Those Who Came Before: Bill Finger
In last month’s installment of Those Who Came Before, I focused on Bob Kane, officially credited creator of Batman. Sticking with the Batman theme for another month, I’ll be focusing on Bill Finger. If you’re a Batman fan, and you’ve never heard that name, you’ve been missing out on a good bit of Batman’s history.
So, do you love Batman? Of course you do! Well, he’d be a whole lot different today if it weren’t for the work of Bill Finger. Would he be wearing red tights? Would he have had someone like Pip the Troll for a sidekick instead of Robin? Would there still be new Batman stories being published? I can definitely say, with complete certainty, that I have no clue. I do know however, that all of us who love Batman owe a lot to Mr. Finger.
What about all of the questions surrounding this man? How much influence did he have on Batman during the creative process? How much of what became the Caped Crusader was due to Finger? How much Kane? This is a controversy that has gone on for longer than I’ve been alive. There are conflicting reports in articles, sound clips, books, and even from the mouths of people involved. Some who were around back then have been quoted as saying one thing, and then have seemingly contradicted themselves later on. All of this adds up to a sea of back and forth hearsay, that would be rather difficult to wade through. In this column I will make no attempt to sort it out. I have neither the time nor the resources to even come close to getting to the whole truth here. For that, you’ll have to do your own detective work, and get very familiar with google in the process.
Finger was born in 1914, and died young at the age of 59, in January of 1974. Having died before our modern, internet age, we don’t have a bunch of interviews to watch or listen to online, like we do with some other creators of his era. Though he didn’t live to see 60, he was a prolific creator. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1933 in the Bronx, NY. Yes, this is the same school that graduated Kane, Will Eisner, Stan Lee, and other notable comic creators. He met Kane at a party, and at the time was a part time shoe salesman dreaming of becoming a writer. By 1938 he had begun working in the comic business at Bob Kane’s studio. It was during this time, and from these two men, that Batman came to be.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about who did what, and when. One major problem with sorting this out is that it all happened 70 years ago. However, there are a few things that are generally considered to be accurate. First however, let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Basically, the problem is that you have two men involved in the creation of Batman. Bob Kane, and Bill Finger. The two men seem to have had trouble agreeing on what happened back then. Also, other people who were around them at the time, other writers & artists, have some differing recollections of who did what. Some of the things debated over the years include the origin of the names Batman & Bruce Wayne, among other things. Of course, Bob Kane is the only one officially credited by DC Comics with creating Batman.
There are however, a few things that are pretty much agreed upon. Finger hasn’t claimed that he came up with the idea for the character of Batman, he gives credit for that to Kane. Finger remembered that Kane’s original concept for Batman looked too much like Superman for his liking, with reddish tights, no gloves or gauntlets, having a mask, and wings that looked like bat wings. Finger had a few costume suggestions, such as giving him gloves, a cape instead of wings, a cowl that would give him a distinguished silhouette, and replacing the red in his costume with grey. All I have to say about that is thank you Mr. Finger.
Kane originally submitted the idea for the Batman character before his collaboration with Finger, so he retained sole official credit for creating our favorite Gothamite. This was the case even after the first Batman story was published with Finger as it’s writer, and Kane as the artist. That combination sounds like a collaboration to many, but Finger still received no official credit. They didn’t stay as partners for too long. Finger has been described as a methodical writer, and as a result a somewhat slower writer. He’s also been described as tardy. Either way, he wasn’t putting out the material fast enough for the increasing demand after Batman’s introduction in Detective Comics #27. Due to this, Batman’s editor, Whitney Ellsworth, suggested that Finger be replaced. For a time, this is what happened, and Gardner Fox contributed to the writing. Finger did return to writing Batman, and he created or co-created many things, such as the Batcave and the Batmobile. He’s also credited with naming Gotham City. Is there a cooler sounding name for a city? No, not really. Finger would also contribute to the creation and/or development of the Robin character, and the villain Joker. Others included in Finger’s contributions are James Gordon, Jervis Tetch (Mad Hatter), Harvey Dent (Two Face), The Riddler, Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin), Dick Grayson (Robin), Temple Fugate (Clock King), and Catwoman.
Finger eventually left Kane’s studio to work directly for DC Comics, but he continued to supply scripts for Batman on into the 1950s, as well as other books. Later on, Finger even wrote a two-part episode, The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes & The Clock King Gets Crowned, of the Batman television show that aired in October of 1966.
Finger is credited with co-creating, along with Martin Nodell, the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, in 1940. He teamed up with Irwin Hasen to create Wildcat, Ted Grant, in 1942. For his work on Green Lantern & Wildcat, Finger received credit as part of the creative team by means of a by line. Knowing this makes me feel a little better after his lack of official credit with Batman. He also has credit, along with John Sikela, for creating Lana Lang, Clark Kent’s fellow Smallvillian in 1950.
Finger also played his hand at being a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote the films Death Comes to Planet Aytin, The Green Slime (1969), and Track of the Moon Beast (1976). He also contributed scripts for the TV series’ Hawaiian Eye and 77 Sunset Strip.
Finger has received posthumous acknowledgement for his contributions to comic history. He was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994, and into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999. There have also been several instances of people within the comic industry recognizing Finger’s contributions.
I know that I appreciate what he did. If it turned out that only some of what is said about his influence on the character is to be believed, Batman’s history and success owes a great debt to Bill Finger. Throw in his work on Green Lantern and Wildcat, and this man has helped shape a nice sized portion of the DC Universe.
Bill Finger was a real heavyweight in comic history.