I have a tough time getting through animated Batman films because when it comes to being Batman, especially in an animated format, it’s all about the voice, and for me, as for countless fans, Kevin Conroy is, and always will be, Batman.
But that doesn’t really stop Warner Brothers’ animation department from cranking out a slew of DC comic-related films on a regular basis, playing with styles, formats, new and published stories, and of course, voices.
I remember reading Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, Richmond Lewis and David Mazzucchelli when it was first released in a trade paperback format. I loved it. This was right at the height of my Batman fascination which seems to wax and wane at whim.
It’s a fascinating story detailing the first year of not only Jim Gordon’s service for Gotham City Police, he transfers in while tending to his pregnant wife, and Bruce Wayne’s return to the city of his birth and struggles with how he will wreak vengeance on the criminal elements of the city for robbing him of his father and mother. This will bring both men into conflict with crime lord, Falcone, and meet unusual allies, like Selina Kyle.
The film embraces the nature of the comic book, gritty, and dark, and there are moments that feel lifted right from the panel to the frame. It’s slick, enjoyable, and works.
For the most part.
This brings me back to voice casting. Overseen by Andrea Romano, I should definitely trust her, she’s done amazing things for the animated series of Batman, Superman, and Justice League, not to mention countless others, but I just couldn’t get around Ben McKenzie’s casting as Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego, Batman. He totally has a Bruce Wayne voice and that works great, but his Batman voice doesn’t do it. There are no chills to be had, no fear, no intimidation, I’m sorry to say I didn’t care for it, as I generally like his work.
Gordon on the other hand was brought to life by Bryan Cranston, and he’s got Gordon down. There are layers going on in the performance as he struggles to keep his young family safe, deals with corrupt cops, and begins a relationship with a vigilante that will guide them both over the years.
Eliza Dushku brings this incarnation of Selina Kyle to life, Alex Rocco is Falcone, and Katee Sackhoff lends her voice to bring Detective Essen to life.
Still, it’s a solidly crafted tale, well animated and put together nicely, showing the birth of Batman in Gotham, the laying of the groundwork for the events in his life, and the people will play a part in it.
I think I’ll dig into some more of these to find out if I can separate Conroy from Batman and enjoy other vocal performances, but I’m saving Mask of the Phantasm for last, just because.