Batman’s ‘Creator’ Stole All The Credit

“I am using the truth, Master Wayne. Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day.” —Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

In A Nutshell

Batman is one of the most popular superheroes of all time, appearing in endless comic books, video games, movies, and TV shows. And all the credit for his creation goes to Bob Kane . . . right? Actually, Kane had little to do with the vigilante we all know and love. The real brains behind Batman was a young writer named Bill Finger, a man the mainstream media has largely forgotten.

The Whole Bushel

On May 1939, millions of American kids forked over their hard-earned dimes for the latest copy of Detective Comics. The 27th issue introduced readers to a masked vigilante known as Batman. The Caped Crusader took the world by storm, bringing fame and fortune to his creator Bob Kane. However, there’s a dirty little secret to the Bruce Wayne story: Bob Kane wasn’t the real brains behind Batman.

After the success of Superman, Detective Comics hired Kane to create a new hero. Inspired by characters from pulp novels and silent films, he decided to go with a bat theme. However, Kane’s crime fighter was very different from the vigilante we know today. Named “The Bat-Man,” the original Dark Knight wasn’t so dark at all. He wore red tights, a domino mask a la the Lone Ranger and had da Vinci–like wings strapped to his back. Fortunately for Christopher Nolan, Bill Finger wasn’t impressed.

Finger had worked with Kane before on comics like Rusty and His Pals so when his old partner proposed they should team up again, Finger was eager to get started. After all, it was 1938, and America was still reeling from the Great Depression. Finger was a hungry writer and grateful to get work. He was so grateful that he actually agreed that Kane could get all the credit for their joint effort. Kane then took an extra step to preserve his legacy, signing away his rights to the character in exchange for a mandatory byline on all future comics. He would become the one most closely associated with the Batman character, a character almost solely created by Bill Finger.

After looking at Kane’s sketches, Finger decided to take the hero in a different direction. Instead of red tights, he made Batman’s outfit darker. Instead of wings, he gave him a cape and cowl. He slapped a bat symbol on his chest and equipped him with a utility belt. Inspired by Sherlock Holmes and The Shadow, Finger proposed that Batman should be a detective. He’d fight crime in a city called Gotham, and his alter ego would be a rich playboy named Bruce Wayne. Most importantly, Finger gave Batman motivation. Other heroes, like Superman, were natural do-gooders. They saved the world simply because it was the right thing to do. Finger decided to murder Batman’s parents, scarring the Caped Crusader so deeply that he’d dedicate his life to fighting crime. On top of everything else, Finger invented Batman’s most famous nickname, the Dark Knight.

Bill Finger wrote close to 1,500 Batman stories, including the “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the first one to hit newsstands in 1939. He also played a huge part in creating the Batmobile, the Bat-cave, Robin, Alfred, Catwoman, and even Batman’s archenemy, the Joker. But despite his contributions, it was Kane who reaped the rewards. As Bob grew rich and famous, Finger disappeared into obscurity. He grew bitter toward his old partner for never acknowledging his contributions. He eventually died in 1974, so broke he didn’t even have a decent funeral. In 1989, Kane finally admitted “that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved,” but it was too little too late. Kane is still the one most associated with Batman, and DC Comics doesn’t recognize Finger’s influence on the Dark Knight’s origins.

Fortunately, people have finally started to appreciate Finger’s work. He was inducted into the Jack Kirby and Will Eisner Halls of Fame. Batman writer and artist Jerry Robinson created the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing which is awarded to unappreciated comic book writers. And author Marc Tyler Nobleman is campaigning for Google to create a Bill Finger doodle for his 100th birthday (February 8, 2014). It would be the tribute he deserves, and also one he needs right now.

Show Me The Proof

Icons of the American Comic Book
Icons of Mystery and Crime Detection: From Sleuths to Superheroes, Mitzi M. Brunsdale
Marc Nobleman and the story of Bill Finger, Batman’s secret co-creator
NPR: Batman’s Biggest Secret (No, It’s Not Bruce Wayne)
Will Google Celebrate the Birth of the Man Who Created Batman’s Gotham?
Photo credit: Brian Donovan

  • Pat……

    Thanks for clearing this up. Like many, many others I was unaware of Bill Finger’s influence in creating the Batman, and all the other things and people associated with him. Now I do. Thanks again.

  • new

    life sucks

  • Finger’s input will no longer be ignored. Looking at the article on Batman at Wikipedia, Kane has already been pushed to the background, where he belongs -in this episode.

  • UN

    RIP and thank you for creating the best comic book hero and villain

  • Sheila Mulheron

    There never was a Bat Cave in the early Batman comics by Kane & Finger. Originally there was an underground tunnel beneath Wayne Manor to an old barn where both the Batmobile & Batplane were stored. Later on Bill Finger wrote about an underground hanger in one of the comics. When Columbia Pictures did their first Batman movie serial in the 1940s,the writers for the movie actually created the Bat Cave concept.

    In any event,Mr.Finger was done an enormous injustice by Bob Kane. Fortunately the truth has a way of coming out even if it takes many years.

  • Ranger3399

    Still reeling from the Great Depression? Devastated by it more like unemployment was at 20% still! Now true this is 5% down from the height of it but still. Anyway a minor point either way lol I’m just a Correctness Nazi (too soon or too ironic?) for those who were appalled at that last sentence… “Why so serious?”

  • Illuminati Recruitment Agency

    This always bug the shit out of me when I would watch the Batman movies and see Batman created by Bob Kane on the credits and no mention of Bill Finger.

    • OC

      Talk about messed up . .

  • frank

    His lack of superpowers is his gain in relatability.

  • Ryan

    It’s important that we ‘finger’ the correct person in creative works.

  • mlb00000

    Good article. Never good for someone who deserves credit to not get it, but Batman is such a worldwide phenomenon, with millions who dearly love the story, it is important to History to correct the record and hopefully correct how the Credits appear on future Batman related stuff. On that note I just learned of the following on that very subject, check it out and, great thing to support, bunch of major people involved: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/comicartscouncil/the-cape-creator-a-tribute-to-bat-maker-bill-finge

  • OC

    Too little. Too late. Stolen Legacy.

  • Femur

    First paragraph: No, “millions” of youngsters did not purchase Detective Comics #37 because nowhere near millions of that issue were printed.

  • rxantos

    A pity that many of the people that “Created” things are just people that take the credit for everything. Sadly Bob Kane turned out to be a person without honor.