Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Wikipedia entry for "Bill Finger"…in 2006

In 2006, I began researching for what would become Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. I kept a running Word document of notes which eventually exceeded 700 pages. Periodically, I would copy the changing Wikipedia entry for "Bill Finger" and paste into those notes. Today it is a far cry from then.

Is Throwback Thursday still a thing? In any case, here is the (uncorrected/unedited) version of Bill's entry from 8/22/06 (which I saved because it included a new detail about how Bill was credited for Green Lantern):

Bill Finger (February 8, 1914 - January 18, 1974) was an American writer who is best remembered (though not officially credited) as the co-creator of the character Batman with Bob Kane as well as the co-architect of the series' development.

Batman

Finger joined Kane's makeshift studio in 1938. A year later, the success of Superman in Action Comics prompted editors at the comic book division of National Publications (later DC Comics) to request more superheroes for their titles. While Bob Kane is credited as the creator of Batman, controversy was stirred by the book "Men of Tomorrow", which claimed that Kane had created a "Birdman" while Finger suggested the name "Bat-Man".

Finger himself admitted on more than one occasion that Kane did indeed create a version of the character before Finger got involved with the project. Kane was inspired by the flying machine of Leonardo Da Vinci, a movie he had seen called "The Bat" and of course, Bela Lugosi's 1931 film Dracula which featured a "man-bat" in its opening credits. However, Finger did suggest a different costume direction for "The Bat-Man."

In an interview for Jim Steranko's "History of the Comics: Vol. One" Finger described in detail, the extent of his suggestions about the costume. He felt the original character (The Bat-Man) looked too much like Superman with a mask and bat-wings. He recommended replacing the Da Vinci-inspired wings for a cape, giving him gloves, and changing the character's bodysuit from red to grey. Perhaps most importantly, Finger found a book with a picture of a bat in it and encouraged Kane to replace the character's domino mask with a more bat-like hooded cowl, complete with "ears" which would make the character distinguishable even in silhouette. It's generally agreed that Finger encouraged Kane to leave out the character's eyes when he wore the mask. Although Kane would accept many of these suggestions, one cannot escape the direct influence of Lee Falk's character The Phantom, as Kane admitted that he studied newspaper strips on a routine basis.

Finger wrote the first Batman script, while Kane provided art. Because Kane had already submitted the proposal for a Batman character to his editors at DC Comics, Kane was the only person given official credit at the time for the creation of Batman. This was not unusual in the comic books of that time, where the artist would often sign his name to the first page of the story and the script would be uncredited, but it was in contrast to other features on which Finger worked where he was identified as scripter, such as Wildcat and Green Lantern, and in contrast to the credits on features by the same publisher such as Superman, where writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster both received credit during the time they were affiliated with the publisher, even on stories ghosted for them by other writers and artists.

According to Wizard Magazine, Bob Kane had Finger enter a work for hire contract. It is this contract that provided National and DC their strongest defense against later claims by Finger.

Batman was a success, and soon after, National suggested that character receive a youthful sidekick who the readers could use as an audience surrogate. Kane initially suggested an impish character like Puck, while Finger suggested a more down-to-earth character. The name Robin was suggested by Jerry Robinson who had arrived at the studio while Kane and Finger were kicking names around. Finger went on to write many of the early Batman stories, including making major contributions to the character of The Joker, as well as other major Batman villains.

Finger was a very meticulous writer and as such, a slow one, leading one editor to "suggest" that Kane replace him with someone else. During Finger's absence, Gardner Fox contributed scripts that introduced Batman's early "Bat-" arsenal (the utility belt, the Bat-Gyro/plane and the Batarang). Upon his return, Finger created or co-created items such as the Batmobile and Batcave, and is credited with providing a name for Gotham City. Among the things that made his stories particularly distinctive was a use of giant-sized props -- enlarged pennies, sewing machines, or typewriters.

Kane and Finger brought together such diverse influences as pulp magazines, comic strips, film noir and the slapstick comedy of teams like the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, creating a "Cartoon-Noir" that was widely imitated. Eventually, Finger left Kane's studio to work directly for DC Comics where he still supplied scripts for Batman as well as many other characters.

The Green Lantern

In 1940, Finger collaborated with artist Martin Nodell on a new superhero feature in All-American Comics #16 called The Green Lantern. Both writer and artist received a by-line on the strip, with Nodell in the earliest issues using the pseudonym "Matt Dellon". Nodell's name appeared first, before Finger's, on the stories that he drew, although when ghost artists such as Irwin Hasen were used, Bill Finger's name appeared first so that the credits instead read "by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell". While the Green Lantern was retired for a time, eventually returning as a completely different character with the same name, and was never as popular as Batman, the character remains an integral part of the history of DC Comics and has reappeared alongside the more contemporary version of the character recognised as his predecesstor. Today, Finger receives no credit for having co-created Green Lantern, the official position being that Nodell created the character and Finger simply supplied the early scripts.

Film work

As a screenwriter, he wrote or co-wrote the films Death Comes to Planet Aytin, The Green Slime, and Track of the Moon Beast. He also wrote a Clock King episode of the live-action Batman TV series.

Credit

Business-savvy Bob Kane negotiated a contract with National, signing away any ownership that he might have in the character in exchange for, among other compensations, a mandatory byline on all Batman comics. Although Finger did receive credit for other work done for the same publisher in the 1940s (as examples, the first Wildcat story has the by-line "by Irwin Hasen and Bill Finger" - Sensation Comics no. 1, July 1942 - and the first Green Lantern story said that it was "by Mart Dellon and Bill Finger" - All-American Comics no. 16, July, 1942) Finger began to receive limited acknowledgement for his work on Batman in the pages of the comic book only in the 1960s, as a script-writer (for example, "Letters to the Batcave", Batman no. 169, Feb. 1965, where editor Julius Schwartz names him as the creator of The Riddler, one of Batman's recurring villains). Finger's working arrangement, by comparison to Kane's, left him only with the fees he earned for the scripts that he continued to write, and no credit on the Batman stories that he wrote without Kane. Finger, like Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, and many other creators during and after the Golden Age of Comic Books, would resent National for "cheating" him of the money and dignity that he felt that he was owed for his contributions.

Like his contemporaries including Siegel, Otto Binder, and Gardner Fox, Finger wrote a number of uncredited stories for DC. His 1950s work on Batman with artist Dick Sprang was known for putting the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder through elaborate death traps. These would lead some to suggest that without Kane, the series grew increasingly silly as it moved away from its "gothic" roots; others would contend it was actually the editors who changed the tone to soften Batman's image, due to the increasing criticism of comics during the early 1950s. Finger later wrote for television and radio but writing comics was his main profession. By the time he died in 1974, he had almost never been officially credited for his work. He died poor and without any official heirs to continue his fight for credit.

Posthumously, Finger has been named to the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame and Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. He is also the namesake of the Bill Finger Award, founded by Jerry Robinson, an early collaborator with Kane and Finger, who shares credit with them for creating Robin according to many sources. The award honors lifetime achievements by comic book writers. In 2005, the award honored Arnold Drake (creator of the Doom Patrol and fellow uncredited Batman writer), as well as Jerry Siegel who was given a posthumous award.

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