For about the last year or so I’ve been slowly making my way through rewatching Justice League and Justice League Unlimited with my husband who never watched them in full. They were staples growing up and hold more worth than simple nostalgia. I’ve written about DC animated series before and praised them fully for not just being better than their live-action counterparts (considerably so) but also for their adult navigation of heavy thematic topics, their iconic episodes that helped redefine how we saw these larger-than-life characters, the fluidity of the action, and more.
Now in rewatching them again I’ve been struck by how adult they are and not in a way that suggests chaos and carnage like most animated series that aims for a mature audience. Rather, these characters are adults themselves and thus behave as such. Yes, there’s sexual tension but it’s not all crude innuendos. The members of the league bicker like adults, the prices they pay to keep the peace of their worlds are immeasurable, yet the loss isn’t what defines any of the characters either. They change and grow throughout the two series in a way that can take years and years for modern stories about superheroes. However, the strongest aspect of the series was the talented voice actors, especially Kevin Conroy who voiced Batman here and also in many other projects such as the iconic Batman The Animated Series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Beyond, and many more.
It was announced today that the legendary voice actor had passed away, a devastating loss. Only 66 years old, the actor, his gruff voice laced with so much compassion, some much-repressed pain, and easy empathy, was synonymous with Batman. Ask anyone and they’ll share who their favorite Batman is – from Christian Bale to Michael Keaton and more – but Conroy was always mine, and not just because I grew up with his voice being the one I associated with the character. Over time, as my interest in superheroes ebbed and flowed, my love for his Batman, for the work of DC animation in general, never wavered.
Voice acting has lost the significance it once held, with so many studios going for big names for their animated feature as a means to draw in a larger audience. Conroy isn’t the only example of why this amounts to a loss of quality but he is one of the biggest, as he was both the entry point for many DC fans to the character, a voice of many childhoods, and someone who layered his Bruce Wayne with as much characterization as any actor whose face has appeared on the screen.
I’ve written about Conroy being the best Batman at length before, but it bears repeating that one of the finest aspects of his performance was the abundance of the heart that overflowed from his version of the character. As we’ve grown more and more accustomed to monotonous, self-serious, violent, bitter, and closed-off versions of the character, Conroy’s Batman is refreshing and a reminder of why this character is so beloved. He sees the pain in Batman, as he expressed in “Finding Batman,” a story that was a part of DC Comics’ 2022 Pride anthology where he recounted his life and his experiences as a gay man. Through that pain, though he also saw how it might manifest itself in warmth and sensitivity.
This is best demonstrated in a scene between him and the character Ace. He doesn’t attack or try and deliver lies as a means of falsifying comfort. Rather, he sits and he listens, in the way children deserve to be heard. His delivery of “I’m sorry” in the face of confirming to a child her immenent. death is chill inducing. An effective scene regardless is made all the stronger because a class act in his medium understands what’s meant of him in this moment.
It also changed over time, adapting to the material he was given and what version of the character he was embodying.
Needless to say, 66 is too young and we can’t boil someone down to one role they played – even if they’d been playing it for 30 years. That said, this is, in its way, a means to reflect on how artists can impact a life, and Conroy impacted many of our editorial staff, due to a beloved performance as an iconic character. It’s tough to articulate the loss of a figure like this, one so many knew based on voice alone, and it’s only deepened by how many of us associate him with our youth – I’m 31 today so he’s been my Batman for almost all of my life. Things mean so much to us growing up and everything is felt with a level of earth splitting emotions. He was a stranger to most of us but so embodied a piece of our memories. It’s good to grieve the loss of someone whose work you loved, whose work meant so much to so many, and whose life had an impact.
He’s always been my Batman, and he’ll remain so, as well as being one of the finest voice actors of all time.
Featured Photo Courtesy Of Warner Bros./DC, Kevin Conroy’s Instagram