While planning to make a DCAU villains template, I just so happened to rediscover some of the old and obscure villains that have often been overlooked by long-time fans like me. And one of those villains, the so-called "Sewer King", is who we'll be taking a look at this time.
What's the Work?
Often considered the definitive animated adaptation of the character, Batman: The Animated Series (or Batman: TAS) is a 1992 - 1995 cartoon series revolving around Batman/Bruce Wayne taking on crime and a rotating roster of villains within Gotham City. It is also known for being the first installment in the DC Animated Universe; a collection of interconnected animated shows based upon the larger DC Universe, including Superman: TAS, Justice League, Static Shock, and so forth. However, if it means anything at all, "The Underdwellers" (the episode that Sewer King appears in) is pretty isolated one overall, with little to no connections to the wider DCAU as a whole.
Who is He?
The Sewer King is a man who, apparently outcast from society and stricken with poverty, began living in the sewers of Gotham, where he also happened to tame quite a few alligators as well (which, even for a series with plant-controlling eco-terrorists, men literally made from clay and even an actual crocodile man...is still pretty weird, if you ask me). At some point, he began abducting a number of orphan children and manipulating them into thinking they had no place in society other than with him, thus allowing him to put them up towards various tasks like sewing, manual labor, stealing, etc. He is first seen summoning his children to his "throne room" using a large bell, and angrily begins reminding them that there is to be absolutely no talking in his domain whatsoever. He then grabs Jack—who had cried out in pain upon hitting himself with a hoe while farming before—and decides to shove him in a room with florescent lights for a few hours as punishment for talking (as the children have become acclimated to the darkness and can't tolerate bright lights). After doing this, he yells at the rest of his minions to go back to the surface and continue stealing for him. Later on, Sewer King is eating in his lair and discovers that one of the children, "Frog", is missing, and declares that there will be nothing to eat until he is found.
Batman, having been investigating the series of thefts being committed by Sewer King's children, gets Frog to help him by leading him back to Sewer King's lair, where he finds some of the other children and realizes what kind of operation he has been running, much to his disgust. After collecting some photos as evidence, Batman summons all of the children by ringing the bell so hard it breaks, declaring to them that what has happened to them is over, although Sewer King arrives and sics his alligators on him. Batman defeats the alligators with ease, and so Sewer King threatens to feed Jack to one of them until he is saved by Frog. Batman gives chase to the Sewer King only to fall through the floor over a pool of alligators, saving himself by grabbing a pipe, where the Sewer King arrives and tries to force him in (after telling Batman off for frightening his "beloved" children—which, suffice to say, only pisses him off even more). Sewer King ends up falling into the pool instead, although manages to escape since his alligators are loyal to him, leading Batman to chase again and finally apprehend him upon saving him from a subway car.
What Has He Done?
Sewer King may have only appeared in one episode of the series (and one minor appearance in the actual comics...which featured him getting murdered by Bruno Mannheim and little else) but he definitely ranks up as one of the absolute worst villains Batman has ever fought in animated form. He's a ruthless child slaver who treats the two-dozen or so children under his control like dirt while exploiting them at every turn. I don't think anything needs to be said about the fact that he's kept the children he's groomed/abducted in the dark so long that they are almost blinded by any kind of light (there's a Bane joke in here somewhere...), or that he's forbidden them to speak for any reason. But the fact that, if they do happen to break his rules for any reason (like, I don't know, yelling in pain because of the labor he forces them into, like what happened with Jack), he's more than willing to shove them into a room full of light for hours in order to punish them. And judging by the kids' terrified reactions when he does this to Jack, he's seemingly done this to them numerous times.
The kids under his control are obviously treated with very little care, if any at all (and at least one of them seems incredibly malnourished, if the visible ribs are anything to go by), which shouldn't be surprising considering that he's willing to starve them all if one happens to disappear on him. And on top of being verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive (through the lights) to the children, he's totally unhesitant to straight-up feed a kid to one of his alligators when Batman threatens him. And yet, despite all of this, he claims to "love" them when trying to toss Batman to his alligators, saying that he feeds, clothes, and teaches them a trade—which is a pretty obvious translation of "I provide, so I can do whatever I want with them." It really says a lot about him when Batman—friggin' Batman—who has the just about the strictest code of any DCAU hero when it comes to killing, notes that he's tempted to do away with him for how utterly repulsive his crimes are ("I don't pass sentence! That's for the courts! But this time—this time... I am sorely tempted to do the job myself."). The only other villain he's ever shown that same willingness to was the Joker, and even then that was after he had tortured Tim Drake to the point of insanity. Think about that.
Not on your life. We have little to no information on his past, and even if he does come from some kind of tragic background, his actions go too far for him to be the target of any kind of sympathy. The closest thing he has is that he may care for his pet alligators, but, given that he also "loves" the children he abuses, it's more likely that he treats them affectionately because they provide a use for him (that is, dealing with intruders and keeping the children in line). After all, most affectionate he gets with them is referring to them as his "pretty pets" and also giving one a pat once. That's about it.
The DCAU already has a few PE villains in it already (Joker, Darkseid, Brainiac, Blight, etc), but what makes Sewer King stand out is his rigorous child abuse and exploitation, which no villain in any of the DCAU cartoons has really done since; at least not on the same level. There's also his resources to consider, too. Joker often has an improbable amount of money, gadgets and technology at his disposal. Blight has a whole company. Darkseid and Brainiac are world-conquerors with armies and strength to rival Superman. Sewer King? All he has is stick, a few alligators, a bunch of sewer territory, and some orphans to exploit. That's pretty much it.
Sewer King is easily about as disgusting as the rat-hole he lives in. A yes from me.