After a quarter century of appearing as Batman a couple hundred times, Kevin Conroy has more than earned the right to offer some tips on what makes the character tick, so anyone looking to be a better Batman (a few pointers couldn’t hurt, Ben Affleck) would do well to listen up. In a conversation with IGN, Conroy opened up about how to play the part, offering two keen insights that might make us all re-examine the different screen incarnations of the comic book figure.
“Well, the key to playing Batman for me has been the fact the persona of the Bat – the character of the Bat, the putting on of the mask – is not the performance. The performance is Bruce Wayne,” Conroy said. “The real essence of the man is Batman. That’s when he’s his most comfortable; he’s at his most naked, most emotionally raw when he’s in the bat cave alone. When he goes out to Wayne Technologies, faces the world and puts on a suit – that’s the performance.”
The idea of Bruce Wayne needing to be Batman more than being himself isn’t new, but Conroy’s effectively pinning the character as 1) a savior of the people who is happiest without people around him and 2) an unfixable fetishist who’s found a version of peace by accepting how broken he is. This isn’t just Lucius Malfoy telling Voldemort that being an upstanding, visible member of society was his “true mask” because he’s a filthy opportunist. This is a profoundly conflicted figure hoping that the thing he loves will eventually make itself obsolete — that there will be an end to his war on crime so that he can permanently retire to the normal life that makes his skin crawl.
At any rate, it’s a fun lens to return to previous Batmans with. Conroy shares an appreciation for the sheer number of different versions out there. “I love the fact that Warner Brothers have for the live-action Batman changed the casting so frequently,” he said. “I think it’s really interesting to see different actors in the role, to see what they bring to the character. Everyone brings something different.”
He singles out Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck specifically, but it’s interesting to look back on each Bruce Wayne/Batman combination to judge them by who displayed a natural unease as Bruce Wayne.
Keaton might make the top of Conroy’s list because Mr. Mom always seemed slightly off-kilter without the Batsuit on. Christian Bale and the entirety of the Nolan Batverse are fascinating because of how much time we get to spend figuring out who Bruce Wayne is without the fancy hockey pads: consistently agitated with his role in society and exaggeratedly faking his way through the expected mannerisms of wealth, yet playfully at ease dropping mob bosses from leg breaking heights. Val Kilmer, on the other hand, fails the Conroy Test because he’s far too comfortable as Bruce Wayne, offering barely any daylight between the man and the mask. Debonair George Clooney probably fails even harder.
Meanwhile, we’ve barely gotten to see Affleck as Batman beyond hitting things as hard as he can and hiding like a horror villain in the shadows, but his Bruce Wayne seems both appropriately brooding with a champagne flute in his hand and dumbfounded at his place as a human being in a world inhabited by Superman. Now if he’d just stop killing people, right?
Which brings us to perhaps the best Batman of all, Adam West, who was an awkward psychopath as Bruce Wayne yet had no issue strolling into dance clubs as Batman, ordering an orange juice with zero shame and then stone cold rocking the Batusi. West passes the Conroy Test with flying Bat colors.
It’s fascinating to have this kind of look into the mind of an actor who has played a key fictional figure so many times, but Conroy has also just gifted us with a specific rubric by which to judge all Batmans, which means the eternal debate over who’s the best can continue on schedule.
Haven’t checked out Telltale’s Batman game yet? Watch our trailer breakdown to get a better idea of what’s in store.
Image: Warner Bros. Animation