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Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Brad

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Bill Finger: Batman’s Unsung Hero

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“Batman Created by Bob Kane”. You read that on every Batman comic, every Batman movie, every Batman TV show, and on basically anything Batman-related. The name you never see is Bill Finger. The name you never see there is that of Bill Finger. “Who is Bill Finger?” you might be asking. Well, let me tell you.

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Born in 1914, the young writer and artist Bill Finger joined a comic studio run by Bob Kane in 1938. Later that year, a couple of young guys from Ohio by the names of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster debut a little-known character named Superman in National Comics’ Action Comics #1. As we know, Superman caught on and took over the world in an instant. There was a clamour at National Comics (now known as DC Comics) for a follow-up to that success. Kane, a very savvy businessman, came into the studio with a drawing titled Bat-Man. This is Bob Kane’s Bat-Man:

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Suddenly the Bat-nipples don’t look quite so bad, right? So Kane showed this image to Bill Finger, and Finger suggested that, rather than the domino mask he should wear a cowl, rather than the wings he should have a cape, he should wear gauntlets and gloves, rather than red he should wear dark colours, and he should have a Bat logo on his chest. Finger then wrote the first Batman story in Detective Comics #27, illustrated by Kane. In that story, he created the character of Commissioner Gordon, and name Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne. That’s got to be enough for a co-creator credit, right?

Not in the opinion of Bob Kane. Kane signed a deal with National naming him as the sole creator of Batman, with the “Batman Created by Bob Kane” credit to appear on every comic and comic strip featuring the character. In the late forties, not long after Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster returned from their service in World War 2, they wanted to get the rights to Superman back from National. They thought that their case would be strengthened if they brought Kane on board, as Kane’s name was linked with Batman in the public consciousness by that credit, whilst Siegel and Shuster’s creator credit on Superman wouldn’t come until 1976. Kane immediately informed National of Siegel and Shuster’s plan, renegotiating his own contract into the bargain for a higher pay rate, rights to a percentage of all Batman-themed subsidiary products, and the stipulation that he be named as sole creator of Batman in perpetuity.

Bill Finger wrote Batman stories for 26 years, contributing to Detective Comics, Batman, the daily Batman comic newspaper comic strip, Worlds’ Finest Comics and more. He was also the only comic writer to script an episode of the 60s television series with Adam West, creating the recurring comics villain The Clock King while he did it. His contributions to Batman extend far beyond his look, his real name, his staunchest ally and an obscure villain from the 1960s, mind you. Bill Finger also created, or co-created, amongst other things:

  • Robin
  • The Joker
  • Catwoman
  • The Penguin
  • The Riddler
  • Thomas and Martha Wayne, and the Batman origin story
  • Scarecrow
  • Hugo Strange
  • Two-Face
  • Vicki Vale
  • Mad Hatter
  • Sal Maroni
  • Clayface
  • Killer Moth
  • Kite Man
  • Tony Zucco (killer of Robin’s parents)
  • Gotham City
  • The Batmobile
  • The Utility Belt
  • The nickname “Dark Knight”

To put that into perspective – take 2008’s The Dark Knight, broadly regarded as the best of the Batman films. In that, Batman/Bruce Wayne must defend Gotham City from the Joker, a madman hired by Sal Maroni to kill Batman, but who has bigger plans – plans which include newly minted police commissioner Jim Gordon and Gotham’s DA Harvey Dent, who would become the villain Two-Face. The film features an epic chase with a Batmobile, a change in design on Batman’s costume, and various gadgets used from his Utility Belt. How much of that film – right down to the title – would have been possible without Bill Finger? None of it. How many times does his name appear in the credits? None.

Can all the blame for this be placed at Bob Kane’s door? Much as I would like that to be the case, as everything you read about Bob Kane shows him to have been a truly repugnant human being, some blame has to be apportioned to Bill Finger, too. He never seemed to really fight for his rightful credit. Why that was, we’ll likely never know. Bill Finger died in obscurity in 1974. Today, the charge for his name to be properly credited lives on, spearheaded by the wonderful Marc Tyler Nobleman, who you can find on Twitter @MarcTNobleman. His books Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman are well worth a read. As fans we should not stop pushing for Bill Finger to receive his proper credit. Today at participating retailers, Bill Finger will be credited on a Batman comic for the first time, the special free Detective Comics 27 DC will be putting out for Batman Day. It’s the first step on a long road ahead.

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Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

Brad

Brad

Consumer. Scribbler. Occasional drunkard. Nice beard, though...
Brad

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