You’ve never heard of Bill Finger, have you? That’s okay. Not enough people have. It’s a cryin’ shame, a story worthy of a comic book in and of itself (and you can find that here). Bill Finger should be a legend. Bill Finger should be celebrated. But he’s not. He has been consigned to the murky depths of comic book history.
If you open any comic book, watch any TV show or movie, or play any video game with Batman you are guaranteed to see five words. Five words that are as untrue now as they were 75 years ago: “Batman created by Bob Kane.” To say Bob Kane created Batman would be like saying a father created his child. Alone. Did he help? Absolutely. But the majority of the ideas, the things that make Batman Batman came from Milton “Bill” Finger; that his contributions have gone largely unrecognized for decades is unconscionable.
Bob Kane had presented the idea of The Bat-Man to Bill, but the character Bob had come up with bears little resemblance to the one that first appeared in Detective Comics #27. The Bat-Man wore a red jumpsuit, with a domino mask that allowed his blond hair to fly free, and had wings, not a cape.
The picture below highlights the costumed differences from Batman’s first appearance, and from the original sketch Bob Kane came up with. Image sourced from reddit user Iroyburch.
Bill Finger not only gave Batman his defining look, a costume that has, largely, remained unchanged to this day. Bill Finger gave us more than just the look, though. He gave us twenty five years worth of stories, creating, or co-creating, many of the villains that Batman still fights to this day such as the Joker, Two Face and Catwoman, as well as several of Batman’s allies including Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. Bill Finger also named the city in which all these adventures take place, the city integral to Batman’s origin (which Bill Finger also wrote): Gotham. He also created arguably the most famous car in the world.
So why isn’t Bill Finger recognized by DC as Batman’s co-creator? Well, he is. Sort of. DC credits Bill Finger for all the stories he has written, and when reprinting any of his stories, he gets credit as the writer. I am confident that DC would give Bill Finger the credit for Batman’s co-creation, if they were legally allowed to, but the contract the Bob Kane signed (behind Bill Fingers back) giving DC ownership of the character ties the hands of DC’s Powers That Be to forever print the bye line “Batman Created by Bob Kane.” DC are legally bound to keep Bill Fingers’ name from that bye line, but they can, and do, rightfully credit the stories he wrote.
Bill Finger worked in an era where comic book creators weren’t credited on the front cover, and so he never saw a his name on the front cover of a comic book. It took 75 years after Batman’s creation for the to happen in DC’s 75th anniversary edition of Detective Comics #27. Bill Finger died in 1974, having passed into obscurity.
His final issues writing new Batman stories were Detective Comics #328 and Batman #177. These were not his final Batman stories, however. Bill Finger also cowrote a two-part episode “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes / The Clock King Gets Crowned”, airing October 12–13, 1966, in season two of the live-action Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. This would be the last original story that Bill Finger wrote for Batman, and it passed by with little, if any, fanfare.
Bill Finger provided so much to the comic book landscape in his years as a writer; from bringing Kryptonite into the comic books from it’s original introduction on the Superman radio show, to co-creating integral characters to the DC Universe, such as the first Green Lantern, Lana Lang,and Wildcat. This list is by no means complete, and you can find a more inclusive list here.
Bill Finger died in 1974, largely unknown, but not forgotten. Since his death, his name has been given to the Bill Finger Award For Excellence In Comic Book Writing, given annually to “two recipients — one living and one deceased— who have produced a significant body of work in the comics field.” Finger was also inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 1989, Kane acknowledged Finger as “a contributing force” in the character’s creation, and wrote, “Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero … I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say. ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.'”
But he never did.
If DC can’t legally give Bill Finger the credit he deserves, and Bob Kane didn’t, then it’s about time we do.
Update September 20th 2015: Bill Finger will receive credit for co-creating Batman on the second season of Gotham television show, and the Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. More information here.