Bill Finger is the nearly forgotten comics genius who co-created Batman.
Bill Finger is a name that only dedicated comic-book fans might know. However, Bill Finger is a name that should be held in the same regard as comic book giants like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Frank Millar, and all of the other greats. If it wasn’t for Bill Finger, Batman and many of his best villains wouldn’t be the characters we know today.
Unfortunately, like many great artists whose work lives on well past their own lifetimes, Bill Finger died in obscurity and poverty in 1974. At this time, Batman was already an internationally known superhero with comics, merchandise, and a TV series. Finally, Finger would get the recognition he more than deserved in 2015 when DC Comics’ parent company agreed to recognize Finger as the co-creator of Batman and add his name to the ‘created by’ credit line going forward.
Bill Finger started from humble beginnings. He was born in Denver, Colorado in 1914 and ended up in the Bronx, New York where he would start his career as an aspiring writer and part-time shoe salesman after high school. He would then meet comic artist Bob Kane at a party, which led to him getting a job at Kane’s studio in 1938. Finger’s first job was ghostwriting comic strips.
Soon after Bill Finger began his career at Bob Kane’s studio, the Superman comics would explode in popularity. This is when Kane showed Finger his drawing for a character called Bat-Man, though it was a far cry from the brooding caped crusader we know today. According to Finger, the drawing was a character with red tights, boots, a domino sign, and bat wings.
Bill Finger had a few notes. He would change the domino mask to a cowl, remove the wings and replace them with a cape, add gloves, cut out the red sections of the costume, and suggest the secret identity of Bruce Wayne. In short, Finger changed Batman from a Superman knockoff to the shadowy detective character that we know and love.
Bill Finger would go on to write the script for Batman’s debut and his second appearance, along with many of the early Batman stories that helped launch Batman into comic book royalty. Finger wasn’t done there though — he also made major contributions to the backstory and design of the Joker and Robin. It was Finger’s idea to base Joker’s creepy perpetual grin off Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs instead of making him look like a basic clown.
Along with co-creating Batman, the Joker, and Robin, Bill Finger was also the creator or co-creator of characters and ideas such as the Batmobile, the Batcave, the ‘Dark Knight moniker, the name Gotham City, Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, Clayface, The Riddler, Calendar Man, Scarecrow, Catwoman, and the original Batgirl. It’s pretty safe to say that the Batman character and mythos just wouldn’t be the same without Finger’s input. Bill Finger also made a huge contribution to another major DC hero by collaborating with Martin Nodell on the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott.
Despite these contributions, Bill Finger didn’t get a public credit for a Batman story until 1966, when he co-wrote a two-part episode of the live-action Batman TV series with Charles Sinclair. This would be the only Batman credit to his name when he passed away eight years later. The silver lining is that Bill Finger’s story didn’t die with him.
In 2006, Marc Tyler Nobleman would begin research for a Bill Finger biography. At the time, it was assumed that Finger only had one known child, Fred Finger, who passed away in 1992. However, Nobleman’s research uncovered that Fred Finger had a daughter named Athena, who was born two years after Bill’s death.
Nobleman quickly contacted Bill Finger’s granddaughter and only living heir to encourage her to contact DC Comics about getting her grandfather credit for his work on Batman. Athena agreed and the campaign to get Bill credit would begin. Nobleman would rally comic fans through his blog, podcast appearances, social media, and live events.
In 2012, Nobleman would finally release his book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. The campaigning finally bore fruit, and DC Comics negotiated with Athena in 2015. The negotiations resulted in Bill Finger receiving credit alongside Bob Kane in movies like Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, the TV show Gotham, and all Batman-related comic books, graphic novels, and other print publications.
While this story eventually got a happy ending, it’s a shame Bill Finger never got to see any of it. If you want to learn more about Finger’s story, you can check out Nobleman’s book. You can also the 2017 Hulu documentary Batman & Bill which is based on the book.