This is one of those passings that many of us, not just me, could say did not see coming. I’d received a text on Friday, November 11th from my ex, simply reading “Kevin Conroy”. I asked why she brought him up and you don’t want to know my reaction to her response. Celebrity deaths mean shit to me. But this was not the usual celebrity death.
Kevin Conroy wasn’t an ordinary celebrity with longevity. No one voice actor in history since Casey Kasem as Shaggy in the Scooby Doo cartoons has EVER had the distinction of being a generational representation of a nationally recognized character the way Kevin was in regard to his affiliation with Batman, and the way he should sound. It’s rare for anyone to have that uniqueness, that natural ability, but Kevin was IT, in the same way that Mark Hamill, who before 1992 was just known as Luke Skywalker from those gay ass Star Wars movies, would be considered to be the single greatest Joker of ALL TIME.
It was 1992 when, on the heels of the release of Batman Returns, FOX premiered Batman: The Animated Series. It was infinitely darker in tone, making this supposed kid’s show appear to have more in common with Batman Returns than the campy Adam West show I just watched two years earlier, or even the old Batman cartoon from the late 60’s featuring Olan Soule as Batman and Casey Kasem as Robin. The show premiered on a Saturday. The episode was titled The Cat and The Claw, Pt. 1. Click here and skip to the 1:51 mark to see and hear for yourself why you’d be absolutely deaf if you didn’t shit yourself the moment you heard Kevin Conroy say “So… our new cat burglar’s a woman.”
With that one simplistic line, it was made clear that this Batman would be far more serious than what my eight-year-old self was accustomed to. It was darker, it was huskier, as Kevin himself said several times, and it was drenched in all things intimidating. The strangest part is that, even in 1992, I just knew that I was going to read every Batman related comic I’d go on to buy in Kevin’s voice. I also expected to hear his voice in any other Batman cartoon that would be released after Batman: The Animated Series. I don’t need to be told that I wasn’t that only one, and we were all right.
Over the next three decades, we’d be fortunate enough to hear Kevin resume his role as Batman in several incarnations of Batman: The Animated Series, including two absolutely stellar Justice League based shows, multiple straight to DVD releases, and subsequently, the CLASSIC Arkham video game trilogy. Neither of those three games, Batman: Arkham City in particular, would be the same without Kevin’s dark, brooding Batman. Only Kevin could properly articulate the process of Batman slowly losing his mind within three increasingly intense stories.
Anyone else could have tried to put their own spin on it. At this point Kevin’s voice was considered THE gold standard in which all other Batman voices were supposed to amount to. But it’s never the same and, for the purpose of this trilogy, authenticity WOULD have been examined and NO ONE could NATURALLY make Batman feel authentic the way Kevin Conroy could. This is something that’s been going in and out of my fucking brain as I’ve been watching playthroughs of all three Arkham games ever since the news of his passing was released.
But that’s why there will always be one Batman. That’s no one’s fault. Of anyone who’s portrayed him in live action movies and those who portrayed him in animated films, there’s only one man who had this natural ability draw from the memories of his rather shitty childhood, which I will not discuss here, and combine that with his Julliard training to relate to the tortured soul that is Batman. It’s Kevin after all, who came up with the idea the Bruce Wayne is the disguise and Batman is the real person, not the other way around. I caught that immediately in ’92 when I’d see a scene in which Bruce would talk to his colleagues in a rather high voice, but when he was alone again with Alfred, that voice would just DROP a whole two octaves because he no longer had to pretend.
It’s the total opposite of Clark Kent and Superman, or any other Superhero. It’s probably an accurate representation, as well, of how most people feel on a day-to-day basis. That’s why it worked. Some will say Michael Keaton started it in his first Batman movie. But what he was doing was mixing a standard talking voice as Bruce Wayne with a whisper when he was Batman, probably to conceal his true voice so no one could ever identify him. But it’s not the same as Kevin’s groundbreaking approach. Kevin’s approach evoked far more emotion regardless of the tone of any episode of any show or movie he appeared in over thirty years.
I’m going to end this by thanking Kevin. This isn’t just another piece of my childhood being taken away from me; this man defined a major portion of my fucking life as a whole. That’s not an everyday occurrence.