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