Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Documentary ‘Batman & Bill’ Tells the Story of an Unsung Hero (the Secret Co-Creator of Batman) and Another Man’s Batman-like Crusade to Bring Justice to His Legacy

Being a huge fan of Batman, and comic books for that matter, I’ve been familiar with this fact for a while:  Bob Kane – who had been exclusively credited for being Batman’s sole creator for many, many years – apparently had a secret collaborator, and his name was Bill Finger.

In fact, Bill’s really the one that thought out most of the fundamental elements and characters that established Batman’s iconic mythology.  Bob Kane’s main contribution was just creating another “rich white man with a masked crime-fighter alter ego” character – a comic book character concept that was already very common back in those days – and giving him the name “Bat-Man.”   In fact, Kane’s initial draft for Batman’s character design is so laughably bad, and it was Finger who gave him the dark, bat-like look.  Unfortunately, Kane managed to negotiate a contract that stipulated that he and he alone was to be credited as Batman’s creator, and as Batman became bigger and bigger, Kane was celebrated and financially rewarded more and more.  On the other hand, Bill Finger died unknown, penniless, and alone.

This shocking, tragic story gradually spread around comic book communities, and geekdom in general, thanks to the dedicated research and campaign of writer Marc Tyler Nobleman, who also wrote a book on it called Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.  And as fans get wind of it, they in turn spread and raised awareness of who Bill Finger was, via the Internet and conventions.  Friends were told.  Articles were written.  Fan artworks and videos were made (one notable example – a personal favorite of mine – is a brilliant mashup of Batman and the intro of True Detective’s first season.  In it, Bill Finger is solely mentioned as Batman’s creator).
This cartoon is another favorite.  By the way, Ty Templeton is also the illustrator of Marc's book.
And now, a new Hulu documentary, Batman & Bill, serves as another avenue – and a very comprehensive one – in telling the Bill Finger story.  It’s a very powerful, fascinating, and informative watch, brought about by compelling interviews and motion comic-style dramatizations.  Those who would be learning of Bill Finger for the first time through it will be left shaken up.  And those who already know of his work and life will have renewed and deeper respect and pity for him, while their disgust or anger for Bob Kane will be increased.

Seriously, not only did Bob Kane unrightfully claimed all the glory, he was also all about promoting himself – desiring to make himself as big and famous and celebrated as Batman.  This has been repeatedly implied throughout the documentary, as it does an effective job in winning sympathy for Bill while fairly demonizing Bob.  But it’s not that it’s biased against Kane; whatever condemnations raised against him is well-corroborated.  Hence, once you learn how sleazy he was, cringing and being sickened about what is written on his gravestone comes immediately.
Ugh.  A sacrilege, using the names of God and Batman for this.
In addition to this, the documentary also details the time, resources, and effort that Marc Tyler Nobleman put into digging up every detail there is available about Bill Finger, making him and his legacy known to more people, and starting the fight in bringing him the recognition as Batman’s co-creator.  You can’t help but applaud him for the Batman-like detective skills, tenacity, and keenness for justice he displayed.  So though it was a general triumph for Batman fandom when Bill Finger finally gets credited for the first time along with Bob Kane (starting with the TV show Gotham and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice), you just can imagine how much more it meant for Marc.

Batman & Bill is a must watch, not only for Batman fans, but those who love comic books.  And I think even non-comic book fans will find something to appreciate about this documentary.  For the Bill Finger story is both remarkable and heartbreaking; very affecting at a human interest level.  On top of that, Marc’s crusade is an interesting case study on how the values learned from their comic book heroes can inspire comic book fans to emulate them by rising up and fighting for what is right.
As what Kevin Smith (one of the interviewees) beautifully articulated: “Comic book fans, their fights are on the page.  They don’t bring it into the real world or anything.  But the fights they do get involved in, it’s not fisticuffs, it’s battles for what is right.  And how could they not?  Because the characters they read about all the time do the same thing.  Those are your role models on the page.  So while Bill didn’t train people to fight for him after he was dead, you have a bunch of people who read and were influenced by the work of Bill Finger, like this is what’s right, this is what’s just.”

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