The summer of 1997 was a game changer for me. I was six-years-old and I had discovered Batman for the first time. My first experience with the Caped Crusader wasn’t with the comic books, movies or live-action television show. It was with Batman: The Animated Series.
I was cheering when I first saw Batman being pulled across the dark crimson skies of Gotham by Man-Bat. My mouth hit the floor when Harvey Dent’s face was revealed after his tragic accident. I had tears in my eyes upon learning why Mr. Freeze pursued a life of crime. It was the thing that made me a lover of geek culture today.
That’s why it pains me to report that Bob Hastings, the voice of Commissioner James Gordon on the beloved animated series, passed away yesterday at the age of 89.
Hastings, who spent a decade voicing Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, left behind a career in acting and voice work that goes back decades.
Originally finding work on radio dramas, Hastings wouldn’t make the move to television until the 1940s. He managed to gain recognition on McHale’s Navy, a popular 1960s sitcom focusing on a ragtag group of American soldiers in the South Pacific during WWII. Playing the part of Elroy Carpenter, an inept and dimwitted lieutenant, Hastings was recognized as a talented slapstick comedian for the show’s 138-episode run.
Eventually applying his past experience in radio dramas, Hastings voiced characters in many animated shows, including The Batman/Superman Hour (1968), Scooby Doo (1973) and The Amazing Spider-Man (1977).
People tend to remember Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker when thinking about Batman: The Animated Series, but Hastings’ role in the show was just as important. He provided audiences with a more grounded character. In many ways, he was the voice of Gotham and its people. He was the cop who was in the thick of it and one of the normal people who had to deal with the consequences of Batman’s actions each day. Because of his non-superhero viewpoint, he was able to provide Batman with both wisdom and subtle criticism. Hastings’ Gordon was also the best interpretation of the character at that time. He didn’t spend his days dialing a red phone or hanging out with supermodels. His Gordon was actually involved in the drama, and played a vital role in Batman’s war on crime.
To see the level of dedication that Hastings brought to the series, watch Season 4’s “Over the Edge.” The episode presents Gordon as a man stricken with grief after the tragic death of a person very close to him. The death creates a wedge between him and The Dark Knight. Blaming Batman for the death, Gordon declares war on the Bat family, and even learns that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same. Though the ending can be disappointing for some, it’s a fantastic episode that shows just how perilous and complicated the Gordon/Batman relationship really is.
While I may not have been familiar with everything that Hastings had accomplished in his storied career, I still want to thank him for being part of a world that brought pure joy to a six-year-old kid.