If you know a little bit about comics, you probably think that Bob Kane created Batman. In fact if you know a lot about comics you still might think he created Batman. That’s exactly what Bob Kane always wanted you to think. But Bob Kane lived in the Batcave that Bill Finger built.
Today has been designated by DC Comics as Batman Day, in honour of the 75 years that have passed since the debut of the Dark Knight in Detective Comics no. 27.
On a Friday sometime prior to that 1939 comic hitting the stands, Kane had promised his publisher a great new character by Monday. In his struggle for an idea, he came up with ‘Bird-Man’, a masked Flash Gordon rip-off with wings. Kane had the good sense to show his work in progress to his friend – a writer named Bill Finger, who set about creating a better character instead.
Basically, almost everything that is iconic and cool about Batman, Finger came up with – his outfit, his origin, his alter-ego, his lack of superpowers, being a detective, the Batmobile, Gotham City, and even (in collaboration) supporting characters like Robin, Catwoman, Riddler, and the Joker.
“Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot,” - Bill Finger, Detective Comics (1939)
It was an instant hit. What followed for Kane was a career of taking credit for Finger’s and then others work, and being paid handsomely for it. The writers and artists got what Kane considered a fair page rate, but far less than he was paid by the publisher and with no credit or royalties. As a businessman, you have to admire Bob Kane – in the way you might admire Donald Trump or Tony Montana.
Despite the fact that this all is common knowledge in the comics industry, DC cannot name Finger as co-creator of Batman for legal reasons. The rumour is that Kane pretended he signed his original contract as a minor (which would’ve been illegal), and blackmailed DC precursor National into a new contract naming Kane as the sole creator of Batman, in perpetuity.
If it wasn’t for Bill Finger, today wouldn’t be Batman Day, but ‘Bird-Man’ Day. No, scratch that. Kane’s Bird-Man would have obviously faded into obscurity as the highly derivative creation it was. But here we are 75 years later – on Batman Day.
Like many of his peers, Bill Finger’s comic book career consisted mostly of anonymous writing for a basic page rate. He passed away 40 years ago in 1974. Bob Kane survived him a further 24 years until 1998. But in death, Bob did acknowledge a co-creator for Batman on his headstone – but sadly, it’s not who you think…
Yup – God. As co-creators go, you could do a lot worse than THE creator I guess. God was not available for comment.
As mentioned, DC cannot actually name Bill Finger as a Batman creator, but they have done the best they can – crediting him as the writer of Detective Comics no.27, the first appearance of The Bat-Man, on the cover of DC’s 75th anniversary edition of the issue, available as a free comic book today.
Despite my love of superheroes, I’m not one to advocate violence because a) it’s usually wrong, and b) I’m a coward. But I can’t help thinking about the following tale that famed comicbook artist & writer Jim Steranko told his followers on Twitter last year.
So, as well as remembering Bill Finger, the man who basically created the Caped Crusader as we know him today, you can also celebrate Batman Day by reliving the time Jim Steranko bat-slapped Bob Kane :)
Bob Kane – you’ve been Steranko’d!
“I hadn’t encountered Kane in my travels, but at one rockin’ SDCC (San Diego Comic-Con), an associate asked me if I wanted to meet him, and walked me into a hallway.
There he was, in a small group of people, wearing patent-leather shoes– and an ASCOT, like he was Vitamin f******g Flintheart in a Dick Tracy cartoon.
For years, I’d heard how he’d taken credit for Bill Finger’s contributions (in addition to half his pay) and other despicable tales from his associates. But nothing aces an in-person encounter.
We were introduced and Kane began talking about my Batman chapter in the HISTORY OF COMICS, which treated him–and everyone else–very respectfully. He felt I credited Robinson & Finger (both of whom I knew intimately) too much. Kane (aka Kahn) was beyond pretentious, an intolerable ass as pompous as they come. I bit my tongue while he regaled us with his many achievements.
The group was waiting for an elevator, which they stepped into when the door opened. Our conversation ended, but not before he said: “See you later, Jim, baby,”and cuffed me across the face–like some rat-pack street gesture he’d seen in some cheap flick. The doors closed…I was stunned by the sheer audacity of a stranger–like him–to lay a hand on me, and boiling with anger.
That night, I couldn’t sleep and the next morning began combing the halls for his Bat Majesty. Around noon, I found him in another group, which I walked into. “Good to see you, Bob, baby!” I said, then
bitch bat-slapped him across the face.
But this time, there was no elevator door closing between us. I stood there for about 15 seconds, waiting. He did nothing. I turned and left. But I regret it now. I regret that he didn’t do anything about it, even though he was at least a head taller than me. I wouldn’t have minded bleeding at all for one more opportunity to give Kane the kind of Bat Lesson that Finger, Robinson, Sprang and others only dreamed of.
Finger was THE creative force behind Batman.
ALL the cool Bat elements are his concepts.”(Thanks to Rob Duncan for the Steranko bat-slap Storify, and no thanks to WordPress for the inability to embed it in this post!)