Thursday, February 8, 2024

The 110th Birthday of Batman Co-Creator Bill Finger

Chances are good that unless you are a comic book fan, you have never heard of Bill Finger. Despite this, it seems very likely that you have heard of his most famous creation, Batman. While for much of his life artist Bob Kane took sole credit for the creation of Batman and his mythos, in truth it was Bill Finger who did most of the work in the creation of the Dark Knight. Indeed, Bill Finger even came up with what is now Batman's most famous nickname, "the Dark Knight."

Milton "Bill" Finger was born on February 8 1914 in Denver, Colorado. His family moved to The Bronx, New York City. Bill Finger attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx and graduated from there in 1933. Following his graduation. he worked as a part-time shoe salesman and aspired to be a writer. He met artist Bob Kane at a party in 1938 and Kane offered him a job ghost writing the comic book features Rusty and His Pals and Clip Carson.

Following the huge success that National Comics experienced with Superman, the company wanted similar characters. Bob Kane then came up with the idea for a character called "The Bat-Man." Bob Kane then had Bill Finger meet him at his apartment where he showed Mr. Finger a drawing of a character in reddish tights, boots, and a small domino mask. The character wore no gloves. Affixed to the character's back were two stiff, bat wings. Beneath the drawing in large letters was "Batman." Bill Finger made several suggestions to Bob Kane, including a cowl with pointed bat ears, a scalloped cape, and gloves, as well as a darker colour scheme for the costume. Bill Finger's contributions to the character of Batman would not end there. It was Bill Finger who developed the secret identity of Batman, that of playboy Bruce Wayne. He took the first name from Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots from 1306 to 1329, and the last name from Revolutionary War hero and Founding Father Mad Anthony Wayne.

Despite the considerable contributions Bill Finger made to the creation of Batman, when Bob Kane took The Bat-Man to editor Vin Sullivan, he made no mention of Bill Finger or the part he played the character's creation. Bob Kane's contract with Detective Comics Inc. gave Kane sole credit for the creation of Batman, and his signature would appear on every Batman story even when he did not do the art (and, more often than not, the art would be done by such ghost artists as Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, and Shelly Moldoff). When Bob Kane renegotiated his contract in 1946, he did not bother to mention Bill Finger either. What is more, Kane's second contract was even more lucrative than his first. It returned partial ownership of Batman to Bob Kane and included rights of reversion and the ability to veto the sale of Batman to any other company. The contract also guaranteed him a specific number of pages per month at what was then an incredible page rate, as well as a percentage of subsidiary rights.  As to Bill Finger who had done the heavy lifting in creating Batman, all he ever received was his usual page rate.

The fact is that while Bob Kane received the credit and the money for creating Batman, it was Bill Finger who shaped the character as we know him. It seems likely it was Bill Finger who came up with Batman's origin, in which Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered.  He created the character of Commissioner Gordon, who appeared in the very first panel of the very first Batman story. He gave Gotham City its name. He created or co-created the characters of Robin, The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, and many of Batman's other villains. It was Bill Finger who gave Gotham City its name.

While Bill Finger co-created Batman and created much of the character's mythos, he also created other comic book characters. He scripted the early stories of the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, and is sometimes credited as co-creator with Martin Nodell. He created the character of Wildcat, with the character's costume designed by artist Irwin Hasen. With artist John Sikela he created Lana Lang, the love interest of Superboy. All three of these characters would have a lasting impact and still appear in the pages of DC Comics titles.

It would take years for Bill Finger to receive recognition as the co-creator of Batman, and Bob Kane continued to insist that he was the sole creator the character even after considerable evidence had emerged about Bill Finger's contributions. It was in 1965 comic book fan and scholar Jerry Bails wrote an article, published in CAPA-Alpha no. 12 (September 1965), that recognized Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman. As might be expected, Bob Kane strenuously denied the facts in the article. In the following years Bill Finger was increasingly recognized as the co-creator of Batman in comic book fandom. Late in his life even Bob Kane would acknowledge the considerable contributions that Bill Finger made to the Caped Crusader. In his biography Batman and Me, Bob Kane wrote, "Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero ... I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say. 'I'll put your name on it now. You deserve it.'"

Even after it was generally accepted that Bill Finger co-created Batman, it would be years before he would be credited as such by DC Comics. It was in 2006 that author Marc Tyler Nobleman began researching Bill Finger's role in the creation of Batman for a non-fiction picture book. Marc Tyler Nobleman uncovered the fact that Bill Finger's son Fred had a daughter, Athena Finger. He contacted Athena Finger and encouraged her to get in touch with DC Comics in order to get credit for Bill Finger as Batman's co-creator. His biography of Bill Finger, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman was published in 2012. It was in 2017, following negotiations with Bill Finger's granddaughter Athena Finger, that DC Entertainment began crediting Bill Finger. In movies Bill Finger was first credited as the co-creator of Batman in the movie Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice (2016). In television he was first credited as the co-creator of Batman on the second season of Gotham. In 2017 a documentary about Marc Tyler Nobleman's research and his efforts to get recognition for Bill Finger, Batman & Bill, premiered on Hulu.

Sadly, Bill Finger died on January 18 1974 when he was only 59, so he never lived to see the recognition he would receive as the co-creator of Batman. Many might find it odd that Bill Finger never tried to receive recognition as Batman's co-creator, let alone any sort of monetary compensation. In Marc Tyler Nobleman's blog, Nobelmania, Jerry Robinson described Bill Finger as, "Very soft. Naive, as most of us were." In the book The Creators of Batman: Bob, Bill & The Dark Knight by Rik Worth, Bill Finger was described as "Easy-going to the point of retiring. He was just grateful to be in the room." In the book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale, author Tim Hanley writes, "The most common term Finger's associates used to describe him was 'agreeable,' though his son put it far more bluntly when he said, 'My father had a very weak spine.' It seems possible that while Bill Finger was immensely talented and had a right to be credited as the co-creator of Batman, he simply was not capable of standing up to Bob Kane.

It seems likely that had it not been for Bill Finger, Batman may have simply been another obscure comic book character, like The Crimson Avenger or Air Wave, published during the Golden Age of Comic Books. It was Bill Finger who provided Batman with most of the things that come to mind when we think of Batman. everything from his secret identity to Gotham City. And it seems likely that without the supporting characters and mythos that Bill Finger provided Batman, the character might never have taken off. While it is good that Bill Finger is finally being recognized as the co-creator of Batman, he really should have long ago.

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