In this consumer-based industry, it can be easy to forget the years of hard work that the people in the business put in. Behind every panel, it takes a skilled writer, artist, inker and colorist to make the product complete. Behind each scene goes hours of preparation. Hush Comics’ weekly article “Respect My Craft” will dive into the history of these comic book and pop culture greats that will hopefully give a new perspective on how the men and women behind the pen (or stylus) contribute to the collective awesome-ness of the nerd world, or at least give you a reason to invest in their work.
Name: Kevin Conroy
Profession: Vengeance, The night, Batman
Notable Work: Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Batman: Beyond
“Then they described the film noir quality of it, the drama, the kid losing his parents and avenging their deaths, lives in a cave and has an alter ego. It was a whole different, much darker, much more substantive show than I had understood.” – Kevin Conroy
Take a second and ask yourself, “Who played Batman the best on-screen?” Christian Bale? Sure. Michael Keaton? You could say that. Really though, hardcore fans only know one man as the Dark Knight. That man is Kevin Conroy, the voice actor from the classic Batman: The Animated Series. His reign as Batman, which began in 1992, is the longest of any actor portraying the character – and it has not even ended. B:TAS is highly regarded as one of the greatest animated shows in the history of television, ranking 2nd on both IGN’s and Wizard Magazine‘s Top 100 (both behind The Simpsons, TV’s longest-running animated show). The series was a testament to the skilled writers, animators and actors that worked on the show. B:TAS resonated with casual and hardcore fans alike, and introduced a new generation to Batman and the DC Universe at a time when comic books were super-saturating the market. This could be hard to believe, but even Conroy himself was not a comic book reader.
Growing up in a strict Irish Catholic setting, he wasn’t exactly encouraged to read comic books. However, what he did end up with was a love for theater. In middle school, when he transferred to a public school, he did not know how to adapt to the liberal nature of discipline, where students spoke out of turn and roamed the halls care-free. Conroy states that if it weren’t for the care of his English teacher, he would have been headed down the road of trouble. She recommended that he join the school’s theater club, and it became a defining moment in his life, an entire lifestyle change.
From then on, Conroy acted his butt off. He joined an acting troupe in high school that became one of the best in the state, starring in every play the school would put on. He became so good that he earned a full scholarship to Juilliard. There, he joined a class of legendary thespians which included Kelsey Grammer and his roommate, Robin Williams. Ironically enough, he almost ended up as the roommate of Superman actor, Christopher Reeve. Conroy’s focus was much more classical. Under John Houseman (Citizen Kane), he became enveloped in theater. After graduating, Conroy worked for Houseman’s The Acting Company, doing Shakespearean plays like Hamlet and Midsummer’s Night Dream.
Like a lot of theater artists, Conroy needed a profitable way to continue doing what he loved. Throughout the 1980’s, he was featured in various made-for-TV movies, and a lot of soap opera experience. Although his characters never really had big roles, and few of them were recurring – his longest TV role was as Dr. David Dunkle in Rachel Gunn, RN, but it gave him the funds to continue doing theater. Conroy was looking for his big break when he auditioned for the starring role of Joe Hackett in Wings; in a twist of fate, the producers decided to cast Tim Daly instead. Tim Daly, some might recognize, is the voice of Superman in Superman: The Animated Series. This all worked out for us, because had Conroy gotten the role, he may have never put on the cowl.
Another outlet that Conroy took to was doing voice-overs for commercials. This led to getting an audition with B:TAS maestros Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Previous to the audition, the only experience Conroy had with Batman was the 60’s show (Note: stars of the 60s Batman show, Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar will also be at Denver Comic Con) – very campy and light. Once Timm and Dini explained the comic book origins, the tragic story of a boy whose parents were murdered and his redemption, Conroy was instantly sold on the Dark Knight as a character. He attacked the role as a true thespian would, and even came up with the idea of doing two separate voices for Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Conroy says that, as an actor, he tries to constantly challenge himself. The voice itself initially made Conroy coarse, and had to be crafted and perfected. When time came to research his source, he had to look no further than cast-mate Mark Hamill, who voiced The Joker in the legendary series. Hamill, known to many as Luke Skywalker, is a huge nerd. He made his abundant comic book collection available to Conroy. The two are practically life partners in their work, much like the yin and yang relationship of their characters. Adding to their chemistry was the fact that Warner Bros. had all actors record in the same room. Although the method can lead to more takes, it breeds creativity and leads to more honest performances – which reflected in their work.
Since Batman: The Animated Series, Conroy has reprised the role of Batman in pretty much every animated project since, including the Arkham series, developed by Rocksteady. Recording for a video-game was a much different experience, and challenged him to keep things fresh. Unlike the collaborative environment of the series, recording for Arkham meant hours upon hours alone in a room, recording thousands of clips multiple times, covering every variable in the game. Thankfully, the stress doesn’t leak through into the product, because the Arkham franchise is one of the strongest in gaming; Conroy is set to reprise the role of Batman in next year’s Batman: Arkham Knight. His mantle as Batman hasn’t been just video-games and television shows. When Conroy was volunteering at a soup kitchen in New York City after 9/11, he cheered up the room by reprising his famous line, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!” for the room to hear. Also, in lieu of the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Conroy dubbed an animated promo for the movie.
In celebration of Batman’s 75th Anniversary, Conroy has also collaborated with Bruce Timm for a few select shorts. He might be the most recognizable Batman voice-actor, but he doesn’t hog the spotlight. He supports other actors’ portrayal of the Dark Knight. Speaking of, he is actually quite a fan of Christian Bale’s performance of Batman, and calls the Nolan-helmed Dark Knight trilogy the closest adaptation to the dark Bob Kane/Bill Finger origins. The growling voice, on the other hand, he could do without. “It’s like – why didn’t someone stop him?” His career is built upon Batman, but the character isn’t the only thing Conroy loves to spend time with; one of his biggest hobbies is restoring old houses. Using his hands to build, garden and paint give him a lot of happiness. Could you imagine owning a home built by the Batman? Batcaves for everyone!
Kevin Conroy will go down as one of the greatest voice actors ever in one of the greatest television shows of all time. He is the undisputed voice of Bruce Wayne, and part of a show that single-handedly introduced a whole generation to Batman and the comic book world, including myself. After over 20 years of serving the people as Batman, Conroy still loves the character and his fans. It’s for these reasons that you must respect his craft.
None of the media in this article belongs to Hush Comics; it all belongs to their respective properties. I hope everybody has enjoyed our countdown to Denver Comic Con. Among all the writers at Hush, we were able to string together 30 biographical pieces in 30 days. Look to Hush Comics for more coverage of Denver Comic Con.