As a hardcore fan of Batman and his world, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the circumstances of his creation. Long before Bill Finger received his first joint credit with Bob Kane for creating the character of the Dark Knight (in last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), I was aware of the behind-the-scenes drama that occurred over recognition for one of the most popular fictional characters of all time. I knew that Bob Kane claimed sole credit, while in reality Bill Finger played a large role, but until I watched Hulu’s new, original documentary Batman & Bill, I had no idea about how heartbreaking Finger’s story actually is.
Batman & Bill follows Marc Tyler Nobleman, comic book fanboy and author – who had previously written about Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – as he charts the history of the Caped Crusader and begins a crusade himself to right a wrong that long needed correcting: getting Bill Finger credit for his contributions to the character of Batman. Fans may not be aware of this, but while Bob Kane came up with the initial concept of Batman, his version of the character barely resembles the one we know today. Indeed, Finger himself supposedly came up with the name of Bruce Wayne, the iconic costume, the Batmobile, the Batcave, both Batman’s origin story and Robin’s, came up with the name ‘Gotham City’, and created many of the iconic aspects of five of Batman’s most iconic rogues, The Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face, the Riddler, and Scarecrow, amongst many other long lasting contributions to the mythos.
The documentary explores the relationship between Kane, who loved fame and money, and Finger, who was more of an artist and a comic book fan. In essence, the story goes that Kane created the character who would become known as Batman, before showing the art to Finger, who gave his notes and helped morph him into what we know Batman to be today. Bob Kane then took the concept and negotiated a contract with National Comics, which would go on to become DC Comics, that gave him sole credit and ownership of the character, even though Finger would continue to work with Kane on developing stories and characters. As the character began to blow up, Finger gave up on fighting for credit as Kane became more assertive that he was the sole creator, and Finger died, alone in his apartment at the age of fifty-nine due to heart complications.
Finger’s death wasn’t the end of the story, however, as his son Fred fought for his father to get credit until he himself passed from AIDS in 1992. And then eventually, while researching the origins of Batman for his book, Nobleman discovered that Finger has another living heir – a granddaughter named Athena – whom he ends up visiting and managing to convince to fight for Finger to get credit on all future Batman titles in every medium.
To a longtime Batman fan like myself, this documentary was incredibly heartbreaking. Not just because of how Finger died before receiving recognition for this iconic character, but because his family viewed his contributions as a curse rather than a blessing, for nobody believed their story for years as DC and Warner Bros. continued to deny Finger credit. I also found it ironic that the family of the man primarily responsible for creating a character who fights relentlessly for justice was consistently denied justice themselves.
While some documentaries can get bogged down in their research, this one remains consistently thrilling all the way through, as in the present Nobleman and the Fingers face off – like Batman himself would – against DC Comics and Warner Bros. in order to get Bill the proper “created by” credit that he deserves. The documentary also offers interesting commentary on creativity, rights, and ownership, which – as a creator myself – I found particularly fascinating. (In addition to being chilling, as the documentary revealed how often this used to happen to creators back in the day, touching on the story of how Superman’s creators sold the rights to the character for a fraction of what he would eventually be worth.)
While we already know the answer as to whether or not Bill Finger eventually received posthumous credit for his role in Batman’s creation, the documentary is still worth your time. Not only will you learn little known facts about The Dark Knight’s origins, but it’s beautifully shot and edited, and documents a fight that was far more brutal and lasted far longer than the one that took place between Batman and Superman in theaters last year. Overall, it’s a relentlessly entertaining, informative, heartbreaking, and heartwarming story about the Caped Crusader and his creators that deserved to be told and needs to be known. I’m not ashamed to admit that by the end of it, I was in tears, and as an enormous fan of Batman and his world, that’s the greatest compliment I can offer this documentary.
What did you think of Batman & Bill? Let me know in the comments below!