Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) may have split audiences over opinions about its quality, but nearly everyone agreed that the movie's saving grace was Ben Affleck's Batman. Though Ben Affleck's take on Gotham's dark knight was initially met with skepticism, the newest cinematic Batman proved to be audience's favorite part of an otherwise bleak and depressing superhero movie.
As popular as Batfleck is, one of his most vocal critics is a man who wore the same metaphorical cape and cowl before him. In a recent interview, long-time animated Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy revealed that he is not a fan of the radically different Batman seen in Batman V Superman.
Word of the Bat
While promoting his latest Batman project The Killing Joke, Kevin Conroy opened by praising the other actors who gave life to a character he effectively immortalized thanks to his iconic vocal performances.
I liked Michael Keaton and I like what Ben Affleck is doing with it now. But they couldn’t be more different... There are so many valid ways of playing a role. It’s really fun to watch different actors do it. So I thought it was a really interesting choice that WB made to have different actors do the live-action character.
Kevin Conroy has passionately voiced Batman over the course of more than two decades, giving him a better understanding of the character than most. That's why, after Batman V Superman showed Batman callously killing people left and right, the voice actor had more than a bone to pick with the new crew. As much as he liked Ben Affleck's performance as Batman, Kevin Conroy took issue with the character's newfound intent to end life.
In the most recent live action movie, that seems to have been a line that was crossed and it’s not one I’m particularly comfortable with.
While some of the live-action Batman incarnations before Batfleck killed people, Kevin Conroy's Batman (especially the one in Batman: The Animated Series) is notable for following the character's strict "No Killing" rule to the letter. Every time a criminal and/or villain lost their life, his Batman was almost always a witness to their demise, not the cause of it.
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Personally I love the fact that Batman – in the stories I’ve done, and the way he’s been rendered by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the people I’ve worked with most closely – he never kills anybody. He doesn’t cross that line. Batman is not a killer.
This was part of the reason why he would return to his most famous role for the successful Arkham video game series, which pits Batman against almost every single one of his enemies over the course of three popular installments. Kevin Conroy's long-time colleague and friend Mark Hamill also reprised his role as the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series, making the already well-received video game trilogy a nostalgia bomb for those who grew up watching Batman in the '90s.
He puts them into Arkham Asylum, which is what is so brilliant about the Arkham Games – someone realized, 'my god, all these incredible villains are all in the same institution – let’s get a video game in there'. It’s a brilliant idea. But the fact that Batman never kills anyone – I loved that fact.
Batman V Superman was criticized for its unnecessarily dark and brooding nature that painted the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) as a hopeless world where human life was cheap, and this logic applied to how its Batman operated as well.
Zack Snyder has gone on to defend the new Batman by justifying his killing as his vengeance for the death of Jason Todd (aka the second Robin) at the hands of the Joker prior to the events of Batman V Superman. While this may sound feasible given the dark nature of DC's new shared universe, it still didn't make sense in the context of Batman V Superman because only fans of the comics or those who at the least read A Death in the Family would understand the relevance of the vandalized Robin armor that was given a few seconds of screen time but with no explanation at all.
The problem with Batman V Superman's Batman had nothing to do with the character using the Batmobile's mounted machine guns on live targets but it lies in the lack of consequence and gravity his actions had. In Daredevil season 2, for example, The Punisher's kills took a toll on Frank Castle's humanity. Yet Batman's kills were just part of a set-piece to ogle before moving on to the next one.
Batman is an iconic character who upholds the law no matter what, and it's nice to see someone as influential among Batman fans as Kevin Conroy defend the character's stance on human life. Why Kevin Conrory was alright with his Batman crossing the line with Batgirl in the animated version of The Killing Joke, on the other hand, is another story worthy of its own article and analysis.