February 8: Bill Finger’s Centennial

Bill FingerAccording to popular belief and the official DC Comics credits, Batman was created by one man, Bob Kane. This is a lie. While it is true, Kane did come up with the idea of a masked vigilante called “the Bat-Man,” the name was essentially the only thing about Batman that he actually came up with. So, today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the man who turned Batman into the superhero and pop culture icon we know today: comic book writer Bill Finger!

Shortly after the 1938 debut of Superman, the young artist Bob Kane had an idea for another superhero, so he approached Finger with the basic idea of Batman. Kane had met Finger at a party and asked him what he thought of the Bat-Man character he was creating. According to Finger:

…he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of … reddish tights, I believe, with boots … no gloves, no gauntlets … with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign … BATMAN.

Finger had a few suggestions for Kane. Namely, he suggested trading a cape and cowl for the domino mask and bat wings, adding gloves and dropping the red colors. Later, he suggested that Batman should have a secret identity like other superheroes and pulp heroes. Kane had liked the story of Zorro, the aristocrat who dressed in black to fight for the people, and so Finger came up with the idea for Batman’s alter ego, the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. With the character and his dual identities devised, Kane went to National Comics (later known as DC Comics) without Finger and pitched them the character. National worked out a deal with Kane and soon the character would make his debut in Detective Comics #27 in a story written by Finger with art by Kane. However, Finger went uncredited on this and several other early Batman stories. In later years, due to the contract Kane signed with National Comics, Kane would receive credit as the sole creator of Batman, leaving Finger out in the cold.

However, Finger would go on to create many of the key elements of the Bat-mythos, with Kane periodically serving as the artist on Finger’s stories. Here are a few of the characters that Finger introduced to Gotham City (a name he coined, by the way): Robin the Boy Wonder (with Jerry Robinson), Alfred Pennyworth, the Joker (with some possible inspiration from Robinson), Catwoman, the Scarecrow, the Riddler (with Dick Sprang) and the Penguin. After Gardner Fox created items like the utility belt, a batplane and the Batarang, Finger gave the world the Batmobile and the Batcave. But on top of all that, Finger also created the most important element of the Batman stories: His origin story. Yes, everything that makes Batman, well, Batman (the attempted mugging, the death of the Waynes, the bat that flew through the window of Wayne Manor) originated in Detective Comics #33’s “The Legend of the Batman -Who He Is and How He Came To Be” by Bill Finger.

Although DC can’t legally list Finger as the co-creator of Batman within their comic books, the comics publisher has referenced Finger’s role in the creation of the Dark Knight in press releases and DC staff interviews. Even Kane would give his one time partner credit in later years. In 1989, 15 years after Finger’s death, he would write “Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero … I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.’” Despite these grand remarks, Kane never made a major effort to get Finger formal credit as Batman’s co-creator. However, generations of comic fans and creators have made sure that Finger’s role in shaping Batman will not be forgotten.

So, let’s mark Bill Finger’s centennial with a cocktail that partially shares its name with one of Finger’s creations. The Red Robin is a classic cocktail that mixes vodka with the sweet wine based liqueur Dubonnet Red.

Red Robin

  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce Dubonnet Red

Pour ingredients into an ice filled rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

 
Tomorrow: Baseball’s greatest showman.
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