It was the year 1939 when a man named Bob Kane walked into National Comics (which would become DC ) office and presented a drawing of a man dressed up as a bat. The concept was approved and in just a short while would hit the newsstands as Detective Comics #27. Nobody would have even dreamed it would become the iconic brand it is today. The hero dubbed Batman would grow into what is arguably today the most recognized hero in the world. But there was darkness behind his creation. And it was not that his parents were killed. It was that one of his parents was cheated. Old Bob wasn’t the singular mastermind behind Batman. There was another. An unsung hero. A Tragic hero. Bill Finger.
The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth
Years later, we learned that while it was Bob who came up with the rough concept of Bat–Man, it was far from what was introduced to the world in the first comic. His concept was a man with short blonde hair, a mask over his eyes only, much like Robin. He was dressed in red thighs and had stiff devil-like wings. This didn’t feel right to Bob and so he enlisted the help of his dear old friend Bill. Bill a master storyteller took a single look and almost immediately conceptualized an improved look. He told Bob that the color should be black and grey to embrace this creature of the night. He added the cowl with the pointy ears and soften the wings into a cape with cut edging to still symbolize wings. It radically changed the look, in the best possible manner.
Bob too, was impressed. He then made a gentleman’s agreement with his friend Bill that a percentage of what he earns for this would go to him. A man’s word is everything. And so Bill accepted.
“…had an idea for a character called ‘Batman’, and he’d like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane’s, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with a kind of … reddish tights, I believe, with boots … no gloves, no gauntlets … with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign … BATMAN.” – Bill Finger
As time went on Bill would write the stories as well as orchestrate the artwork to a significant degree. He would take simple rides through the city and make notes to improve the comic. He would come with great additions to complement the new hero. It was Bill who laid out Bruce’s origin in a small two-pager. Both Robin and Joker came from his marvelous mind. These two characters would go on to define Batman for decades. The moniker “The Dark Knight” was coined by Finger as was the Batmobile and Batcave. Other important heroes were also shaped by Bill like Riddler, Penguin and Scarecrow. But there would only ever be one name in the credit line, Bob Kane.
Who was Bill Finger?
Essentially, he was a nobody, a super talented nobody. Born in 1914 as Milton Finger in Colorado to a Jewish family. He died in 1974 and the medical report stated no family and no history. And that was in no small part due to his dear friend Kane. Bill died penny less and alone. Yes, the man who was responsible for bringing us the greatest detective, led the saddest life. He died alone, yes alone. A man who brought so much joy to so many died alone, depressed and was buried in an unmarked grave.
He did marry, twice in fact. First to Portia, with whom he had a son named Frederick. Fred also lived a short life and soon succumbed to the AIDS virus. After his divorce, Bill then married Edith “Lyn” Simmons, but they were not together upon his death. His legacy would have ended there had Fred not had a daughter. Athena and her son remain as the only heirs to the once penny less throne. She never knew her grandfather. But she quickly learned of his talent.
Return of the Dark Knight Creator
As more fans found out the truth, the push to have the credit line correctly reflected gained momentum fast. It only in the 1960s that Finger started to get credit for his work, and it came in the letters page of Batman #169, 1965. Even till then Kane tried to deny his involvement, even putting retconned art to substantiate his lies. But eventually, the truth would come out by no one else but himself.
“Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero … I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years before he died, I would like to say. ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.” – Bob Kane
By this time Bill had passed on, never to hear his once trusted friend apologize. And while Bob opened up, it hadn’t fully changed much. That would come later. 2015, to be precise when Finger’s name appeared in its first feature film. A deal was finally struck with what remained of the highly estranged Finger family. DC/Warner had no choice but to acknowledge his contribution. Gentlemen’s agreement indeed. And soon it transcended to all publications and Bill was the name fans started to recognize. Bill’s recognition is in no small part thanks to his granddaughter, who along with her son challenged Warner for her dad’s rights.
The Finger Finally Points at the Right Person
I remember idolizing Mr. Kane as a kid. The guy who brought my favorite hero to life. He helped define my childhood and probably countless others too. Then I learned the truth, and it broke my heart. How could someone who created such a selfless hero be so self-serving? I can understand trying to keep the larger piece of the pie for oneself but to eat it all and not even leave crumbs to the deserving. That’s a villain. A cold vindictive villain.
He took everything and gave nothing back. Even the Joker, DC’s most ruthless saved Harley. He has tainted comics for me. Finger may now his name alongside and that is great. But no matter how much we love and cherish him now, it will never change the fact that such a talented man lived in such a sad state. Bill was betrayed by his friend. Even when he tried to speak out he was crushed and silenced. But, truth is like light, all it needs is the faintest of cracks in the darkest of places and it will breakthrough. And now Bills light shines bright.