man behind the mask

We’ve had a gay superhero all along thanks to Kevin Conroy

Photo Credits: (left) Getty Images, (right) Warner Bros. Entertainment

Batman is gay. He has been since 1992.

No, this isn’t wish fulfillment, and, no, we’re not reading into the queer subtext of a loner millionaire playboy spending the majority of his time with a much younger “sidekick.” It’s a fact.

In an time when Marvel dominates the box office, when we’re given mere scraps of representation in mainstream entertainment (we’re talking movies and TV series here—the comics have fared much better), LGBTQ fans have been asking: When will we see a queer superhero step into the spotlight, one who gets the heroic treatment they deserve?

The truth is, we’ve had one, and he’s been right under our noses—or, in our ears, rather—this entire time.

Earlier this year, DC Comics announced a special Pride Month anthology, DC Pride ’22, which would feature a host of queer writers and artists crafting stories focused on the publisher’s roster of heroes who represent a wide swath of the LGBTQ spectrum.

Among the storytellers was none other than actor Kevin Conroy, known to fans far and wide as the definitive voice of Bruce Wayne, having leant his talents to countless iterations of the Caped Crusader since he first donned the bat-eared cowl for Batman: The Animated Series in the ’90s.

The announcement prompted many to ask: Wait, Batman is gay???

Related: Twitter explodes after learning–yes–Batman is gay

In fact, he is—well, Conroy is, and he wasn’t exactly hiding it, either. The Dark Knight may lurk in the shadows, but the voice actor has been pretty forthcoming about his life as a gay man over the years, opening up in interviews about his experiences voicing the (canonically straight) superhero and living through the AIDS crisis.

Conroy brings his personal journey to the comic pages in his moving DC Pride story, “Finding Batman,” which was illustrated and colored by J. Bone, and features lettering from Aditya Bidikar. In a starkly realized vision that makes sparing, effective use of color, the actor takes us back to his childhood, tumultuous years rampant with homophobia and abuse that kept him deep in the closet.

As he grew up and decided to pursue show-business, Conroy details how he continued to hide his identity so as not to jeopardize his career. It was at this time when the AIDS epidemic emerged, and the young actor watched in horror and helplessness as many of his friends and colleagues fell victim to the disease. As you can imagine, “Finding Batman” is no “Sunday Funny”—it’s a haunting, portrait of a difficult time in gay history, one that’s pointed and personal, filled with anger, sadness, and confusion.

Image Credit: “Finding Batman,” J. Bone and Aditya Bidikar / DC Comics

But like all heroes, Conroy’s story includes a breathtakingly triumphant moment, the moment where he steps into his power and becomes the crusader he was always destined to be. Arriving at his audition for the role of Wayne, the actor was asked if he could relate to the Dark Knight’s tragic tale, one of a young boy who witnessed his parents murder and went on to become an avenging vigilante for justice. As he writes: “A mask of confidence to the world and a private one racked by conflict and wounds. Could I relate to that, they asked.”

Conroy channeled all of his grief, all of his anger into his voice that day. The rest is history.

Though many actors have assumed the mantle of Batman over the years, none of them can say they’ve played the man as frequently as Conroy—who also remains one of the few openly-LGBTQ actors to portray a superhero.

Related: Beyond Batman: the secret LGBTQ stars of one of TV’s campiest show

With its striking style and unforgettable ensemble of villains, Batman: The Animated Series has remained a nostalgic favorite for Bat-fans, and with that anchor, the voice actor has single-handedly defined the sounds of the iconic hero. Beyond that, Conroy has also voiced Bruce Wayne in the Annie Award-nominated Batman: Mask of the PhantasmSuperman: The Animated SeriesBatman BeyondStatic ShockJustice League Unlimited, the Batman: Arkham Asylum games, the massive multiplayer DC Universe Online, Batman: The Killing Joke, and the new, Super Smash Bros.-esque fighting game, MultiVersus. Just to name a few.

If there’s any one person worthy of uttering those immortal words—”I’m Batman!“—it’s Kevin Conroy.

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