What Were They Thinking?: Finger gets Kane’d

When it comes to great comic book characters, their creation is invariably a team effort. None of Stan Lee's Marvellous menagerie would be as popular as they are today without the contributions of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko and there would be no Superman without both Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. But why exactly are we bringing the creation of classic characters up on What Were They Thinking?, the place where we look at all of the stupidest and most ill-advised things in comic book history. Well, there is one comic book character with a dark side to their creation and it is less ill-adivsed and stupid as it is confusing and downright deceitful in places. I am, of course, talking about na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na this guy:

So, who created Batman. Well, according to every credit given by DC since, well, ever, it is Bob Kane and Bob Kane alone.

Bob Kane was the artist on the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics no.27 and you will only find his name on the created by tag of any Batman product, be it comics, movies, tv shows or video games. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Because it leaves out this guy:

You see, the thing about giving sole credit to Bob Kane for the creation of Batman is that, whilst yes he did come up with the original idea for Batman, his Batman was a very different Batman to the one we know and love today. In fact it was Bill Finger (pictured above) who came up with most of what we know about Batman. He came up with the costume (the cowl and black on grey colour scheme), he gave the character the name Bruce Wayne and changed the character from an out and out superhero to a scientific detective. If Bill Finger hadn't been involved in the creation of the Bat, he would have ended up looking like this:

And I think we all have to agree that the design they went with is a vast improvement.

So, appart from basically giving us the iconic appearance and character of Batman, what else did Bill Finger do? Well, he also solely created or co-created a number of key aspects of the Batman mythos, including numerous cruical character (such as Jim Gordon, Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin, Clayface, The Riddler (who Bob Kane had no hand in creating as Finger created him with Dick Sprang) Calander Man (another character Finger created without any input from Kane) and Hugo Strange), the Bat-cave and Bat-Mobile, he even came up with the name Gotham City.  And Finger is almost solely responsible for Dick Greyson, coming up with the idea of Batman having a sidekick and came up with the backstory, whilst Jerry Robinson came up with the design and name. Jerry Robinson is also worth mentioning here as another person who was screwed by Kane, seen as Robinson has a very good claim to being the person who created The Joker, though Finger did have a hand in making that character into the icon he is today. Oh, and it also behoves me to mention the fact that Bill Finger also co-created The Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and is commemorated as such by having the second tier Lantern villain Black Hand kinda named after him (Bill Finger/ William Hand) and he also created Lana Lang whilst working on Superboy. Plus, of course, there is the fact that Finger wrote most of the early Batman stories, including those that introduced the above mentioned characters.

So, if all of that is true, and as Bob Kane would admit in 1989 it is, why was Kane solely credited as the creator of the Dark Knight and all that comes with it? Well, he signed away the rights to use Batman to the company that would later become Detective Comics Comics Inc. in exchange for (amongst other things) a sole mandatory byline on all Batman comics and adaptations thereof (which would go on to include every medium in pop culture), as well as a share in any profits made by the character. There's no clear explaination as to why Kane froze his partner out like that, but there's no doubt that their fortunes reflected the agreement, with Finger going unrecognised until after his death in 1974, whilst Kane would use his fame as the "creator of Batman" to become a minor celebrity, move to Hollywood and open his own art gallery.

It is also worth noting that DC are at fault here as well. Around the time of the Batman contract, there were rumors going around the company that Finger was a slow paced writer (or to use the term they used, a "tardy writer") and that he asked for his pay in advance of starting his work (which is unusual even in today's industry). The Batman editor of the time, Whitney Ellesworth, even suggested Kane replace him as writer on the series. However, there is little evidence as to who started these rumors and may have just been an excuse to get Finger off of the Batman series, especially considering testimony from some staff at the company after that period. But considering that Finger would contribute to over 600 DC comics during his time there and also work for Timely Comics (later Marvel) during this period, it is harder to call him a "tardy writer" in hindsight.

To sum up. Bill Finger created or co-created much of the Batman mythos and character, but recieved no credit during his life time due to a contract made between the publisher and his creative partner that froze him out. He would only be acknowledged by his partner some 15 years after his death. Fortunately, the industry would soon start to recognise Finger's contributions to the medium, with him reciving posthumous inductions into both the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame and the Will Eisner Hall Of Fame and Jerry Robinson would help Comic-Con International set up the Bill Finger Award For Excellence in Comic Book Writing, which was named in his honour. DC even honoured him during their 50th Anniversary celebrations by naming him one of the 50 People Who Made DC Great. So, with all that in mind, when do you guys think DC finally gave Bill a byline on a Batman comic? 1989, when Bob Kane admitted Bill Finger did have a role in creating Batman? What about in 1998 after Bob Kane died? Nope. They finally gave him credit in 2015, 41 years after Finger's death and a whopping 76 years after Batman was created. Yup, that's right. It took DC three quarters of a century to get round to giving a creator the credit he deserved and even then it was a fairly patronising credit of "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger". With, not and, with. And they had the gaul to make a big deal out of giving Finger full credit on Batman vs. Superman.

Well, at least there's one positive. If it were the other way round, the title for this post would be a lot less PG.

And with that

JR out.


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2 Responses to What Were They Thinking?: Finger gets Kane’d

  1. Hillbilly says:

    This is a problem in a lot of characters. Finger at the time worked under Kane, and in his studio, like most fee creators, didn’t get credit for creation, but whoever they worked for. It is a shame really, but companies are very protective, because they don’t want to lose a dollar. It is even worse now, and we see fewer great new characters, because creators don’t want the give them away. It is one of the things I kinda miss from the old independent comics, where creators who were not famous could get stories and creations published, and keep their rights, and not lose their creations. But marvel/dc destroyed that, and keep anything like that from starting back up.

    I think the only reason Kane admitted to Finger giving us so much cannon, is because around this time was when the young guns from marvel/dc were up in arms over creation rights. And we got Image comics from it. It was the chic thing to do, and because so many fans were digging up the real story already.

  2. Herr D says:

    I could use someone Fingering a fortune for me and my family. Of course, I’m more of a creator than a name, myself. I’m more likely to be the Finger given to someone than to get the Finger mys–

    . . . I get now what you meant about the post becoming less PG. Yikes.