This article was originally published on the defunct Curiata.com. At the time, only Bob Kane was credited for the creation of Batman and the Joker.
"The true question now is what didn't Bill contribute? He came up with all the defining characteristics of the story and characters ... He added the color scheme, the cowl, the cape, the gloves, the naming of Gotham City, and most of our beloved villains."
Eighty years ago, an icon was created. A masked detective, stalking the cowardly and villainous lot of Gotham City, the Bat-Man was a new force for good, a hero for a nation facing a Great Depression, urban crime, and the prospect of a second World War.
Bob Kane, an artist for National Periodicals (the future DC Comics), was tasked with creating a new superhero following the success of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman. Kane designed a blonde-haired, acrobatic man in a red jumpsuit and a domino mask. But before he brought the proposal back to National, Kane looked to his friend, Bill Finger, for advice.
Milton “Bill” Finger was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1914. An aspiring writer, Finger met Kane at a party and forged a friendship. When Kane approached Finger for advice, Finger was a shoe salesman, seeking a way to jumpstart his writing career.
Finger completely reworked Kane’s Bat-Man proposal, changing the color scheme and adding the famous cape and cowl. The high-flying adventurer of Kane’s became the brooding vigilante we know today thanks primarily to the contributions of Bill Finger.
Three-quarters of a century later, we celebrate the work of Kane and Finger in every corner of our culture. Batman movies have grossed nearly $4 billion worldwide, DC releases over a dozen comics linked to the Batman character every month, and another film starring Robert Pattinson is on the way.
All of these works included the statement: “Batman created by Bob Kane.” Finger, despite his contributions to the birth of the icon, receives no such honor. Now, over 40 years after his death, Finger’s family has finally fixed this injustice — not by stalking the shadows, but by bringing the facts into the light. Athena Finger, a math professor in south Florida, is Bill’s only living grandchild. This interview is from 2014.
“I have been building up to this ‘coming out’ into the public,” Ms. Finger said in an exclusive interview with Curiata.com. “This was the right time to face the fans and address the issue of my grandfather and what can be done to rectify it. Changing history is what it’s all about.” Born two years after her grandfather’s death, Ms. Finger sought a way to honor the man she never knew by getting him the co-creator credit he rightfully deserves. “The true question now is what didn’t Bill contribute? He came up with all the defining characteristics of the story and characters,” Ms. Finger explained. “He added the color scheme, the cowl, the cape, the gloves, the naming of Gotham City, and most of our beloved villains.” Still, the obstacles for the Finger family were immense. DC Comics and its parent company, Time Warner, continued to honor a deal made with Kane decades ago. In that arrangement, Kane signed away any ownership rights in favor of a creator credit. Asked why Finger was unable to get the same deal, his granddaughter stated that she is unaware of him ever seeking out such credit. Ultimately, she said, “Bob [Kane] had better advice and money.” According to Ms. Finger, it was the way people interpreted the laws that was preventing change, but she didn't give up the fight. “We are exploring our options,” Ms. Finger said. “I am hoping to resolve this issue one way or another.” Kane, who died in 1998, even stated his support for his old friend, writing in his autobiography: “I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero … if I could go back 15 years, before he died, I’d like to say, ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.’” Despite the acrimony sometimes directed toward Kane by comic book fans, Ms. Finger was clear about the relationship between Kane and her family: “There are no hard feelings.” Finger’s contributions are not limited to the Batman franchise either. In addition to having a hand in the creation of Bat-villains including the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and more, Finger is also the co-creator of Wildcat and the original Green Lantern. His work extended to television and movies, and he even worked a bit for DC’s rival, Marvel. But Finger’s legacy will forever be tied to the Caped Crusader, both in the minds of comic book fans and his own family. “I have always known about the importance of my grandfather’s contributions to the Batman,” his granddaughter said. And, despite the problems with DC, Ms. Finger continues to enjoy the result of her grandfather’s great work. “I do watch the movies and have started reading more comics lately,” Finger said. Ms. Finger will make sure others know her grandfather’s work as well. After all, Finger’s contributions helped to create an icon. “I am awe-struck by the influence this mythos has had on the fans!” Ms. Finger said.
The injustice against a man so instrumental in the creation of an American mythology has finally gained the attention it deserves. And Ms. Finger wasn’t on this (caped) crusade alone. Batman and Bill, a documentary about Bill Finger's contributions to the Batman mythology, is available now on Hulu, and was put together by author Marc Tyler Nobleman, who dedicated years of his life to finding justice for Bill.
A year after this article was originally published, Bill Finger was finally given credit for his work on Batman, starting with Robin Eternal #3, and the Fox show, Gotham.
“I want people to continue spreading the word about Bill and his connection to Batman,” Ms. Finger said.
On February 9, 2020, the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony honored Bill Finger by including his name among the creators of the Joker. Though the film didn't win for Best Adapted Screenplay, it was still an incredible honor for the family of a man who was once practically forgotten.
For more information on Bill Finger, check out Marc Tyler Nobleman’s book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. Or Batman and Bill on Hulu.