For a long time, debates have raged in the art world about what can be considered creating a property and who can be credited as a true creator of a creative property. For decades, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were feuding over who were the rightful mind behind Spider-Man, as Lee insisted Spider-Man was his idea, while Ditko insisted he conceptualized Spider-Man, thus making him the creator. What “Batman & Bill” seeks to do is boldly putting an end to the debate that’s been raging in the comic book medium for almost a century. Directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce simultaneously tells the tragic and often heartbreaking story of Bill Finger, the long uncredited creator of Batman, and how a man named Bob Kane stole everything Finger ever had from the credit, and the massive profits, right down to the very essence of his self-respect.
For a very long time Bob Kane secured a contract with DC Comics to ensure that he be granted the sole credit for the creation of Batman. This didn’t just grant him massive wealth, but earned him status as one of the very few comic book creators turned celebrities. Bill Finger, meanwhile, remained a ghost in the background reaping none of the rewards, and leaving behind a family in virtual shambles and with zero closure. Most comic book fans are already familiar with the infamous anecdote about the creation of Batman. Director Argott and Joyce are smart to begin the documentary with an animated look back at how Bob Kane approached Bill Finger with his “Batman,” a blond man in red tights, black domino mask and stiff bat wings for flight.
Finger is the one who scrapped the idea in favor of the dark costumed dark knight with his signature cape and cowl. What’s more is that Finger also single handedly created everything from Gotham, Robin, the nickname “The Dark Knight,” and The Bat Cave, to enemies like The Joker, Catwoman, and The Penguin. Surprising enough the story behind how narrator Marc Tyler Nobleman’s research of Bill Finger became an obsession is also shockingly touching and gut wrenching. When we meet Nobleman he’s a publisher of almost a hundred books who never quite found humongous fame. After writing about how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were infamously robbed of profits and proper credit by DC Comics, Nobleman is compelled to learn more about Bill Finger, leading him to the revelation of Finger’s role in Batman.
Nobleman’s research then turns in to a personal and often emotional journey to learn about the reclusive Bill Finger, as well as working toward the mission of DC officially granting him credit as a co-creator, once and for all. Nobleman and the directors’ loyalties are very apparent throughout “Batman & Bill” as Bob Kane is depicted as a slimy, and undignified con artist, who spent most of his time basking in success he didn’t earn, and wasting his declining years trying to convince the media that he was the sole mastermind behind Batman. Nobleman doesn’t compile his film based on speculation and hearsay, digging deep to grab very personal anecdotes from Finger’s close friends and colleagues, as well as people who knew him better than most others. The documentary depicts Finger as a humble but genius mind who never mustered up the energy to fight for credit for Batman, while Kane’s overbearing and aggressive persona allowed him to stay center stage for decades.
Nobleman and co. pull no punches in explaining how Kane didn’t just take Finger’s career, but just about destroyed his life. The only consolation we’re offered is that Finger was never questioned about his legitimacy as an artist, while Kane spent every day of his life trying to convince everyone a pack of blatant lies were true. “Batman & Bill” is probably the most important comic book movie ever made. It confronts tough and very controversial questions within the comic book medium while finally paying a criminally overdue tribute to a creative mind pushed in to the corner for much too long.
Now available to stream on Hulu.