When I was a kid, I remember watching a movie with my Grandpa Bundy. It was one of those old war movie things – I can’t remember which one now, and as we sat in his living room, Grandpa said something that it took me decades to understand.
“Oh, I think he just died,” he said when an actor came on the screen. “I remember when he died. And him. Is anyone alive in this movie?”
Death is not something we actively think about. Not until it comes within our circle, anyway. Watching “Star Trek” or “Babylon 5” now, I’m constantly repeating what Grandpa said all those years ago.
When Carrie Fisher died, I was pretty upset. No, I never met her, and that’s part of the problem: she was always royalty to me. I still remember seeing her on my parents’ TV screen for the first time, programming a message into an old R2 unit. That movie changed who I was in many ways, and she was a big part of it. Then, Stan Lee passed, and it was a very hard week at work for me, especially since I was so close to meeting him and his illness prevented it.
But today, November 11, I read news that hit me harder than I expected.
Kevin Conroy was the voice of Batman for over 60 productions, according to DC Comics. I first heard him in “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992. We didn’t get Fox well in our house back then. I had to stand by the old TV, one hand gripping the rabbit ears to clear up the snow. The episode “On Leather Wings,” wasn’t the best of the series. Easily overshadowed by the second episode, “Christmas With The Joker,” but it was the first time I heard Batman talk.
I had been reading Batman comics and trade paperbacks for a couple of years by that point. Some cereal did these mini-sized issues of “The Untold Legend of the Batman,” getting me hooked on the comic. Dad got me “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” in 1989 in anticipation of the Michael Keaton movie, and Keaton is still the best live-action Batman, but his voice fit the movies, which were in some sort of side universe from the comics. Batman in the comics, to me, didn’t need Keaton’s whisper. He needed something else.
And then, Kevin Conroy delivered Batman’s first lines in 1992, and I heard Batman.
From that moment on, whenever I read Batman comics, I heard Conroy. Unlike any other actor before or after, Conroy understood the duality of Batman. For Conroy, Bruce Wayne was the costume, and the voices he used for both characters were different enough that you understood how people heard Bruce Wayne talk and didn’t think, “Wait, is that Batman?” Christian Bale tried to mimic it, Ben Affleck tried to use an autotuner, Robert Pattison tried to act, but none of those actors could come close to the rage and darkness that Conroy rumbled into the microphone.
When I read Batman comics to Tim later, as an adult, I tried to mimic Conroy, too. Then, I showed him my beloved “Batman: The Animated Series.” It held up, a masterpiece unparalleled in comic book adaptations, timeless in its animation and storytelling, and anchored by that deep, brooding voice of Kevin Conroy.
I got the chance to meet Conroy at a convention back in 2019. I got there early, expecting a long line to meet a legend, but there was no one at his table. Val Kilmer was also there, and people flocked to meet him. With Kilmer’s health at the time, it was understandable. Conroy was healthy, you could meet him later. I’m glad I didn’t wait.
With no one around, I got the chance to talk to Conroy and take an awkward picture. I didn’t expect him to be so strong! He practically picked me up! I told him how much his work meant to me growing up, like I do when I meet every artist who had an impact on my childhood. We chit-chatted about the show, the role, and what it took to find the two voices for Batman and Bruce Wayne. Now, looking back, I wish I had recorded it, but I got him to say his signature Batman line, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I. Am. Batman.”
It was 1992 again and I was a small child holding the TV’s rabbit ears.
Before I left, I said that I’m rewatching the show with my son. He got a little wistful for a moment. His speaking voice is neither Batman nor Bruce Wayne, and it changed then, becoming higher than the bass he’s known for.
“Hearing that means a lot to me,” he said. Then he continued, saying something like, “When I hear that work I did 30 years ago meant so much to people like you that you’re sharing it with the next generation, it’s like I’ll live forever.”
In that way, he will — 400 episodes of “Batman,” plus movies and video games, anyone who wants to know what Batman really sounds like will hear Kevin Conroy. Tim and I will be watching.
But today, I feel like my childhood died.
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