Batman’s Biggest Secret: Bill Finger’s Legacy as Revealed by Marc Tyler Nobleman

BillTheBoyWonderFrA few weeks ago I attended a slideshow tour of New York City’s Superhero Sites with Danny Fingeroth at the New-York Historical Society Museum. Thereafter, I vowed to continue deepening my knowledge of the comic book world, and begin exploring the factual stories underpinning the industry I admire, but obviously know very little about.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation hosted by the 92nd Street YMCA in New York City: Batman’s Biggest Secret: Fighting for Bill Finger with Marc Tyler Nobleman (author of Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman). Who do I spot sitting about four seats away from? It was Danny Fingeroth; a good omen that I am on the right path–sorry, I can be superstitious.

20160209_204210.jpg

If a year ago you had asked me who Bill Finger was, I’d look at you with a puzzled face. DC said Bob Kane created Batman (after all it said so right there on practically every front page of any Batman comic), and that was good enough for me. Now, as of late 2015, it was officially announced to worldwide fanfare, that Bill Finger will be given credit for co-creating Batman with Bob Kane; and the next film (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) will include the following credit: Created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger.

Marc is directly responsible for making this happen. His continued detective work, and dogged perseverance, unearthed the last living family relation (a granddaughter Bill Finger never knew), who was able to untangle the legal contractual web that prevented DC from finally give him his proper due for co-creating Batman.

Marc began his presentation with the statement that Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne as a metaphor for the industry secret (prior to 2015) that Bob Kane alone did not create Batman. He then, in painstaking detail, outlined Bill Finger’s tragic tale with tear-inducing emotion, but also with a sprinkling of light humor to even out the historical narrative.

Bob Kane was an artist, and Bill Finger was a writer. Together the two dreamed a new type of hero in 1939–a costumed Dark Knight who terrorized criminals. However, as Batman grew to become an iconic global super hero, Bob Kane’s fame and wealth grew beyond his wildest dreams, while Bill Finger (whose real name was actually Milton Finger) languished in obscurity and poverty. Marc, together with artist Ty Templeton, wrote a graphic novel, about the true story of how Batman began, and the larger role Bill Finger played in his creation. The book, originally published in 2012, aspired to get Bill the recognition he deserved.

In the audience, sitting right next to me, was an older woman, who during the question/answer session stood up defiantly to defend her friend, Bob Kane. Marc, took it with stride, pointing out that he was not vilifying Bob Kane as a person or private individual, but merely pointing out that as a professional Bob enriched himself on the work of others, and did not assign the proper credit to Bill Finger.

Then later, as I waited in line for Marc’s autograph, I chatted it up with another gentleman in a red polo shirt (his name was Robert van Maanen, and I know this only because Marc had posted an interview with him earlier today on his blog). He told me how Bill Finger, his neighbor, was a very easy going, affable, person who bore no one ill will. He also told me that Bill had a collection of old comics, including original printings of Detective #27, and the first appearance of Captain America with the triangular shield. He even said that National Publications (the precursor company to DC) one time called upon Bill Finger to donate an original copy of Detective #27 for a charity sale, and he did so without thinking about it, despite how he was mistreated by the company.

This was a very emotional night for me, and I had to hold back the tears while listening to Marc’s grim historical account about Bill Finger, his friends, his family, and his ignoble passing away. At least his memory and legacy has been righted by those who pursued the truth behind one of the world’s most beloved character: The Batman.

Happy 102nd Birthday Bill, and may you have many more here on this earth, and wherever your souls rests today.

Also, thank you to Marc and Danny for showing me the way to deeper truths behind the history of comic books; and for you readers who want to know more, visit Marc’s pop culture archaeological blog (where he continues to dig into the history of Bill Finger and his relations), and buy his book, Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (and while you’re at it check out his other works on Superman too) .