His Finger-prints are all over Batman

Posted: June 15, 2005

"Batman created by Bob Kane."

It is a phrase you will see whenever you read a comic book starring Batman, and which has been in every Batman comic since the character's first appearance in "Detective Comics" #27- 66 years ago.

But there are many who feel the statement is - at least - partially incorrect. They feel that Batman may not have existed at all if it weren't for the contributions of another man.

That man's name? Bill Finger.

"Bob Kane created Batman. Nobody can take that away from him," says noted pop-culture historian J. David Spurlock. "But most of the older comics pros agree that from that point on, Bill Finger - at least - created all of the supporting characters."

Indeed, during his 20-plus years writing the character, Finger created most of Batman's memorable supporting cast, including Robin - who he dreamed up over a sandwich - and the Joker, which even Kane admitted in his 1989 biography "Batman and Me."

"Bill came in with a photograph of Conrad Veidt, who played in a movie called 'The Man Who Laughs,' " Kane stated in the book. " 'Here's a picture of that Joker character,' Bill exclaimed. 'Copy it and I'll write the first Joker story.' "

Most importantly, Finger ensured the character existed at all.

Kane's original Batman design was influenced by Zorro, Superman and a Leonardo da Vinci design of a flying machine. Kane's original Batman wore red tights with a Zorro-styled mask, and had stiff-looking wings mounted to the back of the costume.

Both Kane and Finger felt there was a need to improve the design; Finger went to work immediately. He pulled a dictionary off a shelf and opened to the picture of a bat.

"Bill said, 'Why not make him look more like a bat and put a hood on him, and take the eyeballs out and just put slits for eyes to make him look more mysterious?' Kane recounted in "Batman and Me."

Batman's domino mask changed into a full cowl and Finger also suggested making the color scheme darker.

"Color it dark gray to make him look more ominous," Kane recalled Finger saying. Finger also got rid of the wings and replaced them with Batman's now-famous cape. Finger's tinkering with Kane's garish design had given birth - in mere hours - to the Batman we all know today.

But he never received equitable compensation for his work.

"It just so happened that Bob Kane's family was very wealthy, and - in fact - Kane's father was a lawyer," says Jim McLauchlin, currently editor-in-chief at Top Cow Comics. "Coming from a wealthy background and having a father for a lawyer, Kane was able to secure . . . a contract and an agreement with National Periodical Publications - now known as DC Comics - as to Kane's actual creation and ownership of Batman."

"Kane," continues McLauchlin, "walked away with the amazing lion's share of any . . . profit that came out of that - while Bill Finger walked away with practically nothing."

McLauchlin says his research shows Finger was mainly responsible for many other Batman staples - like his many gadgets, the Batcave, his Batarangs and the Batmobile.

"Bill got a raw deal from both Kane and DC Comics," says Carmine Infantino, who revitalized Batman in the 1960s.

Indeed, McLauchlin says unless both the Kane estate and DC agree to alter the longstanding contract - which he finds highly improbable - nothing will change and few will realize the contributions of Finger, who died in 1974 at the age of 60.

McLauchlin feels Bill Finger is a cautionary tale for today's comic book creators.

"Bill Finger has become a cliche and he's become a verb," says McLauchlin.

"You can talk to any editor in comics and if you're in a situation where you feel like you're getting screwed, or you feel like you're not getting due credit you'll say to your guys, 'Hey, I really feel like I'm getting Fingered over here,' and they'll know exactly what you're talking about." *

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