Wed
Feb 12 2014 3:00pm

Holy No-Face-Time Batman! The Caped Crusader’s 5 Best Voice-Over Actors

Lego Batman Will Arnett

With The Lego Movie winning over critics and families alike, one little detail seems to be a tiny bit overlooked: Will Arnett is voicing Batman! And while the decidedly comedic take on Gotham City’s silent defender works super-well for his LEGO incarnation, Batman has had a ton of other talented folks not just beneath the cowl, but behind a microphone, too. If you think about it, since the guy hides behind a mask, voicing Batman might be the most legit way for an actor to truly explore the character. Sure, we’re all familiar with Christian Bale’s “bat-growl” and its various parodies, but what about some of the Caped Crusader’s other voice actors?

Here are five of the best.

 

Batman Beyond Will Friedle

Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)

Set in a future version of Gotham City, complete with outdated hacking references and dumb holograms, Batman Beyond is certainly not for everyone. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Batman himself isn’t Bruce Wayne, but instead a punk kid named Terry McGinnis. This incarnation of Batman gets help from an aging Bruce Wayne and frequently fights against cyber-terrorism and whole roving packs of Jokers. If Batman suddenly was imbued with Peter Parker’s teenage angst, it would probably sound something like this. Friedle was probably best known for his live-action work on the sitcom Boy Meets World, which would make him probably the last person on many people’s lists to play Batman. And yet, Terry McGinnis is one of the most likable versions of the Dark Knight, if only because he’s not being broody and angsty in exactly the same way as many of the other versions of the character.

 

Batman Under the Red Hood Bruce Greenwood

Bruce Greenwood (Batman: Under the Red Hood)

Seemingly, the one thing the zeitgeist thinks Bruce Greenwood is good at is quasi-weird father figures. From rebooting Captain Pike in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, to playing the President in National Treasure, and soon the father in Endless Love, Bruce Greenwood will always make you feel like you’re being judged a little bit. So it makes sense for him to play Batman in the family drama Under the Red Hood, in which former-Robin Jason Todd returns as a bad-guy and demands Batman make amends for sort of being a bad father. Greenwood has a surprisingly unique-Bat voice, giving the character a bit more age combined with an almost Americana gravitas. This isn’t a gothic or operatic Batman, but more of an August: Osage County regional Batman. If Batman is supposed to be a father-figure to Robin and the ultimate American superhero, then Bruce Greenwood’s slight drawl might be the most affecting—if a little weird—voice of Batman ever.

 

Batman The Brave and the Bold Diedrich Bader

Diedrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and the Bold)

Though it’s hard to out-AdamWest Adam West, Diedrich Bader certainly gave it a good try during the extremely underrated run of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. With super-light, extremely referential tone, Bader’s incarnation of Batman has both the wit and kistch of the 1960s live action show, but recreated with a modern sensibility. In this way, what Diedrich Bader accomplished with his Bat-voice was to do a kind of simulacrum of Adam West without directly copying him—sort of like a cover-song with new lyrics. (If you’ve seen Inside Llewyn Davis, you know it features “new” folk music, which might help this analogy make sense.) Bader’s Bat-voice isn’t as patronizing as Adam West’s, and is definitely kidding around with a sort of gee-shucks inflection, but it’s still pretty damn heroic. Or to put it another way: the voices of Space Ghost and the Lone Ranger had a baby and it was Deidrich Bader’s Batman. On second thought, maybe he’s just like Archer pretending to be Batman?

 

Justice League Crisis on Two Earths Batman William Baldwin

William Baldwin (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths)

Weirdly not a reference to any of the continuity retconning Crisis series from the actual DC comics, this animated movie was instead a loose adaptation of the Earth2 graphic novel which depicts an alternate universe in which all the good guys are jerks and the bad guys are superheroes. (Yep, Lex Luthor is nice in this world.) A lot of these JLA movies are mixed, and this one is no different: there’s some good stuff and some dumb stuff, but William Baldwin’s Batman is awesome. What I liked so much about his portrayal is that he plays Batman’s voice with a little bit of a tech-geek spin. This isn’t meant pejoratively though—with William Baldwin doing Bats, he sounds like a cross between James Bond and Q.

 

Batman the Animated Series Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Arkham Asylum, et al.)

For probably two generations of Batman fans, Kevin Conroy is what Batman sounds like. From 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series through 2001’s relaunched Justice League cartoon, plus the Arkham Asylum video games and about a billion tie-ins and spin-offs in between, it’s hard not to hear this guy when you’re reading a Batman comic book. Elegantly, Conroy gave Batman and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne essentially the same voice, though Batman always sounded a little bit more angry. There wasn’t any strange put-ons here, though with the Bat-anger, there was occasionally a bit of growl. (Bruce would probably say “Alfred” differently than Batman does.) But, best thing about Conroy’s performance of the character is that it doesn’t seem like he’s trying. The Conroy Batman voice is dark, yes, but not unintelligible or overly stylized. More than anything, the enduring quality of Conroy’s Bat-Voice is simply this: he sounds real, articulate, and above all, authoritative.

 

There have of course been a lot of other folks who’ve done Batman’s voice, and many of them just in the past 15 years or so! Who’s your favorite?


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com

17 comments
Jackie Morgan
1. LiteraryEscapism
Without a doubt, Conroy is definitely my "Batman" when it comes to voice. Any other Batman has always sounded off if it wasn't Conroy; but I love the picks. Each of these voice actors have made Bats their own and still just as awesome. Even Will Arnett's, while loaded with cheese, was still an amusing side of Bats voice that I wouldn't have expected.
Veris
2. Veris
"You're pretty strong for some clown who thinks he's Batman."
"I AM Batman."

You sure were Will Friedle.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
Wow, William Baldwin was one of my least favorite Batman voice actors of all time. I was startled when I scrolled down and saw his name. I would've instead nominated Jeremy Sisto from Justice League: The New Frontier.

Bruce Greenwood's work in Under the Red Hood was successful enough that he was asked to reprise the role of Batman in the Young Justice animated series.

As for Conroy, in the original B:TAS, he gave Bruce and Batman very distinct voices, with Bruce being a more high-pitched, chipper version of Conroy's normal voice and Batman being more of a Clint Eastwood rasp. Eventually his Batman voice lost the whispery quality and became just Conroy being deep and stentorian, and for some reason, when The New Batman Adventures came along, he was asked to begin using pretty much the same voice for Bruce, which sounded really weird.

I think Adam West himself deserves honorable mention as a voice actor, since he played the voice of Batman on Filmation's 1977 animated series, and later for a couple of seasons on The Super Powers Team, the last incarnation of the SuperFriends franchise. That show got more intelligent and more faithful to the comics in those final seasons, with writers like Alan Burnett and Rich Fogel who would go on to become key members of the more adult Batman/DC shows later on. And West did a solid job with the richer material, playing a more serious, though still generally light version of Batman.
Veris
4. mirana
Conroy is the only Batman VA, ever. All others are not Batman. :P
Veris
5. Athreeren
I understand why Will Friedle is here: it would have been weird to have the same guy playing both Batmen at the same time. But all the others? Why didn't they directly cast Conroy? Did they really think that anyone could do a better Batman?
Veris
6. KAsiki
@5 Athreeren,
Much like Hamil did voicing the Joker, Conroy retired from being the Batman voice. While he was the best, the fact that it ceased to be a regular gig probably didn't help.
Also taking into account the drastically different directions they went with Batman since then, it was probably wise to make sure a different spin was given for such concepts as Brave and the Bold.
How about Weller in the Dark Knight Returns? Why is he not included in this list?
Also anyone who hasn't heard Conroy's 911 Aid story should check it out. Not were sure where it is, but it is a priceless story.
Zayne Forehand
7. ShiningArmor
Conroy is King for sure but I think Bruce Greenwood did the best of all the non-Conroys. He didn't get to showcase the Bruce vs Batman in his voice in Under the Red Hood really but he did a couple times in Young Justice and I thought he was excellent.
Veris
8. wyoarmadillos
One of the reasons I hated the Brave and the Bold was the voice. To me it was off putting and kept dragging me out of the story. The best parts of that series were when Batman was off screen
John C. Bunnell
9. JohnCBunnell
Two notes:

I am right in line with the assessment of "extremely underrated" with regard to The Brave and the Bold. I was skeptical in the extreme when I read about the approach, but when I picked up a couple of DVDs for unbelievably cheap during the promotional run-up to The Dark Knight Rises, I found myself highly impressed. Essentially, the producers took the Adam West Bat-universe (up to and including a few of the West series' original villains, if mostly in cameo), softened the camp just a bit, and then expanded the milieu to cover an incredibly broad spectrum of Silver Age DC continuity. Nor does the innate wackiness keep them from doing some really strong character work from time to time.

Second: I too had a moment of cognitive dissonance when I first realized that Will Friedle was voicing Terry "Batman" McGinnis, but it had nothing to do with Boy Meets World. I'd argue that Friedle is best known to animation fans from his work on the popular Disney series Kim Possible, in which he co-starred as Kim's laid-back and utterly klutzy sidekick Ron Stoppable (constantly called "the buffoon" by Kim's arch-nemesis Dr. Drakken). Friedle's voice work makes both Ron and Terry believable and likeable, even though a more polar set of opposites is hard to imagine.
Christopher Bennett
10. ChristopherLBennett
@9: I see The Brave and the Bold as being based primarily in the Silver Age DC era, the work of Sheldon Moldoff and Dick Sprang and Bill Finger and Bob Haney and the like, with occasional nods to the Adam West series. I think the reason it seems to some people like a continuation of the West series is that the West series was itself a pretty faithful (if mocking) adaptation of the Silver Age Batman comics.

But TB&TB was a really cool show -- sometimes too steeped in comics nostalgia, but often quite brash and imaginative and sometimes startlingly dark. There was this whole stretch in the latter half of the series where they were killing off characters week after week, it seemed. And Diedrich Bader was really good at being that particular version of Batman, handling both the deadpan comedy and the occasional dramatic turns the show took. His performance in "Chill of the Night!" -- a fairly faithful adaptation of Batman's origin story from the '40s and '50s comics, and the most B:TAS-like episode of the series -- was almost as good as Conroy's Batman.

There was a Kim Possible episode that winked at Friedle's Batman Beyond role by having Ron become the sidekick/inheritor to an aged superhero (or actor who thought he was a superhero?) played by Adam West.
Veris
11. Cybersnark
It should be noted that Friedle took a cue from Conroy and gave Terry and Batman slightly different voices.

It's particularly noticeable when he switches mid-sentence.
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
@11: It's generally overlooked that Adam West gave Bruce and Batman distinct voices too. He didn't change the pitch or texture of his voice, but his performance was very different. His Bruce had a relaxed, mellow, naturalistic delivery, while his Batman was hyperdramatic and urgent and staccato.
Lenny Bailes
13. lennyb
It should be noted that Kevin Conroy was also great in voicing the elderly Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond. For an example of the voice he used there, check out this clip from Justice League Unlimited, a meeting between elderly Bruce and the time-transplanted Batman of our era -- with Batman/Terry performing the introduction.
Veris
14. Cordo_Roxen
I grew up watching Batman TAS, Batman Beyond and Justice League and I have to say I loved how Conroy aged his Batman voice for Bruce Wayne throughout the different series. By the time you get to Beyond, even though Bruce is officially retired at that point, Conroy uses the much deeper "Batman" voice for Bruce Wayne. For me it showed how once he stopped needing an alter ego he basically defaulted to his Batman voice. Friedle and Conroy played well off eachother in that series, although I admit when I first watched it I kept waiting for Terry McGuiness to yell "FEENY!!!" at Bruce.
Veris
15. Cordo_Roxen
*McGinnis, not McGuinness. I must really need a drink.
Veris
16. tigeraid
Conroy and Hamill will always be my Batman and Joker.
Veris
17. Elsie Hogarth
Batman is my favorite hero so, for me, Kevin Conroy will always be the voice of Batman. I've seen all shows/series/movies, with Batman, but I only collect the ones with Kevin Conroy.

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