I’ve never had a favorite actor, really. I don’t watch a lot of films. I lack the patience for them. Perhaps my reluctant viewership is part of the reason I have never really idolized movie stars in the way that some people do. Despite this, the death of Kevin Conroy shook me up. I know what it feels like to lose your favorite actor now.
In some ways, Kevin Conroy was a constant in my childhood. I remember renting DVDs of the old Batman the Animated Series from Blockbuster or Hollywood video with my dad. We’d often watch these on “movie nights” when my mom wasn’t around because she wasn’t the biggest fan of super- heroes. I remember running excitedly to the super-hero section to pick out a DVD. They usually had four episodes from the show and I’d rewatch them over and over and over with my little brother.
There is a certain type of childhood comfort that I associated with the Bruce Timm series. And most important, there is such a warm in the voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy. While he’s deeply serious, there are also moments where the character is in pain, regretful or filled with a sense of joy. I think that Kevin Conroy always reflected the deep variation in who Batman or Bruce Wayne as a character was.
Later on when my brother and I discovered how to use YouTube, we encountered Kevin Conroy’s voice again watching bootlegs of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited T.V. show. In particular, I remember watching the episode Epilogue. Although there are many critiques of Batman which are quite obvious, one of the better parts of his character is his refusal to use lethal force which remains a pretty common theme though-out the comics. In the episode Epilogue, Batman is told by a government that he has to use lethal force to kill a young girl named Ace who altering the fabric of reality with her super-powers. Instead, Batman comforts Ace as she dies.
The deep range of Batman as a character is exemplified in Kevin Conroy’s performance in this episode. I re-watched the scene where Batman talks to Ace after hearing the news. It was sorrowful in some ways to return to that part of my childhood. In another episode from Justice League, Batman sings a jazzier version of “Am I Blue” by Eddie Cochran in order to convince Circe to transform Wonder Woman back from her pig form into a human. Batman singing jazz is another one of my favorite moments that speaks to the depth and range of the character that Kevin Conroy brought. I think a lot of people focus on the seriousness but I utterly love these moments of warmth that he imbued the character with.
My final favorite iteration of the character is when Kevin portrayed Bruce Wayne as an old man in Batman Beyond. One of the best scenes is when Bruce decides to give up being Batman as a result of his aging body. In the scene, Batman has a mild heart attack while trying to save someone and is forced to use a gun to threaten some criminals. He puts away the Batsuit then looks out at the Batcave and Kevin says two words “Never Again.” with the most intense fierce determination. That was my Batman.
As I grow older, I’ve realize that I often idealize my childhood. I think we often long for a return to something that never really existed but it was more of a memory. Despite this, Kevin Conroy no longer being alive makes me realize that in future adaptations of Batman, it won’t be his voice. And Kevin Conroy for me was supposed to be Batman forever. Batman like all childhood heroes is eternal and everlasting. Superheroes in the United States are probably the closest thing we have to popular stories such as Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes…another reason that these characters need to put in the public domain but I digress. Batman is forever but his voice actor isn’t. In some ways, the fact that Kevin only did the voice for Batman spoke to how eternal his portrayal of the character felt because even as Kevin aged, the character over the last 30 years remained the same in his different iterations through movies, television and video games. Time is strange that way.
Every holiday season, my brother and I watch Christmas episodes from the D.C. Animated Universe. Our favorite episode is Christmas with the Joker. I cannot wait to watch it with him. One of my favorite things about the Batman: The Animated Series is how timeless it is. There are supercomputers in the same world where there are Tommy-guns. Gotham city is a world utterly out of time. So I suppose every moment I listen to Kevin Conroy’s voice, I’ll be taking a step out of time, too. And he’ll still be Batman.
Luke is another 20-something floating around in the American Wasteland. A recent Haverford College grad, he studied political science and black studies with a focus on black political theory. He is interested in writing and speculating about racial capitalism, the decline of American society, youth culture, DIY music, traveling and everything else. He also makes music under his moniker Huey, The Cosmonaut. He's passionate about space cowboys, martial arts, hard cider and audiobooks.