This month, Batman: The Animated Series turned 25 years old. The series, which changed Batman and his villains forever, continues to be popular, sitting at the top of animation "best of" lists and still inspiring character portrayals in the pages of DC Comics and even in live-action shows like Gotham and Arrow. The actors on the show -- including Loren Lester, who played Dick Grayson as both Robin and Nightwing, and Kevin Conroy, who has been the iconic voice of Batman for two and a half decades -- are still surprised by the staying power.
"None of us can believe the legs of this show," Lester told SYFY WIRE in an interview at Wizard World Nashville. "We go to these conventions, we get panels, and we just look at each other in awe. At the time we thought, 'This is a great show, this is really cool, this is really different,' but who knew it would be like this?"
Conroy, who has more consistently voiced Batman across multiple animated series, movies, and video games, says the staying power is "wild" and jokes that he tells people he started when he was 10 years old, so he doesn't feel quite as aged. The reason Batman: The Animated Series has stuck around, Conroy says, is that Warner Bros. took a real risk on it early on.
"You know what I think it’s a testament to? It’s that when you invest in the beginning, it pays off in the long run. It should really be a lesson to all the studios," Conroy says. "When you pay for high-quality writing, big casts, a full symphony score, hand-painted cells; everything about this show upped the game. Warner Bros. really just raised the level of television animation. The audience went wild for it, and 25 years later it still looks new! It still looks like it was just done."
Both actors are pleasantly surprised that it's not just the original fans who attend these panels and come up to them at conventions wanting to hear the voices of their heroes. There's a whole new audience, too.
"Twenty-five years later, we have two generations of fans. It's pretty amazing!" Lester says. "For a show to go on for 25 years, that's something very unusual. You never think that at the time. If you go four or five seasons with a show, you think, ‘Well, hopefully someone will appreciate this later on.’ But you don’t really think it will last forever, the way this seems to be.”
"I meet all these new, young audience members – people bring their kids now, and these kids are hot for the show, they can’t believe how cool it is, because it looks brand new!" Conroy adds. "There’s a timelessness to it, with that '40s New York Deco-Noir quality.”
Part of that timelessness is in the character. Conroy has voiced Batman for years, and has challenged himself to be consistent across the decades. His run as the Dark Knight began with Batman: The Animated Series and continued with the Batman: Arkham video games, the famed The Killing Joke animated movie, and on to his recent work on Batman and Harley Quinn and Justice League Action.
"You know, Batman is a constant. The character doesn’t really change – the shows have changed. What’s interesting in him in those different contexts. For Justice League Action, which has sort of a funny or weird take on situations and finds the humor in them, which I love, what’s funny is Batman is still the sober, conflicted, dark, tortured soul in those ridiculous situations," Conroy says. He knows he needs to keep the character consistent, yet "fresh and alive" because the audience, his fans, will call him out if he doesn't.
"The audience will hear in a second if I’m not being true to what they knew 20 years ago. It’s not the kind of character you can phone in, you have to really bring him to life and be consistent."
Conroy and Lester both love that they're still learning about and from their characters all these years later. While Conroy grows ever more deeply connected to Batman, he realizes he knows the "deep, profound, unremitting pain from his childhood that he will never be able to reconcile," and how that drives him to do good. "Everyone has something in their life that is a deep pain, everyone does, sort of a dark corner for them. Everyone relates to that about Batman, it’s his tragic flaw, what makes him so human and so accessible to everyone."
For Lester, who felt "very lucky" to be able to grow Dick Grayson, starting from the young teenage Robin and getting to lower the voice slightly for Nightwing, he felt an instant connection to the character.
"Getting into Dick Grayson was not hard at all. I heard the sound of Robin in my head right away, and that's what I recorded in my audition!" Lester reveals. Still, he loves that he continues to learn about the character.
"I've learned so much about the comic book world – the fans, writers, artists, publishers all educate me on the life of Dick Grayson. I find it fascinating when people tell me things I don’t know about those characters. I love it. I'm still learning!”