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Remembering Kevin Conroy – the gay voice actor behind the most iconic depiction of Batman

Photoshopped image. First image taken from rogerebert.com. Second image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Staff writer Taha Khambaty writes about the career and recent passing of Kevin Conroy, a gay actor best known for playing Batman in numerous DC projects.

Having been born 10 years too late to witness live one of the most seminal pieces of animation, I was lucky enough to catch re-runs on Cartoon Network of the show featuring what was, arguably, the best depiction of the Caped Crusader; “Batman: The Animated Series”.

The series came out at a very particular time in the cultural zeitgeist, right as Tim Burton had made Batman ‘dark’ and ‘cool’ again with “Batman” (1989) and “Batman Returns” (1992). It aired its first episode on 5 September 1992 and gave us one of the most iconic pieces of superhero fiction, lasting 7 years, 3 seasons, and 85 episodes. At the centre of this show was one gay man as the voice of the Dark Knight – Kevin Conroy.

Kevin Conroy, a Julliard Alumni, started his career with “The Acting Company”, moving on to do theatre at the Old Globe Theatre in Chicago and even acting in a couple of Soap Operas such as “Another World” and “Search for Tomorrow”. In the early nineties, Conroy got an audition for what would be his career-defining role in Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s “Batman: The Animated Series”. Having never done work for an animated series, and being a novice voice actor, Conroy’s idea of the character was tied to the 1960s Adam West version, a far departure from the Noir-inspired show the creators had in mind. However, Conroy more than stepped up to the plate, earning the role by using two different voices for Batman and Bruce Wayne. Conroy later linked this duality within the character to his own roots of being a gay man raised in a Catholic household: “I’ve often marvelled at how appropriate it was that I should land this role. As a gay boy growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in a devoutly Catholic family, I’d grown adept at concealing parts of myself”.

The series became a phenomenal success due to its intricate storytelling, incredible art design, and phenomenal cast, resulting in it earning three Daytime Emmy Awards and becoming a solid foundation for the DC Animated Universe (DCAU), containing shows like “Batman Beyond”, “Superman: The Animated Series”, “Justice League”, and “Justice League: Unlimited”. Aside from works within the DCAU, Conroy also lent his Batman voice to more than a handful of animated films, shorts, and video games. Conroy played the Dark Knight in “Batman: Arkham Asylum” (2009), “Arkham City” (2011) and “Arkham Knight” (2015) – amongst others – which constituted hundreds of hours of dialogue and ensured that players got one of the best possible experiences while playing Batman. Additionally, Conroy also got to play an older Batman in live-action within the Arrowverse’s crossover; “Crisis on Infinite Earths”.

Even though playing Batman was Conroy’s most famous role, he starred in numerous different roles during his 30-plus years as an actor. These roles included Captain Sunshine in “The Venture Bros”, Captain Rusty Wallace in “Tour of Duty”, and Chase Kendall in “Search for Tomorrow”. In June 2022, to close out DC Comic’s 2022 Pride Anthology, Kevin Conroy wrote a comic called “Finding Batman”, with art by J. Bone and lettering by Aditya Bidikar. The story follows Conroy’s upbringing in a devout Catholic family where as a gay man he learned to conceal parts of himself. Coming from a broken home and family trauma, coupled with growing up in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic and having to go to “so many funerals” (as he told the New York Times), Conroy had to mask not only his sexuality but his pain while trying to fight rampant homophobia within the industry. This as he details in the comic became a huge reason why the character of Batman struck such a chord with Conroy as he could relate to the characters ‘secret’ identity and childhood trauma on a deeply personal level.

Having more than 100 acting credits to his name, Conroy died of cancer on Thursday, 10th November at the age of 66. Condolences poured in from all over the internet as millions mourned the loss and celebrated the legacy of the iconic actor. This ranged from fans to fellow actors such as Mark Hamill (the voice of Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series”) and Tara Strong to Comic Writers such as Jim Lee and J. M. DeMatteis, and to DC comics who released his comic, Finding Batman, for free.

Despite his passing, Kevin Conroy lives on through the love and dedication he put into his work. He will continue to live on in the head of me and millions of fans who will continue to hear his voice whenever they read any Batman comic. A voice proudly proclaiming: “I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!”

Rest In Peace Kevin Conroy.

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