The Joker will laugh no more. In an interview with Empire (featured in its print magazine, but the quote can be seen thanks to Screen Rant), Mark Hamill has said that he doubts he’ll lend his voice to Batman’s archenemy again now that Kevin Conroy has passed away. Hamill began voicing the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and has continued to do so in TV shows, animated movies, and video games, including the Arkham games.
“They would call and say, ‘They want you to do the Joker,’ and my only question was, ‘Is Kevin Batman?’ If they said yes, I would say, ‘I’m in.’ We were like partners. We were like Laurel and Hardy. Without Kevin there, there doesn’t seem to be a Batman for me.”
It’s a tragic end to an incredible era for what is possibly (okay, probably) the best hero/villain pairing of all time. Kevin Conroy was so impactful he is called “The Voice of Batman” among fans, and anyone who’s heard him would agree. But almost as iconic was Mark Hamill’s Joker, the villainous yang to Conroy’s gravelly yin (or vice versa). The two were a perfect team, and that’s in large part because Hamill made the Joker’s voice reflect his role in Batman’s story and what makes him such an iconic villain. The Joker is the antithesis of Batman in every way; aside from the obvious good vs. evil and order vs. chaos, he is colorful while Batman is dark, loud and bombastic while Batman is silent and taciturn, a colorful clown in contrast to the Dark Knight. Hamill’s Joker voice embodies all of those aspects, making the Joker sound chipper and joyful while he’s plotting mass murder. You could imagine Hamill voicing a clown at a circus or birthday party without changing a decibel. But beneath the mirthful façade lurked the psychotic maniac, and Hamill had a way of slowly creeping from one to the other and back again in the same scene, sometimes the same sentence.
I remember when I was first watching Batman: The Animated Series as a kid, I scanned the end credits – which zipped by fast – and once caught Mark Hamill’s name, but not who he played. I was ecstatic that Luke Skywalker was part of the show, but try as I might, I couldn’t figure out which character was his; no one sounded like him. Later, while I was on vacation during the summer, my mother bought me a magazine featuring a big article on the show, and that’s where I learned that Hamill was the Joker. (I also learned that some other familiar faces voiced members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery, like America’s Funniest People’s Arlene Sorkin as Harley Quinn and Night Court’s Richard Moll as Two-Face; the only voice/character pairing I knew was Conroy as Batman). It’s a huge feather in your cap to play one of the greatest heroes and greatest villains in American culture, to have helped create one from the ground up and define another for a generation or two. I understand why Hamill is retiring from voicing the Joker, and it may be for the best, but I’ll miss him, and I know I’m not alone.