Still Reeling Over The Passing Of Kevin Conroy, The Quintessential Batman
It is not breaking news that Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for countless fans and a couple of generations, has passed away at 66. I had planned to write a piece much sooner, but I couldn’t find the will nor the words. In the span of mourning, we were hit with the additional loss of Jason David Frank, the original green Power Ranger and an overarching protagonist of that franchise, also a hero to many. I was a massive fan of Power Rangers when I was very young, but at some point growing up fell off of the franchise. Thus for me, I only vaguely remember details about the franchise, and my main memories were of the first film Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
Nevertheless, the loss of Frank, a Power Ranger and a hero to many of us is still one I lament and I plan to do that Power Rangers rewatch I’d been planning for a while now. I say all of this to say that I will likely not be doing a separate piece on Frank, but wanted to acknowledge him and his passing. He too shall be missed. Jason David Frank as Tommy Oliver shall live on in many of our hearts.
A 90s Baby’s Relationship to Batman: The Animated Series
I was a 90s baby born in 92. Batman the Animated Series first premiered in the year of my birth and was an ever-present fixture of my life and a constant obsession since I was a very small child. It was Batman TAS, X-Men TAS, and Spider-Man TAS that first fully cemented my love for superheroes and comics. They would be followed by Superman TAS, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Smallville, and many, many more. I remember being as young as four and five years old trying my best to negotiate with my parents to let me stay up at 8 pm to watch an episode of the series. I remember when before they started collecting the series in full-season box sets (or a full series one), they would have DVD collections of best episodes or certain writers or creators’ favorite episodes. One of them featured Poison Ivy on the cover but none of the seven or so episodes had her in them, and I called Circuit City (shoutout to Circuit City, lol) for a refund because Poison Ivy was my favorite villain and I bought the DVD expecting to see her. I don’t remember if they gave me my refund, but I remember one sales clerk saying that it wasn’t their fault that she was on the cover and wasn’t in any of the episodes, they didn’t design the cover or choose the episodes. I must have been twelve at the time.
There was always something very special about Batman that I could never escape, even if I wanted to. The dark tone, the gritty atmosphere, the colorful characters, iconic villains, and the Batman Family members as well as allies coming in from time to time made this an experience to behold. The writing and crafting of this series were special to me and so many other fans because it knew how to be dark, and sometimes outright disturbing or scary, while still being a show appropriate for children. It didn’t treat kids like they were stupid, anyone at any age could enjoy the material, and it was very expertly done. The music, the visuals, the tension, and the incredible voice talent. This was the series that brought to the world Harley Quinn, who I continue to joke is the same age as me because we both first appeared in the same year. This was also the series that gave us Mark Hamill’s iconic role as the Joker, and Kevin Conroy as the main man himself: Bruce Wayne aka Batman.
Kevin as Batman and as Bruce Wayne
It was easy for me as a child to focus more so on Batman’s iconic villains or some of his supporting characters, namely other members of the Bat Family, because a part of me always felt Batman was eternal and inevitable. He was Batman, I knew he would never die in the series because he was the hero. It was always easy to gush over the immense vocal talents of Hamill’s Joker, or others such as Arleen Sorkin’s performance of Harley or Diane Pershing as Poison Ivy, but Kevin Conroy as Batman and Bruce was always incredibly underrated, in my opinion.
Despite Batman being a classically stoic anti-hero who sticks to the shadows, and isn’t one to regularly express his emotions, Conroy was always able to voice him with such charm, gusto, and personality even when the character was at his most stoic. Conroy’s voice of Batman was perfection: deep and menacing, yet gentle when it needed to be. His tone could be downright icy when the occasion called for it, and when Bruce expressed moments of genuine anguish or emotion such as his iconic scene where he breaks down at the site of his parent’s grave because he found love and felt he might not want to be vengeance or the night anymore, Conroy’s immense range was on full display.
I’ve said before that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same and that many versions of the character have a performative side of Wayne, the playboy billionaire, he presents to the world to help throw off suspicion that he might be Batman. The exaggerated version of Wayne he plays up for the public is one of the main ways in which fans understand Conroy has the range. He sounds laidback, jubilant, personable, and well-adjusted. He seems to enjoy the power and privileges his wealth provides him and comes across as way too fun-loving to be an intimidating, imposing Dark Knight who would never smile the way that Wayne seems always seems to have a boyish grin on his face.
The Video Game Icon
In addition to continuing to voice Batman in related animated series Superman TAS, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, all of which became the same continuity known as the DC Animated Universe or DCAU, Conroy would reprise the role in various other animated series and film projects as well as a highly successful video game franchise known as the Batman Arkham games. Starting with the incredible Batman: Arkham Asylum and written by Paul Dini who also was one of the writers and creators of Batman TAS (Dini also wrote Arkham City), Conroy returned as everyone’s favorite voice for the Caped Crusader, except this was not the more kid-friendly DCAU but the darker, bleaker, and more violent world based more closely on the DC Comics Universe. In these games, people die, horribly, and the stakes are much higher than we normally see in the DCAU (not that the stakes were not there too).
Casting Conroy as well as Mark Hamill to reprise the Joker cemented these games as iconic and gave them an instant, built-in fanbase to immediately obsess over it. The very first game also saw the return of Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn who would voice the character created for her for the very last time before the sequel saw the torch passed down to fellow iconic voice actress and Batman TAS (The New Batman Adventures specifically, but still basically the same show) voice actress for the longstanding Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, Tara Strong. Many today know Tara for either Raven from Teen Titans or Teen Titans Go! or as Harley Quinn in many more recent voice projects as of Batman: Arkham City.
But Conroy’s Batman is the voice we follow for the vast majority of the franchise as we take control of and truly be Batman in several games beyond worth their salt. Conroy’s nuanced voice talent remains on full display as we hear him threaten bad guys, intimidate his enemies, talk with and bounce theories off his closest allies, barks orders at his protege in City, exhibit moments of softness and dare-I-say-it flirting and lightheartedness with Catwoman (“I think I chipped a nail back there”), tenderness with Talia, and more. Conroy’s voice, much like throughout Batman TAS, carries every fight, every grunt or crying out if you fall in battle, every emotional or climactic scene, and every quieter moment where he says little but expresses a lot in a few words. If you haven’t played the Arkham games, check them out. Just know that for the prequel game, Conroy did not voice Batman, but Roger Craig Smith voices the younger Batman in his second year as Batman and sounds very similar and did a fantastic job as well.
Conroy voiced Batman in Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, Batman: Arkham City in 2011, and Batman: Arkham Knight in 2015. He also voiced Batman in The Adventures of Batman & Robin for Sega CD, Batman: Vengeance, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu, DC Universe Online, Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Infinite Crisis, Batman: Arkham Underworld, Batman: Arkham VR, Injustice 2, Lego DC Super-Villains, and Multiversus.
A Thank You To a Childhood Hero
Besides entertaining and inspiring kids, teens, and adults everywhere, Kevin Conroy gave us an escape. Escapism from homework, chores, dysfunctional families, school and family drama, traumas we’ve faced, life’s problems and monotonies, and most other crap getting us down. Whether it was his iconic work as Batman or one of his other roles in other projects, Conroy understood how much people loved and admired his work and what it meant to fans everywhere, including other up-and-coming voice actors hoping to follow in his footsteps.
While the character of Batman is straight (Fredric Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent be damned), Conroy himself came out in 2016, revealing he was gay. Some queer people question whether anyone queer needs to come out at all (or argue that if they do, straight people should also come out in order to put everyone on an even keel), but I personally love that he did. It shows a lot of people that anyone you admire or grew up adoring might very well have been queer all along and that it shouldn’t matter or change anything for the negative. It gives me joy to know that he was able to craft a life for himself and be a hero to countless people and was also a queer person. Conroy wrote “Finding Batman” as part of the DC Pride LGBTQIA 2022 anthology. The story recounts his life and experiences as a gay man.
It has been incredibly sad knowing he has passed, but we can all take comfort in knowing that he is immortalized in his many works and that the joy he helped foster within all of us shall live on forever. Rest in Peace Kevin Conroy, you were one of my childhood heroes and I hope that many kids and adults alike will know and appreciate the heart and soul you put into each and every role you blessed us with.