Hulu’s new documentary Batman & Bill should engage even the casual comic book fan because, like all the best Batman capers, it has a solid villain.
In Batman & Bill, which becomes available Saturday on the streaming service, the villain is Bob Kane, who has always been credited with creating Batman.
Gets your attention, right?
The heroes in Batman & Bill are Bill Finger, who increasingly is being recognized as the original and largely uncredited co-creator of The Caped Crusader, and Marc Tyler Nobleman, an author and unapologetic comic book geek who made it his mission to resuscitate Bill Finger’s reputation.
In fact, Nobleman and a small army of his fellow comic book experts argue, the little-known Finger was the dominant creative force behind not just Batman himself, but Robin, the Joker, the Penguin, Riddler, Commissioner Gordon and the whole origin story of one of our most enduring superheroes.
This wouldn’t be a big news flash, and certainly not a 90-minute documentary, except that starting with the birth of Batman in 1939, the extremely well-known Kane took pretty much all that credit for himself.
Kane’s was the only name that ever appeared in Batman comics, or in the Batman movies, or in other Batman promotions – and that’s exactly the way Kane liked it.
Kane loved the spotlight as much as Finger shunned it, and over the years Kane took every opportunity to tell people he was Batman’s sole creator.
What really happened, Nobleman’s documentary suggests, is that Kane got a rough idea for Batman that had the character in red tights with a thin eyemask and stiff wings.
He took it to his friend Finger, who said no, a creature of the night needed to wear a dark outfit and wear a more intimidating mask – the now-iconic cowl.
Also, Finger suggested the cape.
Kane took the revised Batman idea and sold it with only his name on it. Finger continued as a silent partner, developing some 1,500 Batman stories over the years.
Yet even most Batman fans didn’t know him when he surfaced 26 years later at a 1965 comic convention.
He was on a panel and talked with fans. But when his story was related in a mimeographed comic fanzine, Kane responded with a blistering attack that essentially called Finger a liar and reiterated that Kane deserved all the credit.
The attack worked. Kane, already well-off from his years on the Batman comic, became even richer and more entrenched with the 1960s Batman show on ABC-TV. By the time Batman took off as a movie star in 1989, Kane was almost as acclaimed as the Dark Knight himself.
By that point it didn’t matter to Finger. He had died in 1974, alone in an apartment with an eviction notice tacked to the door. He was apparently buried in a potter’s field.
Kane lived until 1998. Late in life he suggested that Finger really deserved more credit for Batman than he ever got.
Batman & Bill points out that it’s ironic this call came from the man who was largely responsible for Finger getting so little credit in the first place.
The last part of Batman & Bill follows a campaign over the last few years, spearheaded in large part by Nobleman and the people he mobilized while making this documentary, to get Finger that posthumous credit.
Spoiler alert: It’s not total victory, but it’s a happy ending.
The wheels of geek justice may move slowly, but like a dark mysterious caped figure in the night, they expose misdeeds and let the truth rise into the light.