Batman is a legend— an inspirational hero who, through all the tragedies and struggles he had endured, has become a perceptible symbol of justice and hope. Everyone knows and loves Batman over all the DC characters. Who would not? Imagine the cape, the cowl, the batarang, the billionaire alter ego, and most especially the batmobile. Everything about Batman; we just love them all. Graphic and literary artists know best that such a very artistic concept doesn’t just come out from mere imaginations— rather, it comes from a much deeper sense, an emotional connection perhaps, that relates the character with its creator. The depth of inner self that doesn’t suit much to the boastful personality of the known creator, Bob Kane.
Somehow, such an iconic character like Batman has become a heated topic not just on the hero’s pursuit for justice but also on the greatest controversy revolving around the hero’s past.
As it turned out, artist Bob Kane, who solely claimed the credit as the creator, wasn’t actually the only person responsible for the creation of Bruce Wayne (Batman). A comic book writer and illustrator by the name of Bill Finger, who wasn’t really a stranger to the industry, was the one who conceptualized Batman and the villains, including one of the most iconic villain of all time The Joker. Finger was also the one who invented all of Bruce Wayne’s cool stuff, including the disputed cape and cowl invention.
THE CONTROVERSIAL TRUTH
In 1938, Action Comics # 1, where Superman was impregnated, was published by National Allied Publication. The character of Superman was dearly loved by the readers and artists alike, and has become phenomenal. Soon, the market is full of Superman fans, fervently buzzing around to get their copies. As the sales for Action Comics continued to increase, other comic companies busy themselves in searching for another top-selling character that could possibly make it at par with, if not surpass, the well-celebrated man of steel. A year after (1939), before Detective Comics (DC), Inc., a sister company of National Allied, could make its move, Timley Comics had introduced its own characters such as Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch.
On that same year, DC comics contacted Bob Kane to conceptualized an original character that could beat Superman off the market. Working as a small-time artist in New York City at that time, the invitation promised a great opportunity for him. But Kane couldn’t save himself from the challenge because he wasn’t really good at writing a story. So, he contacted Bill Finger, who was working as a writer at his studio.
Kane had first thought about a batman and initiated a sketch of how he saw the creature of the night: a bright red spandex suit with black silky underpants, huge rigid black wings, and a domino mask. A combination that was totally out of the fashionable sense, especially the bright red suit for a night creature. Having learned about DC’s intention, Finger commented that instead of beating out Superman, the design was more like Superman, and suggested a gray spandex instead of red, and a black cape to make it more lively and flexible rather than the rigid unanimated wings. Finger also added a bat-shaped cowl in replacement to the usual mask, black gloves with three fins on the wrist side, and an insignia. A total overhaul to the Kane’s original design.
Unbeknownst to Finger, Kane presented the design to DC comics. The company was delighted and saw the light that could somehow compete with Superman’s spotlight. Kane was able to negotiate sole credit on the comic, telling the company that he created the idea all by himself.
“Every Batman story is marked with the words ‘Batman created by Bob Kane’. But that isn’t the whole truth,” said Marc Tyler Nobleman in his book, Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret CoCreator of Batman. “A struggling writer named Bill Finger was involved from the beginning. Bill helped invent Batman, from concept to costume to character.”
Kane has no talent in writing a plot, so it was basically Finger who wrote every story. It was also Finger who invented and developed the significant icons and stuffs such as the Gotham City, the Batmobile, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Catwoman, the Harlequin, the Penguin, and the Joker, among others. All that Kane ever did was just to draw the pages for The Case of the Chemical Syndicate, which was published in Detective Comics #27. In fact, that was all he ever contributed for the entire success of Batman, because when even providing the art felt too much of a work, Kane simply hired ghost-artists, who got little pay.
Even when Batman came out to be much more successful and well-celebrated than Superman, Kane never mentioned Finger in all his interviews and TV appearances. He grabbed the credits all by himself without sparing some of the recognition to the actual people working in his stead.
THE DARK KNIGHT CAME OUT
While the Dark Knight emerges out of the cave, the truth is left. Deeply hidden away from the enticing speckle of light, every time. And when the truth about who really created Batman came out, the entirety of the cultural hero’s history started making sense.
“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” That is certainly one of the most quoted line from Bruce Wayne, which actually feels more legit coming from the silent and innocent true creator Bill Finger than it is from a boastful character of Bob Kane. What made Batman successful was beyond just physicality, rather the story that was formulated out of the passion and determination— that which defined Finger more than it defined Kane.
It was Finger who coined the title, The Dark Knight.
However, Kane was wise enough to be able to bend everyone and everything in favor of his very canny negotiations. One could say, that at least in one instance, Kane showed superb talent— though it would be more on the crafty art of satisfying his hunger for fame. He’s an excellent example of a classic showman, greeting fans like a celebrity and never failing to mention every now and then how he created Batman. For the record, he made an archival footage and audio recordings to praise his own genius, marketing himself like he’s as important and iconic as Batman.
One of Bruce Wayne’s dialogue in a conversation with Alfred Pennyworth goes as this, “Well today, I found out what Batman can’t do. He can’t endure this.” It would seem that as Finger was writing this line, he made this realization to reflect his own situation. This may have been justified after he finally came out to the open and started telling everyone, through the help of a friend, that he was the original creator of Batman and not Kane. This announcement had startled everyone and rumors of it had spread across and beyond the country.
Kane then held many interviews to defend his side, calling Finger “a typical liar”. He denied most, if not all, of the accusations thrown unto him by Finger’s party.
BATMAN AND BILL
While the revelation had hooked everyone’s curiosity and created more public speculations, it was unfortunately a shortcoming. It died down quite as fast as it had spread. That despite the help of some of his colleagues, the revelation wasn’t able to serve its purpose. Bringing the truth into the spotlight was indeed a tough fight.
Somehow, Warner Bros. and DC comics were too busy to attend to the issues raised by Finger’s party. Well, you can’t blame these monster companies because Finger, himself, couldn’t present sufficient evidence against the issue of him being a ghostwriter. The materials and sketches he kept might have been of great help, but it didn’t seem to save him from the ghostwriting concerns. The two companies have to be reserved in addressing any complaints. They don’t want to get involve in whatever possible risks it might pose.
Over the course of time, the revelation wasn’t able to make a good noise, and Kane continued to get all the credits and royalties while Finger died penniless and forgotten. Kane continued to insist he created Batman, that even in his gravestone, words written, “Bob Kane, Bruce Wayne, Batman— they are one and the same”. In the fall of 21st century, one author, by the name of Marc Tyler Nobleman, challenged his own faith and made an effort in seeking justice for Bill Finger. After finding the people close to Finger and doing research about the issue, Nobleman published a book entitled, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-creator of Batman, which was published on 2012. Tyler believed that Bill Finger is actually the person behind the Batman and its mythos. The book created an impact on the case and brought about the hope of recognizing Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman. It captured the attention of the public, and soon after, many comic book historians and industry figure started to offer their thoughts about Finger.
Nobleman’s book had greatly inspired the documentary film, Batman and Bill, which was directed, written and produced by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. The film chronicles the creation of the Batman and the relationship between Kane and Finger.
Batman and Bill features interviews with Marc Tyler Nobleman, Finger’s family, some old-timer comic book writers and artists, and other experts. It was set in the sole purpose of further proving Finger’s rightfulness on the credit by comparing Kane’s and Finger’s character that would show the foundation of Bruce Wayne’s.
In every interview, Kane always extolled Batman’s costume and cool stuffs, including batarang and batmobile, as the things that made the hero iconic. But again, it was beyond the physical aspects. It would seem that Kane only understood a little of what made Batman great. He couldn’t say anything more about Batman because he didn’t actually know him personally. Personally, not as in physical presence, but as on a deeper understanding on the character’s feelings, thoughts, and motivations. Finger, on the other hand, knew better because he was the one who made the entire plot. He created the character himself. As Batman and Bill continues, it raises this critical question, “Which of the two is considered the rightful creator of Batman?”
So, who do you think should get the recognition?
Through Bruce Wayne, Finger stated, “Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” It would seem that Finger, as he one who actually wrote the line, felt the same emotional impact as that of Bruce— having been deprived of the recognition he deserved. Batman and Bill, in line with Tyler’s aim, believed that giving Finger the credit as the co created wasn’t just about the percentage of the royalties, which was supposedly his. Forget about the money. It is all about giving justice to the creation of Batman, because knowing and recognizing Bill Finger as the real creator is like getting to know the real Bruce Wayne.
Like the first attempt done by Finger himself, the second attempt done by Tyler was not a walk in the park either. It has never been that easy, even though there were lots of evidence recovered from Finger’s place. The film shows how Tyler, along with Finger’s heir, has finally achieved their goal in righting the wrong. It exposes into the light the systemic injustices in Golden and Silver Age comics publishing, in which many other outstanding creators were ripped off of what they deserved.
Somehow, after 75 years, Finger was finally credited. In 2015, DC Comics and Warner Bros. finally acknowledged Finger’s contribution and agreed to grant Finger the right to be published as co-creator of Batman. Finger received his first credit in season 2 of the TV series Gotham as well as 2016’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The development of Batman and Bill Documentary Film was announced in 2016, and its first trailer on April 20, 2017.
True indeed that this Kane-Finger case would somehow, in consideration with possibilities, affect the ghostwriting industry— degrading the trust on the ghostwriters as they might be feared to throw away their responsibility and go against their agreement with their clients. But in order to avoid this dilemma, the ghostwriting industry should be strict enough to have a legally written contract between the ghostwriter and the client to whom he would sell the ownership of his work. Remember, most conflicts are rooted from misunderstandings and the lack of evidence to support possible claims.