Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Creators of Batman

August 16, 2008

    Muscles, masks and mysterious, superhuman qualities took "Superman", "The Shadow" and other comics characters to great heights of popularity in the1930s and '40s, entertaining and thrilling readers with every issue. But there was something missing. The heroes did not have vulnerability... until Bruce Wayne entered the comic book pages. A wealthy gentleman by day, he became a crime fighter at night, disguised as a bat in a black mask with pointed ears, a sleek black cape, and grey tights with a nifty tool belt of tricks. As Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Bruce Wayne had no extra protection - he was a normal man that could be hurt or killed at any turn. The fans loved him, and nearly 70 years later, still do.

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     Studying at the Art Students League and Cooper Union after growing up in New York City, Bob Kane was barely 20 years old when he began his career in cartooning. One of his first jobs was as cartoonist with comics magazine Wow!, under Jerry Iger. The magazine closed after a short time, but Kane wasn't out of work. He took up Iger's invitation to work with him and Will Eisner at their Eisner-Iger studio. The studio was a wonderfully creative place for Kane. He produced strips like Peter Pupp, Jest Laffs and pages for Famous Funnies.

    Creating a number of humourous strips like Ginger Snap and Oscar the Gumshoe, Kane expanded his repertoire into serious comics work with the invention of Rusty and Pals, an adventure strip that included pirates and exotic characters. Then the young cartoonist came up with an idea - something that would fit in with the heroes of the day and yet be different. Something that was a cross between the melodramatic and the mysterious, something between The Shadow and Robin Hood.

    Sketches and story ideas in mind, Bob Kane met Bill Finger, a writer and shoe salesman, at a party. Hitting it off, the two men began collaborating in comics adventures. Their first production was the soldier of fortune story of Clip Carson for Adventure Comics. Next, working for Detective Comics, a new superhero hit the colour pages: Batman. Getting the look and feel of the lead character took both creators' imaginations. Finger made suggestions for changing the original appearance of Batman, said Joe Desris, author of Batman Archives, adding a cowl, a cape, gloves and giving Batman the advantage of a science background.

    Kane and Finger came up with the character's non-hero name, Bruce Wayne, and his dark past, in which his parents were murdered, leaving him with the yearning to become a crime fighter.

    With Kane's strong comics art and Finger's innovative script, Batman made his first leap into print in May 1939 in Detective Comics #27. The character was a superhero with no superpowers, able to be killed or injured. The comics fans loved him. Kane opened his own studio and hired cartoonists to keep up with demand.

     Starting with Jerry Robinson as assistant artist, over the years others have made their mark on the Batman characters, including Denny O'Neil, Frank Robbins, Irv Novak and Neal Adams, said Ron Goulart's Encyclopedia of American Comics.

    Surprisingly, he did not receive much credit for his work on Batman, but Bill Finger's career as a writer reached new heights. In scriptwriting the comic, he helped establish Batman's dedicated sidekick, Robin, the Boy Wonder. Batman and Robin earned fame with the evil villains and citizens alike as the Dynamic Duo. Finger participated in the creation of the infamous Joker and villainous Riddler, and many of the other captivating evil characters. He also played a part in coming up with the Batcave and the cool Batmobile.

    Though viewed as a slow writer, Finger also worked for DC aside from Batman, writing Superman storylines. He also worked for Timely Comics (later renamed Marvel), Fawcett Comics and Quality Comics. In 1940, Finger was the writer for The Green Lantern, and then went on to write screenplays for several movies such as "The Green Slime" and"Death comes to Planet Aytin", and episodes for television shows "77 Sunset Strip" and "Hawaiian Eye"

    Born on February 8, 1914, William Finger died in 1974 in Manhattan, New York in his 60th year.

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    Batman became a huge television hit in the 1960s, not only in animation but with the real actors of Adam West, Burt Ward and a cast of talented thespians. Bob Kane left his Batman franchise about the same time the television series ended before 1970 and went on to create TV animation in Cool McCool and Courageous Cat. Turning his talents to fine art, he exhibited his paintings across the country. He was a supporter of the Batman movies, participating in a promotional capacity for the first Batman movie in 1989.

    Bob Kane, born in the Bronx of New York City in 1916, died in California in November 1998 at age 82. The Batman legacy of superhero entertainment lives on still today in lively comic books and riveting movies. The Batman comic series has spawned a profitable merchandise industry, from toys and stationery to dishware to clothing and costumes for kids and adults, not to mention the books, dvds and posters.

    Bat Signal over Gotham

    Scene From DC Comics, Batman #4, Winter 1940:

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© Susanna McLeod 2008
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