Today is officially "Batman Day," commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Dark Knight's first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (cover date May 1939, though it was technically released on March 30 of that same year, because comics). It also marks the 75th anniversary of Bob Kane receiving sole creative credit for the Caped Crusader, despite the much more significant contributions of a man named Bill Finger, who continues to be royally screwed by DC Entertainment despite being dead for 40 years and counting.
Unfortunately, horror stories about intellectual property are all too common in the comic book industry, mostly because no one ever actually thought their pulpy little funny books were ever become multi-bajillion dollar entertainment properties. But look at any Batman comic book, movie, or television show, and you'll still see Bob Kane's name on it. Which is fair, because Bob Kane did come up with Batman. Or the name "Bat-man," anyway. Which, in his mind, was an Aryan-looking Superman knockoff in a red costume with big bat wings who probably fought crime or something, because the kids love their pulp heroes. So Bob Kane called up his buddy Bill Finger and said, "Hey man, wuddya think of this?"
Finger responded, "Well, the name is cool. But his costume is stupid, and he's basically a lame Superman knockoff, and we already own Superman. What if he wears darker colors, more reflective of an actual bat, with a cowl that has two little bat-ear-horns sticking out the top and a scalloped cape. OH, and what if he's actually an orphaned billionaire whose parents were gunned down in an alley when he was a boy, which inspired him to fight crime? OOH, and he could have a cheery little circus-boy sidekick! We can call him 'Robin!' And this guy, our 'Bat-man,' he could have an arch-nemesis called 'The Joker' who's like a sociopath clown with a purple jacket and crazy green hair?"
And Bob Kane said, "Wow, yeah. That's a great idea."
But Bill Finger kept talking. "How about a villain who's like a sexy femme fatale cat burglar? And she can be kind of morally ambiguous and flirt with Batman, whose intrigued by her dark side? We can call her Catwoman! Oooh, and we can have a former District Attorney who gets half of his face burned off and starts to call himself 'Two-Face' and uses a coin-flip to decisions?..." and so on and so on.
Just a minor and utterly forgettable scene written by Bill Finger, based on an idea originally conceived by Bill Finger
To which Bob Kane responded: "I, Bob Kane, created Batman, because I am a genius. But you can keep writing everything, Bill."
Yup. That's it. Seriously. Bill Finger did continue to be paid as a writer on Batman comics (and Green Lantern, and Superman, and more), but creative rights and royalties? Nah. Those are all the rightful legal property of Bob Kane and his estate. Hell, on his gravestone, Bob Kane was even humble enough to claim co-creator credit WITH GOD.
Artist Ty Templeton re-created this scene from Detective Comics #27 as it would have been if not for Bill Finger's creative contributions:
Templeton illustrated a book called Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman , written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, that told the true story of Bill Finger's life and his partnership with Bob Kane. You can also check out this great list from ComicsAlliance of the 10 Greatest Batman stories by Bill Finger for a better idea of the man's many, many contributions to the Bat-mythos.
So as we celebrate the Batman — who he is, and how he came to be — so should we keep the memory of Mr. Finger in our hearts and minds as well. After all, he's the guy who gave us these: