Batman 75: Jim Lee, Kevin Conroy, Ralph Garman’s days with Bruce Wayne
Jim Lee, front, and Kevin Conroy discuss Batman before a WonderCon panel Saturday that celebrated the character's 75th anniversary. (Sean Marier / DC Entertainment)Link
Kevin Conroy speaks during the panel Saturday. (Sean Marier / DC Entertainment)Link
Ralph Garman participates in the Batman 75 panel Saturday at WonderCon. (Sean Marier / DC Entertainment)Link
Alex Ross' cover art for "Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet" No. 1, written by Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman. It's set to debut digitally on May 21, with a print version coming to comic book store shelves June 4. (DC Entertainment)Link
Alex Ross' cover art for "Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet" No. 2, written by Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman. (DC Entertainment)Link
Kevin Conroy began voicing Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter ego with "Batman: The Animated Series," which premiered in 1992. He's voiced the character in numerous series and video games since. (Warner Bros.)Link
The popular "Batman: Hush" story line, which ran in the monthly "Batman" series in 2002 and 2003 before being collected as a graphic novel, was written by Jeph Loeb with art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams. (DC Entertainment)Link
Batman’s 75th anniversary celebration kicked into high gear at WonderCon in Anaheim last weekend with an all-star panel that included superstar artist and DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee, definitive Dark Knight voice actor Kevin Conroy and voice actor/writer/Adam-West-“Batman” super-fan Ralph Garman.
Before heading upstairs to entertain a capacity crowd in a Bat-cavernous room, Lee (“Batman: Hush,” “All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder”), Conroy (“Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman: Arkham” video games) and Garman (co-writer of the upcoming “Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet” comics miniseries) sat down with Hero Complex to talk about getting in Batman’s head, memorable adventures in their years with Bruce Wayne, and the powers of the artists drawing Caped Crusader comics now.
Hero Complex: The three of you have worked or are working on quite different versions of Batman. For each of you – to draw him, to voice him, to write him – how do you get in the right mind-set?
Kevin Conroy: The way I find the voice is to get into the psychology of the character. It’s how I came up with it at the audition. Because I didn’t have a real background on Batman. I was just dancing as fast as I could in this audition situation because the only exposure I had was the Adam West series in the ‘60s, and that wasn’t the way they were going. They were going very dark, dramatic, like a Shakespeare tragedy. They were describing this character who was avenging his parents’ death and living in a cave, and I said, “You’re telling the Hamlet story. You want me to back to my Juilliard days?” And they said, “No one’s made that analogy before.” I said, “Well, let me just use my imagination.”
[Lowers voice] So I kind of got myself into this place that was just very [Raises again] I kept getting darker and deeper and deeper in the sound, and that’s how I came up with the sound. Whenever I get into the recording booth, I find that I’ve got to go through that process, otherwise it sounds phony. And [casting director] Andrea Romano is so good at catching me when I don’t do it right. She’s like, “You’re not there. You’re not there.” And it makes me go through the whole process and get that sound right. So for me it’s a real mental process.
Everything about Batman is what happened to him as a child. That’s the whole thing. The whole story is rooted in that – watching his parents be murdered. It’s where his whole life went on a turn, and everything comes out of that for the rest of his life. He’s avenging that. He’s trying to correct that. He’s fixing the world to accommodate that childhood tragedy. So I think you always have to go there whenever you approach the character.
Jim Lee: Sometimes I’ll put on the soundtrack to “The Dark Knight,” one of the Christopher Nolan movies, that helps create that atmosphere. But for the most part, I’m paid to come up with images, so I don’t need to create a replica of the Batcave to get in the mood. For the most part, I imagine it, I see it, I draw it. Thankfully, it’s a lot cheaper that way than to try and build the sets.
KC: But then you have that room in the back of your house.
JL: I do have a secret room. I work in my secret room.
Ralph Garman: Do you have a pole that goes down to the garage? [laughter]
JL: No, but I do want to get the Shakespeare head to unlock it. Right now it’s a billiards table room, but one of the wooden panels, you push it and [to Garman] it opens up like your secret room [seen beginning at the 5:34 mark of that video] into an office, where I’ve got my drawing table, couch and TV.
RG: It’s hard for me to discuss this with these guys, because they’re such old pros and I’m just this rookie. I come from a fan’s perspective. When I got involved with doing the ’66 Batman, it was as if I’d been preparing for this comic book my entire life. I’m such a huge fan. I’ve digested and absorbed every episode of that show and the feature film and all of the merchandise – I have a big collection of that. I may never have another comic book in me, but I know I had this one. It was if someone came to me and said, “You know all that stuff you love? What would you like to see as a fan? What moments would you have like to to have seen?” You spend your whole life going, “Wouldn’t it be cool if …” and you fill in the blank. Now I get to do that.
And then we’ve got this amazing art team. We’ve got Ty Templeton, who’s just making everything look so much better than I could’ve imagined. And the other guy, Alex Ross, who’s doing your covers – my God, for a comic book geek like myself, this is about as good as it gets.
HC: And speaking of your Batman ’66 collection – what was the most effort you’ve gone to find or procure a particular item?
RG: I flew to Chicago to get a pair of 1966 Batman and Robin bookends because the guy didn’t want to sell them. I could tell he was on the fence.
HC: How did you first get in touch with him?
JL: With a dead horse … [laughter]
RG: I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. There’s sort of a subculture of ‘60s Batman fans, and there’s message boards … and people will showcase their collections and post photographs. I noticed he had two sets of these – and no man deserves that much good fortune. So I started talking to him, saying, “Look, I want to buy these.” “Nah, I want to hold onto them.” So I said, “Let me come and see your collection.” I knew once I got my foot in the door, I could probably massage him a little bit. The airfare to Chicago, added on to what I actually paid for the bookends, was a little bit more than I expected. But that’s the thrill of the hunt sometimes.
HC: You’ve been voicing Batman now for over 20 years. During that time, whether in studio or out in the world, what’s the most memorable moment connected with you voicing Batman?
KC: I live in New York. After 9/11, everyone wanted to volunteer at Ground Zero. By the time I got down there, they had all the tunnelers, they had all the diggers. They had everything they needed. And the guy gave me a phone number to call, and I called and they said, “What we really need are restaurant workers to feed all these people. Do you have any restaurant experience?”
I said, “I’m an actor, of course I have restaurant experience. What do you need? Waiters? Cooks?”
He said, “You cook?” I said, “Yeah, I cook.”
“Are you free now ? … I mean right now – we need someone during the night shift.”
I said, “I’ll be right there.”
I ended up becoming the cook at Ground Zero for a couple of weeks after 9/11. And I’m in the kitchen, just doing the night shift, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was very hot at that time of year, so it was very hot in the kitchen. There was a real quiet downtown. Everything smelled of sulfur. There was a cloud around everything. There were these big searchlights. It was a very somber, dark, heavy time. But there were hundreds and hundreds of volunteers down there, milling around like ants. People would come in, and we’d feed them every night.
One night I’m in the kitchen, and I’m sweating over the oven. This other volunteer says to me, “So my day job is I’m an architect. What’s your day job?”
I said, “Oh, I’m an actor.”
He said, “Do you do some kind of special kind of acting?”
I said, “Well, now I really just do animation voices.”
He said, “I knew I knew your name. You’re the guy who does Batman.”
I said, “Yeah, I do Batman.”
He said, “Everyone’s going to freak out. Can I tell them in the dining room?”
I said, “No one’s going to care. We’re at Ground Zero – no one’s gonna care.”
He said, “Are you kidding?” So he goes out into the dining room and he says, “Guys, guys – you’re not going to believe who’s been cooking your dinners. It’s Batman!”
There’s this long silence. Then, from the back of the dining room, you hear, “Bull…!” Someone says, “Make him prove it!”
So back in the kitchen, I do [goes into the voice], “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!”
There’s this long silence, and you hear, “Holy … that was Batman!”
And they all come running back into the kitchen, all these guys just drenched with sweat. They’re like, “Man, you know that episode where the Joker …?” Suddenly everyone was laughing. There was all this laughter in the room. It was a great night.
HC: As an artist and co-publisher at DC, would you give your thoughts on how the guys who are drawing Batman now – Greg Capullo in “Batman,” Patrick Gleason in “Batman and Robin,” Jason Fabok in “Batman Eternal,” Francis Manapul in “Detective Comics” – are doing?
JL: They’re tremendous artists. Greg was a real get for us. I don’t think he’d done any work for DC before we got him. The funny thing is, he and Scott Snyder really clashed at the beginning of their collaboration. Strangely enough, they figured it out and they’re like two peas in a pod at this point. I think they’re doing some really definitive work on that character.
Francis Manapul, fresh off “The Flash,” he’s approaching it in a very different way – there’s a painterly aspect to it that’s just amazing. He does a lot of montage. The level of composition he’s doing – most people just imagine the scene and put a frame around it and tell the story that way; he really plays around with it, so much that the page design is a part of the storytelling itself in a very meta way. He’s also using watercolors. It’s just amazing.
Then Gleason and Fabok are, in my mind, new guys. They’re tremendously talented. Fabok’s doing the weekly series, which is just amazing to me. I don’t know if he stockpiled that stuff or if he’s really just strung out on meth at this point or what. [laughter] But he’s just killing it. My hat’s off to him.
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