My first Batman growing up was Adam West. He was a wonderful Batman and I enjoyed watching him with my family on television. That version of the character is considered a joke in this day and age, but there was a ton of charm to him and it’s important to remember it was supposed to be a funny, light-hearted, show that didn’t take itself seriously. He was perfect for that. Michael Keaton would be my second Batman and he was a total 180 when compared with the West take. Brooding, menacing, and even lethal, the Batman of the Tim Burton movies was more beast than man at times. It’s a unique take just as much as the West version and there’s room for both interpretations. My third Batman was of the faceless kind because he existed in animation. I would come home from school and settle in for an afternoon of cartoons and the highlight was going to be Batman: The Animated Series. I loved that Batman and he quickly became my favorite version of the character. He had that strong, silent, vibe of the Keaton Batman, but he was also compassionate. He seemed to care about the villains he was forced to do battle with and wanted what was best for them, even if they caused him great pain in the moment. He was simple and direct with his words, but nevertheless captivating. I hung on every word the character spoke and it was delivered with a genuine gravitas that never felt forced. As a kid, I didn’t even know who was responsible for this version of the character. And with any role, the real answer is it’s a combination of people, but the one who set the tone was the man responsible for his voice. That man was Kevin Conroy, whom we tragically lost to cancer just now.
I don’t normally make these types of posts. My blog is not a spur of the moment type. It’s not a diary. It’s mostly reviews of things I find inherently nostalgic, but Kevin Conroy felt like the type of subject that needed to be addressed in the moment. Kevin Conroy was Batman. He will always be the first person I think of when I hear the name Batman. It’s his voice I hear in my head whenever I read a line of dialogue from the character, whether the comic I’m reading from is 2 weeks old or 40 years old. Mask of the Phantasm is my favorite Batman movie and it’s hard to imagine it ever being topped. A lot of people deserve credit for making the show and films so wonderful, but it’s very easy to put a lot of that credit on the shoulders of Kevin Conroy. And to add to it, Conroy was, by all acconts, a wonderful human being. His co-stars speak glowling of him, not just in tributes upon his death, but at seemingly every chance on the convention circuit or in any kind of retrospective on the character. He was a gay man, and his contribution to DC’s Pride series was a beautiful tribute to the character and what it meant for him to play what is essentially a closeted character. And for Bruce Wayne, that secret is quite litereally the costume in his closet.
The character of Batman will have more voices and it’s a character that will outlive us all. There’s no replacing Kevin. He is and will forever be Batman for millions of kids turned adults and millions more who are exposed to the wonderful Batman: The Animated Series. Today feels like the world suffered a terrible loss, and it did, but I’m at least comforted in knowing that Kevin Conroy will live forever as Batman. Rest in peace.