Monday, August 13, 2012

Bill Finger and the Batman

As a boy, I collected Detective Comics for years. You would see me flipping through back issues in obscure comic book shops in every city I visited.  Nearly every great writer in the industry has done some work on this superhero.  The Batman's entire mythos has been penned by such notable names as Marv Wolfman, Samm Hamm, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, or Frank Miller. They invented "the Rogue's Gallery" which seemed to take on a life of its own as more and more villains joined that infamous group. We have Ra's al Ghul, the League of Shadows, the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, Catwoman, the Scarecrow, Bane, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and the list goes on and on.

Green letters on the cover denote
a first edition print. I own this issue.
Truthfully, I've forgotten the names of so many good comic writers, but I still remember my favorite story lines. Who can forget "A Death in the Family"?  Who can forget the blood streaked corpse of bad boy Jason Todd (Robin) which basically started all of this "Dark Knight" stuff. After Jason's death, the Batman was never the same. He became brooding, blamed himself, and embraced a life of dark isolation. Who can forget the iconic "The Killing Joke" where Barbara Gordon "Batgirl" gets paralyzed? This character is later scene in the television series "Birds of Prey" which lasted only one season (but deserved more).

One of the darkest graphic novels I have ever read is "Arkham Asylum." Its art is flat out, unforgettable. And I unknowingly attributed ALL of this great creation to Bob Kane who I thought created "The Batman." But recently, I realized that I am wrong. DC has hidden a substantial truth from the eyes of the world. Bob Kane had a friend and co-worker named Bill Finger who is responsible for half of everything that IS the Batman legend. I wanted to talk about that today, because I think no recognition for something as big as "the Batman" is wrong.
A Death in the Family. Jason Todd killed by the Joker.

As the story goes, DC commissioned Bob Kane to come up with a new superhero after their success with Superman. Kane met Finger at a party and hired him to help.

These are Bill Finger's contributions to the Batman legend as identified in the new book Bill the Boy Wonder: the Secret Co-Creator of Batman by Marc Tyler Nobleman:
  1. He named Gotham City.
  2. He named Bruce Wayne.
  3. He designed the Batman's cape and cowl costume.
  4. Kane wanted to call the character "Birdman". It was Bill who said, let's call him "the Batman".
  5. Bill came up with the concept of Robin by saying that the Batman needed a companion with whom he could converse.
  6. Bill wrote the first story featuring "the Joker".
  7. Bill Finger came up with the story that as a child, Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents, and this was the catalyst that started him down the superhero/vigilante path.
A single panel from the graphic novel, Arkham Asylum. This artwork by artist Dave McKean and story
by writer Grant Morrison blew me away. I had never been treated to a story that was darker and more
riveting that this particular one. There's an unforgettable scene where the Batman shoves a shard
of broken glass through his palm and I thought the blood and the glass looked real.
Kane went on to become very wealthy. Bill Finger died poor because his name is on none of this. Does that seem right to you?

Here's a great fan-made video called Batman: Puppet Master. Why am I including this? Well 1) it's great entertainment but 2) it shows you just how ingrained the whole "Batman" experience is with American pop culture. It's filmed in the spirit of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight franchise. I think it's pretty good, but rather long. Give it a watch if you have the time. And the next time you talk about the Batman, know that there is a silent co-creator of this superhero that got absolutely no credit and hardly any money.

What would you do if someone took all of your ideas, got rich from it, and gave you no credit at all?


  1. ...really enjoyed Dark Knight Rises, undoubtedly the best comic series currently available.


  2. I hadn't heard of Bill Finger, but I think it's pretty normal business behaviour to try and grab as much for yourself as possible. Sad, but I don't see it changing any time soon.


  3. That's pretty sad for Bill Finger. His ideas are all iconic concepts in Batman.

  4. From the sound of it, Bob Kane didn't really do anything. But a lot of people got screwed in that era. I mean Schuster and Siegel who created Superman got fired by DC in the 40s and didn't get their names put back on the comics as creators until the 70s. That kind of stuff was part of the story in Michael Chabon's "Adventures of Kavalier and Clay". Basically back in that era the company owned all the characters the artists/writers came up with so while the company got rich, the people behind the creations got next to nothing. Of course now it's all different.

    So is it your birthday today? Did anyone spell out '40' in bacon for you?

  5. Happy birthday. I don't love Batman. Never have.

  6. It's always sad to hear this kind of stuff, but I think it happens more than we realize.

  7. It's your birthday????? Michael, I hope your day is fabulous... You deserve a day all about you!!!!

    And I haven't seen the new batman yet... or read any of the comics--But I loved the other movies! And sad about the co-creator... :/

  8. I remember when Robin was killed by The Joker. I had picked up A Death in the Family at a comic book store. I think I was 15 years old!

  9. It's your birthday? 40? Wow, hope you have a fabulous year! I recently turned 36 and am still freaking out about it. I feel as each year goes by I'm accomplishing less and less but want to accomplish more and more.

  10. Happy Birthday?! Does that make you a Leo?...grrrrr tiger!

    I have the graphic novel, Arkham Asylum too, it's amazing. I hate it when people don't get the credit they're due. Wish Bill had had a better lawyer...

  11. There are a couple of issues by Gaiman, too. I don't remember the issue #s, though, and my copies are packed up.

    Just as an aside, Jim Shooter was one of the first "company men" to start fighting for creator rights. As EIC of Marvel, he may have done more in this area than anyone else.

  12. Hope you have a great birthday!

  13. I'm not sure how I felt about the video. >grumble<

    Happy birthday! And enjoy "The Kitchen Table"!

  14. Interesting stuff. If someone robbed me like that and I had no money, but proof that I had a hand in creating the characters/series, I'd find a lawyer willing to work for some of the proceeds. Of course, if we won I'd likely end up in the same place I started. :)

  15. It gets me angry when I read about people like Finger being ripped off. Why do the rich not want to share? I always felt bad for the Superman guys too. It just wasn't right. I heard even Tolkein signed away his rights to Lord of the Rings because he needed the money. My grandfather found oil on his land and Standard Oil slant drilled into it. My sister worked for a guy who invented something, showed it to General Electric and they stole the idea. He didn't have money to fight them in court, even though he had a patent. Sheesh. I hate injustice. It just riles me.

  16. Very cool facts. I love the Batman superhero. Definitely better than "Birdman!" :)

  17. I like your geekish obsession with comics, Mikey :)


    I hate reading about such injustice. Personally, I can't imagine making it big and not sharing the proceeds with a partner, or at the very least sending opportunities and lucrative work their way. A lot of early musical artists were also ripped off by their recording companies, especially if the artists were black, and recently I read that Harlequin romance novelists are suing the publishing company over royalties. It never ends.

  19. It's your birthday? Happy Birthday!, in that case!

    I'd try to get as many people as possible to believe that I actually came up with the ideas. Monetary compensation would be nice, but just acknowledgment--in that case--would be what I'd really want.

  20. Today is your birthday, nanananana! Gonna have a good time, nanananana!
    Happy Birthday, uh!
    Happy Birthday, uh!
    Sickness, sorrow and despair,
    people dying everywhere,
    Happy BIRTHDAY, UH!!!
    (I don't know where you can find the tune that goes with that one, it was just something we sang in college-- a long, long, time ago)

    I would be pretty mad about having my ideas stolen and I'd probably talk to a lawyer to see what I could do. I think the real story is to have evidence prior to your being cut out like that so when you hire that lawyer he doesn't say, "sorry not enough evidence. Won't wash in front of a judge." As Mulder would say, "Trust no one." doodlee, doodlee, doodlee, doodlee, doo! (that was a fantastic written rendition of the X-Files song wasn't it???) :D

  21. If someone took my work and made their fortune with it, well I'd be a tiny bit upset. :)

    My daughter recently told me that comic books are now called graphic novels. Is that true?

    I would love to play Catwoman in a movie.

    Great post.

  22. So you're forty years old? Happy Birthday. Oh, to be forty again!

  23. Happy B-day! I watched that Batman video yesterday. I thought it was stunningly well done for a fan film. It does clearly take place in the Nolan world. I liked it.

    I didn't know that about Bill, if something like that happened to me I'd probably shrug. Life is full of things like that. It's only going to make you bitter if you dwell on it. Of course, if that happened nowadays I think a lawsuit could rectify any financial injustice.

  24. I've never been super into comic books, though the art can be very, very good (I always thought it was funny, though, when the Xmen women all had HUGE boobs and the men somehow had 8-packs...)

  25. Happy birthday, Michael! :) Did Alex spill the beans? Birdman just doesn't have the same ring to it. Having my ideas stolen while someone else gets rich off them...that's my biggest fear as a writer. Poor Bill. :(

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  27. I recently read a letter that someone wrote to DC asking if Bill would be credited somewhere for helping with the Batman concept. DC gave a flat 'no' and refused to talk further about it. It's a very odd situation.

  28. Aww, that's so sad about Bill Finger. I'm so glad Kane listened to him. Birdman. How stupid. Batman is so much better.

  29. That's why I never take credit for something I did not do. I guess I'm in the minority.

  30. I'm so sorry I missed your birthday. Happy belated Birthday!! Did you have a good day?

    I think it is so sad that this man contributed so much and died poor and alone. Unfortunately, I think this happens more often than we realize.