Sun
Oct 14 2012 1:00pm
Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “The Underdwellers” and “P.O.V.”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch on Tor.com: The Underdwellers & P.O.V.

“The Underdwellers”
Story by Tom Ruegger
Teleplay by J. Dennis & R. Mueller
Directed by Frank Paur
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Stu Balcomb and Lars Cutterham
Animation Services by Studio Junio
Episode #006
Original Airdate - October 21st, 1992

Plot: Reports of purse snatching leprechauns leads Batman to a gang of orphans living underground, led by the abusive Sewer King.

This episode is the first to explore how Batman interacts with kids. Sometimes it’s important to remember that as much as I like Batman as an adult, the main audience for Batman and Batman: The Animated Series, is children, ages 8 to 18. It’s been pointed out before that dressing up in a costume and scaring criminals into submission is very much a child’s idea of how to fight crime, and that Bruce Wayne is someone whose view of the world was cemented one night when he was six. As in “Nothing to Fear,” “The Underdwellers” assumes audience familiarity with who Batman is and how he came to be, and so doesn’t have to tell you that when he shouts “Children and guns do not mix, ever!”, he’s speaking from very personal experience.

Batman strongly identifies with children, and passionately needs to protect them. Tellingly, he threatens to let the Sewer King die and can only shrug out “a gruesome end for a gruesome man” when it appears the villain is eaten (recalling Batman’s similarly callous “a fitting end for his kind,” from his debut in Detective Comics #27). Compare that to “The Last Laugh,” where Batman saves the Joker from falling into a vat of chemicals, and the Joker tried to murder everyone in Gotham. Clearly, Batman feels child abuse is much, much worse than mass murder. 

But Batman does more than protect children, he also inspires them. Frog, the orphan who Batman takes in, is won over by Batman’s dedication to fighting for justice, his cool transforming car, and his willingness to ask a kid for help. (Props to Studio Junio and composers Stu Balcomb and Lars Cutterham. Frog is mute, so his character arc in the episode is conveyed in subtle facial expressions and music cues.) The key scene is when Frog finds his courage to swing in and save a fellow orphan in a very Batmanish style, and earns the world’s greatest honor, the Bat-Thumbs Up!  

What’s missing from this episode, then, is Robin, both as a character and as an idea. Robin is living proof that Batman identifies with, protects, and inspires children to be heroes, but he isn’t even mentioned. In fact, “The Underdwellers” kind of pretends that dealing with children is all new territory for Bruce (and wrings some good laughs out of Alfred’s frustration with taking care of Frog), but he’s already raised an orphan to be a hero. This should be old hat to him.

You may notice I haven’t said much about the Sewer King, The Animated Series’s first attempt at creating a new villain. That’s because he’s pretty boring and never seen again, and this episode may have worked better with one of Batman’s other sewer-dwelling villains, the Penguin or Killer Croc. 

Yeah, that’s it, moving on.

 

“P.O.V.”
Story by M. Brian
Teleplay by S.C. Derek & L. Bright
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation Services by Spectrum Animation Studio
Episode #007
Original Airdate - September 18th, 1992

Plot: A police sting goes bust, and three cops have three different stories about what went wrong. But Officer Montoya is determined to get the truth, stop the criminals, and maybe save Batman.

Seven episodes in and we’re already playing with story structure in this Rashomon-inspired episode.

We hear each cop’s version of the events, but we see what really happened. Detective Bullock says Batman recklessly barged into a warehouse and Bullock had to save him, and we see that Bullock did the barging and Batman did the saving. The rookie Wilkes says Batman used magic powers to stop the crooks, and we see that Batman just has some darkly colored tech that’s hard to see in the dark. But what Office Montoya says and what we see line up exactly, and in a way I think that’s a mistake.

In Rashomon, each version is equally plausible, making the point that history and memory are subjective at best. Here, Montoya is just... right. She remembers the events flawlessly and she’s the one who figures out where the crooks are and saves Batman. (The show also fails to explain why Bullock didn’t wait for back-up. Is he intentionally lying, or, like Wilkes, is he just confused?)

Showing off Montoya in the best possible light is probably a good idea for her first real introductory episode. Officer Renee Montoya was created for the show by Paul Dini to add gender and racial diversity to the cast, though thanks to production scheduling, she debuted in the comics five months earlier. It’s in the comics where Montoya was really developed as a character; a pro-Batman foil to Bullock, a potential love interest for Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and a closeted lesbian. Much later she became The Question, a vigilante superhero in her own right. 

That said, in The Animated Series she’s usually just there, to fill out a scene and give Bullock someone to talk to. And other than a very memorable and important cameo in “Harley and Ivy,” that Montoya is Latina is never an issue on the show. She’s just another officer, which is good. Bullock’s grumbling “thank you” at the end could have come across as sexist or racist. Instead, Bullock is just someone who has a hard time accepting help from anyone, especially a lower ranking officer. Montoya also serves as a good contrast to Poison Ivy’s gendered, manipulative, and destructive version of female empowerment. Montoya is a good cop who gets the respect of her peers without playing on and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

On a completely separate note (nice segue there, Steven), the animation on this episode is fantastic, probably the best on the series so far. Director Kevin Altieri takes the concept of point of view and runs with it. The episode is filled fantastic visuals that play with what we can and cannot see: the hood who charges off camera only to stumble back on screen wearing a table as a hat; the thug trying to climb a ladder while bodies fall from the top of the screen to the left, then to the right, then on top of him; the gunman in the dark who can only be seen when he fires his machine gun; and the unnamed boss hiding in the shadows given away only by his monocle.

Also this episode has some great voice work. Robert Costanzo and Ingrid Oliu do their usual great job as Bullock and Montoya. Robbie “the Beast” Benson plays the rookie Wilkes’s bedazzled and credulous belief in Batman very well. It’s a shame the character doesn’t come back, because a rookie’s view of Gotham and Batman is an interesting perspective. The surprising stand-out, though, is Ron Perlman as the main thug. He only has a couple of lines but his delivery and a great character design give this minor character a real sense of menace. It’s no surprise casting director Andrea Romano will bring Perlman back to play Clayface. (And then Jax-Ur. And then Slade Wilson. And then...) 

Seriously, the lesson here is Ron Perlman’s awesome.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

4 comments
Stefan Jones
1. Stefan Jones
I didn't see either of these episodes, but just seeing the stills -- heck, just the title cards -- remind me of how great that series was.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
Both these episodes have great musical scores, "P.O.V." in particular; it's a shame its score hasn't yet been released on either of the two La La Land soundtrack sets thus far (which between them cover nearly a third of the series), but I'm hoping for a Volume 3.

However, "The Underdwellers" is a pretty forgettable episode, and the main thing that stands out for me is the continuity error of Alfred being portrayed as inexperienced with children, when it's later established that he raised Bruce from infancy and took care of young Dick Grayson as well.

I love "P.O.V.," but it does have some unfortunate glitches. For one thing, the original intent was to reveal that the antagonistic Internal Affairs officer was actually the hidden ringleader of the gang, and while it's commendable that they decided to avoid that predictable ending, they didn't do enough to change the stuff leading up to it, so it still feels like they're building up to a big villain reveal that never comes. Instead, we just have the guy hiding in the shadows for no reason and then he turns out to be nobody. Also, in a couple of scenes, they awkwardly had the three cops object to the IA officer's comments one by one, each one just sitting there patiently until the previous one finished. I think those bits were meant to be done with all three cops speaking at once, and it should've been edited and animated that way.

It's also disappointing that not enough was done with Montoya after this one, and I agree, Wilkes should've been brought back too.
Alan Gratz
4. agratz
The Underdwellers is right up there for Worst Episode of the series, in my book. (But then Fire From Olympus is still out there, isn't it?) I get that the series was written for kids, and that these first aired when I was in college, so I never saw them at that age. But there are plenty of GREAT episodes in this series that work for both kids and adults, and this ain't one of 'em.

P.O.V. is, as you say, most notable for introducing us to Rene Montoya. After Harley Quinn, she may be the series' most important addition to the larger DC universe.

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