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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #210

Lots of great posts from the past few days. Not all of ‘em are swimming with Comicon news, either! Check ‘em out! And then come back here and read this one.

Looking through the archive, you’ll see that we’ve had Mike Week and Bob Week. Lo, there shall now come… a Bill Week! It’s totally better than Shark Week. I’ll be talking about great comics creators who share my first name. First up is a fantastic writer and idea man who never got the credit he deserved.

7/29/07

210. Bill Finger

Bill Finger 1.jpg

Bill Finger, of course, is the co-creator of Batman, along with Bob Kane. You wouldn’t know that if you’ve read the comics, though, because Bill is never credited.

As the story goes, Superman was a hit, so everyone was looking for a new hero. Bob Kane had come up with an idea to do a “Bat-Man,” and went to his pal Bill Finger with the idea. The sketch Kane had done was that of a red-garbed figure with a domino mask and big, stiff bat wings. Finger thought that it could be improved:

“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.”

Along with the costume details, Bill Finger also devised the concept of the playboy Bruce Wayne, Batman’s secret identity, taking the name from Robert Bruce and Mad Anthony Wayne, to suggest an aristocratic, colonial sort of background. Finger also put Comissioner Gordon into the story, turned Batman into a scientist and detective (in the vein of Sherlock Holmes, the Shadow, and Doc Savage), and co-created Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin, Two-Face, and most of the classic rogues. Some sources say he created the Joker; others dispute it. He also came up with the Batmobile and the Batcave, and gave Gotham City its name. And yeah, he sparked the idea for Robin, who was a collaboration between Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson.

Bill Finger 2.jpgBill Finger 3.jpg

However, as history would have it, Bob Kane took all the credit. The editors only really dealt with him and never gave Bill his due. Bob signed away all the rights to Batman in exchange for sole credit, and became the public face of Batman whilst Bill and Jerry got nothing and ghost artists continued working under Kane’s name on the comics. Bob Kane was well-compensated, whereas Bill Finger wasn’t– much like Superman‘s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Finger continued to work at DC, but was fired in ’68 for asking about a health care program. He’d return a few years later, but passed away in 1974.

He wasn’t forgotten, though, for we comic book aficionados and many comic book professionals remember him and know of his contributions. For instance, he also wrote many early Green Lantern stories with art by Marty Nodell, Irwin Hasen, and others. He also co-created Wildcat and wrote various other books for DC and Marvel, and a few TV shows and movies (including a Clock King set of episodes for the Adam West Batman show).

Bill Finger 4.jpgBill Finger 5.jpg

A few years ago, Bat-colleague Jerry Robinson created the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing, an award which honors writers both living and dead that never really got enough credit for their work. Recipients include Arnold Drake, Jerry Siegel, and Gardner Fox, who was also an early Batman writer, and contributed heavily to DC Comics. We’ve gotta thank Mr. Robinson for this marvelous award idea; it’s a lovely, lovely thing indeed.

Thank God we had Bill Finger, or Batman wouldn’t have been very cool at all. Mr. Finger shaped most of the Bat-mythos and gave us a brilliant character who will last forever. What thanks did he get? Well, for quite a few years, he didn’t get any, but history has unveiled him as a driving force behind the Bat, and I hope DC eventually decides to give the guy some credit. He deserves it.

For more on Bill Finger, including details on the creation of Batman and how Bob Kane screwed him over, visit this Finger biography, and read “The Forgotten Hero of Batman.” I borrowed that quote up above, from, er, both of them. Anyone know where they got it from?

That’s it for today. Are there any Bills you’d especially like to see featured?

16 Comments

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 29, 2007 at 6:29 pm

Thought you were gonna do a Sienkiewicz, now that’s a legend (even though he never finished BIG NUMBERS with another legend Alan Moore)!

Some Bills to cover-
Sienkiewicz
Everett
Gaines
Watterson

Jemas?

*ducks*

Bill Foster
Dollar Bill

Yeah…I got nothing.

I dunno. Bill week seems a little self-serving. I think you’d be better off with, say, Mark week.

(To pick an example COMPLETELY at random.)

And I’m havin’ trouble comin’ up with Bills – At least ones that haven’t already been mentioned. There’s Bill Morrison. (Bongo Comics, Yellow Submarine)

And a bunch of guys who did comic STRIPS. And, of those, I think Bill Griffith did some comic work way back when.

But that’s all I got.

I will only add that if the creator of Calvin and Hobbes is not on this list, I will personally come after you with a Destructo-Ray Blaster.

Rohan Williams

July 29, 2007 at 8:54 pm

Great entry- it would have been a great injustice for Bill Finger not to be on this list. As well as all the creations you mentioned, he was also just a great writer for that early period in comic book history. His first Joker stories, for instance (whether or not he actually created the character), are extremely creepy, and look to be referenced heavily in The Dark Knight.

Jeez, people – Beta Ray.

Why am *I* the guy saying ‘Mantlo’? I don’t even know anything about him. Or was there already an entry for him? I checked the archive but didn’t see one. I remember there was one for Congo Bill.

"O" the Humanatee!

July 30, 2007 at 1:53 pm

Though he’s sometimes billed (pun accidentally stumbled upon) as “William,” Bill Messner-Loebs deserves a place on “365 Reasons to Love Comics.” “Journey” may be my favorite comics series ever, and needs to be recollected, reprinted, and most importantly, revived!

And let’s hear it for Bill Finger! I read once that Finger kept massive reference files on all kinds of topics, enabling him to spin stories in a wide variety of settings. (I remember one old Batman story, presumably written by Finger, in which part of the solution to a mystery involved Batman identifying a particular type of hammer – a cooper’s hammer, to be precise.) Would that more writers nowadays showed an interest in the wider world instead of just rehashing old comics lore.

By the way, Bill (Reed): That’s Irwin Hasen, not Hansen.

How about:

Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead),
Bill Willingham,
Bill Eisner (that’s what people used to call him, even if he signed himself “Will”),
and, of course, Bill the Cat (*Ack!*)

Flush it all away

July 30, 2007 at 4:35 pm

Very good entry.

It’s kind of disconcerting to read that some of comics’ greatest and most iconic “big names” were a bit dick-ish and denied other creators their due credit.

“I will only add that if the creator of Calvin and Hobbes is not on this list, I will personally come after you with a Destructo-Ray Blaster.”

Me too.

And maybe Dr. Forklift’s name was Bill?

“I hope DC eventually decides to give the guy some credit. He deserves it.”

There’s some musing that DC’s corporate hands are legally tied right now, as long as Bob Kane’s widow is alive. (Presumably she’d vigorously defend Kane’s bogus credit as sole creator?) Once she’s shuffled off this mortal coil, DC might much more easily add Finger’s name as Batman’s co-creator.

Jemas?

*ducks*

No reason to duck as far as I’m concerned. Jemas and Quesada brought Marvel back from the dead and made it an interesting place for the first time since Frank Miller left. He’s made so mistakes, but IMO they’re far outweighed but the good he’s done.

“O” — I remember that story. I agree with you 100%!

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