Friday, May 18, 2012

Who created the creators?

On 10/28/11, Alvin Schwartz, Golden Age Superman and Batman writer and friend of Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, passed away at 94.

Less than a year earlier, Alter Ego (#98, 12/10) ran an interview with Alvin that included some gems.

Schwartz said that Bob Kane, artist given sole official credit for Batman, flat-out “couldn’t draw.” (Others have said as much, but none with Alvin’s endearing bluntness.)

I already touched on another gem from this interview, but it bears repeating, this time with a pinch of set-up:

We’ve heard opinions like “Without Bill Finger, there wouldn’t have been any Batman” and, regrettably, “Without Bob Kane, there wouldn’t have been any Bill Finger.” But here’s a gutsy new take, courtesy of Schwartz:
“Without Bill Finger, there wouldn’t have been any Bob Kane.”

I interviewed Alvin several times for my Finger book, and I could be intimidated by his deepitude. He routinely made keen observations that could turn party lines inside out.

Also in the Alter Ego interview, Schwartz said “Bill was never mean about Bob.” Sadly, the reverse was not true.

In a now-infamous 9/14/65 letter to Biljo White, editor of the fanzine Batmania, Bob vehemently tried to deny Bill’s then-recent “confession” that he, Bill, had a significant role in the creation of Batman:

“I challenge Bill to repeat those statements in front of me. … The truth is that Bill Finger is taking credit for much more than he deserves, and I refute much of his statements…”

Bob then tussles with his conscience, but keeps it deliberately fuzzy: “…in all fairness to Bill, I will admit he was influential in aiding me in shaping up the strip, and there are certain characters Bill created, aside from my main characters and many other characters that I created, including the Batmobile. It’s been 25 years now, and truthfully, time sometimes blurs the memory and it is difficult to separate, at times, the myth from the truth, so that I cannot blame Bill too much if at times his memory ‘clouds.’”

But you should have blamed yourself.

Then Bob goes back for another potshot: “Your article [about Bill’s contribution to Batman] is completely misleading, loaded with untruths fed to you by Finger’s hallucinations of grandeur.”

Finally, when asked who came up with the initial idea for Batman, Schwartz takes a stance more radical than most: “I can tell you this: it was Bill. Bob never had any ideas. He really was a man with very little taste…”

Years after Bill died in 1974, his old friend Alvin (like Jerry Robinson) evolved into one of Bill’s most fervent public advocates. Alvin was especially important because he could speak out on Bill’s behalf from personal experience.

Maybe now Bill has been able to thank Alvin for that.

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