Bill Finger is owed so much more than a single day of recognition, but a Google Doodle for the uncredited Batman co-creator could be the first step in giving him the legacy he deserves.
By now the story of the comic-book creator who got pushed to the back of the line is a tale as old as the medium itself. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster fought for decades to have their names restored to Superman, while in the eyes of the general public the legacy of Jack Kirby is still fighting its way out from under the shadow of Stan Lee. And then there are the great, unsung creators of the Golden Age, who ghost-wrote and ghost-drew some of the most important comic-book stories ever, only to fade into obscurity when the work was done. The stories remain for all to see, but the men and women behind them are, all too often, invisible.
Bill Finger is only one of many creators left in the shadows, but the balance between his decades of anonymity and the vast contributions he made to pop culture is so tragically tilted that he may well serve as the poster boy for all overlooked comic-book professionals.
Recently, author Marc Tyler Nobleman, who wrote an all-ages chronicle of Finger's work on Batman and has a growing history of campaigning for Finger to get credit from DC Comics, relaunched his efforts to persuade Google to craft one of its popular "Google Doodles" in Finger's honor on what would've been his 100th birthday, Feb. 8. We don't know yet if Nobleman's campaign and its many supporters (of which I am one) will lead to a Doodle for Finger, but it has reignited the conversation about Finger's legacy.
So, what is Finger's legacy? Well, I'm going to say it without qualification or sugar-coating, and then explain myself: Bill Finger co-created Batman, one of the most popular and profitable superheroes ever, and 75 years after the character's debut, there's still only one name in the creator credits: Bob Kane.
I'm not here, though, to beat up on Bob Kane. I'm here, quite simply, to make the case for why Finger's name should be listed next to Kane's every time a Batman story is told. If you want the full story of Finger's work on Batman, Nobleman's book is a good starting point. For now, though, let's boil it down to what Finger did that we would, today, consider part of the creation of the character.
First, Kane came to Finger with a costume design and a name. Finger liked the name but suggested many changes to the initial design. He added the cowl, the scalloped cape (Kane's original sketch had rigid wings on the back) and the dark colors. The revised look of the character was enough to sell those first stories.
So, costume design: Check.
Then, Kane hired Finger to ghost-write the character's first adventures, uncredited (a common arrangement at the time), and we know the scripts came from Finger. Even if someone else weighed in with a suggestion, Finger was the man at the typewriter. So: Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, the phrase "Dark Knight" and more came from him.
Essential character elements, names and dialogue: Check.
I could go on, but here's the simple point, free of any talk of Golden Age business dealings, contracts or the current legal status of the character. Here's why this matters:
If Bill Finger did the exact same things he did in 1939 today, he would be considered, without question, the co-creator of Batman. Simple as that.
Regardless of the fact that Bob Kane got the better end of the deal and, for whatever reason, Finger almost never contested it. Regardless of the fact that DC Comics might have its legal hands tied. Regardless of the fact that Finger also had a hand in giving us the Joker, Catwoman, Robin, the Riddler, that timeless origin story and countless other precious Batman things. Regardless of the fact that he wrote 1,500 Batman stories over 25 years. Regardless of the fact that he died in anonymity, and he's been gone for 40 years.
Regardless of all of that, he is the co-creator of Batman. He should've been a hero. He should've been a millionaire, but because of a deal he cut decades ago, that didn't happen. As Nobleman said in a recent interview, though: "Justice has no expiration date." We might not be able to get Finger's name on a DC Comics masthead now. It might never happen, sadly, but that doesn't mean we can't let the world know about him.
So let's paste his legacy all over the homepage of the most popular search engine in the world. Because people need to know. Because comics creators are still facing these challenges and telling Finger's story would help open more than a few eyes. Because it would be just plain cool.
And, personally, because Batman is what made me a fan of superheroes. He's the best, and Bill Finger made him that way. This is the very least I, and all of us, can do to say thank you.
If you agree, email firstname.lastname@example.org and request a Bill Finger doodle.
Bill Finger Batman logo art by Ty Templeton