Kevin Conroy: a tribute
I almost met Kevin Conroy at a local con several years back. I had gone with my mom to go see who all was going to be there, and I was really excited at the prospect of meeting Conroy as well as John Barrowman from Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Arrow fame. Sadly, Mom and I ended up getting there on Sunday so the main attractions weren’t going to be there as long as they would on Friday or Saturday. But I did manage to catch a glimpse of him while talking with some local comic book talent.
“Yep, that’s Kevin,” the comic artist I was talking to said.
He was surrounded by some security guards and he was walking around with something that I could only explain to be an oxygen tank of some sort. I didn’t want to be rude and bother him while he seemed to be leaving. But now that he’s gone I wish that I had found the courage to go walk up to him. I probably would have been shooed away by the security guards or if I did manage to meet him, he might have politely told me that he was busy. Maybe I would have gotten lucky and he would have taken the time to talk to me. But I’ll never know now…sometimes you think there will be more time to meet your heroes.
There have been plenty of fantastic actors who have taken on the role of Bruce Wayne, better known as his alter ego Batman. Michael Keaton, Adam West, Bruce Greenwood, Christian Bale, Val Kilmer, Diedrich Bader, Jason O’Mara, and most recently Robert Pattinson have all given fantastic performances as the Caped Crusader, but none of them have ever approached what Conroy did with Batman. He wasn’t just the best actor who ever played Batman: he was Batman.
I can’t give him all the credit though. He was complimented tremendously by the talents of people such as Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Eric Radomski, Andrea Romano, Michael Reaves, and so many other people who took a shot at creating this cartoon show that no one thought would amount to much. But because of the love and passion that the creators put into Batman: The Animated Series, it became the greatest adaptation of Batman that has ever been put to screen and it has yet to be topped. It captured all of the aspects of what makes Batman awesome and was utterly unashamed of what it was as a superhero TV show…but I digress.
What made Kevin Conroy so good as Batman is that he perfectly captured the balance between Batman and Bruce Wayne. He pulled off the gruff, brooding vigilante who was angry at the injustice of the loss of his parents, but he also captured the humanity of a little boy who never wants anyone to ever go through the emotional and mental pain that he goes through on a daily basis ever again in such a beautiful manner too. He could scare the bejeezus out of mooks, but still have the kindness and decency to comfort a child whose world was destroyed as his was.
One of my favorite moments of Kevin Conroy’s Batman was in the finale of Justice League: Unlimited where a young girl Ace, who was a part of the Royal Flush Gang, was about to die of an aneurysm that would have caused mass destruction. Batman agreed to use the device that would have stopped her from doing that, but it also would have killed her. Instead of using the device, Batman chooses to convince Ace to reverse what she had already done, empathize with her pain, and stay with her until she passes away. For me, that’s who Batman is: he skirts the edge of darkness, but still has the compassion and empathy of a man who genuinely wants to help people. Kevin Smith put it best:
“It carries the sadness of a childhood robbed and it’s kind of marshaled by an assurance of somebody who knows they’re doing the exact right thing in life. It’s horrible to lose anybody in this life, but to be there at the scene of a crime and be ineffective, to have no power to make a difference: that’s what fuels that character. So Kevin Conroy captures that perfectly. He never forgets that at the center of Batman is a sad, broken little boy who lost everything.”
I feel a lot of emotions at the death of Kevin Conroy; sadness, regret, heartache, but also gratitude for what he gave me. For all of the years that I enjoyed hearing him play The Dark Knight. He wasn’t just great as Batman…he was the best.
Like Josh Keaton is for Spider-Man, or Charlie Cox is for Daredevil, or how Christopher Reeve was for Superman, Kevin Conroy was Batman…and there will be no other who will be better. You will be missed. Rest well, old friend.