Instead of pleading his case to the comics fan community -- said case being that writer Bill Finger was the "secret," unsung c0-creator of Batman -- Marc Tyler Nobleman decided to instead turn to a fiendishly clever alternative. Write a lavishly illustrated bio of Finger's life for kids. Get 'em while they're young.
The lavish illustrator is Ty Templeton, and the book is the recently-released "Bill the Boy Wonder: the Secret Co-Creator of Batman" from Charlesbridge.
I'm sure all of you remember illustrated biographies from when you were younger, of such major personages as Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Gandhi. Is the story of the true co-creator of Batman, who was snubbed countless of times in retrospectives of the Caped Crusader from the 1960s, the movie "Batmania" of the late 1980s, and beyond, also worth the bio treatment? It depends if you see the story not just as of Finger's omission from creator credit, but as representing the larger issue of artists, writers and public figures everywhere who are Xed out of the official history books for their grand achievements.
"Bill the Boy Wonder" traces Finger's life from early years facing anti-Semitism, to a fruitful collaboration with "official" Batman creator Bob Kane, to later years of being "passed over" in getting credit for his contributions to the Batman character. These not-so-insignificant contributions include his cowl and cape, his origin, his sidekick Robin and more.
One can look at this bio, and Finger's somewhat self-deprecating business arrangements with Kane, and say, "well, Kane was the more savvy businessman. I guess he deserved the sole credit." But do we determine such things based on sophistication in the boardroom or the cold, hard facts?
Watch out, Bill! He's not gonna give you any credit for that cowl!
To position DC Comics as the bad guy here isn't exactly accurate. It was the publisher itself who started the ball rolling for Finger getting any public credit at all, though in a somewhat unofficial capacity. The "black hat" in this narrative mostly falls on Kane's head. But while I'm a big Superman history buff, I'm not versed up enough on Batman lore to confirm or deny such a conclusion.
But what is quite obvious here is that writer Nobleman has probably produced in this volume the most in-depth portrait of the elusive Finger to date. There's a lot of info here you just can't find anywhere else. He even takes pains to establish that, contrary to popular belief, Finger has an heir. I'm sure the lawyers currently bedeviling DC for the Superman rights on behalf of the Siegels probably find that discovery verrrrry interesting.
If there's one thing "Bill the Boy Wonder" is not lacking, it's illustrations of Batman -- very capably rendered by Templeton (known for his own notable runs on "Batman Animated Series" comic book material). And why not? It's all done in the service of a book about history -- albeit that of a comic book character.
This snippet from the "Bill The Boy Wonder" school discussion guide teaches kids how not to get screwed over in the "biz"
Again, the question has to be raised -- is a biography about the creator of a superhero as important as that of a president? And is this a topic worthy of a child's book report?
How can any study of America be complete without examining the persons who discovered the country and helped establish its government? No middle school assignment of " Romeo and Juliet" is complete without some words on the history (however scant) of its author. One can argue that Batman is nowhere as important as those academic concerns. But ask anyone both in the U.S. and abroad who Batman is, and I'm betting most will know. I think that makes him -- and the quest to accurately pinpoint his origins -- somewhat important, don't you think?
"Bill The Boy Wonder: the Secret Co-Creator of Batman" is available now.