Kevin Conroy, the legendary voice actor best known for voicing Batman in the classic 1990s animated series, has passed away aged 66 - and to put it simply, he was the best Batman there ever will be.
Conroy began playing the DC hero when the much-acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series began in 1992. Conroy then went on to voice the character in more than 60 different productions covering animated movies, hundreds of television episodes and video games.
However, to gaze upon Conroy you would not suspect that he was Batman. He doesn't fit the frame of muscular or brooding actors that have played Bruce Wayne before such as Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. Conroy was a skinny, gay man with light brown hair, hardly the description you would prescribe to either Batman or Bruce Wayne.
Yet behind the animated cells, he truly embodied the character perhaps better than any on-screen actor ever could. Conroy's Batman was a character who could instill fear and menace within the heart of his assailants with just a few threatening words but this wasn't the cliched growling that was prevalent in the Christopher Nolan films.
There was a calmness and presence to Conroy's voice that managed to make any of the usual jargon a comic book character has to say resonate with audiences and not come off as corny or cliched. By doing this he brought a gravitas to the character which paid dividends when Batman had to perform great moments of empathy.
The prime example of this comes from the Justice League Unlimited episode 'Epilogue.' A story within the episode sees Batman ordered to bring down Ace of the Royal Flush Gang, essentially a small girl with a terminal problem: she has extreme telekinetic powers which can kill people. Rather than killing Ace, Batman instead tells her that he is 'sorry' and sits with her on a swing until her time came. This might sound a little hyperbolic for a children's superhero show but this is a genuinely moving moment and it's hard to comprehend any other Batman actor playing this scene except Conroy.
It wasn't just Batman that Conroy managed to pin down either it was Bruce Wayne too who are two, dare we say three very different characters. Conroy managed to play the front-facing socialite version of Wayne with the swaggering and sophisticated charm of a Golden Age Hollywood actor but could find that darkness within the soul of the character.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 about the Batman voice, Conroy said: "Early on, I said, ‘This is the most famous and powerful guy in Gotham. Are you telling me he just puts on a mask and no one knows it’s him? Seriously? There’s got to be more to the disguise. My template for the two voices was the 1930s film The Scarlet Pimpernel. I played Bruce Wayne as sort of a humorous playboy to counteract the brooding nature of Batman.”
Perhaps Conroy's crowning achievement as Batman was the widely celebrated 1992 film Mask of the Phantasm which is a retelling of Batman's origins and sheds new light on how he used the tragedy of his parent's deaths to create the Caped Crusader, which ignited personal memories for Conroy.
Speaking in 2018 he said: "When Bruce is pleading with his parents, something came up in me, I had a very problematic relationship with my father. He was a terrible drunk and I ended up leaving home at 17. There were a lot of unresolved emotions there, and something in that graveyard scene brought all that stuff up. I don’t know why, as an actor you never know why a certain chord is hit. The key to being an actor is to be open enough to let any chord be hit."
The emotional resonance that Conroy brought to Batman is perhaps why he has endured as the one true voice of Batman for three decades now. Filmmaker, writer, podcast host and Batman fanatic Kevin Smith has long said that Conroy's voice is the one he hears when he reads a Batman comic and its hard to disagree with that sentiment. This was after a person who had been synonymous with the character for so long that it is hard to separate the two.
It was perhaps fitting then that Conroy finally got to play a live-action version of Batman during the 2019 CW crossover event Crisis On Infinite Earths. In an episode of Batwoman, the titular character visits a world where Wayne had become a bitter, nihilistic killer who had managed to defeat Superman.
Given that this was an actor who had brought so much compassion to the character this was perhaps not the Batman role that fans or he would have wanted to see him play. Talking on the Inside You podcast in 2020 Conroy addressed the backlash saying: "He was dark, he was dark. A lot of fans were not happy about that. They didn’t like seeing that version of Bruce Wayne. For me it was fun though – it was a lot of fun to sort of stretch my acting chops a bit."
The final time that Conroy played Batman was in the 2022 video game MultiVersus which shows that he was still tied to the character right until his last days which shouldn't be viewed as a sad note but something to be celebrated.
On a personal point, from this writer's perspective, who used to marvel at the display of animation cells at the Warner Bros store in Dudley's Merry Hill shopping centre as a child and still has the original action figures from the animated series it's hard to believe that the voice of Batman is now gone. All you can say is rest in peace Kevin and thanks for the memories.
You were vengeance. You were the night. You truly were Batman.
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