Longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy has revealed he didn’t immediately understand what sort of Caped Crusader he would be portraying. Unfamiliar with the darker iterations of the character, Conroy initially channeled the late, great Adam West’s version of the Dark Knight for Batman: The Animated Series.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, the seminal Batman cartoon that defined the hero for a generation of kids in the ’90s. The cast and crew are reflecting on the show’s legacy and origins – including Conroy, who had no background in animation prior to his role on the series, and had very little knowledge of Batman in general.
Indeed, Conroy was initially channeling an entirely different version of the character than what the producers were going for. In an interview with THR, Conroy recounts how he was familiar with Adam West’s Batman from childhood and just assumed that’s the sort of character he would be playing, much to Batman: The Animated Series’ creators’ chagrin:
“As a kid, I had a very conservative Irish-Catholic upbringing. So when [Batman: TAS producer] Bruce Timm asked me what I knew about Batman, I immediately mentioned the TV show and he screamed, ‘No, no, no! That’s not what we’re doing. Erase that!’ He explained the dark, noir story and Bruce’s vow to his parents which leads to the dual identities. It was sort of Shakespearean tragedy, so I approached it like you would Hamlet or Edgar in King Lear.”
Conroy really must have been as oblivious about Batman as he claimed to be; by the time he was auditioning for the role, Tim Burton’s darker, edgier Batman had already taken the world by storm and largely replaced West’s campier version of the Caped Crusader in the public consciousness. These days, we’re luck enough to live in a pop culture era where both the darker, grittier versions of Batman and West’s tongue-in-cheek camp can both be appreciated as worthwhile takes on one of fiction’s most versatile characters.
Regardless of his initial confusion, Conroy’s interpretation of the character would become instantly iconic. He was able to perfectly balance the flighty playboy affectation of Bruce Wayne with the soulful, brooding growl of Batman. Conroy would end up making a career out of voicing the character, as he’s been portraying Batman almost without interruption for a quarter century, in projects as varied as DC’s direct to video animated movies, more lighthearted kids cartoons like the current Justice League Action, and the massively successful Arkham Asylum video games. He is simply, for a huge portion of fans, the definitive Batman.
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