Friday, September 16, 2022

Movie Review: Batman & Bill (2017)


Life is unfair and a lot of times, not everyone gets the credit or recognition they deserve. Ask anyone at a comic convention the question, "Who created Spider-Man" most people are going to give the name "Stan Lee" as the only answer. If you prompted them to name anyone else, chances are they would draw a blank, unaware of this brilliant artist named Steve Ditko.

Bill Finger was in his own way very similar to Ditko; there aren't many photographs of him, few interviews and chances are most people are unaware that Bill Finger is co-creator of one of the most iconic heroes in all of fiction: Batman

Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman

I was five years old when I got this large book for my birthday titled "Tales of the Dark Knight-Batman's First Fifty Years: 1939-1989". It was a decently sized, easy to read history book that had a ton of pictures, including the covers of the classic comics in color, but on page 25 there was a picture of a man.
The caption for the picture read: Bob Kane, creator of Batman.
In the index of that book, the name 'Bill Finger' is listed just seven times.

Bob Kane, writer, artist(?), scumbag

So for years that was what I believed; a history book listed it as so, every Batman comic I owned contained the credit 'Batman created by Bob Kane' and every TV show and movie had the same credit. So he had to have come up with it all that we recognize with the character: Robin, the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Scarecrow etc etc

It turns out this was not the case. In fact, chances are that without the initial influence of Bill Finger, Batman as we know it might not exist today. He might be looked at as a forgotten hero of yesteryear who tried in vain to mimic the success of Superman.

Bob Kane's original vision of 'Batman' before Bill Finger came along

Marc Tyler Nobleman is a children's author with previous experience detailing the lives of the creators behind iconic heroes, having written a biography of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Schuster. He wanted to do a book on the history of Batman, knowing there were secrets that hadn't been discussed but he had no idea how deep this rabbit hole went.

I can't say that there's anything groundbreaking about the way this documentary is made but at the same time, it elicited some very strong emotions in me. I found myself at times, laughing, then angry, sad, angry again, gasping in shock and by the end, smiling and with a tear in my eye. 
It's a very captivating story about one man's search for the truth, a family's quest for justice and fittingly enough for a story involving Batman, it's a detective story.

Nobleman might not have had access to the Bat-Computer but he did have access to the internet and put it to good use, accessing old phone books, obituaries, anything that might shed some light on uncovering the mystery of Bill Finger.

He tracked down neighbors of Finger's ex-wife, found nieces and nephews who upon being contacted, had exclaimed that no one had ever called to talk to them about what & who their Uncle had created.

Bill Finger died alone in 1974 and barely a mention was made of his passing. The obituary didn't list the thousands upon thousands of pages of Batman comics he had written or the mythos he had created upon which countless writers have drawn influence in the decades since.
The only time his name was ever associated with Batman was when he wrote an episode of the 1966 television series and in 1998 when an episode of The New Batman Adventures paid homage to his work.
This is actually a really fun episode

Compare that to Bob Kane, who maintained a celebrity-like status all throughout his life, had his name attached to work that he never had any involvement with and when he died was credited as the sole creator of Batman. Oddly enough, when I found out Kane died I was watching an episode of The New Batman Adventures which featured a special dedication to him at the end of the episode.

Efforts had been made by members of Finger's family over the years for Bill to receive credit from DC Comics but as you can imagine, it wasn't successful.

I don't want to give away everything of what happens or how it's achieved in this movie, but in September 2015 it was announced that Finger would receive credit in the second season of the TV show Gotham and in the film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The following month the credit 'Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger' appeared in an issue of Batman & Robin Eternal and continues to appear to this day & will continue to wherever Batman stories are published or produced.

All of Bill Finger's family members  (Some of whom never actually met him) deserve credit, fighting for their relative and ensuring that he would not be another forgotten name in the annals of comic history but it's safe to say that this film and Finger's eventual credit wouldn't have been possible without Marc Tyler Nobleman. He wrote a biography of Bill which I plan to pick up eventually.

This is a man who sought the truth, pursued it, chased it, put in the work and maybe changed the way some people view Gotham's greatest hero. This is no longer a creation of one man, Bob Kane. Instead Batman is now a co-creation from Bob Kane which was fleshed out and allowed to fly into the nighttime skies of readers' imaginations by Bill Finger.

I give this documentary 4 Batarangs out of 5
Batman & Bill is available to watch on Hulu

How I imagine Batman and Bill Finger would thank Marc Tyler Nobleman

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