Panel Recap – Batman at 75: To All a Dark Knight

Batman by Ethan Van Sciver

On May 5th, 2014 in commemoration of Batman’s 75th anniversary, The Paley Center for Media in New York City held a panel featuring voice actor Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series), graphic designer/writer Chip Kidd (Batman: Death By Design), author Marc Tyler Nobleman (Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman), writer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Batman: The Widening Gyer), and movie producer Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight Trilogy). The panel was moderated by USA Today columnist Whitney Matheson.

Michael Uslan, Kevin Smith, and Marc Tyler NoblemanThe panel kicked off with Whitney Matheson introducing the panelists. Kevin Conroy, who was introduced first, roared to the crowd in his signature Batman voice, “I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!” Chip Kidd, who was introduced directly after cleverly responded, “I’m the day by the way,” which the audience found very funny.

Afterwards, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Kevin Smith, and Michael Uslan were introduced and Whitney Matheson began the discussion by asking each guest about their first experiences with Batman. Kevin Conroy stated his first experience with Batman was with the Batman TV series from the 60s starring Adam West. Being used to that fun and campy take on the Batman character, Conroy stated he needed to get “up to speed” on the dark origins of Batman when he was originally selected to voice The Dark Knight in Batman: The Animated Series. Kevin Smith had also grew up watching Adam West’s take on Batman, but Michael Uslan seemed to despise that show, saying he was “horrified” by it. “He was being treated as a joke. The whole world was laughing at Batman. It just killed me,” stated Uslan. In addition, Chip Kidd reminisced about seeing the Joker for the first time in Batman #1, while Marc Tyler Nobleman said his first experience with the character was watching Super Friends.

They then went on to discuss what were the signature Batman qualities one can’t change when writing the character. Kevin Smith, being best known for his raunchy comedies like Clerks and Mallrats, talked about how he tried adding a raunchy joke involving Batman and Robin in his story Batman: The Widening Gyre. Although the audience at The Paley Center responded well to the joke, Smith informed the crowd that DC Comics would not let him use it and it was not included in the final draft.

Michael Uslan, Kevin Smith, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Chip Kidd, Kevin Conroy, and Whitney MathesonIn a brief discussion about how Batman has made its way into other cultures around the world, graphic designer Chip Kidd discussed how he felt about Japan’s take on the character. Referring to the Batman mangas created by Jiro Kuwata, he stated “the stories were amazing” and were unlike anything “going on in the American comics at the time.” Michael Uslan replied with how he was glad that American “culture is now being imported and well received.”

Marc Tyler Nobleman, who was silent for the majority of the panel, spoke about how Batman inspired him to write his book Bill the Boy Wonder, which chronicles the life of Batman’s co-creator Bill Finger. While Bob Kane is always credited for creating the character a lot of credit should also go to Bill Finger, but often times it doesn’t. “This character is the worlds greatest detective . . . but the biggest mystery was who created him,” stated Nobleman. Michael Uslan expanded on this, discussing how he met Bill Finger on two occasions and even introduced the crowd to Bill Finger’s granddaughter Athena, who was sitting in the front row.

Before getting into the audience questions the panel discussed the future of Batman, to which Michael Uslan replied, “his future will be bright. There will be a Batman for every generation to come.”

The panel ended off with different audience members asking questions. Most of the panel remained vague when approached with questions concerning the immediate future of Batman, whether referring to the upcoming Batman vs. Superman or Justice League films. No one had any answers when asked if DC Entertainment will ever make an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Killing Joke. Kevin Conroy only responded with a enthusiastic “that would be awesome,” with which the majority of the panel seemed to agree.

When asked a question about the upcoming video game release Batman: Arkham Knight, Kevin Conroy, who will voice Batman in the game, responded “I can’t say anything, except to say that Arkham Knight is going to blow your mind.” After the question segment was complete Kevin Conroy closed out the show, thanking the audience in his signature Batman voice. Overall, the panel was a pleasure to watch. Seeing all of these people who are so deep in the industry and current history of Batman voice their love for the character was indeed a great tribute to 75 years of Batman.

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Photography by Michael Priest for The Paley Center for Media.

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