Letting Go Of The Past With Kevin Conroy As The Voice Of Batman – Is It Time?
If you don’t know who Kevin Conroy is, then you must not be that exposed to Batman content. Conroy has been the voice actor for Batman in video games and television series and animated movies for more than two decades. He voiced Batman in both of Rocksteady’s Arkham games. Now, it’s been up in confusion as to whether or not Kevin Conroy would be doing the voice acting for the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins, and most recently he tweeted that he is actually doing the voice acting for another Arkham game, and not Arkham Origins. So is that confirmation of two Arkham games?
Either way, what I want to talk about today is the very difficult topic of becoming attached to a character, and how he or she is defined. For instance, Mark Hamil was the worldly famous voice actor for The Joker, alongside Conroy, for a similar amount of time, that is until he retired after Batman: Arkham City. For many Batfans, Mark Hamil was The Joker. There was no other. Hamil and Conroy became iconic, and to thousands of fans, it was hard to accept that anyone else could voice the beloved characters. Conroy and Hamil became the soul of these characters, and through the years they triumphed.
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That’s not to say that no one else ever voiced The Joker character, or even Batman for that fact, as in the 2010 movie Batman: Under The Red Hood, John DiMaggio voiced Joker, and he actually did a fantastic job in my opinion, especially when it came to depicting the Clown Prince of Crime as maniacal and heartless. Incidentally, in that movie Batman wasn’t voiced by Conroy, but rather Bruce Greenwood, who also did a great job at capturing the sullen, humourless demeanour of our favourite caped crusader. Then in Batman: Year One, a 2011 animated movie, Benjamin McKenzie did the honour of voicing the character, while in 2012 and 2013’s The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2 respectively, Peter Weller was Batman, and Michael Emerson was Joker, both of whom were great.
However, one thing we know for certainty in life, is that nothing lasts forever. But the show must go on, as they say. Focusing on Kevin Conroy as he is still very much in the business, it’s a difficult problem, because Conroy has been the soul of Batman for so long, it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it. And there I can sympathise with the fans. I am a big one myself after all. But on the flip side, if you only ever want a single talent, how would you ever be exposed to others who may bring a whole new dimension to the beloved character? All of the movies I mentioned above, the voice actors did fantastic jobs, and showed new sides to characters we’ve loved for many, many years. Peter Weller, for instance, brought a cold, aged Bruce wonderfully to life, although his voice did lack power and command during some of The Dark Knight’s more thunderous moments in the respective comic.
The point I’ve just made is that every voice actor has strengths and weaknesses. To me, Conroy’s voice always conveys Batman as a hero. His voice portrays Batman as honourable, as a bad ass when it’s time for it, and as a man who is always in control, never wavering. These are his strengths. Yet I feel, I haven’t really heard Conroy convey a darker side to Batman, or a more violent side. A side that enjoys violence, or the terror of his enemies. I haven’t heard Conroy portray Batman’s obsession, only his stubbornness. Yet obsession is one of the most prominent themes of Batman. And honestly, I don’t think Conroy would be well suited for some of these roles, because he’s too composed. I’ve never heard Conroy portray Batman as inexperienced, as someone who may not be on top of the situation, and isn’t this the core of the prequel, Arkham Origins? A younger, less dominating Dark Knight?
I’m someone who has read dozens of Batman comics, watched all the movies (even the trash ones), and of course watched the animated TV series and films. In many depictions, Batman is scary, he is an instrument of terror, and especially in more darker comics like The Dark Knight Returns, he enjoys the terror that his brutality brings. There are many depictions of Batman depending on the writer, the era, the setting and the time in The Dark Knight’s life. Even the awesome Nolan trilogy delivered a modern take on Batman, and a completely new take on the character of the Joker, who has been around for eighty years. The beauty of comic characters is that there is no single way to define them. They have many staple elements, sure, and things that, if taken away, would make the character cease to be. But their personalities, behaviours, dialogue, demeanour, actions and limits are all subject to change.
My point is that, there is so much untapped potential, there are ways to explore these characters in different lights. And in a video game or animated cartoon, what else defines the character besides the voice actor and the writer behind him? Don’t get me wrong. I, like any Batfan, love Conroy’s work. I still miss Mark Hamil as the Joker. But I do not believe that they are the only ones capable of taking the roles. Not if you want to explore the famous characters in new ways for these mediums.
The reality is that sooner or later, Conroy will retire as the voice of Batman. Should we not scope potential talents before that time comes? Should we not give new voice actors a chance? I believe we shouldn’t limit ourselves to defining a character in only one particular way. Mark Hamil has retired, yet voice actors like Micheal Emmerson (The Dark Knight Returns) and John DiMaggio (Batman: Under The Red Hood) have proven that others are capable of depicting the famous villain wonderfully and true to the spirit of the source material. Could the same be done for Batman? I think so.
In Batman: Arkham Origins, The Dark Knight sports new armour that is closer to the Nolan-verse, and he is younger and less experienced. He’s not the same Batman that he was in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. I’m happy about that, because it allows the character to be focused on and explored in a different way. I hope that Arkham Origins is a more personal journey for Batman, because Rocksteady’s games, while amazing, set the stage for the villains more than they did the hero.
A new voice actor may just complete the new take on the character. IGN reports that Roger Craig Smith, who voiced Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin’s Creed II and its sequels, and Chris Redfield in the Resident Evil series, is set to play the Dark Knight. I look forward to seeing him in action.
Perhaps now, is the right time to let Kevin Conroy go. Or at least, a time to look for new talent.