Dr Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
On November 10th, Kevin Conroy passed away after a fight with intestinal cancer. You may not recognize Conroy’s name or his image, but you have heard his voice. For the past three decades, Conroy was the main voice actor to play Batman. To me, Conroy will always be the voice of Batman.
No disrespect is intended to the many other fine performers who have been a live-action or animated version of Batman. Adam West’s distinctive style, for example, was a key component to the campy success of the 1960s Batman television series. Other actors such as Will Arnett and Diedrich Bader have excellent Batman voices. Michael Keaton has a very serious style. And, of course, Christian Bale has that raspy Bat-voice that was always a bit off to my ears but still fun to imitate.
Conroy became the Batman voice thanks to his work on Batman: The Animated Series. The series debuted in 1992 and it had kids rushing home from school to catch the next exciting episode (me too, but at the time this kid was in grad school). The show was visually moody and film noirish. It had clever plots and great action. Best of all, it did not talk down to its audience. Every episode was a mini-movie of sorts.
Conroy’s portrayal of Batman was the glue that held all of this together. His Batman had the deep and serious tones needed to intimidate Gotham City’s criminal element into surrender. Yet, he could also deliver a clever deadpan joke or remark. At times, his Batman could shift from stern leader to a caring, almost parental figure to those in his charge.
Conroy’s Bruce Wayne was a contrast to the Dark Knight, not distinctly different but rather infused with more humanity and compassion. Curiously this reinforced the plausibility of Batman’s secret identity charade while also suggesting that these were not entirely separate personas. Bruce Wayne is sometimes treated as a disguise for Batman. With Conroy, it was clear that this was the same man doing different jobs.
Later, in 1999’s Batman Beyond series, Conroy voiced the much older Bruce Wayne, mentor to the new Batman named Terry McGinnis. The senior version of Wayne was drawn with an older stature and some infirmity due to age (such as walking with a cane). Conroy’s voice told us all we needed to know—that no matter how old he got, the original Batman remained calculating and dangerous.
Conroy’s performances were so good and so popular that he was sought out as Batman. As the Warner Brothers Batman cartoons gave way to what came to be known as the “Animated Series Universe” or the “DC Animated Universe,” Conroy remained in the role. He was still Batman when that universe ended with the final season of Justice League Unlimited in 2006. Conroy was also Batman in the hugely popular Arkham City video game series and in a number of direct-to-video movies. He also played a live-action version of Batman in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” cross-over even on the CW’s superhero shows.
In his many convention appearances, Conroy was clearly passionate about playing Batman. Earlier this year, Conroy shared another reason the role was important to him. He wrote “Finding Batman” for the DC Comics 2022 Pride anthology comic. In the moving story, Conroy shared his struggles working as a gay actor in Hollywood and how early prejudice often forced him to hide his orientation. Conroy shared how these painful experiences infused his Batman voice and how the character’s courage affected the way he lived his own life.
Kevin Conroy’s death was heartbreaking to the fan community. I think the single greatest thing that I can say about Conroy is that he is the default Batman voice. I compare all others to him. When I read a Batman story, I hear his voice. To me, Kevin Conroy will always be, the Batman.