Comic-Con Panel Wrap-up 1: Batman the Dark Knight’s not-so dark knight: Bill Finger the Boy Wonder July 30, 2012 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: A Pictures' Worth, Mike Pascale
A Picture’s Worth #90 – Contents ©2012 Mike Pascale. Visuals copyright and trademark their respective owners.
First up, the first comics panel titled “Batman’s biggest Secret: The Bill Finger Story.” This was a fascinating taste of what you’ll find in Marc Tyler Nobleman’s new tome, BILL THE BOY WONDER: THE SECRET CO-CREATOR OF BATMAN, hosted by the author himself (who also penned BOYS OF STEEL: THE CREATORS OF SUPERMAN and dozens of other books).
Marc was as energetic and enthusiastic about his subject as he was knowledgable and compassionate. This book took five years of research and it showed in his presentation (accompanied by a slide show). He started off with the fact that he found dozens if not hundreds of photos of Bob Kane, the self-proclaimed “Creator of Batman” on the Web and elsewhere. For Bill Finger, he found exactly two! Thankfully, upon digging (and more digging), he found a few more, courtesy of Finger’s ex-wife and widow. (My apologies for not showing more, but I forgot my memory card that day so I was severely limited to what I could take.)
Here are my notes from the panel:
–How involved was Bill in Batman’s creation? Take a look at Bob Kane’s original design drawing of the character. Bill added the pointed ears, the color scheme, the familiar cape, and more, including writing the the origin story for DETECTIVE COMICS #39 back in 1939! You can’t find more of a “co-creator” example than that.
–Bob Kane himself admitted to Bill’s contribution in several instances and articles, but relented later in life. In fact, in his own autobiography (I think it’s the one titled, BATMAN AND ME), Kane actually published a *fake* page of “original sketches” of the character to claim all design credit!
–In the book, FIFTY WHO MADE DC GREAT, the only real mention of Bill comes from a quote from Kane, who called him, “A contributing force” in the Batman’s creation.” That claim would change later.
–According to the author’s research, the creation took place not at Bob’s house but Bill’s (he was the one with the typewriter) in Poe Park in the Bronx (named, appropriately enough, after fellow former resident Edgar Allen Poe).
–Marc went to Bill’s old high school, the famous DeWitt Clinton (where everyone from Will Eisner to Kane to Finger to Stan Lee to Harvey Kurtzman and a bunch of industry pioneers attended, in addition to future US presidents and captains of industry) and poured through scores of yearbooks over a ten-year period to find Bill’s high school photo. Nothing!
–Searching the US census records up to 1930, he found Bill’s family and his sister, who’s now in her 90s. Turns out she and her brother have been estranged since the 1930s and she wasn’t willing to talk. (More details here on Marc’s blog)
–Searching the census records for 1940, however, he found a second (younger) sister. From her, he found out that Bill was born “Milton” Finger (a name he hated). Going back to DeWitt’s yearbooks, he looked instead for “Milton Finger” and bingo! High school picture found (see the book).
–Comics historian Jerry Bails was the first to “break” the news of Bill’s major contribution to Batman. He interviewed Finger for his fanzine in 1965 and wrote the article, “The Truth Be Known Or A Finger In Every Plot.” At the nascent New York comic convention that same year, Jerry organized a panel with Finger, Gardner Fox, Otto Binder and Mort Weisinger. (Can you imagine being in that audience?) It’s the only known panel Bill attended. Thankfully, much or all of the discussion was transcribed from an audio recording for Roy Thomas’s excellent-and-immortal ALTER EGO zine (issue 20, 2003). An account of the interview and more can be found on Marc Nobleman’s blog.
–Bill’s list of credits goes far beyond Batman’s early comics: he also co-created the Golden Age Green Lantern with Martin Nodell (writing the first origin tale in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS #16, 1940), wrote the first Lana Lang story, the origin of Krypton for Superman, the B-movie classic THE GREEN SLIME, and one episode of BATMAN TV show (first part of “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes”).
–There was very little known or shown of Bill Finger anywhere. Even when he passed away (mostly broke) in 1974, there was no obituary that Marc could find, save for a one-page notice in the company fanzine, THE AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS. Not so with Bob Kane, who received national news coverage.
–Bill was cremated and his ashes were laid upon a beach by his son Fred, who placed them in the shape of a Bat. (I think Bill would have dug that.)
–Sadly, Fred died of AIDS in 1992, and the royalties for his dad’s work (what little their were), went to to a drifter Fred was living with, till the latter died in 2002. Marc found out Bill had had a daughter, Athena, whom he found on MySpace. Upon contacting her, she told him she wasn’t interested in suing DC, only in getting proper credit for her Dad. Marc kindly contacted DC for her and was able to transfer all royalty payments to her starting in 2007. So for 15 years there was no formal contract with DC regarding Bill Finger’s royalties.
As for the credit? Well, when you see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (which I reviewed last week here), you won’t see Bill’s name. There’s only the usual, “Batman created by Bob Kane.” So when you do see the film, please take a moment to remember the true co-creator of the Dark Knight. And help pull his memory out of the darkness.
(You can contact DC and let them know you want credit for Bill here.
P.S.: If you write to Marc, please tell him you read about his wonderful book here first! And as mentioned last week, if you want a commission of any of Bill’s co-creations (or other character!), I’d be happy to oblige. Just ask Craig here!