This weekend, fans flocking to the movies to see Batman and Superman finally meet on the big screen in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice may notice something unexpected during the opening credits, particularly those who know a bit about the story behind Batman’s creation. For the first time on the big screen, Batman will be credited as “Created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger,” instead of merely just Kane’s name, as it has always been.
Why the change? Last fall, DC comics was finally able to reach an agreement with the estate of Bill Finger, by way of his granddaughter, Athena, acknowledging his significant role in the creation of one of DC’s most beloved characters. This includes everything from Batman’s trademark cowl, to his alter-ego’s tragic backstory, to the Batmobile, and even members of his rogues gallery, including The Joker and Riddler, all of which are now thought to have been created or co-created by Finger at some point.
So how does a writer with such a significant impact on a character go more than 75 years without any official recognition for his work? That question has been asked repeatedly over the years, lately and insistently by author Marc Tyler Nobleman, who in 2006 began to investigate Bill Finger’s legacy, which as he discussed with us, was no small feat. “My research,” Nobleman says, “was far more intensive than I could have predicted. I contacted more than 250 people, I followed every possible lead, even some that were beyond long shots, because I felt a cultural obligation to do so. Bill deserved it and Batman fans deserve it.”
Following up on those leads, Nobleman said he approached each person he’d find with a sense of “constant urgency,” always asking who to follow up with next. “The number of people who knew Bill [Finger] and Bob [Kane] personally,” he explains, “was dwindling fast. I found and interviewed nine Golden Age greats including Jerry Robinson and Alvin Schwartz; since then, all nine have died, most before the book came out in 2012. The most valuable resources, however, were the people who were not in comics, because they knew information that had not been published before; in particular Bill’s longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair and his second wife Lyn Simmons.”
Nobleman’s research culminated in his book Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, which looks all the way back to Batman’s earliest days, when Kane had drawn him wearing a red body suit and domino mask with large, rigid wings attached to the back. After that initial sketch, Kane enlisted the help of Finger, who completely redesigned the character, swapping out the mask for a cowl, the wings for a cape, naming his home of Gotham City, and generally continuing to flesh out Kane’s initial idea.
This is where things get a bit uncertain: At some point in the 1940s, it’s alleged that Kane was able to strike a deal with DC Comics that gave him sole credit to the character. Even though Finger wrote a number of Batman’s early stories, he was never recognized for his work, which was not uncommon in the comic book industry at the time. As a result of this deal, for decades “Batman created by Bob Kane” appeared on Batman comics, TV shows, movies, and other incarnations of the character. Despite the long-established tradition, Nobleman felt compelled to continue his research. “At least one comics legend,” he says, “essentially told me to give up before I started, insisting that the credit line will never change. I understood why he would say that but it didn’t faze me. It’s not like I was trying to teach myself to fly without wings or jets.”
While Nobleman’s efforts are significant, it wasn’t the first time the conversation was brought to the public. During the mid-1960s, an article published by comic book historian Jerry Bales titled “If the Truth Be Known or ‘A Finger in Every Plot!'” first suggested Finger’s role. At the time, Kane didn’t take to kindly to this, responding to the article with a letter declaring him as the absolute sole creator of the Caped Crusader. More than 20 years would go by before Kane would soften his position, and in his 1989 biography Batman and Me, he even admitted that Finger “never received the fame and recognition he deserved,” 15 years after Finger died in 1974. After Kane’s death, his elaborate headstone acknowledged another Batman co-creator: God, who had bestowed a gift upon Kane in the form of Batman, a character that allegedly had all the traits that Kane did.
Over the course of Nobleman’s research, he got in touch with Finger’s granddaughter Athena, and despite never knowing Bill personally — she was born some years after he died — she was “pulled into it” by Nobleman, and the two began working together to restore his legacy in Batman’s creation. “Time, I think,” Athena told us, “was on our side. And with social media and the Internet, Bill’s story was getting more recognition within the comic world. When Marc started doing his research it became much more of a story people were actually getting behind. It was really time.”
Once Nobleman’s book came out in 2012, little by little, Bill Finger’s name found its way toward the spotlight, starting with his name on the cover of Detective Comics #27, which came out in 2014. The following year, it was announced that Bill Finger’s name would be listed alongside Kane’s in both Fox’s Gotham TV series as well as the opening credits of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. This led to a moment that Nobleman calls “euphoric,” before adding that “Nothing can make up for the fact that Bill will never know that we know about him. But this is the next best thing.”
As far as Kane’s role in all of this, while some have gone out of their way to paint Kane in the most negative light possible, Athena Finger, who said she “clapped and cheered” when she saw her grandfather’s name at the Dawn of Justice premiere, puts it all into perspective. “What happened happened,” she says, “and there’s no way to go back and change it, or convince Bob to do things differently. So, I don’t like to dwell on it, and I don’t like to backstab. He gave my grandfather an opportunity to be what he was trying to be, which was a writer, and he recognized that Bill had a huge talent, and he tapped into that. Bob being a man who came from from a family with means, and who understood contracts and law, he was able to maneuver the system for his benefit. It’s not like he wanted to be a villain, but he kind of came out looking like the villain, even though that’s not how I think about him.”
Now with her grandfather’s name next to Kane’s on Batman’s byline, she’s nothing but optimistic about what’s to come for his legacy. “Nothing will ever truly make up for [all that time] not getting credit or recognition, but it’s a start,” Athena says. “Now that his name’s been out there attached to stuff since last October, it’s very exciting — it’s the way it should’ve been from the beginning, but now this is the new beginning. Everybody knows the correct history now, and if they don’t, they’ll learn about it. They’ll question ‘Who’s this Bill Finger’ that keeps showing up, and more people will know this story.”
If this is the beginning, it’s a significant precedent being set in giving credit where credit is due, and could go a long way toward helping to restore the legacies of other artists and writers who helped contribute to the Golden and Silver Ages of comic books whose stories may have also been lost along the way.