No disrespect meant towards Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or any of the other live-action Batmen of our time. But for an entire generation who grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series, the one true Dark Knight will always be Kevin Conroy. The Julliard-trained actor first provided the voice for Bruce Wayne in the original B:TAS run in 1992. He returned for The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, and Justice League. For a lot of us, when we read a Batman comic, it is his voice we hear in our heads.
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In between those series, Kevin Conroy voiced Batman for a metric ton of video games and animated films. Now, after so many years, he will finally play a live-action version of Bruce Wayne for the CW‘s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. We got the chance to chat with the man behind the voice, not just about getting to inhabit the Dark Knight in the flesh at long last, but about the possible future for his incarnation of the animated Dark Knight.
After having played Batman for the better part of three decades, the first question I had to ask what it was like for Conroy stepping into Batman’s boots on an actual set with other actors. “For me, what was really strange and wonderful at the same time was that I’ve always played Batman as the voice. And when you do that, you’re living in people’s imaginations,” Conroy elaborated. “But that’s a cocoon-like feeling in a sense. And I find that very liberating. But when your suddenly on a set, and you’re dealing with other actors, suddenly you’re performing in three dimensions. It’s like being on stage. I’d always had the advantage of being in the cocoon of the soundroom. So it was a very naked feeling. I felt very exposed.”
Luckily, another member of the Bat-family came to the rescue, as Bat-folk tend to do. Fittingly, most of Conroy’s scenes are with Batwoman star Ruby Rose, as evidenced in the first trailer for Crisis. “The wonderful thing is that Ruby, whom most of my work was with, is an incredibly generous and supportive actress. She’s very giving, and I felt really safe with her. Because I hadn’t done anything on-camera in terms of acting in almost 25 years! My career took a voice-over hard right in the mid 90s.”
In the scene with Ruby Rose from the trailer, we catch our first glimpse of Bruce Wayne in the Arrowverse, walking with the aid of an exo-skeleton. For comic book fans, this is very reminiscent of the version of Batman seen in the classic graphic novel Kingdom Come. While Conroy couldn’t answer any specific questions in regards to the whole connection to that classic comic — Brandon Routh also playing Superman from Kingdom Come seems significant — I did wonder if the Crisis producers had him research any actual comics. Or did they just tell him “you’ve been Batman for over 25 years, you don’t need us to tell you how to do this.”
“Unfortunately, it’s the latter” Conroy said. As it turns out however, Conroy actually wishes they had given him some comics material for inspiration. “Everyone assumes that because I’ve been Batman for 27 years, they’re just like ‘we’re gonna hire you and just let you do your thing’. They don’t realize that I need background just as much as anybody else. When I first got the job on B:TAS, I didn’t know about any of this stuff. And it was really Mark Hamill that brought me up to speed. Because he’s a comic book fanatic with an encyclopedic knowledge. But I still need that updating! Because I’m not as familiar with the anthology as most of the audience is.”
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One classic iteration of Conroy’s animated Batman legacy that absolutely did help to inspire his take on Crisis Bruce was none other than Mask of the Phantasm. The 1993 animated movie is considered among the best of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini produced era of Batman. And according to Conroy, one scene in particular was the genesis of his interpretation of the character for the Crisis crossover. “In Mask of the Phantasm, Bruce discovers what love is. He falls in love, he realizes what life is really about. It’s not about living in a cave and avenging his parent’s death.”
Conroy added “It’s about love. And being loved. And sharing with someone. But in order to do that, he has to rescind his vow. There’s this beautiful scene on his parent’s grave, where he’s asking them to release him, and then this group of bats come screeching out of the earth from this cave. It’s like a Greek tragedy, and he known he can’t escape his fate. But this Bruce Wayne is Crisis is kind of what happens to him if he never gets love. It’s the fulfillment of that moment for Mask of the Phantasm for me. When he discovers that he will never be able to be loved. He will always be alone. He will give and give and give to fight crime, but he will never get anything back. And what is left at the end of that…that’s this version of Bruce Wayne.”
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What also seems like a fairly obvious inspiration for this version of Bruce Wayne is the classic animated series, Batman Beyond. In that show, and octogenarian Bruce trains a younger man in becoming the new Dark Knight in a futuristic Gotham City. Conroy’s performance as the crotchety and bitter old Batman had to have served as some kind of inspiration for Crisis Bruce, right? “Yes. I definitely did.” Conroy told me.”Even though he’s not as old as Batman Beyond’s Bruce. I used a lot of that version of the character to feed the performance.”
This of course, brought me to the inevitable question: Fans have been clamoring for some sort of live-action version of Batman Beyond for years. Either on the big screen or on TV. While a lot of folks might favor Michael Keaton for the part of Old Bruce, Kevin Conroy reprising his role would be an even better choice. And Conroy didn’t mince words, saying he would jump at the chance to play the eccentric hero in his twilight years. “I’m right there. I am right there. I was thinking about it on set for Crisis, this would be awesome as Batman Beyond. You just never know.”
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While on the subject of fans online demanding certain projects come to fruition, I had to mention the Justice League. No, not the whole “Release the Snyder cut” Justice League. I meant the seminal animated series Justice League Unlimited. #JLReunion has been trending on social media for well over a year, and nearly all the original Justice League cast is game for a reunion, whether it’s an animated feature or (preferably) a new run of episodes on DC Universe. With most of the cast showing their support, is Conroy also game? That would be a definitive yes on Conroy’s part.
“I would love to do it” he told me. “And I know for a fact that everyone involved would love to do it. Every time we’re together at any kind of Justice League reunion at a comic con, everyone loves that idea. But it comes down to the studio. But it was a great cast, and we all want to make it happen.”
Although a future for Conroy’s animated Bat seems a safe bet, what about another go round as live-action Bruce on the CW? we don’t have much context beyond trailers, but one can safely assume the version of Bruce Wayne we meet in Crisis is from one of those titular infinite Earths. But does that mean that one of the main Earth’s Bruce Waynes is out there, and could appear on Batwoman? Ruby Rose dictates her adventures to her world’s Bruce after all. Would Conroy be open to giving life to a live-action Batman again on Batwoman? “I’ve learned never to say never” Conroy said. so keep those fingers crossed, all you fans out there of the best Batman ever.
Featured Image: CW