Sunday, July 7, 2013

Batman's (Not So) Secret Co-Creator

Earlier today, I was catching up on some news online and I spotted this headline:

Author battles to unmask Batman's secret co-creator

I like to think I'm better than this but the fan-boy part of my brain thought, "Well, it's not such a 'secret'; everyone knows it's Bill Finger, duh!"

Except everyone does not in fact know this.

Think about it. If all you know about Batman is from going to see The Dark Knight Rises or watching reruns of the Batman TV show from the 1960s or maybe even reading the occasional trade collection or original graphic novel, there it is, every time, all the time:

Batman, Created by Bob Kane.

Yes, anyone with an understanding of comic book history knows that Bob Kane not only did not create Batman on his own but that most of the heavy creative lifting in the creation of Batman was done by another man, Bill Finger

But just because it is known to us hard core comic book fans also means it's only known by a small fraction of all the people who know who Batman is. I guess this comes under the heading of what is sometimes called "an open secret", things that a select group knows but isn't common knowledge. 

Go here for the article itself. It's short but gets to the point.  Writer Marc Tyler Nobleman along with artist Ty Templeton have put together a book (Bill, the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator Of Batman) to bring to light the involvement of Bill Finger in the creation of Batman and how he deserves acknowledgement for that.

Now the question may arise: why Bill Finger? Lots of creative people have received input from others and yet are listed as the sole creator.  And there is a point to that; the creative process is to some small or large extent collaborative. Even a novelist sitting alone in his or her writing room crafting a heartfelt, deeply moving masterpiece will eventually find an editor who may have an opinion or two about how to make it better. And the writer may well agree that yes, it does make the book better.  Any work of art created is going to be run by someone or several someones before it is viewed or read or consumed by the public and that input will be incorporated into the finished product. But ultimately, the vision began with one person and the final product reflects that vision and most of the work done by that person.

But here is where the story of Batman's creation differs from that scenario.  Bob Kane, charged with creating a character to star in Detective Comics on par with Superman in Action Comics, came up with this*:

A name and a design.

And this is what Bob Kane took to Bill Finger and asked for Bill's input.

*The accompanying illustration is by Ty Templeton from the book, "Bill, The Boy Wonder".

By the time Bill was done, this is what appears on the cover of Detective Comics#27.

So right off the bat (er, pun not intended; but pretty good, huh?), we see a significant change in the design Bob Kane brought to Bill Finger. The use of a full face mask, a cape instead of bat wings, a grey and black color scheme instead of red and black: these are all design elements that one would expect the artist at least to have a developed but all these changes to the look of the character all came from Bill Finger.

And there were the non-artistic elements of Batman's creation: his secret identity as Bruce Wayne, who he was and how he came to dress up as a bat and fight evil, all this came from the mind of Bill Finger. 

Below is the first telling of Batman's origin:

None of the story came from Bob Kane, just the art and even that wasn't always him; he either fell back on swiping from other artists or relied on his inkers to fill in details he couldn't be bothered to do.**

**To be fair, a lot of artists employed studios or at least a group of assistants to keep up with the demands for pages from the publishers. Superman co-creator Joe Shuster had a studio as did Will Eisner and other great comic book artists.  Sometimes the main artist's involvement in work produced by his studio could range from minimal to not at all. But the use of a studio was accepted practice and in fact showed the artist had made it to the big time. But Bob Kane was extremely protective of the Bob Kane brand and actively discouraged any open discussion or acknowledgement that anyone other than Bob Kane was drawing the Batman strip. This continued for years long after the last time Bob Kane ever put a pencil to a single panel of art.

For the creation of Batman, Bob Kane provided a name; Bill Finger provided everything else.

So I hope this book by writer Marc Tyler Nobleman and artist Ty Templeton gets the mainstream attention this story deserves. Everything we know and understand about Batman started from the mind of Bill Finger.  As Nobleman himself said, "Batman is by some counts the most lucrative superhero in history. For the man who co-created him to be a ghost is not fair."

Dave-El can also be found on Twitter at where you can tell which posts are ripped off (they're funny) or they are truly mine (they're not). 

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