This is 500 words about a Batman episode. This is the BATMAN 500.
So you have a story about Batman stopping a child kidnapper. That’s cool. Since most of Batman’s enemies are clowns or bird-themed tuxedo enthusiasts, it’ll be interesting to see what he does with a more realistic criminal. But wait! You’re writing a show for people that may not be able to spell “BATMAN” yet. How do you balance the dark nature of a narrative about a guy that forces kids into abusive servitude with puns and Batarangs?
“The Underdwellers” is an episode that changes its tone every thirty seconds. We see kids being emotionally and physically tormented by a Mr. Bumble-looking asshole that calls himself the Sewer King. He demands that they remain completely silent, and punishes them harshly if they even slightly disobey him. Then, we see Alfred and one of the kids do pratfalls and physical comedy around Wayne Manor. Then, the Sewer King unleashes his pet alligators on Batman and a huge group of youngsters. Batman handles this attack by suplexing the alligators. You see what I’m getting at here? “The Underdwellers” constantly leads you into thinking that this is going to be a very depressing story. The kids can’t handle opening their eyes in the daylight because they’ve been trapped and starved in the sewers for so long. That’s terrible. And then Batman tosses an alligator right through that event, as if to say “I think it was a mistake to make this episode in the first place.”
As you know, the Sewer King is not exactly a main foe of Batman’s, and he probably ranks around #80 or #81 on my list of “Top Batman Villains That I Ever Want To See Again.” I hadn’t seen this episode in a long time when I watched it for this review, and I forgot two parts at the end that make it stand out. First, the Sewer King falls into a pool full of alligators, and the alligators seem to dive in after him to eat him. He survives, but before he does, Batman says that it’s a “gruesome fate for a gruesome man.” It reminds me of the early comics where Batman would watch dudes fall into giant buckets of acid or get knocked off rooftops and he’d remark with something along the lines of “I don’t feel bad because he was a piece of shit, and pieces of shit deserve to plummet twenty stories.”
The second thing is at the very end, when Batman has finally caught the Sewer King. He tells SK that he’s going to leave judgment to the authorities, but he really wishes that he could do it himself just this once. Imagine if this hadn’t been a guy that Batman just met. If this was, say, Joker or Scarecrow, guys that Batman has a history of being pissed at, the episode would’ve ended with Batman tearing their heads off. You’re lucky that this was your first appearance, Sewer King. If it was your second, your pieces would be strewn around Gotham.