never gets him, although the probability of getting an empty chamber is better this early in Batman's career.

    Beyond the abysmal story, the animation of "The Underdwellers" is severely underwhelming, especially in relation to the episodes that bookend it, "Pretty Poison" and Director Frank Paur's action sequences lack the refined choreography of Kevin Altieri, and the character interactions lack the emotional gravity of Boyd Kirkland's episodes. The quality of the animation is much more reminiscent of the '80s Saturday morning cartoons Paur made his name on, the same look that Bruce Timm tried to shy away from with his sleek style for the series.

    The best episodes of B:TAS are driven by character and emotion, humanizing Batman's rogues or exploring his deeper psychological issues. "The Underdwellers" does neither, instead offering a predictable Batman vs. Stock Villain story that is almost entirely filler. At the end of the episode, Batman shows some cracks in his usually steadfast demeanor after he rescues the Sewer King from an oncoming train. "I don't pass sentence. That's for the courts. But this timethis timeI am sorely tempted to do the job What has pushed Batman to this point? The episode doesn't explain. Despite the Sewer King's unoriginality, the story could have made some fascinating observations about the sins of adults destroying the innocence of children. Frog is Bruce, Crime Alley is the sewer, a lone gunman is king, and Batman a broken little boy's savior.moreless
  • More Gruel Please

    This is basically a Batman in Oliver Twist story, plain and simple. There is a villain named Sewer-King and he is using homeless children to steal for him while he keeps them barely alive in his sewer lair. It's up to Bats to save the day and free the children, After he takes out those pesky alligators.
  • A Good Story damaged by BS&P

    This was one of many episodes that was damaged by BS&P (Broadcasting Standards and Practices). Its not the fault of the writers who worked on this episode. BS&P demanded several changes. Bruce Timm was very upset about it. As for good points, I like the animation of this episode. I like the atmospheric touches Studio Junio gave to this episode. And I thought Sewer King was a good villain. But Sewer King would have been a far better villain if the writers had freedom to work properly on this episode. I gave it 8 out of 10, because of the animation and wonderful music score.moreless
  • An underrated episode.

    I remember watching this very episode as a kid when it aired on tv. I saw nothing wrong with this episode, and even now when I rewatch the episode on dvd I still enjoy it. In fact I probably enjoy it more now at the age of 17 then I did at the age of 8. I can understand why people dislike this episode; Sewer King had a rather annoying voice, and his crime wasn't very diabolical, but I thought it was entertaining and brought something new to the table. I guess I cannot really think of any other reasons why I enjoy this episode as much as i do. This episode will always be one of my favorites of the series.moreless
  • Oddest story and villain in the series

    "The Underdwellers" is without a doubt one of the most out of place stories in the series. Most of the episodes in the series deal either Batman defusing an end of the world situation or solving a mystery while beating up the bad guys. However in this episode Batman catches a juvenile purse snatcher and ends up liberating a number of child in Gotham City's sewers enslaved by a megalomaniac. Add a subplot involving Alfred having his hands full trying to corral the purse snatcher Batman caught and you have the weirdest story in the series.

    Along with the story, the Sewer King is the oddest villain the writers created. While his delusion as a powerful king of the sewers and caregiver of his child slaves ranks him as one of Batman's crazier adversaries, quite frankly he's pathetic. All of his evil is concentrated in the fact he makes kids his slaves and forces them to steal for him. Granted that's bad, but he is doing nothing of life or death circumstance. He is just plain nuts.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (3)

    • Alfred claims that he knows nothing about children despite the fact that he has taken care of Bruce since he was a child in the animated series.

    • There are 'Bat-signals" in the eyes of the police woman, just before the police car is going to hit Batman.

    • At one point, while dealing with the sewer alligators, Batman makes the comment "I thought you were endangered." American alligators were removed from the endangered species list in 1987, prior to the creation of this episode.

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Alfred: Perhaps a vacation. Golf?
      Bruce: Sounds boring.
      Alfred: In the Bahamas?
      Bruce: Hot and boring. No, Alfred, I think this is a job for Batman.
      Alfred: You have a fine flair for dramatics, sir.
      Bruce: Why, thank you, Alfred.

    • Sewer King:(After being pulled from the tracks before the on-coming train hits him) Why? Why? WWWWhhhyyyy?!
      Batman: (angry) I don't pass sentence, that's for the courts! But, this time, this time, I am sorely tempted to do the job myself.

    • Batman: Children and guns do not mix... ever!

    • Batman: You think I'm crazy don't you?
      Alfred: In what sense, Master Bruce?

  • NOTES (6)

    • According to Bruce Timm, BS&P took a lot out of this show. "Originally, the
      kids were to be victimized by the Sewer-King, but he was not allowed to be
      mean or torturous to any of them. The impact is watered down. If we were
      doing it today, we probably would have decided not to do the show."

    • This episode is episode 6 on the Batman: The Animated Series Volume 1 DVD.

    • In the new Gotham Knight straight to DVD anime movie, the story "In Darkness Dwells" written by David S. Goyer has similar story of the show.

    • This episode along with "P.O.V.", "The Forgotten" and "Be A Clown" was released on DVD as Batman The Animated Series: Tales Of The Dark Knight.

    • Though the Toon Disney airing has the scene with the kid pulling out the gun, the scene with it being pointed at Alfred is removed.

    • This is the only appearance of the Sewer King, the first original villain not adapted from the comics in the animated series.