John at Trawlerman's Song
put up this post
linking to an NPR interview
with the late Bob Kane
, the officially credited creator of Batman and, alluding to the title of the recent Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale movie
, advised listening to it to hear how Batman really began.
I'm glad he did and thank him for it. It's an interesting listen. Unfortunately for NPR listeners, though, it's not so much how Batman was really created as how Bob Kane really wanted everyone to think Batman was created.
It's a testament to Kane's ego and selfishness that he made it through that ten-minute interview without once mentioning the name of writer Bill Finger. That's only a small example, though, of Kane's lifelong pattern of behavior since the moment Batman first appeared in 1939, with a few weak exceptions briefly in the time around when he was on NPR, though he returned to form for the interview itself .
For 66 years and counting, every appearance of Batman has carried the words "Batman created by Bob Kane." It certainly should read "Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger," but never will, thanks to the "iron-clad guarantee" in the contract that Wizard magazine says was produced by the lawyers employed by Kane's "well-to-do New York family with enough money...to nail down Kane's interest in the character." [For the excellent and informative Wizard article, see this page and scroll down.
That description of Kane's family's affluence conflicts with Kane's repeated description of himself in the NPR interview as "a poor kid from the Bronx." Who to believe? Well, Kane in that interview also says at the time he submitted Batman to DC (then National) Comics, he was 18. He was born, according to some conflicting accounts, on October 24 of either 1915 or 1916. If he wasn't born until 1916 and was 18 at the time of meeting he describes with editor Vincent Sullivan, that meeting couldn't have been later than 1935. But Kane tells interviewer Terry Gross that "the period when I spoke to Vincent Sullivan was 1939. It was about a year later [than the creation of Superman]." So Kane's account is at best unreliable.
Of course, the point ultimately isn't Kane's age or economic background but how Batman was created and by whom. Numerous sources describe Bill Finger as having played a crucial role. See, for instance, the Wikipedia article
(apparently drawing on the Gerard Jones book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, & the Birth of the Comic Book
, which I just ordered used from Amazon for $2 plus shipping), this Philadelphia Daily News article
, and the books and articles from which excerpts appear here
, including the Wizard article mentioned above. Consider also these press releases announcing
the Bill Finger Excellence in Writing Award.
Bob Kane's own 1989 autobiography, Batman & Me
, recognized this, but that was in contrast to his usual behavior. In 1965, in response to
a subsequent fanzine article resulting from Finger's participation in a panel discussion at a comics convention, Kane sent an angry letter to the fanzine Batmania
, in which he insisted he was the sole creator of Batman, accused Finger of delusions of grandeur, and pretty much called Finger a glorified typist.
24 years later, and 15 after Finger's death, Kane in his book gave Finger credit
for several of the key contributions in defining Batman's costume, characteristics, and identity. Without Bill Finger's contributions right from the beginning
, the character of Batman would have been something entirely different, probably wouldn't have lasted a couple of years, and certainly wouldn't today be a major character, let alone anything like DC's second highest-profile character and an American icon. Yet because it was Bob Kane whom editor Vincent Sullivan commissioned and Finger who was subcontracted by Kane, Kane maintained
even in the 1989 book that Finger "came into the strip after I had created Bat-Man."
Consider: in Kane's original conception, Bat-Man would wear--along with black trunks and black mask-- a union suit
costume of not gray but red
. He would wear no gloves. He would have no cape as such but instead big fake bat-wings attached to the back of his arms. There would be no cowl, no hood with bat-ears, but instead just a little mask like Robin ended up wearing, through which Kane's hero's eyeballs would be visible, unlike the blank slits for eyes in the Batman costume we came to know. All the changes away from Kane's original conception toward what the world came to know came from Bill Finger--those with the mask, at least, before the character was ever published.
What kind of personality or tactics this superhero might have had is unclear. Kane said
, "I made Batman a superhero-vigilante....Bill turned him into a scientific detective."
Kane's dishonesty is strikingly illustrated in that NPR interview when he speaks of the origin of the name Bruce Wayne, as if he came up with it: "Well, it's an alliteration of Bob Kane. Bruce Wayne. Alliteration." Yeah, "Bob" and "Bruce" each begin with the letter B. But do you think maybe another concept he was grasping for was "rhyming"? Never mind, though. He goes on, developing the theme of his naming his hero Bruce Wayne: "I wanted it to sound...I wanted to be Bruce Wayne in my revelry and in my daydreams. Instead of a poor kid, I imagined I'd like to be a rich playboy and fight crime at night because I hate all injustices in the world." The last bit makes me a little ill, but we'll return to his hating all injustices in the world in minute.
Look, did, in fact, Bob Kane name Bruce Wayne? He did not. In Batman & Me
, Kane writes, "The alliteration of the names - Bruce Wayne - Bob Kane - was probably one reason Bill came up with the name." Got that? "Bill
came up with the name." [Emphasis added, obviously.] And it turns out Kane is just speculating on the alliteration (rhyming?) idea: "probably
one reason." What ego
Now that we've got the acknowledgment from Kane that Finger came up with the name for Batman's alter ego, let's look at how Finger himself described the idea's genesis, according to TheBatSquad.net
's quotation from Jim Steranko's History of the Comics, vol. 1
. "Bruce Wayne's first name came from Robert Bruce, the Scottish patriot. Wayne, being a playboy, was a man of gentry. I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock...then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne." Doesn't mention Kane's name in there. So NPR's Terry Gross asks Kane about the name Bruce Wayne, and he a. neglects again to mention Bill Finger's name and b. gives her a load of BS.
(It now seems pretty much undisputed that Finger himself came up with
the Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, the Batmobile, the Batcave, the Batplane, the Batsignal, and the phrases "Dynamic Duo" and "Gotham City." Those are all in addition
to his role in creating the actual Batman character.)
Perhaps the most disgustingly hypocritical comment from Bob Kane in his latter days comes from Tales of the Dark Knight
by Mark Cotta Vaz. "I regret that I did not give Bill a byline, which he richly deserved, but somehow the policy in those days was to give credit only to the original creator and not to the writers who came in after the fact." Setting aside the question of what precisely Kane could be said to have created without Bill Finger, Kane had a contract guaranteeing him exclusive and perpetual credit. "Somehow the policy was..."? What chutzpah
! Kane profited handsomely from Batman and died in 1998. Bill Finger struggled his whole life and died in 1974. Throughout Finger's lifetime, Bob "I-hate-all-injustices-in-the-world" Kane denied him credit, adopting his phony posture of a generous spirit only after Finger was long dead and no threat to his own role as Batman's sole creator.
How did Batman begin? Bob Kane had an opportunity and a starting point. Bill Finger had the creative wherewithal to make from that a character that captured people's imagination.