February 8, 1914
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
|Died||January 18, 1974
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
|Batman, Detective Comics, Green Lantern|
|Awards||Jack Kirby Hall of Fame, 1994
Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame, 1999
Milton "Bill" Finger (February 8, 1914 – January 18, 1974) was an American comic strip and comic book writer best known as the co-creator, with Bob Kane, of the DC Comics character Batman, and the co-architect of the series' development. Although Finger did not receive proper credit for his hand in the development of Batman, years after Finger's death, Kane acknowledged his contributions.
Finger also wrote many of the original 1940s Green Lantern stories after co-creating the original Green Lantern (Alan Scott), and would go on to contribute to the development of numerous other comic book series.
He was posthumously inducted into the comic book industry's Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1999. His name provided the basis for the Bill Finger Award, founded by Jerry Robinson and presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con International to honor excellence in comic book writing.
Early life and career
Bill Finger was born in Denver, Colorado, to a Jewish family. His father, Louis Finger (b. 1890, Austria), emigrated to the U.S. in 1907. His mother Tessie (b. circa 1893, New York City) also gave birth to Bill Finger's sisters, Emily and Gilda. The family moved to The Bronx, New York City, where during the Great Depression Louis Finger was forced to close his tailor shop.
Finger graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx in 1933. An aspiring writer and a part-time shoe salesman, he joined Bob Kane's nascent studio in 1938 after having met Kane, a fellow DeWitt Clinton alumnus, at a party. Kane later offered him a job ghost writing the strips Rusty and Clip Carson.
Early the following year, National Comics' success with the seminal superhero Superman in Action Comics prompted editors to scramble for similar heroes. In response, Kane conceived "the Bat-Man". Finger recalled Kane:
...had an idea for a character called 'Batman', and he'd like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane's, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of ... reddish tights, I believe, with boots ... no gloves, no gauntlets ... with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign ... BATMAN.
Finger offered such suggestions as giving the character a cowl instead of the domino mask, a cape instead of wings, adding gloves, and removing the red sections from the original costume. He later said his suggestions were influenced by Lee Falk's popular The Phantom, a syndicated newspaper comic strip character with which Kane was also familiar, and that he devised the name Bruce Wayne for the character's secret identity. As Finger described, "Bruce Wayne's first name came from Robert Bruce, the Scottish patriot. Wayne, being a playboy, was a man of gentry. I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock ... then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne." Kane decades later in his autobiography described Finger as "a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning... I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective." Finger biographer Marc Tyler Nobleman described, "Bob [Kane] showed Bat-Man to [editor] Vin [Sullivan] — without Bill. Vin promptly wanted to run Bat-Man, and Bob negotiated a deal — without including Bill."
Finger wrote both the initial script for Batman's debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) and the character's second appearance, while Kane provided art. Batman proved a breakout hit, and Finger went on to write many of the early Batman stories, including making major contributions to the Joker character. Batman background artist and letterer George Roussos recalled:
What was good about Bill was that whenever he wrote a plot, he did a lot of research for it. Whether the setting was a railroad station or a factory, he would find a photo reference, usually from National Geographic, and give Bob all the research to draw from. He was very orderly and methodical. His only problem was that he couldn't sustain the work... he couldn't produce material regularly enough.
Robin was introduced as Batman's sidekick in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940). When Kane wanted Robin's origin to parallel Batman's, Finger made Robin's parents circus performers murdered while performing their trapeze act. Finger recalled:
Robin was an outgrowth of a conversation I had with Bob. As I said, Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn't have anyone to talk to, and it got a little tiresome always having him thinking. I found that as I went along Batman needed a Watson to talk to. That's how Robin came to be. Bob called me over and said he was going to put a boy in the strip to identify with Batman. I thought it was a great idea".
Comics historian Jim Steranko wrote in 1970 that Finger's slowness as a writer led Batman editor Whitney Ellsworth to suggest Kane replace him, a claim reflected in Joe Desris' description of Finger as "notoriously tardy". During Finger's absence, Gardner Fox contributed scripts that introduced Batman's early "Bat-" arsenal (the utility belt, the Bat-Gyro/plane and the Batarang). Upon his return, Finger created or co-created items such as the Batmobile and Batcave, and is credited with providing the name "Gotham City". Finger wrote the debut issue of Batman's self-titled comic book series which introduced the Joker and the Catwoman. Among the things that made his stories distinctive were a use of giant-sized props: enlarged pennies, sewing machines, or typewriters. Two of the prevalently featured trophies in Batman's Batcave, a full-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex and a giant replica of a Lincoln penny, were both introduced in stories written by Finger.
Eventually, Finger left Kane's studio to work directly for DC Comics, where he supplied scripts for characters including Batman and Superman. A part of the Superman mythos which had originated on the radio program made its way into the comic books when kryptonite was featured in a story by Finger and Al Plastino in Superman #61 (Nov. 1949). As writer of the Superboy series, Finger created Lana Lang, a love-interest for the teenage superhero. Continuing his Batman work, he and artist Sheldon Moldoff introduced Ace the Bat-Hound in Batman #92 (June 1955), Bat-Mite in Detective Comics #267 (May 1959), Clayface in Detective Comics #298 (December 1961), and Betty Kane, the original Bat-Girl in Batman #139 (April 1961). Finger wrote for other companies, including Fawcett Comics, Quality Comics and Marvel Comics' 1940s predecessor, Timely Comics.
Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. [...] Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker'. Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it, but he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card.
Robinson, whose original Joker playing card was on public display in the exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum in New York City, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007, and the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum in Atlanta, Georgia from October 24, 2004 to August 28, 2005, has countered that he created the Joker to be Batman's larger-than-life nemesis when extra stories needed to be written quickly for Batman #1 and that he received credit for the story in a college course. Regarding the Conrad Veidt similarity, Robinson said:
In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it...He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals, so Bob was also.
The Penguin debuted in Detective Comics #58 (Dec. 1941). According to Kane, he drew the Penguin after being inspired by the then advertising mascot of Kool cigarettes — a penguin with a top hat and cane. Finger, however, claimed that he created the villain as a caricature of the aristocratic type, because "stuffy English gentlemen" reminded him of emperor penguins. Kane introduced the Scarecrow and drew his first appearance, which was scripted by Finger. Finger and Kane introduced Two-Face in Detective Comics #66 (Aug. 1942). The Riddler was created by Finger and Dick Sprang in issue #140 (Oct. 1948). The Calendar Man was another villain created by Finger without input from Kane.
Finger collaborated with artist and character creator Martin Nodell on the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who debuted in All-American Comics #16 (July 1940). Both writer and artist received a byline on the strip, with Nodell in the earliest issues using the pseudonym "Matt Dellon".
According to Nodell, Finger was brought in to write scripts after Nodell had already conceived the character. Nodell recalled in an undated, latter-day interview:
When I sent it in, I waited into the second week before I heard the word to come in. I was ushered into Mr. [Max] Gaines' office, publisher, and after sitting a long time and flipping through the pages of my presentation, he announced, "We like it!" And then, "Get to work!" I did the first five pages of an eight-page story, and then they called in Bill Finger to help. We worked on it for seven years [through 1947].
As a screenwriter, Finger wrote or co-wrote the films Death Comes to Planet Aytin, The Green Slime, and Track of the Moon Beast, and contributed scripts to the TV series' Hawaiian Eye and 77 Sunset Strip. He also cowrote a two-part episode "The Clock King's Crazy Crimes / The Clock King Gets Crowned", airing October 12–13, 1966, in season two of the live-action Batman TV series.
Artist Bob Kane negotiated a contract with National Comics, the future DC Comics, that signed away ownership of the character in exchange for, among other compensations, a mandatory byline on all Batman comics (and adaptations thereof). Finger's name, in contrast, does not appear as an official credit on Batman stories or films. Finger began receiving limited acknowledgment for his writing work in the 1960s; the letters page of Batman #169 (Feb. 1965), for example, features editor Julius Schwartz naming Finger as creator of the Riddler.
Additionally, Finger did receive credit for his work for National's sister company, All-American Publications, during that time. For example, the first Wildcat story, in Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942), has the byline "by Irwin Hasen and Bill Finger", and the first Green Lantern story (see above) is credited to "Mart Dellon and Bill Finger". National later absorbed All-American. National's practice in the 1950s made formal bylines rare in comics, with DC regularly granting credit only to Kane; William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, under his pseudonym of Charles Moulton; and to Sheldon Mayer.
In 1989, Kane acknowledged Finger as "a contributing force" in the character's creation, and wrote, "Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero ... I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say. 'I'll put your name on it now. You deserve it.'" Comics historian Ron Goulart has referred to Batman as the "creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger".
Finger's contemporary, artist and writer Jerry Robinson, who worked with Kane from the beginning, said, “[Bill] had more to do with the molding of Batman than Bob. He just did so many things at the beginning, ... creating almost all the other characters, ... the whole persona, the whole temper." Batman inker George Roussos, another contemporary, said, "Bob Kane had ideas while Bill sort of organized them". A DC Comics press release in 2007 said, "Kane, along with writer Bill Finger, had just created Batman for DC predecessor National Comics." Likewise, DC editor Paul Levitz wrote, "The Darknight [sic] Detective debuted in [Detective] #27, the creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger."
In September 2015, DC Entertainment announced Finger would receive credit on the 2016 superhero film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the second season of Gotham, following a deal between the Finger family and DC. Finger received his first formal credit as a creator of Batman in the October 2015 comic books Batman and Robin Eternal #3 and Batman: Arkham Knight Genesis #3. The updated acknowledgement for the character appeared as "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger".
Finger was married twice. His first wife, Portia, was the mother of his son, Fred, who died in 1992. After their divorce, Finger married Lyn Simmons in the late 1960s, but they were no longer married when he died in 1974. Fred's daughter Athena, born two years after Bill Finger's death, is Finger's only known living heir as of at least 2014.
Finger was posthumously inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999. In 1985, DC Comics named Finger as one of the honorees in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great. In his honor, Comic-Con International established in 2005 the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing, which is given annually to "two recipients — one living and one deceased — who have produced a significant body of work in the comics field.
- Finger, Dwight. "Bill Finger". FINGAR and FINGER Family Genealogy. Archived from the original on March 2, 2013. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
Some researchers have put his birth in New York, but the 1920 U.S. Census along with other evidence shows he was born in Denver, Colorado.
- Infantino, Carmine (w). "Last February, The Batman lost a father." Famous First Edition F-6: inside front cover (March 1975), DC Comics
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- Desris, Joe (1994). "Bill Finger". Batman Archives Volume 3. DC Comics. p. 223. ISBN 978-1563890994.
- Daniels, Les (1999). Batman: The Complete History. Chronicle Books. p. 17. ISBN 0-8118-4232-0.
- Steranko, Jim (1970). The Steranko History of Comics. Reading, Pennsylvania: Supergraphics. p. 44. ISBN 0-517-50188-0.
- Nobleman, Bill the Boy Wonder, p. 5 (unnumbered)
- Daniels, pp. 21 and 23
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- Kane, Bob; Tom Andrae (1989). Batman & Me. Forestville, California: Eclipse Books. p. 44. ISBN 1-56060-017-9.
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DC's second superstar debuted in the lead story of this issue, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane, though the character was missing many of the elements that would make him a legend.
- Detective Comics #27 and #28 at the Grand Comics Database.
- "Interview: Meet the Joker's Maker, Jerry Robinson". RocketLlama.com. July 21, 2009. Archived from the original on September 25, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2013. Part 2, "Interview: The Joker’s Maker Tackles The Man Who Laughs", August 5, 2009. Archived July 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine..
- Roussos, George, in Gruenwald, Mark (April 1983). "George Roussos". Comics Interview (2). Fictioneer Books. pp. 45–51.
- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 31: "Writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane justified any hyperbole in this issue, for with the introduction of Robin, Batman's world changed forever."
- Kane, Andrae, pp. 104–105
- Steranko, p. 45
- Kane, Andrae, p. 103
- Daniels, p. 31
- Kane, Bob (2007). Batman: The Dailies 1943-1946. Sterling. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-4027-4717-5.
- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 31: "The first issue of Batman's self-titled comic written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane, represented a milestone in more ways than one. With Robin now a partner to the Caped Crusader, villains needed to rise to the challenge, and this issue introduced two future legends: the Joker and Catwoman."
- Kane, Andrae, pp. 119-120
- Steranko, p. 49
- Manning, Matthew K.; Dougall, Alastair, ed. (2014). "1940s". Batman: A Visual History. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 36. ISBN 978-1465424563.
Batman #35: This issue also featured...the classic 'Dinosaur Island' story by writer Bill Finger and artists Dick Sprang and Ray Burnley.
- Manning "1940s" in Dougall (2014), p. 39: World's Finest Comics #30 "Batman gained one of the most iconic trophies in his Batcave when he encountered the new villain dubbed the Penny Plunderer in this issue...artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger revealed how Batman added the giant penny to his intriguing collection."
- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 61: "Kryptonite finally appeared in comics following its introduction in The Adventures of Superman radio show back in 1943. In a story by writer Bill Finger and artist Al Plastino...the Man of Steel determined that the cause of his weakness was a piece of meteorite rock."
- Irvine, Alex "1950s" in Dolan, p. 65: "Superboy met the girl next door in Superboy #10, when the spunky redhead Lana Lang made her first appearance. In a story written by Bill Finger, with art by John Sikela, Lana quickly became infatuated with her Smallville neighbor, Clark Kent."
- Irvine "1950s" in Dolan, p. 77: "Once Superman had a dog, Batman got one too, in "Ace, the Bat-Hound!" In the story by writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff, Batman and Robin found a German Shepherd called Ace."
- Irvine "1950s" in Dolan, p. 94: "The impish Bat-Mite made his first appearance in Detective Comics #267, care of writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff."
- McAvennie, Michael "1960s" in Dolan, p. 103: "Scribe Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff reshaped the face of evil with the second - and perhaps most recognized - Clayface ever to challenge the Dark Knight."
- McAvennie, Michael "1960s" in Dolan, p. 102: "Young Betty Kane assumed the costumed identity of Bat-Girl in this tale by writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff."
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- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 37: "One of Batman's most peculiar foes first appeared in this issue, and naturally he brought his trademark umbrella with him. The Penguin was a squat dandy with a beaked nose and a tuxedo."
- Tipton, Scott (January 14, 2004). "The Enemies List". Comics 101. Archived from the original on April 5, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2010.
- Daniels, p. 42
- Daniels, p. 55
- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 41: "The nightmarish Two-Face debuted as Batman's antagonist in this story by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane."
- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 59: "The Riddler debuted as a perplexing foe of Batman in a story by writer Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang."
- Wallace, Daniel (2008). "Calendar Man". In Dougall, Alastair. The DC Comics Encyclopedia. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 65. ISBN 0-7566-4119-5. OCLC 213309017.
- "Green Lantern" at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Retrieved on November 16, 2014. Archived from the original on November 16, 2014.
- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 32: "Alan Scott underwent an unexpected career change into the costumed hero Green Lantern in a story by artist Martin Nodell (using the pseudonym 'Mart Dellon') and writer Bill Finger."
- Nodell, Martin (1999). "preface". The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives, Volume 1. DC Comics. ISBN 978-1563895074.
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- Wallace "1940s" in Dolan, p. 41: "Writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen's Wildcat was Ted Grant, a boxer accused of murdering his opponent in the ring."
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... Lyn Simmons, Bill’s second wife; they married in the late 1960s. ... Lyn said Warner backed out when they learned that she was not his widow but rather his ex-wife.
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- Cronin, Brian (July 27, 2012). "Comic Book Legends Revealed". (Column #377), Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2012.