Batman is the story of the Caped Crusader fighting for justice on behalf of those who need someone else to do their fighting for them. But who fights for Batman when the Dark Knight needs help? The answer: Marc Tyler Nobleman.
The Hulu documentary Batman & Bill examines the creative origins of Batman, one of modern pop-culture’s great icons. When the very first Batman comic was published in 1939 the DC Comics star had been accredited to only one man - Bob Kane. Ever since that comic was published, any television episode, movie, cartoon, or book were all produced with only Kane’s name on the cover or title sequence. With the guidance of author Marc Tyler Nobleman, Batman & Bill explores how Kane was actually a co-creator of the Dark Knight and that longtime collaborator Bill Finger was responsible for a large portion of the Batman universe.
Finger was the creative force behind Robin, The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, The Penguin, Scarecrow, Commissioner Gordon, Bruce Wayne, and Dick Grayson. He named Gotham City, the Dark Knight, the Batmobile, the Bat Cave; he wrote the origin of the story that involved Bruce Wayne’s parents; and he provided critical cosmetic changes to Batman. Finger essentially developed so much of what we loved about Batman, but until recently he has been largely unrecognized. The only credit Finger achieved while he was alive was a co-writing credit on an episode of the Adam West Batman series.
Nobleman, who wrote the book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, shows how he devoted significant effort and research into finding out Finger’s contributions to Batman. He also located Finger’s granddaughter and helped push her into fighting to gain official acknowledgement of his work by DC Comics and Warner Brothers. Batman & Bill also shows how the journey to achieve recognition was an extremely personal one for Athena Finger. She is the daughter of Bill Finger’s only son, Fred. Fred Finger had died of AIDS when Athena Finger was very young and she had not really known her father.
Batman & Bill largely absolves DC Comics and Warner Brothers for omitting Bill Finger’s name from their credits. The documentary acknowledges that adding Finger’s name alongside Kane’s was a large headache for both companies with major legal ramifications that did not promise any real financial gain. Most of their blame is aimed at Kane, who showed some remorse for neglecting Finger’s contributions later in his own life. A major contrast between the two is shown. Kane gained substantial wealth while Finger had a small apartment. Kane stumped at conventions and told his fans about the work “I created.” Finger rode around on a bus and developed ideas through observation. A friend detailed that when Finger died, eviction notices were on his front doorway. Kane had the Bat-Signal on his gravestone. At one point a friend thought that Finger had been buried in an unmarked grave in a Potter’s Field. The comparison between both of their lives is astounding and shows a clear contrast in fortunes.
The documentary opens with Nobleman discussing Batman with a group of school children. The message of the scene is clear: everyone knows Batman. As Batman & Bill unfolds you find that even the most ardent fans of Batman were unaware of his true creator. Before watching Batman & Bill I did not how know Batman had been cultivated.
By the time I began watching the cartoon show Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, the Caped Crusader had been around for 53 years and there was never any thought as to how he came into being. Batman and his Gotham City cohorts had just always been there. Those same characters continued to entertain me throughout Christopher Nolan’s brilliant trilogy and represented one of the few facets of my childhood that I could reengage with on a new level as an adult.
Finding out that so many dynamic characters that had filled my childhood were primarily developed by one person was fascinating. The additional layer of learning about the relatively unknown identity of their creator and about the struggle to give him proper credit made Batman & Bill a must-watch documentary that can inform every generation of Batman fan.