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Kevin Conroy’s Batman Was Best Without the Cape

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The late Kevin Conroy delivered many iconic performances as Batman, but his turn as Bruce Wayne on Kids WB’s Batman Beyond towered above them all.

Kevin Conroy’s oeuvre as The Dark Knight spanned three decades and a multitude of iterations, each one of them powerful in their own way. Chief among Conroy’s varied takes on the Caped Crusader was his work in Batman Beyond. The decidedly darker, cyberpunk-tinged series received critical acclaim upon its Kids’ WB debut in 1999 — and Conroy’s performance was a large reason why.

Batman Beyond became a certifiable cult classic, on par with Bruce Timm’s original Batman: The Animated Series. Set in an alternate 2019, its story centered on teenage miscreant Terry McGinnis. After the murder of his father at the hands of a Joker-inspired gang, Terry set out to take revenge on those responsible for the crime. In short order, he met an elderly and retired Bruce Wayne and assumed the cape and cowl under the former Batman’s tutelage.

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Batman Beyond Had a More Nuanced Approach to Bruce Wayne

Batman Beyond allowed Conroy to explore previously unseen facets of the Bruce Wayne character, revealing new emotional depths and humanity. The billionaire playboy persona in Batman: The Animated Series was replaced by a grimly isolated and bitter man, with Bruce furious at his body’s inability to maintain the quest for justice his heart wanted to continue. Batman Beyond gave the grizzled but hyper-controlled Wayne a young, enthusiastic — though equally tortured — counterpart, and let Conroy continue the suppressed menace and gravitas of his Batman: TAS interpretation. It also left space for the emotional development not necessarily allowed by the self-contained, episodic nature of the original show.

Batman Beyond Let Kevin Conroy Make Bruce Wayne FunnyBatman Beyond Terry McGinnis and Bruce Wayne 2

Although it was darker overall, Batman Beyond gave greater preference to Bruce Wayne’s wry sense of humor. Terry being a hormone-addled teenager and the seen-it-all world weariness espoused by septuagenarian Bruce made them ideal comedic foils. Terry was often flummoxed by the ex-Batman’s dire seriousness and abundance of caution. Likewise, Bruce was as amused as he was exasperated with the prototypically adolescent antics of Terry, in and out of the adopted superhero uniform.

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Batman Beyond Had Bruce Wayne Become a Surrogate Father

The most singular and affecting part of Conroy’s performance in Batman Beyond lay in Bruce’s paternal relationship with Terry. Batman had various sidekicks but had never faced the complexity of fatherhood, as a surrogate or otherwise. Fatherless Terry’s starvation for guidance, empathy and structure proved to be a unique challenge for Bruce the person, not just Bruce the crime-fighter. He cared for and empathized with Terry, seeing the troubled teen for the emotionally pained young man he was because Bruce had been that young man. It was in those moments that the gruff tenderness of Kevin Conroy’s performance truly shone through, brought to life with stunning subtlety and grace by the actor.

Kevin Conroy Gave a Transformative Performance in Batman Beyond

Terry McGinnis as Batman and Bruce Wayne from Batman Beyond

Conroy was lucky enough to portray several incarnations of Batman, and fans are even more lucky to get to experience them all in perpetuity. But the most touching and resonant was the elderly Bruce Wayne on display in Batman Beyond. Conroy infused Wayne with the sadness and bitterness of a man whose already dark dream had been deferred, only to have that resentment slowly transformed into quiet optimism and gentle care over the show’s three seasons. Conroy was well-known as a powerful and sensitive performer. In the eyes of many, he was the greatest Batman of all time. Less frequently discussed is that he was also the best Bruce Wayne of all time — something Batman Beyond made exceptionally clear.

Batman Beyond is now streaming on HBO Max.

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