With a heavy heart, I have to report that actor Bob Hastings has passed away last week at the age of 89. Hastings, a veteran actor with roles on numerous TV shows, such as The Dukes of Hazard and General Hospital, was best know for his work as the voice of Commisioner James Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series. Many other articles have already beaten me to the punch on this story, but that's not why I'm writing this article. I’m not trying to be the first to break the news to anyone. I just want people to realize what he did. Bob Hastings' portrayal of Jim Gordon single handedly showed me the importance of the voice actor.
Before Hastings took on the role of the Commissioner, the character was always portrayed as incompetent and somewhat bumbling. He was basically Batman's janitor. Everyone only knew him as the guy who flipped the switch on the Bat Signal. Even in the Tim Burton films, Commissioner Gordon isn’t much more than a one note joke. It was very hard to believe that this man was in charge of the law enforcement in one of the most dangerous cities in the DC Universe. This guy was supposed to be Batgirl’s dad! Frankly, I wasn’t even sure how the character got out of bed and functioned. However, my feelings about the character changed sharply with the debut of the animated version of Gordon.
In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series premiered and it quickly became my favorite show at the time (and still to this day). It was dark, stylish and played straight. The only other Batman TV show that I had seen at the time was the campy 60’s version. The animated series did a lot of things differently than previous iterations. For example, they treated Jim Gordon as an actual character. Visually, he looked like an actual cop. The writing was there and the animation was good for TV. But it was Hastings’ performance that actually brought it all together.
Hastings' down-to-earth, sincere performance made me believe in Jim Gordon. There wasn't a silly caricature or comical stereotype of a bumbling cop in his performance. He approached the role with respect and played the role as straight as possible. Hastings' voice acting paired with the art style and animation made for arguably the most memorable portrayal of Jim Gordon ever. This version of Gordon has definitely influenced all the versions after it. (Check out Bryan Cranston’s take on Gordon in Batman: Year One and definitely look at Gary Oldman’s live action performance in The Dark Knight Trilogy.)
Why am I making such a big deal about a supporting character? Well, surrounding your main character with fleshed out, believable supporting characters will help make everything better. In this particular case, Batman and Gordon’s relationship is extremely important. It’s one of the few friendships that Batman holds on to and relationships like this help us see the character that’s under Batman’s mask. Hastings’ performance just made things that much better for the Gordon character and for the Batman universe.
The world of voice acting lost a good man and a wonderful performer. When Doctor Who fans about which version of the Doctor is their favorite, they will often say that that iteration is "My Doctor". When it comes to the many versions of Commissioner Gordon, Bob Hastings is my Jim Gordon. Rest in peace, Bob. And thank you.