Bill Finger: A Batman Origin Story

pop 01 of August 2012  
Posted by: popcrackerteam  
opinion  
 

Many, if not all, of you must have rushed to watch The Dark Knight Rises in the last two weeks. Batman is after all one of the most iconic superhero characters ever created. He has an awesome array of gadgets, one of the most intriguing roster of villains you will ever see, and ingenious storylines that make the character oh-so compelling; and at the end of each Batman movie when the credits begin to roll you will see the following words "BASED ON THE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER CREATED BY BOB KANE". An irony seeing that the man they claim to be the creator of Batman had little to do with the things that made the character so great, and the contributions of the person who made bat-man THE BATMAN goes largely uncredited. 

 

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This man is Bill Finger, and this is his story.
 
William "Bill" Finger was born February 8, 1914, in the bustling metropolis of New York City. As a child he developed a deep love for newspapers strips and comics, a passion he unknowingly shared with a junior in school. A junior named Robert "Bob" Kane. Both of them attended DeWitt Clinton High School but never met during their school days as Bill was couple of grades ahead of Bob.
 
It was however in 1938 when Bill was working as a part time shoe salesman while simultaneously pursuing his goal of being a writer that he met his junior Kane at a party. They got talking and finally Bob Kane offered Bill Finger a job at his infant studio to work as a ghost writer on two comic strips "Rusty and His Pals", a kid strip and later "Clip Carson", a world traveling adventurer. A team up, whose effects would not be felt for another two years.
 
The following years Action Comics made a breakthrough with a new character called Superman. The new superhero on the block was an instant hit. Issues of Action Comics were flying off the racks faster than they could print. The Comic Industry had hit the proverbial goldmine. Inspired by this success, comic book editors and creators everywhere were scurrying to recreate the magic with their own character, and it was in the midst of this chaos that Bob Kane came up with idea of a Bat-Man and called up his trusted associate Bill to look it over. 
 
Kane had designed a character in the vein of Superman. He had red spandex, no gloves, wore a domino mask (the kind that Robin wears) and stubby bat wings protruding from his arms. Speaking about his first impressions on the character Bill had said 
 
"... (Bob) 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 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."
 
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An artist's impression of the original Bob Kane Bat-Man 
 
This was where Bill Finger got to work. He rolled up his sleeves and gave the character a complete overhaul. He threw out the red tights and gave him an overall darker appeal. He made him put on gloves/gauntlets so as to avoid fingerprints. He suggested the replacement of the domino with a cowl so as to better hide his identity and add to the mystery factor. He substituted the weird bat wings for a fringed cape that gave the illusion of  bat wings without making it look too funny.
 
"I got Webster's Dictionary off the shelf and was hoping they had a drawing of a bat, and sure enough it did. I said, 'notice the ears, why don't we duplicate the ears?' I suggested he draw what looked like a cowl... I had suggested he bring the nosepiece down and make him mysterious and not show any eyes at all... I didn't like the wings, so I suggested he make a cape and scallop the edges so it would flow out behind him when he ran and would look like bat wings. He didn't have any gloves on. We gave him gloves because naturally he'd leave fingerprints." 
 
Finger's additions were not just cosmetic, they were central to what made the character so brilliant. Bob Kane was just an artist with a vague idea. Finger was the one who made the man. Since the time of Bat-Man's inception till many years after, Finger wrote most of the stories. And if people like Marc Tyler Nobleman (who has written an entire book on Bill The Wonderboy) are to be believed, Bob Kane never wrote a single Batman story in his life.
 
From the haunting origin story of 12-year old Bruce Wayne to coining the famous moniker of The Dark Knight, Bill Finger's hands were responsible for moulding almost every important aspect of the billionaire playboy's life. He created the character's family background rooted in colonialism to add an edge of old-time patriotism and found interesting ways to make his motives more plausible and determined. For the first time a superhero waged war against crime not just out of a misguided sense of justice but a psychological one. One that drove the character forward in his mission as much as it weighed him down as an anchor. 
 
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His love for mystery novels urged him to approach Batman stories with the same style of deduction and intrigue. He made the character into more than just a crime-bashing vigilante, he made him into the world's greatest detective. Bob Kane admitted years later in his autobiography "Bill Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning... I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective."
 
Bill was also responsible for creating some of Batman's most feared Nemesis'. Joker, Clay-Face, Two-Face, The Riddler, The Penguin, Catwoman and many others have spawned from his boundless imagination. Just imagine how less fun any Batman story might have been if we did not have the above characters, especially the deranged clown with a taste for blood?
 
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Bill Finger Is Our Daddy
 
Bill's contribution to Batman's legacy cannot be denied. In fact, some might even question why he is not billed above Bob Kane? But being from a time when copyright terms were just another technical phrase, Bill could have done little to gain recognition for his work. He was forced to write stories anonymously as that was what he was hired to do. The character belonged to Kane and later on to DC and it was upto them to credit him if they wished. Sadly they did not.
 
Another thing that worked against Bill was is his inherent tardiness. He had an infamous reputation of missing deadlines. It is said that once he even submitted a script with only the first page stapled to a bunch of blank pages just to get paid! He eventually left Kane's studio and went to work directly for DC where he worked on numerous scripts including Batman and Superman.
 
Bill Finger was an undeniable genius. And even taking into light his slow writing it cannot be denied that most of what we love about Batman today comes because of his contribution. The orphaned childhood, the practical costume, the detective skills and the numerous villains of Gotham City (even the city's name was given by him) exist thanks to him. Yet, it is saddening to see that for all his contributions the credit for the character goes to the man who would have had him wearing a red underwear and gimmicky bat wings. But this is the bane of the comic book industry. Established material which is owned either by an ancient creator or to publishing houses pass through numerous hands on their way to becoming what we know them as today. Their contributions and additions to the series and books are seldom acknowledged, and even if they are, the credit still goes to the man who made the character decades before. In memory of this, and the many other works that Bill Finger contributed to, artist Jerry Robinson founded the Bill Finger Award at Comic Con International to honor lifetime achievements of artists and writers who never got the credit they deserved.
 
Bill Finger is a name that most people might not be familiar with, but it is a name you should memorize. And every time you watch a Batman movie or cartoon, you should mentally insert his name in the credits until it is legitimately added by DC itself. Until then it is upto us to keep his legacy alive by remembering him and passing on the memory to other bat-fans. And it does help that he also made this other teensy, weensy superhero they known as the Green Lantern.
 
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