Friday, June 4, 2010

Finger Tip #5: “Fifty Who Made DC Great”

In 1985, DC Comics published an odd bird, and the kind of thing rarely if ever done since. It was a comic called Fifty Who Made DC Great.

It consisted of fifty half-page profiles of key individuals or entities who contributed to the company’s success.

Two of those profiles were Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

DC Comics is contractually bound to credit only Bob Kane as the creator of Batman. As such, these profiles contain a few telling statements.

First, neither subtitle seems more weighted than the other. Neither uses the words creator or co-creator.The subtitle for Kane’s is “Batman Takes Wing.” The Finger subtitle is “The Darknight Detective Emerges.” (Perhaps that was a reference to the fact that it was Finger who made Batman a detective, but the text does not elaborate on it.)

Second, Finger’s profile also doesn’t credit him explicitly as co-creator.

But neither does Kane’s.

Third, Kane says, I drew a character with bird wings and called him Bird Man, but that wasn't quite right. So I changed the wings, made them batlike, and called him Batman." This contradicts what he would write four years later in his autobiography Batman and Me. There, he describes this as a decision he and Finger made collaboratively—whereas Finger (in The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1) says ditching the wings was his idea without co-crediting Kane.

Yet take another look at the statement quoted above. I think it's an example of Kane employing some dodgy wordplay, as he did at other times as well. Perhaps it was Kane who changed bird to bat wings, since both he and Finger stated elsewhere that the first design Kane showed Finger did depict a character wearing unwieldy stiff bat wings attached to his arms.

But Batman doesn’t have wings.

In other words, Kane conveniently left out the next step, which was the suggestion (by Finger) to convert the bat wings to a scalloped

(To Kane’s credit, here he calls Finger the “unsung hero of Batman,” which he would repeat in Batman and Me. Related: Kane’s profile manages to avoid mentioning Finger; Finger’s does mention Kane. )

Finger’s bio at the end of the profile (shouldn’t they just have been combined?) states that he wrote the first stories featuring now-iconic characters including Robin and Catwoman. This also seems like dodgy construction—but dodgy in a good way.

It seems as though DC was using facts to get as close as they could to crediting Finger for co-creating these characters. After all, if one writes the story in which a character is introduced, isn’t that an undeniable claim to co-creation, even if the term “co-creator” is not used?


Richard said...

One tiny quibble: when you say "Kane says this" or "Kane employs dodgy wordplay here" it's worth bearing in mind that this is nothing but corporate promotional material, presumably written by Joey Cavalieri, Thomas Hill, or special projects editor Barry Marx. They may well have culled Kane's words from previous remarks, but even then, the finished bios would have been rewritten and edited to match the official corporate history.

That said, I've always heard that Kane was one of the most brazenly and cheerfully dishonest people in comics history, and it's clear that he employed dodgy wordplay all the time. He told multiple false versions of the Batman story, and I'm not trying to let him off the hook here. I'm just saying, this case in particular can't be counted as a proper quotation.

(I've never known what that book was actually for -- maybe it was originally intended as something to educate Time Warner shareholders about their comics division, and someone decided they could sell it to fans as well? Just a guess.)

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Perhaps, RAB, and interesting thought. I don't know enough about the 1980s corporate side of DC to speculate.

I do know that this language is consistent with other Kane quotations which we can be nearly 100% sure WERE Kane himself, i.e. the scalding 1965 open letter to "Batmania," his autobiography, and even his gravestone. And quotations in other profiles, such as Siegel and Finger, are more or less intact from original sources we can identify.

Joey is still around. We should ask him. :)