Recently, I was giving a presentation on intellectual property issues in the comic book industry when I was asked about Bill Finger finally receiving credit as a co-creator of Batman. For the most part, I try to discuss issues litigated in the courts or that have been well-documented in the press. Generally speaking, Bill Finger’s involvement with co-creating Batman, while known among most fans, had stayed out of the courts and mostly out of the press. Without a verified record, I don’t like to speculate. I believe I told the questioner I had noticed the development, but I was unfamiliar with what went into it. I said there has been a greater trend toward recognizing the contributions of early creators, and I hope that was what was happening here. After recently watching the new documentary “Batman & Bill” on Hulu, I realize my answer was inaccurate.
“Batman & Bill” begins with author Marc Tyler Nobleman’s quest to learn more about Bill Finger and his role in creating Batman. Along the way, he spearheads a campaign to officially recognize Bill Finger as a co-creator of Batman, and his efforts prompt Finger’s granddaughter to seek such recognition. After years of being denied credit, Finger’s name is finally listed alongside Bob Kane’s. However, according to the documentary, it took threats of litigation and the termination of Finger’s copyright interests in Batman to induce DC into doing so. Certainly, the fight with Siegel and Shuster’s heirs prompted them to settle, but it would have been nice to learn DC acted on its own without Finger’s heirs having to threaten litigation.
The documentary is fascinating and helps shed light on Finger’s contributions to the Batman legacy. While briefly discussed, it also highlights many of the legal issues I’ve discussed on this site in the past regarding copyright ownership and contractual issues. As a creator, it is important to know your rights and how to enforce them.
If you are interested in the legacy of one of Batman’s creators, I highly recommend watching this documentary on Hulu. You can also read Marc Nobleman’s book on Bill Finger, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (note: affiliate link), which was released before Bill Finger finally received the recognition he deserved.