Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Significance of Bill Finger’s name on new “Detective Comics” #27 cover

Last week, news broke that, for the first time in Batman’s 75-year history, the name of his uncredited co-creator, Bill Finger, would appear on a Batman comic book cover, the upcoming free anniversary tribute issue of Detective Comics #27.

I was so excited that I posted it immediately and without comment.

But what does it really mean? Should we be excited? 


But with realistic expectations.

Though this is indeed the first time that Bill's name has been on the cover of a comic, it is far from the first time DC Comics has credited him as writer for his stories, so it is a logical extension of what they have already done. Modern management is enlightened but also bound by old contracts. This is a way for them to demonstrate the former while honoring the latter.

But what of that fabled (infabled?) contract between DC and Bob Kane? Neither DC nor the Kane estate have made it public, which is no surprise. So while we can be nearly certain there is a contract (after all, it was a business deal),
what if it does not contain a “sole creator” stipulation? Given Bob’s hubris and greediness, I am quite sure he would’ve asked for it, and since this was before creators of major superheroes were suing comics companies, I am inclined to believe that DC would have included it...but what if, for any number of reasons, they said no?

Maybe all those years, Bob was also lying about that...

DC would have no incentive to disabuse the public of the notion that such an ironclad contract existed. The less they reveal, the harder it is for anyone to raise disputes.

As was widely reported recently, Bill’s lone grandchild Athena Finger (whom I discovered in 2007 during my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman) issued a statement indicating that the Finger family is “not okay” with DC Comics…meaning not okay with DC not giving Bill co-creator credit on all Batman stories.

Of course I agree with that.

Some fans speculate that this inclusion of Bill’s name on the cover is a Bat-signal of a different kind: a first step to bigger, imminent change.

Of course I hope so.

But such a move makes no guarantees. Change won’t come simply because the management, as aforementioned, is enlightened. In the comics, Batman has big bank…and in real life, too. He’s a batzillion-dollar property. No matter how decision-makers at DC feel personally, nothing about something so valuable will budge without diplomacy. Or failing that, a fight.

Good thing no one is better at fighting than Batman. I just wish Bob Kane was still here to step outside...

2/22/22 addendum: Several years after Bill the Boy Wonder was published, I realized I could not trace the original source for the oft-cited allegation that Bob Kane’s contract included that he and he alone be credited as the creator of Batman. (Sure sounds like him, but still need proof.) Today I stumbled upon a possible answer that I first saw years ago, but did not reflect on deeply at the time. 

In a 1966 issue of fan publication Batmania that covered a comic convention called Con-Cave that was held that summer, Tom Fagan paraphrased no less an authority than legendary editor Julius Schwartz (who appeared on a panel) as saying that Bob’s contract with National (now DC Comics) might stipulate that Bob’s name appear on Batman stories because Bob was the originator. (Note that Fagan did not quote Schwartz as saying Bob’s name alone must appear, but I infer that is what Schwartz meant even if he didn’t explicitly say it or if Fagan didn’t accurately quote it.) Schwartz said that checking the contract could confirm or deny this—but obviously that didn’t happen at the con (if ever, as far as the fans have heard). 

I can’t imagine that this topic would have come up publicly much before this incident; the first “official” con (i.e. the first con where pros participated) was only the year before. But again, I can’t say with certainty that this is where the infamous claim took root…or if it’s true.


Bob Rivard said...

I just don't see this as being significant. It's no different than common story credits, just on the outside. Kane and Finger are listed here with 5 other people and certainly not marquee names. If Kane and Finger were together and offset somehow, I'd read it as trying to group Finger along with Kane as creators. As it is, it's just a credits list that doesn't make Finger significantly different than Chip Kidd.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I agree, Bob, but it's more than we've gotten in 75 years, which will inspire another rallying cry for the larger goal.

"T.V. Barnum" said...

Now what about the reprint money DC payed out for years to someone WAS NOT a legal heir of Bill's son after he died? A lot of Bill's work was reprinted in Archive editions and other TPB over those years

Did DC ever make good on that mistake of not doing their due diligence to Athena?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

T.V. Barnum - good memory! Yes, from 1992-2007, the Finger royalty money DC sent (without being bound by a contract) went to non-family. I can't speak to the legality of it other than to say that it will hopefully be addressed as part of larger discussions.