Gentlemen, It's Been An Honor
Eyes are strained.
My chest hurts.
Head is numb.
Batman is dead.
The words don't even sound right put together like that. They sound like gibberish. Spiteful delirium set to syncopated madness. But they are nonetheless true.
Batman is dead.
The scars from my perfectionist childhood can't help but delightfully complete the line...
... and if wasn't for you, he'd still be alive.
I know it's ridiculous. I'm not responsible. I know that. I know it, and I can't explain where the guilt comes from. The same way I can't explain how, when I broke the news to my sisters this morning, that it took everything in me not to add "I'm so sorry" to the message.
this has become characteristic of me,
when my childhood figures die,
before I get a chance to prove,
i was worthy of what they gave me,
i feel guilty,
like I wasted their magic,
when some other heart,
would have made much of it
Batman was my favorite superhero right up until the year 2000... when Static Shock was unleashed upon the world. But even then, Batman has always remained a very close second.
I grew up on the Batman/Superman Adventures kidsWB block in the afternoons and, while Superman didn't really do much for me, I was utterly entranced by Batman. I think, even then as a child, I understood the concept of being self made. Of having impossible standards to live up to and forcing your body into compliance to accomplish them anyway. Of approaching the bar of achievement with none of the superpowers worshipped by those around you (ie: being Black enough, Christian enough, unChristian enough, music savvy enough, movie savvy enough, witty enough, etc, etc, etc) and STILL carving out victory after victory on your terms. I understood that mindset, because it was my life (and would be steadily for the next twenty years).
A few clicks deeper, I also understood his grappling with the idea of parental debt that could never be satiated. Batman exists in his fullness and unrelenting prowess, because there will never be enough that Bruce can do to feel like he has done right by his murdered parents. My parents weren't murdered, thankfully, but I do know that energy.
My mom is the greatest woman I've ever known. No matter who you are, if you have no idea how to build a sound life, she can help you do it. She's keyed in to a level of spiritual groundedness that harkens back to civil rights days, when it was understood that faith in God and puttin boots to pavement go hand in hand. My father lived by the singular mindset that we were always under attack, and therefore emotionality was not a currency we could afford to expend in the household. It didn't stop me from doing so- it just meant I learned early that "not enough" began at home. I knew I would never reach a spiritual height grand enough to be worthy of my mom; I knew no amount of hard work would ever make my dad legitimately proud of me. And I also knew that, in the seeming infinitude of those youthful years, I would never be strong enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough to save my mother from the emotionally single minded bruising of my father.
And in that same breath of knowing, I was also aware I could never cease trying.
Which leads to the central idea behind Bruce Wayne.
Batman exists as the answer to Bruce Wayne's insufficiencies.
However, Batman will never be satiated.
Meaning no amount of sufficiency or accomplishment will ever retire him.
I grasped this too as a child.
Having to create an alternate self to accrue wins by more intense means than the organic, more sensitive self ever would have.
And who held all of this together?
What Kevin Conroy did with Batman shaped my essence. Of course, at the time, I wasn't fully connecting that he was performing lines that somebody else wrote... but that didn't stop me from wanting to write things just as meaningful. The marriage of brutality and sorrow which Kevin so elegantly manifested in the character spoke to me often through the years, from BTAS, to Justice League/JLU, to Batman Beyond, to all of the show cameos (Static Shock!) and video games. He brought something to this extremely nuanced character that spoke to me. Guided me. Molded me.
It had such a hand in shaping me, in fact, that one of the earliest memories I have of emotional maturing is recognizing (and accepting) that I don't have what it takes to be Batman. I'm not that. I'm Nightwing.
All of the focus and power of the father, armed with the emotionality he never learned to master, just as intense but never as brutal, yet utterly capable of donning the mantle whenever necessary to continue the legacy. Outside of Static, Nightwing is the character I am most set on voice acting. The scorned first son, going off to build his own legacy with the tools of the father he'll never be enough for, who is never really fully approved, but the father comes to begrudgingly admit that he can hold his own? And he offsets everything with an unrepentant sense of humor? (not to mention the foibles of his romantic life)
Psh. Cut the check.
But let's land this plane.
It's always fascinating to me what form clarity takes in the wake of a significant death. Of a passing that holds deep, personal weight. Which people I suddenly feel compelled to reach out to and say "I love you." Which ones I actually do reach out to, and which ones I don't because I don't have the emotional capacity to include explanatory addendums to the sharing. What work suddenly rises to the top of my to do list, and which things I realized I was only doing either out of ego or to prove something to somebody who wouldn't have noticed anyway.
I am bombarded with countless recollections of stories on how Kevin Conroy grew to love being Batman, and understood what it meant to the people. How loving, kind, and gracious he was. Consistently. How incredible it is that the toughest superhero of all time was immortalized by a gay man (think how many narratives that shatters!). And, as a Black man, the fact that this white man made it to 66 without being disgustingly problematic?? C'mon son! The life of Kevin Conroy, both on his classically trained stages and off, is something my brain cannot ignore, despite the many tears.
is the phantom,
of self stratification,
brought to life,
by sudden death
I wrote a Batman one shot years ago. It was my dream story bringing both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill onscreen together as Batman and Joker respectively, and it was called "Gauntlet of Glass." The entire premise of the story is that an aged Joker and Batman are doing their tangle one more time, like they've always done. Nightwing and the rest of the Bat-family are working the case and fighting bad guys like they always do. Batman figures out the subtle double misdirection like he always does. It leads to a showdown between Batman and Joker. It's brutal. Stylized. Emblematic of two men who have spent a life time fighting each other.
In classic fashion, Joker recovers his knife and stabs Batman over and over again. Batman lies on the ground in a pool of blooding rain. But this time, rather than reach into his utility belt for a life saving gadget, or reaching down deep into his legendarily death defying force of will... he just lays there. Lays there and speaks.
Batman: “You know you don’t need that. This… fight… this madness between us. It’s done. I’m sorry I left you in your misery for so long. I was selfish. I loved being Batman so much… that I was arrogant enough to believe the world couldn’t function without me. I know better now. Thanks to you.”
Batman: “Yes. The emergency… exit. I’m locking all this away… forever.”
Batman exhales and dies. And then we see Joker realize what just happened. Without Batman, he truly has no reason for existing. He begins to go fully insane, howling his mad laugh until he’s sobbing tears. Then he stands up, looks at Batman’s dead body and says one last phrase. “I hate you.” Then he blows his brains out.
This was to be my magnum opus. The ultimate love letter to my childhood Batman, a theatrical finish for the Joker, a door open to move the legacy forward with all of these incredible characters, AND the most iconic Bat film of all time, bringing the most iconic portrayals of Batman and Joker to the live screen for the first and only time in history.
It was perhaps a silly dream to have... but it was mine nonetheless.
And I believed in it.
And now it's gone.
Because he is.
Yet... very deep down in my soul space... I feel like Kevin Conroy would want me to pay attention to my own words. The world can function without Batman... without Kevin. Even if I don't want it to. And though my grieving will go on for a while, there is truly only one thing left to do.
Carry on the legacy.
Because Batman/Kevin would never want his absence to result in people being unprotected or unloved.
So that is what I shall do.
carry on the legacy,
of The Batman.
Tears are falling again as I write this.
Thank you for giving me something to believe in.
Thank you for helping me to find myself.
Thank you for being a North Star when I'd forgotten what the sky looks like.
Thank you Kevin Conroy for a childhood worth living.
Rest In Peace and Power, our dearly beloved, dark and valiant Knight.