Obscure Batman creator gets his dues

(From left) Mr Steven Simmon, stepson of Bill Finger, Mr Chris Rosendahl and Mr Al Vasquez, known as Batsquez, at a street-naming ceremony honouring writer Bill Finger.
(From left) Mr Steven Simmon, stepson of Bill Finger, Mr Chris Rosendahl and Mr Al Vasquez, known as Batsquez, at a street-naming ceremony honouring writer Bill Finger.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • In comics, Batman was born in Crime Alley, where Bruce Wayne saw the lives of his parents come to an end during a robbery gone wrong.

In real life, however, Batman was born in the Bronx. And his creators - cartoonist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger - would meet at Poe Park to discuss the character that would become the caped crusader.

On a recent chilly Friday morning, a crowd of about 100 friends, family and fans of Batman gathered to celebrate a comic-book milestone: the south corner of East 192nd Street and Grand Concourse Avenue was renamed Bill Finger Way.

It was the latest acknowledgement of Finger's role in bringing life to one of the most successful comic characters, a contribution suppressed for more than 75 years.

"It's hard to imagine an artistic achievement more iconic than the creation of Batman," councilman Ritchie Torres said at the street-naming ceremony. "The irony here is that even though the creation itself is famous, the creator is obscure. Our goal is to change that."

The crowd included actor Kevin Conroy, who lends his voice to Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight in animation, and Athena Finger, who is Bill's granddaughter. There was a fan in full Batman costume.

Comic-book fans are a passionate lot. Some will roll up their sleeves, undertake detective work and fight to right a wrong.

One of them is Lenny Schwartz, who wrote a 2015 play about the tribulations of Finger, Co-Creator: The Man Behind The Bat.

Finger was born in Denver in 1914. His family moved to the Bronx during the Great Depression. Despite having helped create Batman, the writer died in 1974, penniless and alone, Schwartz said.

Author Marc Tyler Nobleman's championing of credit for Finger is chronicled in the Hulu documentary Batman & Bill, which was released earlier this year.

He said during his speech at the ceremony: "Bob Kane drew only a fraction of the stories - and for only the first few years - and did not write a single Batman story in his life. From the start, he was the sole person credited. Holy fake news, Batman."

After Superman came out, Kane had an idea for a hero known as Bat-Man. He turned to Finger, whom he employed as a ghostwriter.

Kane's initial concept had a figure in a red suit with a mask and wings. Finger darkened the costume, suggested a cowl with pointed ears and replaced the wings with a scallop-edged cape. It was a hit.

Kane went on his own to National Comics Publications, the forerunner of DC Comics, with the concept and claimed full credit.

In the documentary, Nobleman offered some Batman history: the possible existence of a contract negotiated by Kane that would name him as sole creator for perpetuity.

Kane denied the claim until 1989, when he admitted in his autobiography, Batman And Me, written with Tom Andrae, that Finger did not receive the recognition he deserved. Kane died in 1998.

Nobleman felt an heir would be critical to getting DC Comics to change the Batman credit. His doggedness in his quest included calling all 500 people in the search results of Florida residents with the last name of Finger. Eventually, he found the writer's granddaughter, Athena.

On Sept 18, 2015, DC Entertainment announced an agreement with the Finger family that recognised Bill Finger's significant contributions to the Batman family of characters.

The next month, the credit line "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger" began to appear on comic books. It was also included in last year's film, Batman V Superman, and in this year's Justice League.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'Obscure Batman creator gets his dues'. Print Edition | Subscribe