My grandfather once told me that the first time he really understood that he was getting older was when he heard about the death of John Wayne. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about at the time, but as I’ve gotten older, and more and more of the people I saw as heroes start to pass away, the more I understand what he meant.
This week I’m going to do something a little different, and just reflect on the passing of Kevin Conroy and what it means to me as not only a fan, but also a someone for whom the Batman The Animated Series cartoon was a formative moment in my life. I promise to return to good old fashioned indies next week, but for now I want to get all of this down so I can process it.
Batman: The Animated Series premiered in 1992, when I was almost on the verge of turning 13. The early ‘90s were a pretty rough time for people like me, and by that I mean nerds. Today nerd culture seems to dominate every facet of modern media, but back then it was slim pickings, without a lot for teens to actually get away with liking. I was too old for He-Man, Transformers, GI Joe, or any other cartoon I grew up watching in the 80s, at least in the eyes of my parents and peers. When I turned 13 my folks not only told me I was too old to go trick or treating anymore, I was also considered too old to play with or own toys, and so most of mine were bundled off to my cousins, and never heard from again.
The only stuff I was allowed to have were novels and comics, and I was only allowed to have comics because I bought them with my own money, and because my parents believed on some level that one day they might be worth something, so they let me keep them as collectables. But I had to keep them hidden away from the prying eyes of most of my peers lest I be tormented endlessly for being a nerd.
When Batman: The Animated Series premiered, there was a shift. It wasn’t an earth shaking one, but it was enough of a shift that someone like me, a hyperaware nerd, noticed. I started hearing kids my age actually talk about Batman in a positive way. Now, I know that the 1989 Batman film had come out a few years earlier, and it did spark hype, but I went to a very conservative Christian school, so most of the kids had been forbidden from seeing that film, and those who had quickly gave up trying to talk about it because they found there was no one to actually talk to about it.
But Batman: The Animated Series was a cartoon, and it was on TV, it that made it a lot harder for people to keep their kids away from it (they learned their lesson for The Simpsons, which was initially banned, but then allowed due to a complete inability to prevent kids from talking about it.)
Suddenly, for a brief and glorious moment, I was a star. I had been reading Batman for years, scrounging up copies from the handful of comic shops I had managed to sneak into over the years, as well a early collections I had read in the public library, not to mention the years I had spent watching reruns of the Adam West Batman series growing up.
Unlike Adam West, however, voice actor Kevin Conroy brought a reality and a gravitas to the role that made that cartoon the most realistic Batman I had ever seen. The show was dark and gritty, with a beautifully stylized art style provided by Bruce Timm and his team, and the world they designed went on to become the template for every other Gotham City to come after.
And Kevin Conroy’s Batman? Well, if Batman: The Animated Series‘ Gotham became the definitive version of that city, Conroy’s Batman became the definite version of that character. Dark and brooding one minute, light hearted and caring the next. Kevin Conroy played his Batman as a protector to both his city and his family, and unlike the endless procession of grim-dark big screen Batman’s that have followed, his Batman wasn’t afraid to be human.
Conroy’s Batman would have genuine, human reactions to what he saw. He was affected by the world he was part of, and while he was always the smartest person in the room, he wasn’t the most obnoxious. Sure, he loved to disappear when Jim turned his back, but at the same time he also would make sure to protect him when he needed saving. Conroy’s Batman smiled and cried, and even laughed, and that made him real in a way that few other Batman ever would again.
While the series only lasted four seasons, Kevin Conroy would go one to play Bruce Wayne/ Batman in numerous spin-off including two Justice League series (the definitive version of the JL in my opinion), the controversial at the time but now much loved and fondly remembered Batman Beyond, as well as numerous movies, reboots, and, second in importance only to the original show to me, the Arkham games.
Yeah, I have 100% all of those games. I’m not a huge gamer, but I played those games over and over again, until I had completed every single mission and side quest, and gathered up every Riddler trophy. And Kevin Conroy was the voice of all of them (minus Arkham: Origins, which is not a terrible game, but we shall never speak of it again).
Kevin Conroy made it cool to like Batman, and a good deal of the credit for the Batman dominance of the world today has to be given to him. From folks my age, to teenagers today, his voice will forever be tied to Batman, in such a way that even now, when I hear other voice actors try to give voice to him it just seems wrong. And I say this with a deep love to Batman The Brave and the Bold (the only Batman cartoon to hold a candle to Batman: The Animated Series). Kevin Conroy was Batman, and to me, he always will be.
Earlier this year I was attending the Cincinnati Comic Con (a fantastic con) and Kevin Conroy was supposed to be the guest of honor. He had to cancel due to illness, which may or may not be related to his recent passing. I was very disappointed to not be able to finally meet him, but I felt like it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, because I was sure he’d show up at the next big con I was at and I’d finally get my chance. And then the news broke, and well, it’s been rough.
I feel very old today.
Alright folks, thanks for reading my ramble. It’s been a rough week for me, and learning this news at work yesterday really took me off my game. But I feel better now having put my feelings down on paper. Treasure the heroes in your life while you can, and let them know how much they matter to you.
Until next time, stay safe.