By Will Barber Taylor
Thirty years ago this year, in the wake of the enormous success of Tim Burton’s Batman films (the second of which, Batman Returns was released in the same year) one of the most engaging, adventurous, entertaining animated TV shows ever to grace the air waves was launched. It was aesthetically amazing, dark, gothic and brooding like its central character. It would inspire a generation of viewers to become devotes of that dread arbitrator of justice, the caped crusader himself, the Batman.
There were many things that made the show special. Not just its look; not just its tone and the scripts but the characters themselves. Mark Hamill’s take on The Joker was instantly not only recognizable but new, inventive and downright magnificent. The same is true if not to an even greater degree of the voice of Batman himself, the late and great Kevin Conroy.
Kevin Conroy’s early death at 66 from cancer will be a deep loss not only to his nearest and dearest but the millions of fans worldwide who spent time watching him as Batman. He was, for many of them, the definitive version of Batman.
And the reason he was the man many think of as the one true Dark Knight is because Kevin Conroy gave Batman a voice and a soul. The voice is undeniably a core part of it – the deep, rich, imposing tone of Conroy’s voice as Batman was one that could easily be imagined striking fear into the hearts of criminals (for they are, after all, a cowardly and superstitious lot). His charming take on the playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne was a subtle yet clear contrast.
It was more than the voice though. For Conroy exuded in a way few other actors have been able to fully capture the full sensitivity of the character, the inner trauma that drove a lonely eight year old orphan to dedicate his life to fighting against the crime that took his parents away. He got the soul of Batman, the very core of the character – that he isn’t simply a man who likes beating up criminals or the world’s greatest detective but that he is a man looking for redemption. Not redemption for himself but for Gotham itself.
He seeks, through trying to heal society, to heal himself. Whether it be when he broke down in front of his parents’ grave asking whether he could continue his mission whilst finding love with Andrea Beaumont in Mask of the Phantasm or his consoling of Ace, the dying product of childhood experimentation in the JLU episode Epilogue, Conroy allowed his Batman to show the pain within him. It gave his performance a fully rounded quality which had not been brought to the character before. Conroy’s skill in balancing these two disparate elements of one of comic’s most complicated characters – the dark avenger and the wounded orphan – is core to why so many people fell in love with his interpretation of the character and why he will for years to come be considered the benchmark to which all other Batmen are held.
Kevin Conroy’s work as Batman will never be forgotten and his performances will live on for years to come. He was and always will be one of the greatest voice actors of his generation and his sad and untimely passing leaves the worlds of comic books, animation and television greatly reduced.