Batman 75: Marc Tyler Nobleman on ‘uncredited co-creator’ Bill Finger
This year, DC celebrates 75 years of the Dark Knight. (DC Entertainment)Link
The one that started it all. "Detective Comics" No. 27 saw Batman trying to solve "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate." (DC Entertainment)Link
Bob Kane, alongside writer Bill Finger, created Batman. (Ellen Jaskol)Link
"Dectective Comics" No. 31, featuring one of the all-time classic covers of the Kane years. (Bob Kane/DC Entertainment)Link
Heeeeere's Robin! "Detective Comics" No. 38 saw the introduction of the Boy Wonder. Kane and Finger (with Jerry Robinson) agreed that it would help to have a Watson-like character for Batman to bounce ideas off of and that having a young ward would offer readers an entry point of identification for Bruce Wayne. (DC Entertainment)Link
Talk about a landmark issue: In 1940, Batman received his own title with this No. 1, which saw the debut of the Joker and Catwoman. (Bob Kane / DC Entertainment)Link
One of the most celebrated covers in the comic's history, "Batman" No. 9, drawn by by Jack Burnley. (Jack Burnley/DC Entertainment)Link
1941 saw the first of many shared panels with the Caped Crusader, the Boy Wonder and the Man of Steel. (DC Entertainment)Link
Another classic character of the Batman universe made his debut in this 1943 issue: Alfred. (Jerry Robinson/DC Entertainment)Link
Batman made his silver-screen debut in 1943, played by Lewis Wilson. Highly influenced by World War II fervor, the serial had its issues – the most offensive bits were deleted for the home video release in the 1980s – but it did introduce the Batcave and Alfred’s traditional appearance in the Batman universe. (Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)Link
One of the founding fathers of the Gotham universe, Jerry Robinson is widely accepted among comic historians as co-creator of the Joker, though Kane always disputed his contribution. He was also a co-creator of Robin, alongside Kane and Finger. As one of the main early artists of the comic, his stamp on Batman is indelible. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)Link
The famous "double guns Joker" cover for "Detective Comics" No. 69, considered one of the finest covers of the Golden Age. Robinson auctioned the original art for the cover in 2010 for $400,000. (Jerry Robinson / DC Entertainment)Link
Dick Sprang, who drew this 1943 cover, was reportedly Bob Kane's favorite "ghost" artist. (Dick Sprang/DC Entertainment)Link
While the character of Catwoman debuted in Batman No. 1 as the Cat, her character became more developed throughout the '40s. (Bob Kane/DC Entertainment)Link
While Two-Face, created by Kane and Finger, debuted in 1942, he "returned" in this 1948 issue, one of only a handful of appearances in the '40s. (Bob Kane/DC Entertainment)Link
Introducing: the Riddler. A co-creation of Bill Finger and Dick Sprang, Edward Nigma (occasionally "Nashton") made his debut in 1948. (J. Winslow Mortimer/DC Entertainment)Link
The Batmobile got a redesign thanks to Dick Sprang in this issue, which hit newsstands in December of 1949. (Dick Sprang/DC Entertainment)Link
Catwoman's ambiguous relationship with the Caped Crusader continued to evolve in the early '50s, including this stint where she helped the Dynamic Duo fight crime. She disappeared from the series from 1954 to 1966 due to the introduction of the Comics Code Authority's standards for female characters. (J. Winslow Mortimer/DC Entertainment)Link
Enter....Ace the Bat-Hound? Influenced by the Comics Code, the mid-1950s saw the introduction of a lighter tone and sillier characters like in this 1955 issue. (Win Mortimer/DC Entertainment)Link
Originally going by the moniker Mr. Zero, the villain better known as Mr. Freeze made his debut in this 1959 issue. (DC Entertainment)Link
After helping usher in the Silver Age of comics with his design of the Flash remake, Carmine Infantino presided over the new-look Batman, who debuted in this 1964 issue and jettisoned many of the sillier Comics Code-influenced aspects that had crept into the series. (Carmine Infantino / DC Entertainment)Link
Holy Televison Series, Bat ... you get the idea. From 1966 to 1968, Adam West and Burt Ward starred as Batman and Robin, respectively, in the high camp classic, which also spurred the equally campy 1966 film "Batman." (ABC)Link
Television's original Catwoman, Julie Newmar. She was replaced by Lee Meriwether for the feature film and Eartha Kitt in the series' final season, but for many Newmar remains the signature Catwoman. (Museum of Radio and Television)Link
Yvonne Craig as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, who was introduced during the third and final season of the show. (ABC)Link
Frank Gorshin as the Riddler in the role that earned him an Emmy nomination. (AP Photo/ABC)Link
This 1966 issue introduced the modern era Batgirl, a.k.a. Barbara Gordon, created by DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz and the producers of the 1960s "Batman" television series as a way to introduce a new female character for the third season of the show. Writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino handled her "million dollar debut." (DC Entertainment)Link
This issue marked the debut of Poison Ivy, created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff, as both a nod to the growing feminist sentiment at the time and as a character counterpoint to the decreasingly villainous Catwoman. (DC Entertainment)Link
A classic Carmine Infantino cover featuring the Penguin from 1967. (DC Entertainment)Link
Created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams, Man-Bat debuted in 1970 in "Detective Comics" No. 400. (Neal Adams/DC Entertainment)Link
The early '70s saw a new dynamic duo come to Gotham: writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams, who presided over a beloved period for the Dark Knight, erasing much of the camp of the television series from memory. In this issue, one of their creations, Ra's al Ghul, makes his debut. (Neal Adams/DC Entertainment)Link
A legendary Joker tale from the O'Neil/Adams era. (Neal Adams and Dick Giordano / DC Entertainment)Link
A classic cover from Jim Aparo, one of the signature Batman artists, who worked on some the classic '80s tales in the series. (Aparo/DC Entertainment)Link
Gerry Conway penned the story for this issue, which featured the return of Poison Ivy. In the early '80s, Conway would write the issues introducing Killer Croc and the second Robin, Jason Todd. (Dick Giordano / DC Entertainment)Link
Consistently ranked at or among the top of all graphic novels, 1986's "The Dark Knight Returns," by Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley, remains one of the definitive takes on the Batman, influencing both "The Dark Knight Rises" and Zack Snyder's upcoming "Man of Steel" sequel. (Frank Miller/Lynn Varley / DC Entertainment)Link
Talk about a hot streak. For a follow-up to "The Dark Knight Returns," Miller penned 1987's “Year One” story line, which revisited Bruce Wayne’s chilling origin story. It features cameos from Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent and also plumbs the arc of Jim Gordon’s history with the city. Much of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” was taken from Miller’s landmark work. (David Mazzucchelli / DC Entertainment)Link
In keeping with the '80s renaissance of serious Batman storytelling came Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s 1988 take on the Joker, "Batman: The Killing Joke," which launched a thousand debates over violence in comics and still stands as a signature moment in Batman’s history. (Brian Bolland / DC Entertainment)Link
A scene from "The Killing Joke," which altered the Batman universe. (Brian Bolland / DC Entertainment)Link
And the hits kept coming as the decade continued. The "A Death in the Family" story arc saw the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. The death sentence was handed down by readers, who were given the option to call a 1-900 number and vote on Todd’s fate. Turns out the fans made pretty efficient executioners, as Batman was too late to save the second Robin from the Joker's blast. (DC Entertainment)Link
In 1989, Batman returned to the silver screen in the Tim Burton-directed "Batman." Fans were initially worried when Michael Keaton was cast as the Batman, as the actor had primarily been known for his comedic roles. But Burton wanted Keaton after working with him on "Beetlejuice." Jack Nicholson starred as the Joker. The film's success was a watershed moment for the character.(Warner Bros.)Link
After the chilling new standard set by Moore's "The Killing Joke," "Batman Annual" No. 14 in 1990 featured an intense look at Harvey Dent's origins, in a classic tale penned by Andrew Helfer. (Neal Adams / DC Entertainment)Link
Following the success of "Batman," Burton returned to the director's chair for the 1992 sequel. It was to be his and Keaton's last dance in the pale moonlight with the franchise. (Warner Bros.)Link
“Batman Returns” didn’t earn as much at the box office as its predecessor, and in his review Times film critic Kenneth Turan wrote that it was “a cheerless, brooding but always visually inventive film,” adding that Michael Keaton looked unhappy. The critic did find a bright spot, though, citing Michelle Pfeiffer’s “stylish and funny performance as the frumpy Selina Kyle and her alter ego, the whip-cracking gender-bending Catwoman.” (Warner Bros.)Link
Michelle Pfeiffer won the role of Catwoman, after Annette Bening bowed out due to pregnancy and several other actresses turned it down. (Warner Bros.)Link
Spurred by the success of the feature films, the beloved and Emmy-winning "Batman: The Animated Series" ran from 1992 to 1995 and led to multiple subsequent shows for the hero. (Warner Bros. Animation)Link
Here comes Bane. In the 1993-94 "Knightfall" story line, Batman faced his greatest setback, having his back broken by the Venom-enhanced villain. As a result, Bruce Wayne allowed Azrael to step in and briefly take over the cowl, with disastrous results. (DC Entertainment)Link
Enter Val Kilmer as Batman, Chris O'Donnell as Robin and Joel Schumacher as the director. "Batman Forever," the 1995 follow-up to "Batman Returns," also offered a shift in tone to a more cartoon-ish version of the Dark Knight. While the immediate response to the film was positive, its stock has gone down in recent years, as hindsight revealed that it was the forerunner to the much-derided film that would follow just a few years later. (Warner Bros.)Link
Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face and Jim Carrey as the Riddler in Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever." (Warner Bros.)Link
Penned by Bane co-creator Doug Moench, "Sleeper, Part 1: Nightmares," featured this haunting cover image by Moench's "Knightfall" collaborator Kelley Jones. (Kelley Jones/DC Entertainment)Link
George Clooney in 1997's "Batman and Robin," one of the most reviled films of all time. “I think we might have killed the franchise,” Clooney has said about the film. (Warner Bros.)Link
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in "Batman and Robin." Critics responded icily to Schwarzenegger's performance. (Warner Bros.)Link
Set a few months after the events of "Year One," Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's 1996-1997 limited series "The Long Halloween" continues the Two-Face origin story from "Batman Annual" No. 14 and influenced Nolan's "Batman Begins" and, especially, the plot of "The Dark Knight." (Tim Sale/DC Entertainment)Link
After her debut in the animated series, Harley Quinn was quickly adopted into the comics world. In 1999, the fan-favorite character was properly integrated into the Batman universe continuity with an origin story in "Batman: Harley Quinn." (Alex Ross / DC Entertainment)Link
The year? 2039. The Batman? Terry McGinnis, a rebellious teenager who gets his start fighting the Jokerz gang alongside an ailing Bruce Wayne in "Batman Beyond." The 1999-2001 series won a couple of Daytime Emmys. (Warner Bros.)Link
Written by Jeph Loeb and penciled by Jim Lee, the 2002-'03 "Hush" story line featured Batman taking on a new enemy, alongside the familiar rogue's gallery, and hinted at the possibility that Jason Todd might still be alive. Plus it continued the 60-plus-year romantic tension between the Dark Knight and Catwoman. The entire collection of the "Hush" story line was released as one volume in 2009. (Jim Lee / DC Entertainment)Link
The animated series "The Batman" ran on the WB and then the CW from 2004 to 2008 and won several Daytime Emmys. (Warner Bros. Animation)Link
After the hints in "Hush" that Jason Todd might still be alive, the "Under the Hood" story line resurrected the former Robin as an antihero version of the Red Hood. The Hood was one of the oldest foes in the Batman universe, who made his debut in 1951 as a way to explain the Joker's origins. This origin story was then altered slightly in Moore's "The Killing Joke." (Mark Simpson / DC Entertainment)Link
Written by Frank Miller and penciled by Jim Lee, the "All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder" series ran from 2005 to 2008. Miller's writing in the series was heavily criticized and the story line's greatest legacy may be the infamous, profane "I'm the ... Batman" line in Issue 2. (Jim Lee / DC Entertainment)Link
With Christian Bale taking on the mantle of the Bat in 2005's "Batman Begins," directed by Christopher Nolan, movie fans quickly shrugged off bad memories of "Batman and Robin." (David James / Warner Bros.)Link
Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow in "Batman Begins," the only villain to appear in all three installments of Nolan's trilogy. (Warner Bros.)Link
A four-issue miniseries, "Batman: Year 100," written and illustrated by Paul Pope, featured yet another take on the Dark Knight, presiding over a dystopian Gotham City in 2039. The series won the 2007 Eisner Awards for limited series and writer/artist. (Paul Pope / DC Entertainment)Link
Christopher Nolan's follow-up to the well-received "Batman Begins" was 2008's masterpiece, "The Dark Knight," currently the 18th highest grossing film of all time. (Warner Bros.)Link
Heath Ledger as the Joker. Much like with Michael Keaton before him, fans were worried about Ledger's ability to capture the Clown Prince of Crime. The result, of course, was a defining take on the character and a posthumous Oscar for supporting actor. (Warner Bros.)Link
A promotional poster for D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), whose political career was derailed during the action of "The Dark Knight." (Warner Bros.)Link
Written by Grant Morrison, "Batman: R.I.P." saw the Caped Crusader battling the Black Glove organization and suffering a fate, well, worse than death. It was later revealed that the "R.I.P." stood for "Rest In Purgatory." (Alex Ross / DC Entertainment)Link
Spearheaded by Grant Morrison, "Batman and Robin" launched in 2009 and followed the events of "Batman: R.I.P." and the "Battle for the Cowl" story arcs and saw former Robin Dick Grayson taking up the mantle of the Bat, with Bruce's son Damian Wayne as Robin. (Purists' concerns were allayed when Bruce returned in the "Batman Incorporated" series). (Frank Quitely / DC Entertainment)Link
Written by Neil Gaiman, 2009's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" was published in "Batman" No. 686 and "Detective Comics" No. 853, Meant to be the "final" issues of the series, it was an homage to Alan Moore's "last" Superman story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" It is considered by many to be one of the best Batman stories ever written. (Andy Kubert/DC Entertainment)Link
In the fall of 2011, DC relaunched its superhero universe with the New 52. This "soft reboot" of familiar continuities precipitated a revamped origin story for the Dark Knight. The 2013-2014 "Zero Year" story line in writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo's "Batman" offers a fresh take on Bruce Wayne's early days in the cape and cowl. (Greg Capullo / DC Entertainment)Link
Given short shrift in 1997's "Batman and Robin," Bane took center stage in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012), played by Tom Hardy, who said his peculiar voice was an homage to Bartley Gorman, a bare-knuckle boxer known as the King of the Gypsies. (Warner Bros.)Link
"The Dark Knight Rises," currently the 12th highest grossing film of all time, was to be Nolan's last directorial performance and Christian Bale's last appearance as Bruce Wayne with the franchise. (Ron Phillips / Warner Bros.)Link
Anne Hathaway starred as Selina Kyle in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Warner Bros.)Link
From the mind of Paul Dini came 2009's "Batman: Arkham Asylum" from Rocksteady Games. It garnered the Guinness World Record for most critically acclaimed superhero game ever, and has bred sequels and a prequel. (Rocksteady Games)Link
In November 2013, Miles Scott, a.k.a. Bat-Kid, stole the hearts of the nation with his Make-A-Wish-sponsored adventures through Gotham (San Francisco), which included foiling plots of the Riddler and the Penguin and words of encouragement from President Obama. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)Link
Will Arnett voiced this humorously imperfect take on Batman for 2014’s hit “The Lego Movie.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)Link
The future: Ben Affleck in the first photograph of the new cape and cowl from 2016's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." (Warner Bros.)Link
Here's to many happy Dark Knight returns. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)Link
After 75 years, it’s hard for any story to add a new twist. But today, as part of the Batman Day festivities, something will appear on a Caped Crusader comic book cover that never has before.
The name Bill Finger.
While the casual fan might be asking “who?,” most Batman devotees know Bill Finger as the writer on the earliest Batman stories and a consistent contributor to tales of the Dark Knight during the character’s evolutionary years.
But according to author Marc Tyler Nobleman, who chronicled Bill Finger’s life in 2012’s “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman,” an illustrated story which Nobleman calls “an all-ages book,” Finger was much more than that.
Nobleman, along with a swelling collection of comic insiders and fans, posit that Finger should share creator status with Bob Kane, Batman’s long-acknowledged and credited creator, because Finger was responsible for creating or co-creating almost everything fans know and love about the Dark Knight — from Bruce Wayne’s name and origin story and the character of Robin, to Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker. Not to mention Catwoman, the Riddler, Two-Face, the Batmobile and many more. Even the name “the Dark Knight” was first used in a Finger-penned story.
Finger never received official credit for any of these characters and died in 1974, with little money or recognition. For years, his only credit came in the form of editor’s notes praising his work in a few scattered issues and whispers among comic scribes, insiders and fanatics.
In recent years, the tides have begun to change. Finger was posthumously inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2005, Comic-Con created the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing, which is given annually to “two recipients — one living and one deceased — who have produced a significant body of work in the comics field.”
And when DC Comics first announced the plans for Batman Day, it made sure to note Finger’s contributions, saying that Batman first appeared “in the comic book ‘Detective Comics’ No. 27, which hit newsstands on March 30, 1939, featuring artwork by Bob Kane and a script by Bill Finger.”
Still, it appears that there may be more to come in the debate over Finger’s legacy. In response to a DC Comics panel at Wonder-Con in April, where DC’s Larry Ganem was quoted as saying “…we’re all good with Finger and his family,” Finger’s surviving granddaughter Athena released a press statement contradicting that assessment, saying “… due to what I feel is continued mistreatment of a true artist, I am currently exploring our rights and considering how best to establish the recognition that my grandfather deserves.”
Nobleman has also had a busy year advocating for Finger. He recently called for the upcoming CW show “Gotham,” a Batman prequel of sorts, to acknowledge in its credits the man who he says named the fair city. He also tried earlier this year to get a Google doodle in honor of Finger’s 100th birthday.
This Thursday, he’ll be appearing alongside Michael Uslan, an executive producer of the “Batman” movies, at Comic-Con in a panel dedicated to the writer called, “Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman,” which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 pm in Room 4.
Hero Complex caught up with Nobleman to talk about Bob Kane’s contributions to Batman, orphan myths and standing up for oneself.
Hero Complex: How did you first become aware of Bill Finger and how did that evolve into writing the book?
Marc Tyler Nobleman: I wish I remembered exactly. All I can say is that I did not know who Bill Finger was when I was in college. I grew up loving Batman and superheroes and did not hear the name until sometime after college. I think it was sometime after that when I became a “professional” and through researching other personal interests that I learned about Bill Finger. Long before I wrote the Superman book that came out in 2008, I was planning to do a Batman story, told from the perspective of Bill Finger. Which I think is the rightful telling, where he’s the center of the story and not Bob Kane. In fact in my book, Kane’s role in the whole story, from a creative perspective, is a cameo in my opinion.
HC: You’ve said that Bill deserves 99% of the credit. What would you give Bob Kane the credit for?
MN: The two main contributions of Bob that I would credit him for are the name, and even that is disputed by people like Gerard Jones and with selling Batman; with going to DC and getting it done. But creatively, if you break it down, if you ask any stranger on the street to name one thing about Batman that pops into his head, chances are it’s going to be a Bill Finger contribution. It’s that pervasive. Even your grandmother who knows nothing about Batman, she’ll know some villain or she’ll know the Batcave. That’s Bill Finger. The last thing about the name: Even though I do credit Bob with the name, even that was not that original in the Thirties. The Thirties were rampant with Bat-themed characters and the concept itself was not strikingly original. It was the way that Bill synthesized various elements and gave this character a psychological back story that we had not seen before. So even Bob’s name contribution, if he did do it, isn’t the most significant.
HC: When someone asks you, “OK, Bill Finger: What did this guy really do?” What do you say?
MN: Bill Finger is the uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman. He is responsible for not only the first story but the first stories of most of the major characters, like Robin, Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Scarecrow and Commissioner Gordon. He wrote the stories that introduced the Batcave, the Batmobile, and coined the nickname the Dark Knight. I think most importantly for Batman’s legacy, he gave Batman the psychological reasons to have a realistic motive. That was different. Superman and a lot of these characters did good for good’s sake, but Batman had a mission.
HC: You’ve said, “We don’t relate to Batman because he has no powers, we relate to him because he has no parents.” Why is this such an important part of the story?
MN: The orphan myth is huge in literature, going back to Greek myths. All the way up to Superman, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. All of these major heroes are orphans, and Batman is one of them. The difference obviously is that Bruce Wayne was right there when his parents died and it was a horrifically traumatic thing. My daughter is 10 now and for a long time, something that she and her friends would play was a game called “Orphan.” I think it’s a fascination that kids have; a scared yet natural gravitation to the morbid and sad. Every kid wonders at one point: “What if my parents don’t pick me up? What if I’m alone?”
HC: Your previous book was about Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Where do you think this larger interest in the unsung artist and their struggle comes from for you?
MN: Well, everybody loves a good underdog story and there’s a special irony when the underdog story involves the creating of superheroes. It’s a funny paradox in my mind. The two main motivators for me from a purely creative and practical perspective is that no one had done it! It was 2004 when I wrote “Boys of Steel,” and Superman was 66 years old and no one had written a biography of his creators? It was unthinkable. And Bill Finger even more so because Batman has become so dominant in the culture. It just seemed like a natural topic for someone like me. But it wouldn’t have made sense if there weren’t stories. I could love Aquaman and Green Lantern but there’s most likely no drama behind their creation. As popular as those creations have become, a book wouldn’t work because there’s no conflict that I know of offhand. These stories had that in spades and everything aligned for me.
HC: Speaking of Green Lantern, Bill had a hand in his development too, right?
MN: Yes, he was the original writer of the original Green Lantern.
HC: He also created Lana Lang for Superman and had a hand in an element of the Krypton myth too, right?
MN: Yes, he wrote the first story in which Superman learns of his Kryptonian heritage. Also, he didn’t create Kryptonite, that was introduced on the radio show, but he was the first to include it in a comic book story.
HC: Reading about your research, it sounds at times like we’re talking about a figure from the 19th century. For example, there’s only 11 known photos of Bill?
MT: We just found a 12th.
HC: How shocking was that for you that there would be so few photos and artifacts?
MT: The thought that behind this hugely visual character is a guy who left so few visuals traces of himself is a huge irony to me. Earlier in my career, I wrote about the Klondike Gold Rush, which took place in the late 1800s. I wrote it narratively and I just turned it into the editor and they did all the photo research. They found photos of some of these people that I was writing about in the late 1800s in the middle of the wilderness! They were able to dig up photos of these people who are far from household names, who predate Bill Finger by a couple of decades and weren’t living in New York City. And here I am scrounging around, you know, I’m desperate to find Finger. It was just such a weird paradox.
HC: What do you find so exciting or helpful about using the illustrated, ‘all-ages’ medium?
MN: I love it because it forces me as a writer to really cut to the essence of the story. You’ve got a limited space. I also like the way that text and art work together to tell a story. One of the big signs for me was what happened to Bill after he died. The thought was that Bill was buried in a pauper’s grave with no headstone and was neglected. And I found out that he wasn’t. His son had him cremated and spread his ashes on the beach in the shape of a bat. Which is so poetic and I get chills almost every time I talk about it. So the book sets this up with words but I don’t say in the text that his son Fred scattered the ashes in the shape of a bat. I say that he arranged the ashes in a fitting shape on the sand and the picture shows you that it’s a bat. This is a small detail but it actually has a big impact that way. I like the interplay between words and art that you don’t get with a prose only book. And again, the most important reason really is that I want young kids who love Batman to know who they can thank for that.
HC: There’s a lot of real life lessons in the story, and you’ve said that “these stories empower us to protect our own ideas.” What would you say are the chief lessons of Bill’s story?
MN: I think, the biggest one is: Stand up for your work and yourself. I speak all over the world about this and kids totally latch on to that. They get so indignant when they hear how this all played out. It’s really re-affirming. It really makes you believe that everyone is born good, everyone has the potential to be good and when you hear that someone was wronged, it makes you want to go out and fight for them. It’s a really sweet. I couldn’t have predicted how this would all play out but it’s illustrated a lot about defending yourself and now defending people who aren’t able to do it for themselves.
HC: What’s next for you? Are there other stories like this that you’re currently working on?
MN: Nothing superhero-related, but this part of my larger interest in a high-profile angle with a mystery in the background. One of the next books I’m working on which is going to be the same format is a World War II story about a Japanese pilot who did something unprecedented which has still not been repeated and hopefully never will be. He’s the only person in history to succeed in dropping bombs from a plane on the U.S. mainland. This guy bombed Oregon and he’s largely been ignored in history. It sounds completely different from the Finger and Siegel and Shuster stories, but it’s this really juicy piece of history that’s hidden in plain sight.
HC: The hidden-in-plain-sight thing seems like a definite theme. Like how the name “the Dark Knight” is a Finger creation and it’s in the titles of some of the most popular movies of all time.
MN: And the word “Batman” is not in the title. His nickname is so famous that they don’t need the name Batman. That was especially galling for me. Talking about the legality of putting Bill’s name in the credits, I proposed to DC, actually before my book was out even, so they didn’t know who I was yet, that “The Dark Knight” credit Bill simply for writing the first story to include the name. I know they can’t get into subjective terms like “creator” and “co-creator” because that’s loaded, but it would be completely legal and factual to say “ ‘the Dark Knight’ was first applied to Batman by Bill Finger in a story written in 1940,” which they do in their reprints all the time. So it just seemed to me that that’s what they should do for these movies, but that did not happen. When you watch the credits for the Dark Knight, there’s got to be a thousand people on that credit list. None of them would have had that job if it weren’t for Bill Finger. You would not have that movie! That was really hard for me. That’s why I started the effort to have people recognize that with this show “Gotham,” it wouldn’t have a name without Bill Finger. So we’ll see what happens. I mean a lot depends on what happens with Athena.
HC: A big part of the ongoing fight for Bill’s recognition going forward will be what Athena chooses to do. Is she going to be pursing legal action? What do you think the future holds for this battle for Bill to get recognized?
MN: Well, I am in the front row eagerly awaiting to see what happens. I am not at liberty to say more than that. But, Athena did put out that press release, which someone wouldn’t do if they weren’t prepared to follow up on it.
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