Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Bobstacle and the Billain

Some Batmaniacs believe that only one obstacle stood between Bill Finger and official co-credit for Batman alongside Bob Kane: Bob Kane. The Bobstacle.

Others might argue that there is another villain in the saga of Bill Finger: Bill Finger. The Billain.
The man with so strong an imagination and so weak an ability to lay claim to it.

In this sense, he was his own archenemy.

To be clear, Finger did publicly reveal his role in the creation of Batman, and I believe it took courage for him to do so. Sure enough, when he did, Kane wrote an open letter excoriating Finger for his long-overdue honesty. This was in 1965, at which point Finger had been hiding in the Batcave, so to speak, for more than twenty-five years. (Clarification: Finger's personal network and other comics creators had known of his Batman work, but fans didn't.) From then on, Finger did publicly take credit for his ideas (while also crediting Kane and others for their contributions).

But what Finger did not do is take a stand against Kane. He took credit but did not demand credit.

Or, to be more accurate, if he ever did do this, there's no known record of it.
(I do have one personal letter that Finger wrote—to be fully shared here as we near publicationin which he claims he spoke firmly to Kane to correct errors of memory, but that doesn't mean he actually did it; even if he did, it didn't improve his overall station.)

But it was neither the Billain nor the Bobstacle who first publicly linked Finger to Batman. That distinction goes to editor Julie Schwartz. In the letter column of Detective Comics #327 (5/64), Schwartz wrote that Finger had "written most of the classic Batman adventures for the past two decades."

(Though Finger was profiled in Green Lantern #1 in 1941, and Batman is mentioned, the piece does not link the two.)

Then in Batman #169 (2/65), Schwartz gave Finger creator credit…for the Riddler. A popular and enduring character, yes, but no Batman. While both Schwartz shout-outs were validating, neither went so far as to call Finger the co-creator of the Dark Knight himself.

In a 1972 interview, Finger said, "Bob Kane was using me as a kind of tool all this time, to bolster his own paycheck." I believe it is Finger's most forceful indictment of Kane on record. (And it's not very forceful.)

After Finger's untimely death in 1974, Carmine Infantino, the then-President of what would soon be renamed DC Comics, wrote in a printed tribute: "Few men have contributed as much to comics as Bill Finger."

To which I add no men have contributed as much to Batman as Bill Finger.

It's just such a shame that Bill could never vanquish the Billain.

1/12/18 addendum courtesy of Robert Greenberger: "Julie Schwartz hadn't paid attention to the Bob Kane stuff back in the '40s since he [Julie] started at All-American. So, in 1964, he gets the Bat-titles and he wasn't really interested, so didn't read up on the character or ask management about their arrangement with Bob Kane. He just knew Kane had x number of pages to produce each month. He brought in Joe Giella to harmonize between Shelly Moldoff's ghosted pencils and Carmine Infantino's 'New Look.' As a result, Schwartz had Batman using a gun in [a] story, a slip up he admitted to. Then in the text page [in 1964, see above], he mentioned Bill Finger, not knowing the company's prohibition about crediting Finger with anything related to Batman. He always told us in the office he got into hot water with management over that, but Kane himself didn't notice or at least didn't complain. That had to wait until the Jerry Bails piece [1965]."


Anonymous said...

That's interesting that it was Julie Schwartz who first gave Bill Finger credit for writing Batman and creator credit for the Riddler. But since it was tucked away in letter pages, this credit obviously went largely unnoticed.

In an interview published in Comics Interview #31 (1986), Bill Finger's son Fred Finger said about his father, "My father was a very quiet man, very dreamy, very personal in his life. Not too many close friends -- his writing would preclude a lot of friendships because basically he would lock himself away for days at a time. He had a series of very stormy romances with a couple of women as I was growing up. I always get the feeling in retrospect that my father never grew up.
He was in a fantasy world.
My father most of the time was lying on his back, dreaming."

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

That Fred interview was a great resource in my research.