Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Boys of Steal

Not a typo, unfortunately.

The secret origins of both Superman and Batman revolve around theft. While this crime connection may seem like a cosmic joke given superheroes’ raison d’ĂȘtre, in real life, no one laughed about it.

Some fans still rail against the company now known as DC Comics for neglecting Boys of Steel Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for decades. Some fans also rail against DC for not giving Bill Finger equal credit for Batman alongside Bob Kane. Siegel and Shuster versus DC is David versus Goliath. Kane versus Finger is Cain versus Abel.

Of course, neither story is that simple and both have been debated extensively across the years and the web, including elsewhere on this blog.

The purpose of this post is to make a few brief and sometimes quirky comparisons of the men, not the melodrama.

Siegel and Shuster were both shy, though Siegel would go gregarious—sometimes to the annoyance of others—when his passion (namely science fiction) came up in conversation. Finger was not shy but has been described as reserved. He was a bright man who would’ve had an informed opinion about a range of topics, yet he was not the liveliest bat in the belfry. He may have been an example of a person who speaks less in groups so that when he
does open his mouth, people listen.

Siegel and Shuster had loving relationships with their parents, though not particularly intimate, partly due to the culture of the era; hence neither mentioned his parents in any interviews I’ve seen. Finger dislike and possibly resented his parents and became estranged from them; I don’t know exactly when but the latest it would’ve been was soon after Batman debuted. Kane’s father was instrumental in Kane securing legal advice that made him rich.

Prior to marriage, Finger and Kane were both ladies’ men, though their styles differed. Kane showed off as a wooing strategy whereas Finger would’ve downplayed his career (which, to some of the time, was not impressive anyway). His approach would’ve been more rakish and cerebral. Even shy Shuster blossomed and had an affinity for tall, showgirl-type women.

Siegel and Finger were both married twice. Both have been described as flawed fathers (Siegel with respect to his first child, Michael, from his first marriage). Shuster married once late in life, and it lasted briefly.

Shuster and Finger were both interested in physical fitness as young men; Shuster took to lifting weights and Finger was an avid golfer. Later in life, Finger also began working out at a gym.

Siegel, Shuster, and Kane all enjoyed minor celebrity—Siegel and Shuster at the dawn of Superman (they even garnered a
swank spread in The Saturday Evening Post) and Kane most prominently in the 1960s and again around the time the first Tim Burton Batman movie came out (1989).

All four were Jewish yet none mentioned Judaism in any interviews I’ve seen.

And all four were, in their own ways, thieves.

In creating Superman, Siegel and Shuster mined elements from books (including, some argue,
Gladiator by Philip Wylie and the Bible itself), pulps, strips, and movies (though I believe it was often done subconsciously, and besides, all characters are variations of ones that have come before). Finger admitted to cribbing from the Shadow, the Phantom, and other characters when building Batman, yet he combined these elements with some of his own design in such a way that the result seemed startlingly fresh. And Kane for all intents stole Batman from Finger.

This leads to perhaps the most frustrating difference between the Superman and Batman men: Siegel and Shuster fought back. Finger did not—or if he did, it was not documented. Growing up, Siegel and Shuster were not fighters. As with the secret origins of many heroes, perhaps most notably Batman, it was a gross injustice that brought out the warrior in them. Some underestimate the strength it took for Siegel and Shuster to do all they did—over the course of 30 years—to reclaim some stake in Superman.

Hence Siegel and Shuster, the underdogs, are now forever linked to their creation, the ultimate overachiever. Their names are on every Superman story in every medium
and they lived to see it. Whereas Finger died in 1974 with no official connection to Batman, as it still stands today.

He was inspired by the Shadow and the Phantom, and then he became them.


"T.V. Barnum" said...

you can also look at the situation this way ...

Jerry and Joe were two midwestern boys who didn't know how to "play the system" and were taken advantage off by DC.

Bob was a street-smart kid from NYC and knew how to play the system - he knew how to manipulate Bill and how to get what he wanted from DC.

Bill Finger was a smart guy,and still the likes of Bob Kane got the best of him. Jerry and Joe were bright but not "worldly".

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I like all of your additions, T.V.

msven said...

Well, I see your point, but I think there is a big flaw uncharacteristic of your excellent research.

Jerry and Joe had bylines on their work from the beginning and Bill Finger did not. The editor Vince Sullivan was asked by Rich Morrissey many years ago why Bill Finger was not given a byline on that first Batman story in Detective Comics #27. His answer was that he did not know Bill Finger existed, or he would have given him credit. Vince knew that Bob was getting help writing the scripts, but he did not know who it was. When the character took off, the work of the fully flushed out scripts were done by Gardner Fox. (This was also research done by Rich Morrissey. I was shocked to learn that the Meddling Monk stories were not by Finger when Rich told me in the 1990s. And Fox even kept records of his stories!)

When DC's editorial finally learned of who Bill was, then they hired him directly. (Vince was gone at this point.)

That is how Bill got lured down to All-American for the creation of Green Lantern. He was promised a byline, something he was denied by both Bob and DC.

Marc Svensson 11/06/2010

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Great to hear from you! But I, too, say Finger never received credit (of course - it's the focus of my book), so I don't see the flaw in my research here?