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Comic Book Legends Revealed #421

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COMIC LEGEND: The DC villain Firefly was accidentally confused with the DC villain Firebug and became a fire-based villain.

STATUS: False

Reader Glenn S. wrote in awhile back to ask:

The Batman villain called the Firefly, aka Garfield Lynns, was originally depicted as using light-based tricks in his crimes, rather like Dr. Light. At some point, he started being depicted as being an arsonist instead. This figured heavily into the Batgirl Year One miniseries, so it wasn’t even that he started using fire, he was depicted as always having used fire. I think it might have begun around the time of Knightfall. However, there had been a Batman villain called the Firebug who used fire in his crimes. So I’m wondering if maybe there was some confusion about Firefly’s “powers” and he ended up being depicted as an arsonist by mistake, a depiction that has continued to this day.

Here’s Firefly as he first appeared in Detective Comics #184 (created by France Herron and Bill Sprang)…

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This Firefly even popped up in a post-Crisis story in Outsiders…

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Here’s Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan’s revamp of the character in Detective Comics #661 during Knightfall…

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And here is Firebug, a Vietnam vet (demolitions expert) who takes revenge on buildings in Gotham City that he blames for the death of his family (lead paint killed his sister, a broken floor killed his father and his mother died of a heart attack while stuck in a broken elevator)…

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So DID Chuck Dixon perhaps confuse the two characters when he revamped Firefly?

I asked Chuck about it, and he explained that no, there was no confusion. He had been aware of the original character since he read about him in Batman Annual #3 as a kid. He just felt that the character’s powers were not interesting enough, so he figured he’d revamp him as a pyrotechnics expert rather than a lighting expert.

And the revamp definitely worked wonders, as the character has become quite the mainstay of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, even being adapted more than once into other media, like the original Batman: The Animated Series.

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Thanks for the question, Glenn! And thanks so much for the information, Chuck!
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Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did Quantum Leap seriously correctly predict Super Bowl XXX?
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On the next page, was a Star Trek character unapproved for usage after the character had already been previousy approved AND drawn into an issue?

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72 Comments

Shame on DC

An interesting side note to that last legend is that Peter David was able to eventually use the character of M’Ress. He wrote her into his Star Trek: New Frontier series of novels.

http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/New_Frontier_characters#M.27Ress

Considering all storytelling Bob Kane did, how humble Finger was, and the way DC treated Finger, that story is pretty disgusting.

I wonder how much the writer knew about the history, of if the story was even his idea or an editor’s.

It really is the sort of thing that you read, do a double take and say, “Wait, what the fuck did I just read? Did they seriously just write that? The dude is DEAD! This is obscene!”

On the second Batman story you have the artist listed as Bill Sprang. Should that be Dick Sprang instead?

Bill Sprang?!?

Otherwise – wonderful as always.

Thanks, fixed it!

And that Bill Finger story honestly made me a little sick to my stomach…Geez…

It may be cooincidence, but the story wasn’t published til after Carmine Infantino was gone as publisher. Infantino had signed a eulogy for Finger in a Batman Treasury, calling him one of Batman’s “fathers”.

Is Spock doing the pee-pee dance? Illogical.

Firebug also had a strange metamorphosis, and it was also a Chuck Dixon/Graham Nolan story that caused it! In his only Pre-Crisis appearance, Firebug was an African-American named Joe Rigger, and physically fit enough to trade punches with Batman. He had a Post-crisis appearance, entirely in costume, in Hero Hotline #5.

But when Dixon briefly revived (and then quickly “killed”) Firebug in Detective Comics #689-90, Rigger was drawn and colored as a pudgy, schlubby Caucasan dude. This interpretation stuck through his retirement in Gotham Central #3, after which the ‘Bug costume was passed around to various wannabes via online auctions.

The movers and shakers of Dc now will probably look back on the Bill Finger story and say “Brilliant, why didn’t we think of that?” BTW, we need the comic book PC Police on site. I see Halo’s taint, this is sexist! :P

Actually, I checked Hero Hotline #5, and Rigger is seen out of costume t the end…but he’s definitely still a physically fit African-American man there. Also, it was Staz Johnson, not Graham Nolan, who pencilled ‘Tec 689-90.

Glenn Simpson

May 31, 2013 at 10:40 am

Thanks for including my question.

knew that dc did not treat bill well even due to bob kane not ever give him credit as batmans co creator but to publish a story after he died making fun of him. talk about a new low disrespectful blow. plus knew paramount and peter david had a hard working relationship with the star trek comic but to have him redo his work because they did not want mres used after they gave the okay talk adding more work for peter.

I’m pretty sure that Bill Finger story was completed before he died, and then when he died it was put on the shelf. And it should have stayed on that shelf!

Wow…some people at DC can be jerks.

Based on the look of the host, the Phil Binger story appears to have been intended for inclusion in an issue of Plop!

Also, although unable to appear in the relaunch, M’Ress and Arex both appeared in the earlier DC Star Trek series beginning with issue 37.

FUCK DC AND THE NEW 52 BULLSHIT> MAKE MINE MARVEL

Oh, get over yourself, Marvel isn’t any better. You must not have been around for the Bill Jemas years. Or howabout their treatment of Jack Kirby, one of the main architects of their entire company? We can play the “who-$hit-on-who” game all day.

When I first read the story in the original, the similarity of the names never struck me. I just took it as a general satire on writers and deadlines (which works fine for me). So now I’m curious—was Bill Finger notoriously late on deadlines? Or did the writer just pick the name for a generic misses-deadlines guy?
The Firebug legend was interesting as I’d assumed all these years it was a mix-up. By the way, Firefly’s short-lived career included a run-in with the Creeper (First Issue Special) between Outsiders and Batman (his only other appearance before Outsiders, I think).

Oh yeah, the comic is not necessarily inaccurate in portraying Finger’s general behavior. He WAS a bit of a flaky guy. It’s just messed up to actually turn that into a comic when the guy had just died a couple of years earlier.

I thought it looked like a Plop story, too.

Is it just me, or does Firebug’s head look like Iron Man’s?

Brian, Didn’t you run a story that a young writer covered for Bill Finger, when he totally missed his deadline? From what I understood, he became a serious drinking problems that affected his ability to do the job.

Here’s the thing about Bill Finger Batman credit: Bob Kane’s father insisted on Kane receiving the only credit for Batman in the contract. DC is contractually required to keep this up (Although now that Kane and Finger is dead, couldn’t DC sort of change it now?)

Can I just note, the artwork for that issue of the Outsiders is insanely porny for a mainstream DC title of the era? Who did it and how the hell did they get that past standards?

Yowza! That’s pretty low.

But if Chuck Dixon knew of someone as obscure as Firefly, you might think he’d have come across Firebug too, and use him. Even the costume is a lot more Firebug than Fly.

Da, that’s The Outsiders #16, drawn by Jerome Moore and written by Mike Barr (maybe add the info to the piece, Brian?).

Yeah, that story reads to me as an attempt at good-natured taking-the-piss gone horribly, horribly awry. Not a terrible idea, but jeez, try a lot more good nature and a lot less piss.

Richard Arnold almost single-handedly destroyed the Star Trek publishing world with his many, many, MANY bad decisions. He was a train wreck who knew nothing about Star Trek and nothing about how to run a franchise, and it showed. His hack-assed way of managing the comics license was great proof of this. When he was eventually fired for gross incompetence, it was no surprise to anyone. But in the meantime, he screwed up a storyline. Sulu’s relationship with M’ress had already been ongoing from the first DC series, so to have the character changed to M’yra at the very last second just made that character annoying and unpopular. Arnold was an ass.

Good lord. That Phil Binger story is just plain mean-spirited.

Love the Bill Finger story, really funny stuff. Stories of this sort are told about industry vets all the time. How many Stan Lee pisstakes have there been? Is it a rule that a creator who gets screwed by the industry is automatically canonized?

Martin Gray – that’s not Outsiders #16, nor is it Jerome Moore’s art. From memory, it could be #12.

I think we’re taking the Bill Finger story a little too seriously and are all being a little too precious. I read this comic in the same manner as the Comedy Central Roast of (insert name here.) As a result the MEANER the content usually indicates how LOVED the person is/ was. I recently re-watched the William Shatner Roast and the things they said about him, in front of him, were shocking but I understood what they were doing. Someone mentioned similar comic stories about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the Lee ones were certainly in the same vein as a comedy roast.

I don’t know if it’s mentioned in the comments or not, but Firefly was also featured this season on Arrow.

I read a blog article from a series detailing some obscure DC characters. He knew the change was intentional, but the author still bemoaned Firefly being made a pyrotechnist, as it shunted Firebug into obsolescence, right up to when the latter was killed off. He also disliked making Firefly a pyromaniac, as part of the completely unnecessary idea of giving near every Batman villain a form of psychosis (something which I’ll have to agree with).

@Dusty Griffin: I was thinking of that, too! And on Arrow, Firefly is depicted as a disgruntled fireman who’s ticked that he was abandoned by the rest of his crew and goes on a murderous rampage. I don’t know the origin of comic book Firefly, but that sure sounds a lot like the description of Vietnam vet Firebug.

Guys, uh, scroll up the page a little. Dxon did use Firebug…to kill him off as a lame rival to the revamped Firefly. And also, Joe Rigger’s race inexplicably changed.

@ Jimmy, what puts the story in bad taste is Bill Finger had already passed away when this was released. You don’t roast a person after they died.

The people defending this story are scum. Grade A scum. As was everyone involved in creating it. If Finger suffered from alcoholism, why on Earth would that be something to make fun of? Is it any wonder, given how unfairly he was treated by Kane and DC? Horrible and cruel.

Get a grip Truth, you’re embarrasing yourself. While I agree releasing this after Finger’s death was a mistake and in poor taste I don’t think the original intent was to pay out on him as many are believing. It would be interesting to track down who eventually published the material and if they even knew it was about Bill Finger. I find it hard to believe that ANYONE in the comics industry would have gone out of their way to attack the man after his death. Everything I’ve ever read about Finger is that everyone liked him, sympathised with his situation, and wished they could reveal the truth behind the origin of Batman. If I’m wrong I’d love to hear about who at DC may have had a grudge against him. Like Brian suggests, the story was written by David Levine a supposed friend and colleague, hardly someone who had a grudge against Bill Finger.
I’m not in the habit of defending a corporation or company like DC or Marvel, but i’m also not the type to instantly jump on the “let’s criticise the evil comic company” bandwagon without thinking things through first.

Get a grip “truth,” you’re embarrassing yourself.
Can Brian please clarify when this story was written? My understanding from the article is that it was written before Bill’s death, possibly for House of Mystery, not used, but released two years after (possibly lying on the shelf and then released as “filler”) Is this the case?

It was David Vern, not David Levine, right?

It was David Vern, not David Levine, right?

David Vern was just a different pseudonym for David Levine.

I don’t know, I’m not detecting any good will or affection in that Bill Finger parody, it just seems plain mean. I know it has been done to others in the industry, John Byrne made a particularly vicious one about Jim Shooter. I don’t like those either. With a roast, the roastee agrees to the situation, it’s for charity, and they get to get up and take shots at their roasters at the end.

The Firefly story in Outsiders #12 was pencilled by Mark Beachum and inked by Gray Morrow.

When it comes to over-emphasized butt-shots, Beachum gives Ed Benes a run for his money.

Erich:”When it comes to over-emphasized butt-shots, Beachum gives Ed Benes a run for his money.”

I think that Beachum must be the all time champion of oversexualized art. Just check out his work on SYPHONS. Practically every panel featuring a woman looks like something out of hardcore porn.

syon

RE: Firefly and BATMAN TAS,

Wasn’t there some hoopla over the character? I seem to recall some controversy over the depiction of a pyromaniac in a family cartoon and that the producers had to stop using the character.

syon

Who is the artist for those Outsiders panels? Please tell me whoever it is has done some work for Penthouse, too! SEXY!

Wasn’t there some hoopla over the character? I seem to recall some controversy over the depiction of a pyromaniac in a family cartoon and that the producers had to stop using the character.

Unlikely. The character made several appereances after the Batman Animated Series, in Justice League and also in the “The Batman” cartoon.

The original version of the character is featured in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, but it’s more likely due to that series’ trend to use classic Silver Age versions of the characters rather than out of some controversy.

Thanks Drancron and Erich, I saw the superb Bolland cover to #16 and assumed, but yeah, it looks as if the story was seeded earlier.

http://www.comics.org/issue/42465/cover/4/

Oh yeah! Just googled Mr. Beachum’s artwork, and I can’t decide which image to click on first! They are all so delightful! What talent!

dreadjaws:”Unlikely. The character made several appereances after the Batman Animated Series, in Justice League and also in the “The Batman” cartoon.

The original version of the character is featured in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, but it’s more likely due to that series’ trend to use classic Silver Age versions of the characters rather than out of some controversy.”

Perhaps so, but the WIKIPEDIA article on Firefly suggests otherwise:

“It is revealed by the producers in an article about The New Batman Adventures in Wizard Magazine #172 that they had been forbidden by the network to use him or any other pyromaniac character in Batman: The Animated Series while it aired on Fox.”

This is via WIKIPEDIA, of course, so the usual caveats apply.

Wow. I think I saw a commercial once for David Levine. It had two women walking along a beach, and one asked the other if she ever felt, y’know, not so fresh.

LouReedRichards

June 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I’m not sure how I feel about the Bill Finger comic. My inclination is to believe that it was good natured ribbing that went waaay off the tracks and devolved into something mean spirited. I don’t know all the relationships involved so I’m not comfortable saying it’s a straight up hatchet job on the man.

In the Comics Journal #172 (Nov. 1994) Joe Kubert talks about lending Finger $250 in the late 40’s – I’m not sure what that would be adjusted to today, but that’s A LOT of money. He got the money back three years later only after he sent a collection agency after Finger.

Kubert said he didn’t have any animosity towards him, in fact he said:
“I felt very sorry for him, because he did have his problems”

So it might be that the people involved with the story just got tired of constantly advancing money to Finger.
I’ve been there, it’s pretty damn frustrating.

I didn’t air my dirty laundry in public though – that’s the part that just seems mean spirited.

The one redeeming feature may be the beautiful art by Ramona Fradon, I’m not sure if it would look as good in color, but in black and white it looks wonderful.

BTW: That Comics Journal issue with Kubert is great – nothing’s better than those exhaustive in-depth career spanning interviews they do. Highly recommended – also a great bit on “Murmur” by Mattotti and a sketch book excerpt from Paul Rivoche!

Yeah, I have no doubt that Finger’s behavior was highly irritating, but printing a story about him begging for money after his death and actually printing it a couple of years after he actually died? That’s some rough stuff right there. While I don’t know for sure, if I had to guess I would say that the story WAS, indeed (as an earlier commenter theorized)), written BEFORE Finger died, as I just don’t see anyone writing a story like that ABOUT a dead guy. So it was written as a story about how annoying Finger is. You know, like “Ha ha, I bet death wouldn’t even stop him!” And the ghost aspect would make it work for House of Mystery (by the way, I don’t get the Plop guesses – that’s pretty clearly Cain there at the end, which would make it a House of Mystery tale, right?). Then he actually dies and the story gets pulled and a couple of years later, Amazing World of DC Comics picks it up because, well, that’s what they did, they printed otherwise unpublished comics.

So if it was written BEFORE Finger died, it is still a bit too much on the mean side of things, but whatever, it wasn’t insane or anything.

It it was written AFTER Finger died, it’s just plain ol’ fucked up.

Either way, whether the actual story was over the top or not (which depends on when it was written), actually printing it was over the line.

Cain and Abel were also hosts in Plop!, so his presence doesn’t really rule out one title or the other.

Fair enough, Jazzbo. I still think it would fit in better in House of Mystery with the ghost aspect, but your point is well met.

Reed and Fradon did work for both titles, but Fradon did a lot more on Mystery than Plop.

Travis Pelkie

June 2, 2013 at 12:31 am

The other thing about the Plop guesses is that on the first page, if that’s not a Sergio Cain, it’s Fradon “doing” Sergio incredibly well, and as far as I know, Sergio Aragones worked for Plop but not necessarily on House of Mystery stories. Plus, the more “humorous” story elements seem to point towards Plop.

On page 5, especially those middle panels, is that supposed to be Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, and Carmine Infantino? That would kind of “place” it timewise.

It definitely reads as some jealousy or something — maybe Reed/Levine had to pick up the slack a lot if Finger didn’t deliver, and was irritated that Finger could apparently “wring” advance money out of an editor without following up with the work. It’s not something that needed to be put into a book, though, and even if it was finished before Finger died, someone might have killed it either on those grounds or on the grounds that it’s too “inside baseball”. But for Amazing World of DC, which was all about “inside baseball”, it fit. Too bad it’s such a dickish seeming story.

Aragones did work for House of Mystery, as well. But yes, he mostly worked for Plop.

David Levine also came into DC as one of Julius Schwartz’s professional buddies, as I recall, so some of this may be reflective of editorial cliques within DC. So Finger, Aragones, Giordano, Orlando, and Infantino get spoofed, but not folks like Schwartz or his proteges like Cary Bates.

It’s especially crappy to go after Finger’s money troubles, of course, because you have to wonder where he’d have been if Bob Kane hadn’t taken all the credit and cash from Batman, a character form whose popular, saleable form is much more down to Finger’s distinctive contributions than Kane’s almost unrecognizeable original pitch.

I’m sure that Finger story was done well before he died…but it should have stayed on the shelf, no doubt.

That said, what a nice art job by Ramona Fradon, huh!

Ferb Morgendorffer

June 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm

The Phil Blinger stuff is distasteful, even if it was done before the real deal’s death. Doesn’t matter if he was a perpetual moocher, leave some things out of the comic pages even when it come to parody, m’kay?

@ Mike Lukash: Doesn’t matter if Finger had personal problems. All that should have affected was his ability
to get more work. Fact is he was so instrumental in Batman’s creation that casting him out him out into the cold was a (so to speak) crime.

@ Dandru – Thanks, that bolsters my IIRC that Peter David has said in the past there was an editor at Parmount who had it in for him (I swear it was a prior CBULU column). It makes me thankful for all the problems the Doctor Who novels had after they went in-house they didn’t have a tyrant like that.

@ Jimmy That might work if “roasts” were more common now, like they are, than then. Yes, we had the Dean Martin roasts running around then, but none of the guests were dead. Even Comedy “Home of South Park” Central would have blinked airing the Charlie Sheen Roast if he had OD’d around the time he was supposedly “WINNING!”

@ Rodney Agreed, even the Charlie Sheen Comedy Central Roast was warmer than that story.

@ LouReedRichards You have likely nailed it. When it comes to family and friends I’ve been there, but I’m not going to write a fanfic where Batman has to lend some private school chum 20 dollars.

@ Johnny Bacardi Definitely good art, agreed, despite the subject matter.

Timothy Markin

June 2, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I was surprised to see acknowledgment of Jerry Robinson’s creation of the Joker in the Finger eulogy. Didn’t Kane try to completely take credit for that? Can someone clarify that? With Kane being credited as sole creator of all the early 40s Batman work, I think I recall reading Kane claiming credit in interviews for both the Joker and Robin.
As for Firefly, my only real exposure to him was that Ditko Creeper in First Issue Special 7. And I bought Batman 318 (first Firebug) off the rack in ’79. But I too was confused by the one appearance I saw in Detective of the new Firefly, getting them mixed up in my own head. And honestly I never saw any post-1979 Firebug appearances, so that just added to my confusion. Glad that Dixon’s quote helped clarify things.

Kane didn’t take sole creator credit for the Joker (well, I’m sure at some point he took credit for creating everything ever written, but you know what I mean). He claimed Finger told him to base the character on Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs and then Kane designed the character based on that. Robinson claims he brought the character to Kane and Finger already designed and then Finger came up with the Joker’s background (and also told Robinson, “Wow, your character looks exactly like Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs”). So either way, Finger was Joker’s co-creator. It is just a debate between who he co-created it with, Kane or Robinson. I lean slightly towards Kane’s take on the story. A. Kane almost NEVER shared credit willingly, so for him to give Finger that much credit seems noteworthy and B. The idea that Robinson independently created a Joker design that looked exactly like Conrad Veidt seems a bit hard to believe.

Robin, by the way, is a character that Kane claimed sole credit for, which was almost assuredly BS. He was almost certainly a three-way collaboration between Finger, Kane and Robinson.

Brian,
I think when It comes to the Batman mythos, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt, because it was a hugely collaborative effort. Keep in mind that Kane owned the “studio” that produced Batman. In the older days of comics, publishers were more like networks. Some things were done “in house” other work was done via contract to studio. Finger and Robinson worked under Kane.

Here’s what Finger had to say about the creation of Robin

“Robin was an outgrowth of a conversation I had with Bob. As I said, Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn’t have anyone to talk to, and it got a little tiresome always having him thinking. I found that as I went along Batman needed a Watson to talk to. That’s how Robin came to be. Bob called me over and said he was going to put a boy in the strip to identify with Batman. I thought it was a great idea”.

As for the Joker, I don’t think Robinson a damn thing to do with the creation of the Joker outside of the card.
In 1994, Kane gave Finger co-credit for creating Batman’s archnemesis the Joker, despite claims on the character by artist Jerry Robinson:

Bob Kane “Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That’s the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. […] Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, ‘Here’s the Joker’. Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it, but he’ll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card.”

Keep in mind Robinson was only 17 years old when he was hired to be the letter and Inker for Batman. I find it hard to believe that he was that creative. Robinson co-created Alan Scott Green Lantern, Wildcat and Lana Lang. Kane, well after the fact, had no problem admitting how big of a genius Finger was.

It would have been nice that Kane acknowledged him far sooner, but in the end did not hesitate to share the credit.

I think you and I are in definite agreement here, Mike.

@Ferb Morgendorffer: Richard Arnold wasn’t even an editor, is the thing. He was Gene Roddenberry’s lawyer and personal friend, and because he was Roddenberry’s personal friend, he set him up as the single point of reference for what was and was not allowed in any Star Trek tie-in material. He had total rights to approve or deny any aspects of any Star Trek tie-in material up until Roddenberry’s death, at which point he was just thrown out of the franchise outright; he was the reason why basically every Trek novel through the late 80s to early 90s was a total reset button with as few cross-references or significant character events as possible, despite the slowly growing tendency in the early to mid 80s of a sort of shared universe between novels, for example.

Cain, Abel and an old witch-type character were the hosts of the stories in Plop! comics as well. In Plop!, they were drawn in a more cartoonish style than they were in their regular horror-oriented books.

You could remove “Phil Binger”‘s name, the tale still holds in its comedic tragedy re: the freelance life. Advances on jobs are hard to come by these days and it’s a good reminder of why. Sadly it points out a crooked finger at someone who was severely underrated by his employees.

* Employers.

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