‘What does Batman sound like?’
The comics aren’t always consistent on this subject, yet everyone has their own opinion on how the Dark Knight should sound. I’ve compiled an overview of the different descriptions Batman’s voice has been given over the years. I’ve put this together pretty quickly, so sorry if it seems rushed.
One fictional character that greatly influenced Batman was the Shadow. Batman editor Denny O’Neil wrote the Foreword to The Shadow: Volume 19 – Foreshadowing the Joker: "Voodoo Trail" and "Death's Harlequin"
. Here he addressed the connection between the two characters:
Make no mistake, Batman is The Shadow’s direct heir. For that, we have the testimony of an ultimate authority, the writer who first put words in Batman’s mouth. His name was Bill Finger and he told historian Jim Steranko, “I was very much influenced by the Shadow…I patterned my style of writing Batman after the Shadow…My first script was a take-off on a Shadow.”
One of the defining characteristics of the Shadow was his chilling laugh and the way he used his voice to intimidate his enemies. Denny O’Neil wrote two stories in the 1970s where Batman teamed up with the Shadow: ‘Who Knows What Evil?’ (Batman
#253, November 1973) and ‘The Night of the Shadow!’ (Batman
#259, December 1974).
In these stories it’s revealed that Bruce Wayne and his parents were once saved by the Shadow when the former was still a child. Batman instantly recognises the Shadow’s voice when he hears it again as an adult. It’s described as “cold” and sends a chill down the spine of all who hear it.
In the Golden Age comics Batman’s voice was used in a similar manner to intimidate his enemies. The captions would often say “Then a voice...” to announce Batman’s arrival in a scene.
The voice itself was never described in detail, leaving the reader to imagine for themselves what Batman sounded like based on the frightened response his words evoked in criminals.
By the Silver Age, Batman’s voice was being described as “calm” and “masterful”.
The 1960s Batman TV show featured a memorable scene where Commissioner Gordon patched Bruce Wayne through to Batman so they could talk to one another over the phone. This humorously highlighted the problem of Bruce Wayne using his ordinary voice for both his civilian and crime-fighting personas.
In ‘The Round-Robin Death Threats’ (Detective Comics
#366, August 1967) Batman’s voice was described as a “hard” snarl, hinting at a more aggressive tone than had previously been suggested.
In The Untold Legend of the Batman
he mutters softly in a voice that is “as cold as the Antarctic wind”.
One of the earliest references to Bruce Wayne deliberately altering his voice was in ‘Laugh, Killer, Laugh!’ (Detective Comics
#532, November 1983). Here the Joker was holding Vicki Vale captive. Fearing that Vicki would recognise his voice, Batman altered his tone to make himself sound “cold, grating, and hard”.
In ‘Spider’s Ninth Leg’ (Detective Comics
#550, May 1985) Batman’s voice is again described as “cold”.
In Neil Gaiman’s ‘Original Sins’ (Secret Origins Special
#1, 1989), investigative reporter Steve Jones describes Batman’s voice as “cold” and “whispery”.
It was also in 1989 that Tim Burton’s Batman
movie appeared in cinemas. This marked the first time an actor portraying Batman used two different voices to differentiate between Bruce Wayne and his costumed alter ego. Michael Keaton commented on the voice in an interview with the L.A. Times:
There was another practical matter; Bruce Wayne is a man about town, a luminary, having to go to social functions and make public appearances, so people know his voice. So I came up with dropping his voice down, as Batman it comes from a lower thing that he drops down into, a place he has to reach to become a quasi-vigilante. That’s where that whole voice thing came from and it’s just to protect himself, it’s part of the transition inside of him from one thing to another thing. http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011/05/16/batman-michael-keaton-on-the-dark-knight-and-a-lost-scene-from-1989-film/
In the comics Commissioner Gordon and Batman were often described as speaking in whispers when conversing at crime scenes. Their lowered voices leant a conspiratorial mystique to their alliance.
Following the popularity of the Batman movies, descriptions of the Dark Knight’s distinctive voice became more common in the comics. In ‘Night Monsters’ (Batman
#458, January 1991) his voice is described as “chilled like frosted razors”.
His voice was often described as being “hard” and “cold” like steel.
In ‘The Deadman Connection: Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon' (Batman
#530, May 1996) Harvey Bullock was able to recognise an anonymous caller as Batman based on his “deep rough” voice.
Batman’s cowl limits his range of facial expressions. Consequently comic writers often use descriptions of his voice to convey his feelings in a given situation. Despite being affected, his voice retains enough tonal range to express a variety of different emotions.
Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder
features numerous references to Batman’s voice. Dick Grayson describes his voice as “cold” and likens it to a “lameass Clint Eastwood impersonation”. Dick also makes it clear that Batman’s voice is an affectation and not his real voice.
There is a scene in this series where Batman uses laughter to frighten his enemies. Similar to how the Shadow did back in the 1930s.
Others who’ve worn the cowl have struggled to imitate Batman’s distinctive voice.
Actor Christian Bale has divided audiences with his own interpretation of Batman’s voice. Instead of the calm, cold voice used by his predecessors, Bale deployed a bestial growl to increase his intimidation factor. From a psychological perspective, his gravelly voice could be seen as a verbal manifestation of Bruce Wayne’s inner fury. It could also be a reference to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One
, which includes a scene where Batman tries to frighten a criminal by throwing a growl at him.
Christopher Nolan’s films also introduced the idea of Batman electronically modifying his voice to make it sound deeper and more booming. This innovation has yet to be adopted in the mainstream comics, but is nevertheless consistent with the notion of Batman’s voice as an instrument of disguise and intimidation. The precise extent to which his voice is altered is not entirely clear, and even Bale himself has difficulty discerning which scenes were enhanced and which were natural:
When we were filming it was just my voice and we had a gentleman there who was kind of helping me out, so that I could speak the next day. And then we did try a few different things in ADR.http://www.indielondon.co.uk/film/batman_begins_baleQA.html
My understanding is that a couple of those things did work and Chris, I believe, used some effects on a couple of occasions. But, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure where they were.
So to conclude, there is no definitive description of Batman’s voice in the comics. Each writer has their own idea of what he should sound like. And each fan imagines a different voice speaking aloud Batman’s dialogue when they read the comics. It could be a calm, masterful voice, a cold, hard whisper, a gravelly, animalistic growl, or something different altogether.
Personally, I think the best Batman voice to date belongs to Kevin Conroy. His voice is strong, deep and natural, but also sufficiently different from his Bruce Wayne voice to distinguish between the two. It doesn’t sound laboured and has enough tonal range to work in different emotional contexts. It can be frightening and intense. But it can also sound compassionate and human.
What do the rest of you think? How do you imagine Batman should sound? Which actor do you feel had the best Batvoice?