Since 1989, producer Bruce Timm, voice director Andrea Romano, and voice actor Kevin Conroy have worked together to bring Batman to animated life. From “Batman: The Animated Series” into a variety of subsequent series and direct-to-video movies, the trio has been a constant presence in each others’ lives and, as Conroy told CBR News, it began as a fluke.
“Usually, [the producers] don’t know what they want to hear,” Conroy said. “They know it when they hear it.” He, along with his compatriots Romano and Timm, sat down with journalists at New York Comic Con to discuss their latest collaboration, “Justice League: Doom,” the next Direct to Video title in the successful “DC Animated Original Movie” series. The latest animated appearance for the actor sees the League defeated because of the actions of one of their own — Batman.
Though many of the titles in the line have featured voices for the Dark Knight other than Conroy’s, he keeps returning to the Caped Crusader for one simple reason. “It’s the audience,” he said. “They have been so loyal — I know that’s why Warner keeps asking me back.”
The appreciation the actor would eventually find with audiences began in a recording booth in Los Angeles some twenty-odd years ago where, Conroy explained, he made a choice. “The voice comes from a psychological place … there’s a lot of pain in [Batman’s] voice,” he began. “There were a dozen other actors who could’ve gotten that job if they’d made the same choice I made.”
Asked if he ever expected to be playing the part this long, he responded, “Are you kidding me? A twenty year job? No way!”
Conroy’s take on the character was constantly challenged over the years, from singing “Am I Blue?” in the “Justice League Unlimited” episode “This Little Piggy,” to playing four parts in real time during the recording of the “Batman: The Animated Series” story, “Perchance to Dream.” The actor recalled that Romano had her doubts that he could pull it off during one session. “She gave me the chance and, as we worked, she said, ‘Well, I guess we’re going to do this!'”
For Romano, who also casts the voices in addition to directing, Conroy’s talents as an actor were just as important as his take on the character. “I can’t teach acting in a four-hour recording session,” she quipped. “Microphone technique, you can teach in a very short time.”
Romano’s cast for “JL: Doom” represents the core group of dependable voices that she likes to turn to when casting the DC Comics characters. “It was joy when my employers said I could bring back the cast from the ‘Justice League’ series,” she said. In addition to Conroy, Tim Daly reprises his role from “Superman: The Animated Series” and from “Justice League,” Susan Eisenberg and Carl Lumbly return as Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter. Michael Rosenbaum, who played the Wally West version of the Flash on the “Justice League” series also returns, but as the Barry Allen version of the character. Nathan Fillion reprises his “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights” role as Hal Jordan. “It’s like going to a family reunion where you’ve hand-picked your family,” Romano joked.
Timm said he wished there was more material like “Batman: Year One” available so that he could do straight adaptations with very limited alterations. “There’s a lot of good comics out there,” he explained, “but is there a “Dark Knight” equivalent for Aquaman? No, there isn’t.” In fact, as Timm recalled, “Tower of Babel,” the “JLA” storyline written by Mark Waid serving as the basis for the film, was long in discussion before being settled on for adaptation. “I thought it [wouldn’t] really work as an animated movie,” Timm admitted. “It’s a great story … but it doesn’t really have a movie structure to it.” Once it was settled that “Babel” was next on the slate for the animated treatment, the late Dwayne McDuffie, who also wrote the team’s recent adaptation of “All Star Superman,” was called upon to make the story work.
Reflecting on the years since the initial “Animated Series” run, Conroy believes his Batman voice has become “darker” — in a tonal sense, explaining, “I initially played around with the high notes.” This was particularly true with his take on Bruce Wayne’s voice. “Light defines darkness,” he explained. “I made him much more sarcastic … a lot of irony.” As the show evolved, the material got darker and the voice went deeper to match.
In the recent DTV releases, Romano noted the team has made a conscious decision to move toward more naturalistic dialogue with less “cartoonish” performances. “We did that deliberately,” she said. “You want that more intimate, quieter, subtle performance.”
Looking toward the future, Timm noted his group may contribute to the upcoming “DC Nation” block on Cartoon Network, quipping, “I’ve got to figure out a way to fit it into my schedule,” He also remianed mum in regard to next year’s two-part adaptation of “The Dark Knight Returns.”
As for Conroy, the actor readily expressed his eagerness to do more of the DTV movies, calling his relationship with Timm and Romano “irreplaceable.”
“I would walk over coals to work with them,” he said. “They are class acts.”
“Justice League: Doom” arrives on home video early next year