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THANK YOU BILL FINGER! Batman’s True Creative Paternity

Written by Lenny Schwartz

Without Bill Finger this Batman Vs. Superman film would never be happening, nor would any of the previous Christian Bale films. Heck, George Clooney never would have donned the cape and cowl and had a lifelong career joke, Michael Keaton would never have fought Jack Nicholson and heck, he wouldn’t even be in Birdman, which won Best Picture last year.

Overdramatic? Maybe. Ostensibly, though, it’s true.

Without Bill Finger and his writing talent, Batman wouldn’t exist as he does today. The Gotham world as we know it wouldn’t exist.

Think about it. A world without Batman. It’s true.

Batman T-shirts, video games, comic books, baseball hats, and films would not exist without the talents and intellect of Bill Finger.

Bob Kane and Bill Finger

In May 1939, Batman made his comic book debut in Detective Comics # 27.

It seemed to be the brainchild of an artist named Bob Kane. Bob sold the story to National Comics (before they became DC Comics).

Little did the public know Bob had a partner – Bill Finger.

Bill was the writer coming up with the stories that made Batman unique. Bill even helped with the actual design of Batman, suggesting a better color pattern(then the red and blue tights Kane designed) a cape and cowl…and pretty much everything that makes Batman, you know, BATMAN.

He also came up with characters such as Commissioner Gordon, suggested the Batmobile and Batcave…heck he even named the guy “Bruce Wayne” and came up with his backstory, amongst hundreds of other compelling plot turns and character details.

Seems easy that Bill was the co-creator of Batman, right?

Well, Bob Kane didn’t think so.

Bill was never credited for writing the stories. There was never a mention of him writing anything.

To the world, there was no Bill Finger. Nobody even cares.

In talking to Arlen Schumer recently (one of the foremost authorities of comic book art, and somebody who was talking about Bill Finger before there was an internet), I heard a story I hadn’t heard previously.

Lenny and Arlen

Schumer said: “I was at a convention in 1973 and Bob Kane was there. Everything out of his mouth was about Bob Kane. How he created Batman singlehandedly. Not a word about Bill Finger. Meanwhile, Bill is suffering behind the scenes and he didn’t even think to help out his old friend. I mean, even if there was nothing he could do with DC Comics, he didn’t even think about trying to help Bill out even in a small way. Not even to give him a couple of bucks.”

I have talked with many people who have said the same about Bob Kane. I even met the man once.

Schumer’s description of him is eerily accurate to my experience. Kane was known never to want to share any credit.

He sure didn’t mind taking it however. He even took from the very beginning, swiping the famous first cover to Detective 27 from an earlier Alex Raymond Flash Gordon drawing. Pretty crazy stuff.

So Bill was forgotten to the world at large. He died in 1974 penniless and alone. Think about that.

The man who helped co-create Batman died poor and had a heartbreaking life. His son, Fred, knew about these injustices. He even went to DC Comics after Bill’s death with his father’s notebooks trying to get credit. This was to no avail. Growing up, Bill’s grandaughter learned not to talk about it unless she wanted to be mocked for lying. It seemed Bill would be forgotten.

Bob Kane’s name was on every piece of Batman merchandise, comic book…you name it. Rewatch the 1989 Batman film and look for Bill’s name. You won’t find it.

There have been some notable fighters for Bill over the years: Jim Steranko, Jerry Bails, Schumer of course, but there was little to no action.

So how did Bill’s name end up on the upcoming Batman v Superman film starring Ben Affleck and that Henry Cavill guy?

I have to credit and single out five people other than the ones I have mentioned. There have been many more. Many, many more. But these are the ones, who talked to me in time for the article. I have a very easy system see? I asked them each of them the same question: I wanted to know how they felt knowing Bill Finger’s name will finally get the widest recognition ever in history on a worldwide platform?

First of is Marc Tyler Nobleman. Marc is Bill’s biggest cheerleader, his guardian angel in this world. Marc talked about Bill on his blog, Noblemania, for years, researching Bill’s life, keeping Bill’s name alive. He also published a children’s book called Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and gives talks about Bill around the world.

Hey, he even does work as a speaker for hire for schools, library, companies, conferences and more!
Email him at [email protected] to get his rates…tell him Lenny sent you!

Marc is a Bill Finger historian.

Lenny and Marc

He tracked down everything he could about Bill. He even tracked down Athena Finger, Bill’s granddaughter and, with her help, pushed to get Bill the credit he deserved.

When I asked Marc recently his reaction to Bill getting credit finally (and in such a wide fashion) Marc gave me this story: “I have the privilege of regularly speaking in schools. The last few months, a question that students commonly ask is ‘Are you looking forward to Batman Vs. Superman?’

I say ‘Yes…but not for the obvious reason.’ Bill’s name in the credits of a Batman film is a pop culture milestone-the first credit change in superhero history-and something the industry dismissed as ‘never happening’ only a year ago. Even before I’ve seen the film, I know the winner is (spoiler alert)…Batman fans.”

Dr. Langley

I spoke next to Dr. Travis Langley, a superherologist and famous for his books Batman and Psychology, The Walking Dead Psychology, Star Wars Psychology, and Game of Thrones Psychology amongst many others.

Dr. Langley has also been a big supporter of Bill Finger for a very long time.

When I spoke to Travis and asked him how he felt knowing that Bill’s name will be on the screen finally getting credit, he had this to say: “After investing so much time and effort as one of the many people fighting to make that credit become a reality, I still find it amazing that it’s really happening.”

I also had the pleasure of speaking with my old friend Roberto Williams, one of the nicest human beings I have ever come across. Roberto is the writer/director/producer of the play, Fathers of The Dark Knight.

It is an incredible achievement. The play shows the creation of Batman with the creators, while alongside it, classic iconic Batman characters come to life next to them. Bill Finger is one of the characters, and it is the first time Bill Finger has appeared onstage. Roberto’s show was performed at Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, New York, the same high school that Bill Finger and Bob Kane attended together. Roberto is one of the most energetic people you will ever come across, so when I asked him his thoughts about Bill finally getting credit onscreen, and this historic occasion…he wrote back to me enough to fill ten articles.

Roberto and Lenny

I love that enthusiasm. I only feel bad I had to compress it down. Roberto reflected on recent events saying: “We saw a MAJOR victory for the crusade for Bill when he was officially named as the co-creator of The Batman by DC Comics and Warner Communications, to be credited on all future works featuring the character.”

Williams also went on to say about the Dawn of Justice film: “I cannot think of a more fitting project for Bill to finally get prominent public credit as Batman’s co-creator than this one.”

Roberto also had the pleasure of hosting Athena for dinner a few nights before the New York premiere of the film and Williams, who became friends with Athena, said she looked like she “had an extra radiance about her…an even greater amount of cheer than usual.”

And what of Athena Finger?

Well, in a sense, this is the moment she has been waiting for her entire life.

Lenny and Athena

She was told for years this would never happen. Heck, before Nobleman came along she stopped talking about it.

Who can blame her? She was called a liar for many years. She only told people close to her.

Then, when Nobleman wrote his book, Athena finally was proven right. It sounds almost like a superhero origin story doesn’t it?

And maybe it is. When I talked to Athena the morning after the premiere, she told me exactly how she felt when she saw Bill Finger’s name on the screen: “It was awesome! I clapped and cheered.”

She wore “Thank you Bill Finger” buttons that Michael Uslan gave out. She also added “I was fully entertained by Batman vs. Superman.”

The last person I spoke to was Batman Vs. Superman executive producer(and pretty much the executive producer on every Batman film and cartoon) Michael Uslan. Michael has always been vocal about his support for Bill and the Finger family. (He even gave me a picture of the buttons he had made up for the premiere! I geeked out) When I asked Michael his feelings on Bill finally getting credit, he was elated. “As you may know, I met Finger twice when I was a kid, and those are amazing memories for me. I want to thank and compliment the wonderful folks at DC Comics and Warner Brothers who finally made this possible…as well as the dozen or so people who have been working so diligently fo so many, many years behind the scenes to make this happen. For Bill, at least, this is his Dawn of Justice.”

Uslan brings up a good point. It is Bill’s time to see justice. It is also time for Athena to get the justice she deserves. I know everyone is going to the movie to see Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill beat the hell out of each other and see the formation of the Justice League. I know they will clap and cheer at these things.

Maybe instead we should all do what Athena did. When we see Bill Finger’s name in the credits, let’s use our applause for him.

It makes sense to me. Because without Bill Finger? This Batman vs Superman film would not be happening at all. Without Bill Finger, there would be no Batman as we know him. That deserves applause.

Applause from all of us who have ever seen a Batman movie, a Batman cartoon, watched the 1966 TV show, or read a Batman comic.

That means all of us. That means you.

Bill created memories for every single person reading this and more. He made us all dream. He made us all superheroes.

So again, let’s applaud for Bill. He’s certainly earned it.

And as I’m sure Batman himself would say, it’s the right thing to do.

Lenny Schwartz is the writer of the play Co-Creator: The Man Behind The Bat about the life of Bill Finger. He is a frequent writer on Forces Of Geek and is one of the biggest geeks he knows. 
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