The GeeksverseThe Roundtable | Our favorite Batman actors

The Roundtable | Our favorite Batman actors
Published on Friday, August 30, 2013 by
Think you know all your Batman actors? We run down the list of all 19 thespians to have played lead Batman roles in film, television, and direct-to-video features in the last seven decades as we try to single out our favorite Batman actors of all time.

As expected, the Internet has gone into absolute hysterics over the choice of Ben Affleck to play Batman in the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film. We won’t recount the supposed “controversy” over the casting here—the only pop culture storyline that’s been more annoying to us this past month is MTV’s attempt to create its own “Nipplegate” moment with Miley Cyrus’ performance at the recently concluded VMAs—but every comics and/or film-related blog out there will have something to say about the whole thing if you really want to spend your time reading about it. Is Affleck an ideal choice to play Batman? It’s hard to say, but it’s not like we can reel off a long list of actors definitively more suited to play the character whilst also carrying a similar level of box-office cachet. [I don’t know if they’re better choices than Affleck, but I can picture Viggo Mortensen or Eric Bana working out quite well as the Batman opposite Henry Cavill’s Superman, especially if it’s true that the screenplay will be using The Dark Knight Returns for inspiration—ed.] Here at the Comixverse though, we’d rather talk about our favorite Batman actors from previous years.

We know Batman has been played by many actors over the decades, but we were still a little surprised at the total number (19!) of performers responsible for playing the most notable Batman/Bruce Wayne roles in film, television, and direct-to-video features of the past 70 years:

  • Lewis Wilson: Batman (1943 film serial)
  • Robert Lowery: Batman & Robin (1949 film serial)
  • Adam West: Batman (1966 TV series), Batman the Movie (1966)
  • Olan Soule: The Batman/Superman Hour (1968–1969, Batman segments later re-cut into The Adventures of Batman and Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder series), Super Friends (1973–1974), The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977–1978), Challenge of the Super Friends (1978), The World’s Greatest Super Friends (1979–1980), Super Friends (1980–1982)
  • Michael Keaton: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)
  • Kevin Conroy: Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), The New Batman Adventures (1997–1999), Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998), Batman Beyond (1999–2001), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Justice League (2001–2004), Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), Justice League Unlimited (2004–2006), Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
  • Val Kilmer: Batman Forever (1995)
  • George Clooney: Batman & Robin (1997)
  • Bruce Thomas: Birds of Prey (2002–2003)
  • Rino Romano: The Batman (2004–2008), Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
  • Christian Bale: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • Jeremy Sisto: Justice League: New Frontier (2008)
  • William Baldwin: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
  • Bruce Greenwood: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Young Justice (2010–2013)
  • Diedrich Bader: Batman: The Brave & the Bold (2008–2011)
  • Ben McKenzie: Batman: Year One (2011)
  • Peter Weller: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (2013)
  • Troy Baker: Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite (2013)
  • Anthony Ruivivar: Beware the Batman (2013–present)

So here’s the question that we posed to Comixverse staffers and contributors this week: Of the different actors to take on the role of the Dark Knight over the years in television, video, and film, who is your favorite and why?

Eric Bright (contributor)

I really want to say Michael Keaton, because he was really brilliant, but I think he fell victim to a suit that wasn’t made for practical purposes. He was a great Bruce Wayne, and a very good Batman, but part of what makes Batman so great as a character is his fighting skill, combined with his intellect and ingenuity. Because of this, and despite the gravely Batvoice, I have to go with Christian Bale. He embodies something so great about Batman better than the others. I know for many people, Bale is a slam dunk, but this was very close for me.

Troy Osgood

To me it’s not the actor as Batman that matters, Batman can be anyone in the suit—it doesn’t have to be the same actor. No, to me, the importance is in how the actor portrays Bruce Wayne. Because of that, I have to go Michael Keaton. His Bruce wasn’t a debonair playboy, there was something creepy about him, which is the way Bruce Wayne should be. He’s an obsessive/compulsive personality and dresses as a bat. Really, the guy isn’t right in the head, and the actor should portray that. Keaton was the best, followed by Bale, and it’s not that close…  Batman is the true identity and Bruce Wayne is the disguise.

Zedric Dimalanta

My favorite Batman actor hands down is Kevin Conroy, particularly for his performances as the Dark Knight in Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995), Justice League (2001–2004), and Justice League Unlimited (2004–2006). Sure, a huge part of the appeal of “his” Batman is the striking Fleischer Studios-meets-film noir visual design courtesy of B:TAS creative leads Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski and of course, the absolutely vital contributions of the animation directors and the animators to the “acting” in the animation cannot be discounted. But it is Conroy’s consistency and range as a voice actor that has made the “DC Animated Universe” (DCAU) version of Batman THE voice of Batman in my mind, and it’s surprising how much that influences the subvocalization aspect of the comics reading process.

When I read a Batman comic, even comics pre-dating Batman: The Animated Series, it is Conroy’s grimly confident baritone as Batman that I hear in my head, not Christian Bale’s embarrassing Cookie Monster impression. When the character is swanning about in the comics in his civilian guise, Conroy’s nuanced vocal turn—subtly higher in register than the Batman voice but of the same general timbre, the edge and menace buried but not completely undetectable—is a perfect complement to the thematic and visual idea of a billionaire tycoon who moonlights as a costumed vigilante (or is it the other way around?).

Moira Hunger (contributor)

I agree with Troy that Michael Keaton was an incredibly creepy Bruce Wayne. However, he still didn’t sit right with me as either Batman or Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale was a little more convincing as Bruce Wayne than Batman, but still wasn’t just right.

I have two favorite Batman actors—Kevin Conroy and Diedrich Bader, from Batman: The Brave & the Bold. For the past twenty years, Kevin Conroy has been the standard to which I held Batman actors and has been the Batman/Bruce Wayne that I hear when I read any Bat family books.  Diedrich Bader, however, deserves some recognition. From the first episode of Batman: The Brave & the Bold, his Batman has been simply wonderful. Whether he’s slightly beleaguered from dealing with Blue Beetle’s enthusiasm or unsure of whether to be exasperated with Aquaman’s “Sad Song of the Sea” (as interpreted by beluga whales) or concerned about the lack of his friend’s usual bombast, he is a worthy Batman.

Joe Milone

First, allow me to say kudos to Warner Bros. for simultaneously trolling and blowing up the internet with the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. As a side note to the question at hand, while I’m not the biggest fan of Affleck’s work outside of his Kevin Smith movies (though he was the bomb in Phantoms), I am going to be as open minded about the casting as I was Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man and Heath Ledger as the Joker.

As far as voice acting goes, of course Kevin Conroy gets the nod, followed very closely by Olan Soule, whose voice I remember very fondly.

In terms of live-action performers though, I have to give it to Adam West. Sure, acting-wise, he is cut from the same hammy cloth as William Shatner, but his portrayal of Batman is the closest to the contemporaneous comics: In the ’60s Batman wasn’t dark and gritty, the books were fun and lighthearted, and Adam West brought that sensibility to life on the small screen. It sure didn’t hurt that he had the best actors playing his rogues gallery, either. Sure there have been great people playing Batman, like Michael Keaton (whom I thought was a terrible casting choice at first, too) but no one brings it home like Adam West and the rest of the 1966 Batman cast.

Who’s your favorite Batman actor? Do you think Rino Romano’s work on The Batman suffered unfair comparisons to Kevin Conroy’s work? Would Val Kilmer and George Clooney have been more fondly remembered by fans had they worked with better material? Let us know in the comments section below or reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook.
One Response
    • Adam West also voiced Batman for Superfriends, Legends of the Superheroes and New Adventures of Batman. Dick Gautier played Batman in a government PSA with Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig reprising Batgirl.

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