Thursday, May 1, 2014

Batman Origins: Review: Bill The Boy Wonder by Nobleman & Templeton


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So if you've ever read a Batman comic take a moment to think about what name comes to your mind when you think about old pointy ears. Done? I’m no psychic but I can pretty accurately guess the name that comes to your mind is Bob Kane. Right?

In Bill The Boy Wonder we learn about Bill Finger a young man who went from tailor to shoe salesman after his family business closed during the great depression. Bill’s passion was storytelling and when he met cartoonist Bob Kane at a party a fast friendship formed.

The two worked together on a few projects but nothing big. What’s important though is that the two were friends . So when Bob Kane was asked by an editor to create a character that would have a similar success as Superman it only makes sense that Bob would go to his friend Bill with his ideas for critique and help.

This is where things get really sticky ,and honestly break my heart a little. Bill looked at Bob's drawings and made some suggestions. Actually a LOT of suggestions. And they were good ones. Ones so good that they are trademarks of the character today. Looking at Bob’s drawing  Bill suggested :
White slits in his eyes so the character would look more intimidating
Replacing the mask Bob had drawn with a cowl that covered all but Batman's chin
A cape with points that made him look like a bat when he ran
Vulnerability. Batman should be a human without powers.

Bob loved Bill’s changes and took them to a meeting where he signed a deal with the company that would eventually be known as DC comics.
That deal did not involve Bill Finger. As far as the editor knew Bob did the work completely on his own.

To make matters even more cringe worthy Bob then went back to Bill and hired him to write the book for pay but without any creative credit.

There aren't any clear cut Villains in this story. For the 1900’s this way of doing business was normal in the comics industry. As Nobleman points out in this book, Bill himself never said no or fought for recognition. Soon under Bob Kane a team of writers and artists shaped batman’s greatness all with out credit. It was Bill who gave  Batman an origin story that explained his war on crime. Through his conversations with fellow writers and avid thirst for knowledge Bill created a lot of interesting rogues and story ideas for Batman, who now had his own book. Yet Bill was still not given credit nor did he fight for it.

Word got out though in the industry about Bill’s talents and he received offers for other work. It was editor Julius Schwartz however who made a point to announce at a convention that Bill was a writer on Batman from the very beginning. Batman fan Jerry Bails begin to interview Bill soon after and released articles detailing the whole story around Batman's creation. This revelation also paved the way for spotlighting other writers and artists who had a hand in Batman’s success.
Bill’s life is an exploration of a man doing what he loved with humbleness. He was grateful for the work that came his way and the ability to work on characters he loved. He died in 1974  without seeing himself named as co-creator ,but he did witness his name as writer on many of the reprints of his previous stories.

What about Bob Kane’s reaction during all of this? Besides some half hearted denials Kane never said much. Later in his life however he is quoted as saying “ Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved” He also said he wished he could have told him before he died that “I will put your name on it now. You deserve it”

Remember the sticky part I mentioned earlier? Here it is: Despite the information that has now come to light Kane never amended his contract with DC that required he always be listed as the sole creator of Batman.
So there really isn’t anyone being a  big bad here in regards to DC. The important thing this book reminds us is the recognition in the fan community now about Bill. Jerry Robinson was instrumental in creating the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. A wonderful tribute to Bill's writing talents.
With social media and comic fans today have more access to information about creators and the ability to share that information, more and more fans are learning more about the origins of their favorite characters. This book is a very straightforward narration of Bill’s life with just the right blend of commentary and fact.

I loved the time Nobleman put into the research of this book even after he was done ( see the amazing authors note about the discovery of a Finger heir), I came out of this book more inspired than angry. All this years later the foundation of Batman’s origins still shape the type of stories being written about him today.
It is wonderful that comic fans and creators now have the whole story.

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