The Secret History of Batman: Marc Tyler Nobleman Talks Bill Finger’s Legacy

Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of Bill the Boy Wonder, talks about the Batman creator you may not know about.

In the grand scheme of things, none of us can truly escape anonymity. There’s just too much time stacked against these slivers of existence. But in our own moment, we can make ourselves into legends, screaming our heads off about all that we author and compose. In the era of the world wide web and social media, we are each born with a bullhorn in our hands and the innate ability to use it.

Bill Finger was born in a different time. A great behind-the-scenes force in the construction of the foundation and characters that made the Bat-Man capable of standing the test of time, Finger was — by all accounts — un-shrewd in the ways of self-promotion. Bill Finger did little to fight for his place in history beside Bob Kane, Batman’s sole credited creator, but in the time since Finger’s death, many have taken up the cause, including author Marc Tyler Nobleman.

Finger could have used an advocate like Nobleman in his day. Someone driven to action and effort by the stench of injustice that comes off of Finger’s sad tale. But while there is no way to give Finger the recognition and security that Kane had, and seemingly no way to add the name “Bill Finger” to the contractually secured Batman byline, Nobleman is trying to keep Bill Finger on our heads. To do this, Nobleman has dedicated himself to that effort with the book Bill The Boy Wonder, The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, his research, and a campaign to secure a Google Doodle in honor of Finger’s uncredited contribution to Batman.

We had a chance to interview Nobleman about his work, what drives him to educate people about Bill Finger, his view of Bob Kane’s real contribution to Batman, and why this matters 40 years after Finger’s death. Here’s what he had to say:

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Den of Geek: Talk to us about the campaign to get Bill Finger a Google Doodle in honor of his 100th birthday. Why a Google Doodle?

Marc Tyler Nobleman: It would mean that literally tens of millions of people would learn the name “Bill Finger” in a single day.

Devil’s advocate – and you can take that as literally as you would like – but does it diminish Bob Kane’s contributions to Batman when you classify him as the villain? And if that is the point, what informs the recent remarks that you made to the Spectator Tribune about Kane’s creative contribution to Batman, in which you said: “maybe the name “Bat-Man,” but even that is disputed; besides, between pulps and film, bat-themed characters were nothing new by 1939. Finger gave Kane credit for Two-Face. Creatively, that’s about it.”

I am not diminishing Bob’s contributions; he did that himself — unintentionally, of course. When writing Bill the Boy Wonder, I realized that in simply spelling out what Bill did, it makes it all the more striking just how much Bob did NOT do. (These accounts come from multiple authoritative, non-conflicting sources, including Bob’s autobiography.) Bob drew only a handful of Batman stories at the beginning before hiring ghost artists and he did not write a single Batman story. He did not even design the costume.

I have been conscientious about not name-calling or otherwise resorting to uncivil discourse on the subject, but the way that Spectator Tribune question was phrased, in a moment of passion, I did allow myself an exception. So abandoning the theatrics, no, I don’t believe Bob was evil, but he was greedy (look at his 1965 letter to Batmania) and self-absorbed (look at his gravestone). Everyone I interviewed who knew him told me as much, some in more colorful language than that. I do not respect Bob because he openly and harmfully lied about something so significant for so many years.

Yes, from a business perspective, Bob deserves some credit for Batman, but even then he was not acting on instinct or talent but rather advice. I have challenged Bob defenders to state explicitly what his creative legacy is and it has stumped them (or some have named things that were actually Bill contributions). So I stand by my “creatively” statement.

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If you had your way, would we see “Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger” or “Batman created by Bill Finger” when reading a Batman comic or seeing a Batman film?

Neither. “Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.”

In your book, you let Bob Kane off the hook a little when you include his later-in-life statements of regret over not sharing credit with Bill Finger before noting that Kane never amended his deal to do that. I’m wondering what you think Kane’s motives were for saying that about Bill Finger later in his life?

It comes across as a man in his golden years trying to clear his conscience but not able to go as far as it needed to go for him to achieve moral redemption.

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What inspired you to present this story in a book that is so easily digestible for all ages and are you interested in writing another book on Bill Finger that might allow you to expound on the case, Bill Finger’s legacy, and share your research?

Even as a Batman fan and history buff, I did not learn about Bill Finger until after I graduated from college. I wrote this book for all ages so people would grow up with the knowledge. It’s also a cautionary tale to encourage young readers to take pride in (and claim ownership of) their ideas.

For years, I have been sharing my research on my blog for no charge; for example.

Between that, my regular speaking engagements to audiences both young and adult, the Google doodle campaign, and one more project I can’t announce yet, I’m already putting in overtime on Bill Finger; I have other work that also needs attention! But for Bill’s sake, I do hope someone else writes a longer book one day (actually, someone already is, but in Spanish).

Devil’s advocate again: This man has been dead for 40 years at this point. Sadly the nature of time suggests that all that will be remembered of these characters is these characters, not the people who created them. So, why does Bill Finger’s sad lack of a co-creator credit matter to you and why should it matter to Batman and comic book fans?

The many hundreds of people who have tweeted me and emailed Google this past week in support of my effort to get Bill a doodle suggests that people want to remember more than only the characters. Creators of many comic book heroes were denied credit or compensation, and I empathize with all of them, but Batman is a league apart. Justice has no expiration date.

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If you could ask Bill Finger and Bob Kane one question each, what would those questions be?

Bob: What were you thinking?

Bill: What do you think of your Google doodle?

If you’d like to aid in the campaign to get Bill Finger that Google Doodle in honor of all that he did and for his 100th birthday (February 8th), politely email Google at proposals@google.com. If you’d like to read more about Mr. Nobleman’s work, check out his site here.

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