I was up against it this week. A full week of retreading movies I love or stumbling into crap I can’t recommend to you, the reader. Luckily So Wizard’s own Joey recommend a doc currently streaming on Hulu, Batman and Bill.
First hearing the tragic story of Bill Finger is intriguing. As I dug deeper the intrigue grew. This documentary does a great job getting to the heart of the matter showing how deep it goes.
Bob Kane created the concept of Batman to make money. There was no love in his creation. He knew what he had wasn’t right. No one would buy it. He called on Bill Finger to help him mold the creation of Batman. Finger came up with all the aspects of Batman that make the character so iconic. Kane slapped his name on it and sold it to (while retaining some rights) the company that would become DC comics. Kane pretended to be a halfway decent guy and paid Finger on the side.
Finger got paid until the 1960’s when he skulked even lower. The documentary does point out that Kane was playing the game of the industry at the time. Still, it’s hard to see his move as anything other than sketchy. Sketchy is being kind.
A letter made its way to Batman fans giving Finger some overdue credit. Kane, the face of Batman’s IP, wrote a response letter that was scathing toward Finger. The debate became a blame game with no proof to defend Finger’s position. Few people knew of the Kane and Finger relationship. Those who did, have nothing but praise for Finger.
Batman and Bill is currently streaming on Hulu
There’s a cool segment on the ‘66 Batman series. This show has somewhat recently found its proper respected place in pop culture. The show went a long way to make Pop Culture a thing. It also made Batman a household name. All the good the show did also made Bob Kane more famous and more the creator. Conversely, it cast bigger shadows over Finger.
To make things even more tragic, it was a feast or famine scenario. Kane got rich off Finger’s work. Kane preyed on many people in this way. Finger died, alone, in an apartment where he was staring down eviction. A friend found him. The man who created everything you love about The Dark Knight died penniless and alone. No fault was his other than being a naive kid with excitement to tell a story. It’s reported that Bill Finger was buried in a pauper’s grave. There’s more to this story but it’s far more powerful to see it on screen than to read it second hand here.
Only after Finger’s death Kane finally admitted, in writing, that Finger never got the credit he deserved. He almost played the victim in saying ‘aw that’s too bad I didn’t have a chance to give him credit.’ There’s speculation a ghost writer handled this for Kane too.
It seems like Kane had trouble keeping up with his own lies. He claims that he created batman at the age of 13 or 14 that changed Birdman to Batman. Kane says on tape that he created Batman as a response to Superman. As a way to get money. More of the same evidence in a shocking story of lies and betrayal.
It’s not all bleak. With much perseverance Athena Finger, the Granddaughter of Bill Finger, was finally acknowledged. DC gave her monetary compensation when Nolan’s The Dark Knight came out. This was to be a ‘thank you’ for Finger’s contributions.
The money came without credit. The good will didn’t last long. Soon after DC asked Finger’s heir for a signature that would give her a payday. The payday came with a hefty price. It meant there could never again be a call for Finger to receive credit for Batman.
The doc also touches on Siegel and Schuster. The creative team behind Superman. While these two have gotten credit for a while they made little money on the character. Not compared to Superman’s ability to earn. DC/Warner has won battle after battle against the creators and also their heirs. This was a terrible precedent for Finger’s estate to go after. Athena Finger’s lawyer knew stepping into the ring with these massive companies wouldn’t work. She states that she had to let on that it would.
It took years but eventually Finger would get his name on the screen. First in FOX’s Gotham series, then in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, these aren’t the greatest examples of Batman, but some small amount of justice was served.
Documentaries tell one side of the story. They are trying to prove something as fact. Because of this they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Sadly in the case of Batman and Bill, everything appears to be completely factual. Kane did seem to be slimy in his business dealings. Anything you research on the subject supports the argument that Bill Finger should be credited with at least 50% of Batman’s creation, if not more.
No matter your opinion or level of knowledge on the topic Batman and Bill is a gripping documentary that flies by.