This February 8th is an historic date in the comics history: the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bill Finger (and coincidentally, this year marks the 40th anniversary of his death and the 75th anniversary of the character he helped to create: Batman). How much he helped Bob Kane create that character is a subject of much vigorous debate. But recently, the notion that Finger should get some credit for the character has been igniting the internet with a growing movement to have him awarded that most 21st century of honours: his own Google Doodle. (If you have an idea about what form that doodle could take or just want to voice your support, email Google at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Creator rights and recognition is, of course, a huge topic in the world of comics. Although Stan Lee can still bristle at the question, he has been relatively gracious in sharing the creator credit for Spider-Man with Steve Ditko, for example, or giving credit to Jack Kirby where it is due. Over in the DC world, the story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s fight for any sort of ongoing financial compensation for Superman is well known, with the two gentlemen eventually receiving a pension from the company very late in their lives in recognition of their artistry. For the most part, creators have gotten very little in terms of financial restitution for their work, but personalities matter.
Among the most flamboyant of the comic-creator personalities is Bob Kane, the credited creator of Batman. Kane, like his contemporary Stan Lee, was a shameless promoter of himself and his creations. From showing up at the premiere of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film in a cape to becoming a staple of the New York social scene later in life, Kane was never far from the cameras or the headlines. The architect of this public image was Kane himself. With his altered name (he was born Robert Kahn), smart suits, and refined manners, Kane presented himself as a major American artist, even though, in his day, comic books didn’t have the cultural cache they have today. Along with this public image came an ego to match. Obviously, sharing credit with someone like Bill Finger wouldn’t suit him, especially in later years where Kane could be feted as a major artist, solely responsible for an iconic slice of American culture.
Marc Tyler Nobleman’s book, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, makes the case that Batman should emphatically be credited to both Kane and Finger, perhaps even Finger first. It was Finger, for example, not Kane who devised the famous Batman “cowl”, the color scheme of the costume (Kane originally had Batman wearing reddish tights), and the notion that Batman should be a scientific hero, working with modern forensics in his Batcave. And although Kane established the name “Batman”, it was Finger who gave this iconic character much of his iconography. Surely at least co-credit is due.
The issue seems to be the personality and ego of Bob Kane himself. Even though he passed away 16 years ago, the legacy of Batman is still haunted by this artist who styled himself as a real-life Bruce Wayne. (Ironically, the name “Bruce Wayne” was coined by… you guessed it: Bill Finger.) It reminds us that 75 years ago, when super-hero comics were really getting started in a big way, it was still a tough, competitive industry with some pretty tough, streetwise people working in it. It was a time when a single ego could play a big role, when bluster counted for a great deal more than it does today. The notion that this far into the future we are still dealing with the legacy of Bob Kane’s imperious ego is a testament to that historical reality.
But none of that should stop you from letting Google know that Bill Finger, at the very least, deserves a Google doodle in honour of his unquestioned contribution to our shared popular culture.