Anyone who is a fan of Batman (the comic book Batman that is, as opposed to just a fan of the movie or TV versions) or the history of comics knows who Bill Finger is. Sadly, the rest of the world doesn’t. What the rest of the world sees when they watch a Batman movie or TV show or pick up a Batman comic book is the ubiquitous credit that appears on anything featuring the character: “Batman created by Bob Kane“. That leads them to believe Batman was actually created by Bob Kane.
Kane was a mediocre artist at best but a very shrewd businessman. The legal agreement he signed with National Periodicals (later DC Comics) is still in effect, causing his name to appear as sole creator of Batman forever. Financially he became very rich off the Batman property, especially from the 60′s TV show. By most accounts (basically everyone except Bob Kane) what really mattered about Batman came from Bill Finger, who never got an ounce of credit during his lifetime. Finger died in 1974.
What kind of stuff am I talking about? How about his origin story, you know, the “parents murdered before his eyes and he vows revenge on all criminals” thing? His costume. The Batcave. The Batmobile. The Utility Belt. Commissioner Gordon. Gotham City. The Joker and most of Batman’s most famous villains. Depending on who you ask, Robin. Finger basically wrote all the Batman stories for the first 25 years of Batman’s existence… without credit and being paid (comparative) peanuts. Meanwhile, while Finger was doing all the writing Kane hired ghost artists to do the artwork almost immediately as well, so he didn’t even draw the comic. Yet Kane’s name was the sole credit on anything Batman thanks to his savvy agreement negotiations, as well as most of the money that came from it. In the eyes of many people in the comic book industry, the greatest villain in Batman’s world is not the Joker or the Penguin… it’s Bob Kane.
The cover above is for a new book called Bill the Boy Wonder that tells the facts behind the creation of Batman and Bill Finger’s role in it, as well as his career. Incidentally it’s illustrated by one of my all time favorite comic book artists Ty Templeton. It’s written in a children’s book sort of format, and it tells a sad story about a man who was a true creative genius who never got his proper due, in fame and certainly not financially, for the amazing and influential work he did in comics during his lifetime. This book is a great intro to Finger’s career and contributions to one of the greatest of all comic book heroes.
Granted, all of this information about Batman’s origins are coming from multiple sources and second hand accounts, but few dispute the basic truth that Bill Finger had AT LEAST as much to do with Batman’s creation as Bob Kane, and most believe he created what counted about the character. In fact, if you are wondering what Batman would be like had Bob Kane been the sole creator as he claimed for most of his life, see this little gem also by Ty Templeton:
Me? I actually believe Bill Finger created Batman, or everything about him that counts. Why? Kane didn’t even draw the damn thing, and never did anything else of any note creatively at all. Some people even say he didn’t come up with the idea for Batman at all. There is just too much evidence against the idea he created much of anything at all. Just my personal belief.
Bill Finger’s 100th birthday is Feb 8th. It should be celebrated in the comics world as the birth of a creator that shaped the very fabric of the world of comics.