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.
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Set in a future version of Gotham City, complete with outdated hacking references and dumb holograms, Batman Beyond is certainly not for everyone.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.
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.
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?
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.
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