Bill Finger advocate’s implausible dream
By Mark Voger | Author, “Britmania”
Until the day he died, artist Bob Kane held a vice grip on his credit as the sole creator of Batman. This is despite the fact that many comics pros believed a writer named Bill Finger deserved co-creator credit. But that ship had long since sailed.
Finger died at age 59 in 1974, Kane at age 83 in 1998. Kane took the credit to the grave, literally; even his bat-signal-festooned marker at Forest Lawn tells visitors that Kane, acting alone, created Batman. So, what possessed DC Comics to finally bestow co-creator credit upon Finger 76 years after Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27 (1939)?
A fresh look at the Kane-Finger saga happened when writer Marc Tyler Nobleman, working on a book project, immersed himself in research about Finger, turning up much previously unknown intel about his subject. Despite warnings that Kane’s credit was contractually unchangeable, Nobleman endeavored upon a campaign to do just that. His cause gained traction when Nobleman found, and eventually joined forces with, Finger’s living heir, his granddaughter Athena Finger, who was born two years after her grandfather’s death.
Nobleman contacted Athena in 2007, and in time, they began talking about the idea to lobby for official recognition of her grandfather’s many crucial contributions to the iconic comic book character. (These include the formative first Batman stories and such aspects as Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, the utility belt, Commissioner Gordon, many of the colorful villains, and visual aspects such as the cowl and bat-ears.) By this time, mind you, many creators in the comics community had been clamoring for Finger’s credit for decades — including some from within DC’s ranks.
An agreement to officially add Finger’s name was finally reached in 2015. Finger’s first big-screen credit happened in, of all films, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016).
Nobleman’s illustrated nonfiction book on the subject, “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman” illustrated by Ty Templeton, was published in 2012. An illuminating Hulu documentary directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, “Batman & Bill” debuted in 2017. I conversed with Hartford, Ct. native Nobleman, who helped change the course of Batman history, during an interview conducted via email last week.
Q: Bob Kane’s sole credit seemed indelible, considering that it went all the way back to 1939. There was so much water under that bridge, not to mention the revenue implications of bestowing credit upon Bill Finger. Did the sheer enormity of this give you pause at all? Did you think this was an impossible dream?
NOBLEMAN: Implausible, yes. Impossible, no. Especially since Bob admitted in print (in his 1989 memoir) that Bill’s name deserved to be on Batman, and DC was not disputing Bill’s instrumental role. That doesn’t mean the path to success was clear or easy!
Q: How key was it that Athena Finger got on board? What were your early conversations with her like?
NOBLEMAN: She was the turning point. I’m not a lawyer but as I understood it, only an heir can legally contest a credit line. Before finding Athena, I was prepared to do all I could in lieu of an heir — write a book, give a TED Talk, speak at schools and other venues worldwide, do Kevin Smith‘s Batman podcast, create a high-profile Batman panel to raise awareness, try for a Google Doodle, etc. — and hope it would generate enough heat/guilt to prompt DC to correct the credit line. But after I found her, I kept firing on other cylinders anyway, to generate as much public support as possible.
The early conversations were exciting and plump with promise, at least to an optimist like me. [Read Nobleman’s recap of his initial exchange with Athena Finger HERE.]
Q: I wrote a newspaper column about comics going back to the ’80s. Often when I would interview DC Comics editors, writers and artists, they would tell me “off the record” that Finger was robbed. But on the record, they would use more cautious language. Their tongues got a little bit looser after Kane’s death in 1998. Over the years, did you hear a lot of that off-the-record kind of stuff?
NOBLEMAN: I’d love to see that language! Do you still have those transcriptions/tapes?
Q: Yes, though the recordings are on the nigh unplayable cassette tape format.
NOBLEMAN: I was coming into this later than you and talking to people who, for the most part, no longer had a professional relationship with DC. No one that I remember answered me off the record. In 2006, I had the privilege and luck to interview eight Golden and Silver Age creators who knew Bill and Bob personally — Jerry Robinson, Shelly Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Kubert, Arnold Drake, Carmine Infantino, Irwin Hasen. All were in their eighties and, unsurprisingly, all have since died. All but one (Moldoff) seemed to agree that Bill was co-creator, no words minced. In their own golden years, they were loyal to their old friend/colleague.
Q: That footage of Kane being interviewed by Stan Lee (see videos below) is so damning. Kane seemed like a supervillain, the way he jealously guarded his credit. He was from the “ghosting” generation. He never seemed to understand that by the ’80s, ghosting was a thing of the past, and fans needed to know the names of their favorite Batman artists. And Kane did himself no favors, legacy wise, by denying Finger credit. By the same token, there’d be no Batman without Bob Kane; his early artwork was cool and mysterious; and he kept the machine cranking. Has this stain on Kane’s reputation superseded all of the good? Must we only think of him as a dishonest credit-grubber?
NOBLEMAN: Mileage on this will vary from person to person. My take is that deliberately, repeatedly misrepresenting his own contributions and publicly calling his old friend a liar has become Bob’s primary legacy. But yes, he still deserves to be credited as a co-creator for three reasons: he named Batman, though this was hardly an original concept even then; he drew the first story; and he brought in Bill Finger.
Q: The credit now reads “Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger” instead of “and Bill Finger.” Isn’t that a slight? In your heart of hearts, wouldn’t “and” be a more accurate word?
NOBLEMAN: I interpret “with” as an attempt to appease both sides — honoring but simultaneously diminishing Bill to satisfy the Kane estate while putting Bill on the same line as Bob to be accurate. Of course I would prefer “and” — you could even talk me into arguing that Bill’s name from a creativity perspective should be first — but I don’t let it bother me. For decades Bill Finger was not officially credited in any way, so I focus on celebrating that he is now.
Below is Stan Lee’s 1992 interview with Bob Kane in four parts.