Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: Bob Kane and the Walk of Shame?

Recently, comic book readers in general and Batman fans in particular were delighted to see an overdue credit given on a forthcoming Batman comic, a free book to be given away in July as part of the 75th Anniversary celebration of Batman's first appearance. This particular credit on the cover of the book belongs to Bill Finger. It may well be the first time Finger has been credited on the cover of a Batman comic. 

Many in the know about this sort of thing recognize Bill Finger as the true creative force behind the creation of Batman. Yet his name is notable by its absence as a creator. On every comic book, movie, TV show and more, there is but one name giving sole credit as the creator of Batman, Bob Kane.  

Perhaps this would be less of a pain in the backside if Bob Kane had actually contributed something we recognize as Batman, had done his share of the heavy lifting and was gracious with his praise of others who helped bring Batman to life. But Bob Kane was extremely protective of the Bob Kane brand. God forbid someone thinking anyone other than Bob Kane was creating all those stories. Artists like Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff labored in obscurity under the Bob Kane brand. And most egregious of all was how Bill Finger got screwed in the deal. 

Here's what Bob Kane created that actually wound up in the Batman comic. The name "Batman". That's it. The design Kane created (and who knows where he swiped THAT from) was a red suited hero with bat-wings and a domino mask. Bob approached Bill Finger to help flesh out this character. Not only did Finger provide the details of Batman's story, he ultimately did the design work of an artist, suggesting the bat wings be swapped out for a black cape giving the illusion of a bat's outline, recommending the color scheme move from red to a mixture of blue and grey and getting rid of the domino mask in favor of the now famous cowl.  

Then Bob Kane took all these ideas, brought them back to the editor and said, "Hey, look at what I did!" And the legend of "Batman created by Bob Kane" began.  

There has been little animosity towards DC over this. Yeah, it sucks that every Batman comic has to say "created by Bob Kane" when we know almost all of the creator work was done by Bill Finger. But fans recognize there are legal complications that may prevent DC from raising a stink over this. But they do what they can to recognize Bill. The name on the cover of the free book, that's a nice touch. Not much but it's a start. 

And then this announcement is made: Bob Kane is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 


Suddenly, the wound is laid bare again as various media outlets report that "Bob Kane, the creator of Batman" would be receiving this honor in 2015. By accounts, "the 
nomination for Bob Kane to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was initiated by Kane's widow, Elizabeth Kane, with Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment helping in the process."

How did DC handle the announcement of this news? This is from DC's webpage:  

Fire up the Bat Signal – a celebration is in order! This morning, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that Batman creator Bob Kane has been selected as a 2015 Walk of Fame honoree. Kane will be joined by fellow 2015 honorees that include director Peter Jackson, television producer James L. Brooks, and actors Will Ferrell, Daniel Radcliffe and Chris O’Donnell, who of course played Robin in two Batman films in the 1990s.

Since his first appearance in the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics #27 – conceived of and drawn by a 22-year-old Kane with his frequent collaborator, Bill Finger, scripting the story – Kane’s Batman has gone on to become the star of comic books, Saturday afternoon cartoons, newspaper comic strips, radio shows, a live-action TV series, animated films, video games and several of the largest-grossing theatrical releases of all time. In short, Kane’s Batman is the most popular single superhero ever created.

Allow me to parse this part of the above statement: "conceived of and drawn by a 22-year-old Kane with his frequent collaborator, Bill Finger, scripting the story". 

1)  Of course Bill Finger was no mere "collaborator" but this is still a fairly significant statement. A lot of the "Batman created by Bob Kane" legend that Kane himself sought to foster was that the concept of Batman was something burst fully formed from his creative genius. Or something. The very idea that someone else "helped" Kane at all undermines that image. 

2) The lock on "Batman created by Bob Kane" hinges on the deals Bob made with DC both at the beginning of Batman and later when their deal was renegotiated. The basis of the re-negotiation was Kane's assertion that he had been underaged when he signed the first deal and DC would be in a whole lot of trouble if that got out. Of course the idea that Kane was "underaged" when he first created Batman was laughable but one of those things that could not be proven or denied, not without a lot of trouble. Still, DC's statement is that Bob Kane was "22 years old" when Batman was "conceived of and drawn". Could the age thing be a loophole for DC to revisit their arrangement, that the new contract was made under a false assertion? 

3) And what about the wording "conceived of and drawn by" as opposed to "created by"Whatever the faults of Bob Kane, he did conceive of a super hero named "Batman" and however poorly he did it, he did "draw" that first story." This would still secure Bob Kane's place in the creation of Batman while perhaps allowing a more formal acknowledgement of Bill Finger's role. 

This is, to be honest, idle speculation. The first part of DC's statement does include the phrase "Batman creator Bob Kane".  Then again, that may well be DC just repeating the wording of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce press release.  

Marc Tyler Nobleman, writer of "Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman," (Great book, by the way!) was not unexpectedly disappointed by this news, citing another example of "Kane receiving recognition he does not deserve."  

But maybe, just maybe, this is finally THE moment to make the case for Bill Finger to a large audience. With the attention given to Bob Kane getting this star in Hollywood, this could be the forum to bring Bill's case to a lot more people. And then, possibly, real change can be affected and Bill can get the credit he deserves. 

Likely? Sadly, no. But possible? Oh, all things are possible, especially if the comic book community dares to dream and ACT to make those dreams a reality and get Bill Finger the recognition, the justice that he has long deserved. 

Be good to one another. 


I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You


Batman at the Bat-Diner! A classic page from Kyle Baker. And a link to another of Batman's dining experiences as written by moi! 

bROkEN nEWs!

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