Comic-Con: Bill Finger’s Batman legacy detailed by Denny O’Neil, more

July 25, 2014 | 8:30 a.m.
DC will be releasing a free issue of "Detective Comics" No. 27,  a re-imagining of the Caped Crusader’s 1939 comic book debut, designed by Chip Kidd with a script by bestselling author Brad Meltzer. (DC Entertainment)

Bill Finger’s name is included on the cover of the special edition of “Detective Comics” No. 27 that DC gave away as part of its Batman Day festivities on Wednesday. (DC Entertainment)

Batman’s Gotham City is a dark place, and Bill Finger’s place in that mythos has long been in the shadows.

But in the character’s 75th anniversary year – also the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth – the spotlight has found Finger.

Among those helping to bring attention to the long-uncredited Bat-scribe: Denny O’Neil. After decades on Batman titles, from the 1970s and from the mid-1980s to the new millennium as an editor, O’Neil told a Comic-Con International panel crowd Thursday morning he was left with one regret: “I wish I’d tried harder to get him credit,” though he added that he understands “legalities” made that unlikely.

O’Neil actually met Finger – who received a cover mention on DC’s Batman Day giveaway edition of “Detective Comics” No. 27 and is credited by proponents with largely creating the Dark Knight and a slew of his rogues gallery and supporting cast alongside Bob Kane — including the Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and the names Gotham and Dark Knight.

“He took this raw recruit and very kindly told me stuff about the business and about the craft that I’d embarked on that I should know but wasn’t going to learn from anyone else,” O’Neil said of a dinner he had as a neophyte comics writer with Finger.

O’Neil was an unannounced participant on the “Spotlight on Bill Finger” panel, which included the subject’s only living descendants, granddaughter Athena Finger and her young son, Benjamin; “Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight” author Travis Langley; Bob Kane autobiography co-writer Tom Andrae; Bill Finger Awards administrator and comics writer Mark Evanier; “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman” author Marc Tyler Nobleman; Batman artist Jerry Robinson’s son Jens Robinson; 1989-present Batman films executive producer Michael Uslan; and “Batman: The Movie” Catwoman actress Lee Meriwether.

Athena Finger, who accepted a Comic-Con Inkpot Award for excellence in comic arts in her grandfather’s name, said she had shied away from talking about his legacy “because people didn’t believe me,” and that Nobleman, in making his book, had helped bring her out. With this year’s anniversaries, she said, “This was the right time” to appear at conventions.

Finger, said those who had researched his life and spoke to contemporaries, was shy and little known even to some people who worked with him.

But Uslan said he’d met the man.

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)

“Batman” No. 1 saw the debut of the Joker and Catwoman, characters that Bill Finger’s proponents credit him with co-creating. (Bob Kane / DC Entertainment)

Touring the DC offices as a 13-year-old in the 1960s, he had the opportunity to roam the bullpen and ask for autographs. He stood beside a man working on a typewriter and struck up a conversation.

“I told him that I wanted to be a comic book writer – my dream was to one day write Batman comics,” Uslan said. “And then he informed me … he was the original writer of Batman. Never said anything about creating it. He was very much a man of humility. And he just said, ‘I have been writing Batman comics for a long time, actually since the first one.’ I was so excited.”

Uslan had a Superman picture he’d received on the tour, and the man signed it.

“That was the first time I ever saw the name Bill Finger,” he said.

On another occasion, on the way to a 1964 comic convention in New York, Uslan said his mentor, “Captain Marvel Adventures” writer Otto Binder, introduced Finger as “the creator of Batman.”

Andrae, who wrote “Batman and Me” with Kane, encouraged the artist to express some of his regret that Finger received no official credit, which he did – to a point. A video that opened the presentation included a Kane quote saying that Finger “never received the fame and recognition he deserved.”

But, Andrae said, “I wish he’d felt a little more guilty about it.”

The panelists said Finger was a visionary in the field – realizing that a comic book page worked differently than a comic strip or film or theater.

“These guys were very casually creating a language, inventing an art form, for bad money against deadlines,” O’Neil said of Finger and others.

As for Finger’s fame going forward, his great-grandson Benjamin said it used to be that people wouldn’t believe him when he talked about his ancestor and Batman. But then his school’s library got Nobleman’s book.

“Now they actually believe me,” he said.

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

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