Bam! Kapow! Zowie!
Have you ever wondered how Batman got his voice?
Discover some interesting things about Batman, the Caped Crusader’s voices over the years, and draw some parallels here at Voices.com’s VOX Daily.
Voices in Gotham City
When I first started thinking about voice over with regard to Batman, my original thought was to discuss something entirely different, perhaps a tad darker and more speculative. That was before I sparked a conversation on Facebook that quickly changed my focus and pointed me in a different direction.
During the conversation, my attention shifted from the late Heath Ledger’s role as The Joker and the potential use of ADR to complete his lines following his tragic death, to the voice of Batman himself and how it has morphed over the years, starting with the televised series starring Adam West (1966), to the 1992 cartoon series with Kevin Conroy, and films ranging from Michael Keaton’s smooth portrayal to the polar opposite, otherworldly voice of Batman in The Dark Knight as performed by Christian Bale.
This article, the prelude now being over, is specifically about the various actors, mediums and character voice interpretations that Bruce Wayne / Batman has experienced over the last four decades.
The Original Batman, Adam West
The series “Batman“, starring Adam West, first aired in 1966 and ran for 120 episodes, each 30 minutes in duration. It was here that Batman became more than just a comic strip but a vibrant discussion piece around the family dinner table.
My dear friend, Nancy Wolfson, upon hearing that I was writing this article, offered to connect me with Fred Wostbrock of KSR Talent, Adam West’s agent, to see if we might be able to learn more about the inner workings of West’s Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Adam West, when asked how he differentiated the voices of Batman and Bruce Wayne, shared, “My Batman delivery was more forceful, quick, dynamic, comedic, musing and deductive in tone and rhythm. Whereas my Bruce Wayne was open and seemingly naive and vulnerable. I tried to give him a sound and demeanor as if he were hiding secrets that the audience was really in on. Again, fun for the adults and serious for the kiddies.”
My first recollection of Adam West as Batman was through reruns when the series was rebroadcast on YTV in Canada. I loved the innocence and vigor of the show, and when the opportunity arose to include Adam West, I couldn’t pass it up.
Kevin Conroy in Batman: The Animated Series
To many, Kevin Conroy is the definitive, quintessential voice of the animated Batman. “Batman” aired in 1992 and ran 85 episodes, each 22 minutes in length.
The voice casting of Kevin Conroy and his epic performances as Batman are legendary, with a number of voice actors citing Conroy’s interpretation as their inspiration to become voice actors. In December of 2008, it was announced that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, the voice of The Joker in Batman: TAS, were invited back to reprise their roles by videogame developer Rocksteady Games in the upcoming, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Norm Hayden, a voice over talent in the US, relates, “Kevin Conroy is still the definitive Batman voice. Perfect casting.” In accordance, American voice talent, Jim Feldman offered, “Kevin Conroy really hits it out of the park. He definitely gives the impression that Bruce Wayne and Batman are 2 different people… and it doesn’t even sound forced.”
Batman: The Animated Series has set a number of benchmarks in the minds of those who follow the Batman franchise, even crossing expectations in the realm of film. Belgian voice actor, Philippe Bernaerts noticed a discrepancy between certain roles, noting that the voice casting in TAS was superior to how the characters’ vocal performance translated onto the silver screen.
Bernaerts said, “I think the voice-acting, voice-casting and voice-directing on Batman: TAS was outstanding. In fact, Batman: TAS had such outstanding characterization that it made the movies look pale. Thumbs up for Andrea Romano!”
Diedrich Bader in Batman: The Brave and The Bold
Andrea Romano cast more than one Batman cartoon, including, “Batman The Brave and The Bold”, featuring the voice of actor Diedrich Bader, a series based upon the DC comic book of the same name that debuted in 1955. So far, there have been about 16 episodes, embarking in 2008 into 2009.
Norm Hayden chimed in, “I think Diedrich Bader is doing a good job as Batman in Batman: The Brave and The Bold. I like the darker Batman myself, but the new show is aimed at younger kids. It’s fun and the art design is fantastic.”
Reviewer, david929, at IMDb shared, “This cartoon is absolutely fantastic and mind-blowingly good. Sadly, it isn’t Batman: TAS, but it doesn’t pretend to be either. Instead, it is a perfect blend of modern and retro that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is clearly articulate and deliberate… The only reason I’m not giving this wonderful cartoon 10 out of 10 is because it doesn’t at all attempt to incorporate Bruce Wayne. I think there could be plenty of opportunities to include something with the comic and clumsy Bruce Wayne that the story writers probably intentionally left out to further the dichotomy between this show and our old and beloved Batman: TAS.”
Batman in Film
Most of us probably don’t think much about how Bruce Wayne / Batman’s voices differ in film because we are so focused on the action, but if you’ve been paying attention over the years, each actor has brought their own interpretation to the cinematic version of this troubled hero.
Christian Bale’s Batman
Of all the Batmans, I would say that Christian Bale has stood out most for his vocal interpretation above all others, perhaps because his creative choices became very different in The Dark Knight from previous Batmans. When you do something differently and break the mould, people take note, and, they also take sides.
I have read a number of articles about Bale’s Batman voice, and while it is admittedly more gruff, scary and intense than previous Batman voices, it does match the setting, both physical and literal, that Christopher Nolan set for his films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Dave Kendricken’s article “Defending Christian Bale’s Batman Voice” is extremely interesting and a worthwhile read. He discusses much of what I said a paragraph ago but in far greater detail, specifically:
“The Batman of Nolan’s films strives to be a shadowy, stealthy, ghostly apparition of unflinching justice and a symbol of dread to any and all criminals. To those he ambushes, Batman exists as a terrifying entity that cannot be killed, harmed, or pinned down. Using the disorientation he creates with his physical skills, Batman completes the psychological effect on criminals by using the harsh yell.”
The Huffington Post took a different angle altogether, offering the Associated Press’ observation, “Why does Batman talk like the offspring of Clint Eastwood and a grizzly bear?”
True, Bale did reach deep into his lower register to create the voice, but I’ve also heard that there may have been some audio engineering at work, too.
Sarah F. Sullivan, featured on Associated Content, was quick to note the following, “While the voice is completely Bale’s, director Christopher Nolan and supervising sound editor Richard King adjusted the voice, exaggerating it through modulation.” Fans apparently thought that Bale’s voice lacked a certain “meatiness” in the first movie so extra measures were taken to ensure that it surpassed the previous interpretation with a deeper, darker, raspier and eerier sound.
Sullivan went on to say, “Looking back at the history of Batman films, Christian Bale is the first Batman to fully alter his voice between Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego. While Michael Keaton’s voice as Batman was different from Bruce Wayne’s, they were still close enough to make the connection. Val Kilmer and George Clooney did little to modify their voices for the character.”
Michael Dobson in Batman: Black and White
Last but not least, Batman: Black and White, available exclusively on Apple iTunes! I happened to cover this series on Voice Over Times a while ago.
Released in 2008, the collection consists of animated adaptations of ten short stories bundled into five episodes. Batman: Black and White takes place in and around Gotham City featuring Batman and a number of villains including Harvey Dent (Two-Face) to name just one.
Each story was written and told from the unique perspective of different writers and artists presenting their own interpretation and spin on the world of Batman with voice actor Michael Dobson performing multiple roles in addition to Batman including the voices of Alfred, Joker, Thomas Wayne, Doctor Rubin, Ahmet, Winsor Munsell, David Thompson, and the Scientist.
As we have just seen, Batman, and the numerous interpretations of his voice, have been of great interest and yielded much debate. I think what we can all agree on though is that this interesting topic is a healthy thing for the voice acting community to explore and warrants further discussion.
Whether you’d like to discuss your favorite Batman voice, talk about the article in general or compare Batman voices, I welcome your comments below!
Thank you in advance for joining the conversation.