William "Bill" Finger (February 8, 1914 - January 18, 1974) was a Jewish-American comic strip and comic book writer best known as the uncredited co-creator, with Bob Kane, of the DC Comics character Batman, as well as the co-architect of the series' development. In later years, Kane acknowledged Finger as "a contributing force" in the character's creation. Comics historian Ron Goulart, in Comic Book Encyclopedia, refers to Batman as the "creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger", and a DC Comics press release in 2007 about colleague Jerry Robinson states that in 1939, "Kane, along with writer Bill Finger, had just created Batman for [DC predecessor] National Comics".
Finger additionally helped create Batman nemeses Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, Riddler, and others. He also wrote many of the original 1940s Green Lantern stories and would go on to contribute to the development of numerous comic book series.
Early Life and CareerEdit
Bill Finger joined Bob Kane's nascent studio in 1938. An aspiring writer and a part-time shoe salesperson, he had met Kane at a party; Kane later offered him a job ghost writing the strips Rusty and Clip Carson.
Early the following year, National Comics' success with the seminal superhero Superman in Action Comics prompted editors to scramble for similar heroes. In response, Kane conceived "the Bat-Man". Finger recalled that Kane:
"had an idea for a character called 'Batman', and he'd like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane's, and 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 offered such suggestions as giving the character a cowl instead of the domino mask, a cape instead of wings, adding gloves, and removing the red sections from the original costume. He later said his suggestions were influenced by Lee Falk's popular The Phantom, a syndicated newspaper comic strip character with which Kane was familiar as well, and that he devised the name Bruce Wayne for the character's secret identity: "Bruce Wayne's first name came from Robert Bruce, the Scottish patriot. Wayne, being a playboy, was a man of gentry. I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock ... then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne." As Kane summed up decades later in his autobiography, "Bill Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning... I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective.
Finger wrote both the initial script for Batman's debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) and the character's second appearance, while Kane provided art. Batman proved a breakout hit, and Finger went on to write many of the early Batman stories, including making major contributions to the character of Joker, as well as other major Batman villains. When Kane wanted Robin's origin to parallel Batman's, Finger made Robin's parents circus performers murdered while performing their trapeze act.
Bill Finger recalled that:
"Robin was an outgrowth of a conversation I had with Bob. As I said, Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn't have anyone to talk to, and it got a little tiresome always having him thinking. I found that as I went along Batman needed a Watson to talk to. That's how Robin came to be. Bob called me over and said he was going to put a boy in the strip to identify with Batman. I thought it was a great idea".
Comics historian Jim Steranko wrote in 1970 that Finger's slowness as a writer led Batman editor Whitney Ellsworth to suggest Kane replace him, a claim reflected in Joe Desris' description of Finger as "notoriously tardy." During Finger's absence, Gardner Fox contributed scripts that introduced Batman's early "Bat-" arsenal (the utility belt, the Bat-Gyro/plane and the Batarang). Upon his return, Finger created or co-created items such as the Batmobile and Batcave, and is credited with providing the name "Gotham City". Among the things that made his stories distinctive were a use of giant-sized props: enlarged pennies, sewing machines, or typewriters.
Eventually, Finger left Kane's studio to work directly for DC Comics, where he supplied scripts for characters including Batman and Superman (introducing to the latter's mythos the character Lana Lang). He would eventually write for other companies as well, including Fawcett Comics, Quality Comics, and Marvel Comics' 1940s predecessor, Timely Comics.
In 1994, Bob Kane gave Finger co-credit for creating Batman's archnemesis the Joker, despite claims on the character by writer Jerry Robinson:
"Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. [...] Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker'. Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it, but he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card."
Robinson, whose original Joker playing card was on public display in the exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum in New York City, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007, and the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Georgia from October 24, 2004 to August 28, 2005, has countered that he created the Joker to be Batman's larger-than-life nemesis when extra stories needed to be written quickly for Batman #1 and that he even received credit for the story in a college course. Regarding the Conrad Veidt similarity, Robinson said:
"In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it...He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals, so Bob was also."
In 1940, Finger collaborated with artist Martin Nodell to create the superhero Green Lantern in All-American Comics #16 (July 1942). Both writer and artist received a byline on the strip, with Nodell in the earliest issues using the pseudonym "Matt Dellon".
According to Nodell, Finger was brought in to write scripts after Nodell had already conceived the character. Nodell's name appeared first, before Finger's, in the bylines on the stories that he drew, although when ghost artists such as Irwin Hasen were used, Finger's name appeared first so that the credits then read "by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell".
As a screenwriter, Finger wrote or co-wrote the films Death Comes to Planet Aytin, The Green Slime, and Track of the Moon Beast, and contributed scripts to the TV series' Hawaiian Eye and 77 Sunset Strip. He also wrote a two-part episode "The Clock King's Crazy Crimes / The Clock King Gets Crowned", airing October 12-13, 1966, in season two of the live-action Batman TV series.
Bob Kane negotiated a contract with National Comics, the future DC Comics, that signed away ownership of the character in exchange for, among other compensations, a mandatory byline on all Batman comics (and adaptations thereof). Finger's name, in contrast, does not appear as an official credit on Batman stories or films, even the comics he wrote in the 1940s and 1950s. Finger received limited acknowledgment for his writing work in the 1960s; the letters page of Batman #169 (Feb. 1965), for example, features editor Julius Schwartz naming Finger as creator of the Riddler, one of Batman's recurring villains.
Finger did receive credit for his work for National's sister company, All-American Publications, during that time. For example, the first Wildcat story, in Sensation Comics #1 (July 1942), has the byline "by Irwin Hasen and Bill Finger", and the first Green Lantern story (see above) is credited to "Mart Dellon and Bill Finger". National later absorbed All-American. National's practice in the 1950s made formal bylines rare in comics, with DC regularly granting credit in its comics only to Kane; to William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, under his pseudonym of Charles Moulton; and to Sheldon Mayer.
Batman writer Ed Brubaker said in 2002, "If you're ever in a situation where you're worried that you're not getting proper credit for what you’re doing, you can say to your editor, 'Hey, I’m feeling like Bill Finger over here. And I don't want to get Fingered'. And they'll understand. Everybody gets it".