This past week, fans around the world heard the news that long-time Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy has passed away. I’m not gonna lie to y’all. This news gutted me. Ever since the ’90s, Conroy has voiced the iconic character, giving memorable performances that rival (and even exceed) the live-action adaptations of Batman. For many, whenever they read a Batman comic, they imagine Conroy’s voice saying those lines. For a special tribute, this will be dedicated to Conroy’s performance, how I first heard of him, and how no one can touch how he portrayed Batman for decades!
I was about 8 when Batman: The Animated Series first aired. After the success of the Tim Burton films, we got a new Batman show that was taken seriously. With mature themes that both kids and adults viewed, the show earned instant success and multiple spin-offs. But, if there’s one standout to this show that helped gain attention, it’s how Conroy played a Batman who was stern, but fair. Cold, yet human. (And a surprisingly great singing voice. If you know, then you know.) Using his voice, Conroy would go on to be one of the best voice actors of all time, joining the likes of Steve Blum, Cree Summer, Peter Cullen, and more. Conroy was perhaps the first to master making the “Batman” and “Bruce Wayne” personas sound different in cartoons, which translated to live-action films. Conroy would go on to voice the character for the spin-offs, the Arkham games (except for Arkham Origins, which is still fire.), various animated movies and projects. He even portrayed a version of Bruce Wayne in live action (FINALLY), during the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover special. I collected a TON of Batman comics, as a kid. Whenever I would read them, Conroy's voice would be what I'd imagine Batman would sound like. A strong, firm, vulnerable at times, but wise. Not raspy, or barely above a whisper.
What made Kevin Conroy so special was his connection to the character. While he was young, he struggled to gain work as an actor, due to his being gay. Despite the homophobia he had to endure, Conroy used that experience to create a version of Batman that he could relate to. Gravitating to the pain of Batman losing his parents at an early age, Conroy’s performances became heartfelt and tangible that became the standard of voicing the character.
Perhaps his best performance (or, at least my favorite, anyway) was the 98 animated film, Batman: Mask of The Phantasm, in which we see Batman come to terms with an old flame of his past. The film also shows us a younger Bruce Wayne, right before he becomes Batman. He’s torn between love and a promise he made to his parents. Conflicted, Bruce goes to the graveyard to plead his case that things are different now. The pain is still there, but he’s actually happy. Bruce wants to be happy. However, he feels guilty about his newfound happiness. Bruce begs for permission on the gravestone of his parents, and we can hear the heartbreak that Conroy conveys. I swear, no live-action performance has EVER topped this emotional scene done by Conroy and actress Dana Delany (Bruce’s love interest and villain, in the movie.).
Hearing his now iconic line, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!” hits harder now that Conroy is gone. And while he has done other projects that non-Batman related, to many, Kevin Conroy WAS the definitive version of the character. He will be missed. That’s all for now, friends. Until next time, fellow blerds.