Salute recently caught up with Athena Finger, granddaughter of all-time great comic and fantasy writer and Batman co-creator, Bill Finger. Athena and Bill were the subjects of the recent documentary, Batman & Bill. The film chronicled the crusade of Marc Tyler Nobleman, longtime fan of the Dark Knight, who wrote Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, to set the record straight and secure credit for Finger.
It was an open secret in the comics’ community that Bill Finger was actually the man behind the character’s creation as well as that of his unique rogue’s gallery. Bob Kane took sole credit for Batman and went to his grave without fully acknowledging Finger’s role. DC didn’t set the record straight for 75 years, before finally reaching an agreement with the Finger family in 2015. As part of that settlement, Bill Finger’s name now appears as co-creator in every use of the character. None of that would have been possible without the efforts of Finger’s sole heir, Athena, the only person with legal standing in the matter.
In a sense, you were recruited for this crusade, to fight for your grandfather’s rights.
In a way, it was a recruitment—but it was really about coming back to an issue that was dead. After my father passed away in ’92, I was told not to pursue trying to get my grandfather credit because it would be too costly.
So you’d already thought this was a possibility?
Right. For 15 years before he [Marc Tyler Nobleman] got in touch with me, even though I didn’t talk about it, and tried not to think about it, there had been a few times throughout the years where I’d called DC and said “what can I do about this?” and I’d always get the same response, “there’s nothing you can do about it.”
So when he did approach me, it was more of a push. It pushed me to get more involved…
You were resistant for emotional reasons?
Sort of—but also, I’d been told that it would just be too costly. “You’re taking on a corporation.” At the time, I didn’t think it was an option. Then he said, “no, you need to talk to certain people,” and he got me in touch with them and I realized I could get some little parts done. Over the years, as I got more involved with the culture—because I wasn’t that involved in it growing up—I saw things that changed my thinking. I’d known what my grandfather did my whole life, it just wasn’t as widespread as it is now. The internet played a big role in that, as far as people learning the true history and the backstory. As I came into it, I saw that there was a group, a culture, of people who knew but also really wanted him [Bill Finger] to get his credit! Seeing that, and Marc [Nobleman] sort of pushing me, the timing worked out and I realized it was time for a resolution.
Growing up in my generation in New York, it was an open secret what Bill had done versus what Bob Kane had done, but nothing changed.
Well, really what Bob Kane offered Bill was a job under his name—that was traditional for that time. Now, what Bob [Kane] decided to do after that, as far as excluding him and denying him credit, versus going off what Siegel and Shuster did with Superman where they shared the byline… well, let’s just say he had a choice, a chance, to do it and he chose not to. Then again, that was standard for the time, so I don’t think he was being intentionally malicious for the times—it just progressed over time.
Yes. It’s hard when you’ve based your reputation on a certain story, it’s hard to go back and retract it and correct the record…
Right. I mean, any publicity can be good, he could’ve turned it into something positive, instead of just letting it perpetuate the way he did.
And your grandfather did so many amazing things, besides creating Batman and the rogues…
He did! Because he was a man of his craft. He really was truly a writer and that’s what he was passionate about.
Do you think it’s time, now that people are learning more about him and what he did, that the public learned more about the many things he did?
We’re trying to figure out the best next steps. We’re talking screenplays, other documentaries, books, biographies—fiction, non-fiction—all different types. It’s a process. And so much of it comes down to time and what’s the best avenue. Right now, it’s me going out, traveling to cons, meeting and talking to people, connecting with people who’ve reached out to me because they’ve seen the documentary, and so we keep pushing the avenues we’ve established while we explore the new opportunities that come up.
The documentary makes people angry. Even though it ultimately ends on a positive note—but that’s because of your story. You end up vindicated. But if that hadn’t happened, if it were just what happened to Bill, it would be so much more negative…
Anger is appropriate, but at the same time—he was an artist! And artists tend to be introverted. They don’t necessarily want to be in the spotlight. They’re consumed with what they’re doing…and that’s really all he wanted—to make some money, doing what he loved to do.
Because of who controls the narrative, it’s often flipped, and people end up believing it’s all about the money, when that isn’t the case.
No, it’s about being recognized for the creation, and the concepts that you’ve come up with that people are celebrating every day—but they don’t even know where they really came from. They’re being told this false truth, that this man did everything, when in reality he didn’t really do much of anything, he owned the studio and that was about it.
I’m not saying Bob Kane did nothing—he did have the ability to recognize talent and put really talented people together, and that in and of itself is a talent. Not everyone has the ability to recognize other people’s talents and combine them. I think Bob Kane picked up on my grandad’s passion as much as his talent, that Bill had this thirst and need to tell stories as much as he had the ability to do it.
What do you think it was about that generation, Bill, but also the other guys who really worked with him to make Batman what he is, like Dick Sprang and Jerry Robinson, that made them accept the way things were? What shifted culturally that made this the right moment for things to happen and change?
I’ve noticed that when I interacted with people at DC, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to give Bill credit. Everyone said, “We know exactly who your grandfather was, we know exactly what he did, we have so much respect for him, we wish things were different…but they are the way they are.” So it wasn’t a matter of not wanting, it was really a matter of the mechanics of making it happen, and that’s not the easiest part—I’ve had extremely good luck, as far as having the right people help me through this process. My sister is an attorney—and her focus in law school was copyright law, so it’s an interesting…
Right! So we said “Okay, what are we going to do?” Because there’s a time limit with these things and we were coming down against it to do anything. I was the last-ditch effort. It was when it got to be the 75th anniversary that the momentum really shifted. I really saw the public push for it, the industry push for it, my family was supportive of it—so the timing was so crucial. Plus, over at the DC offices a lot of the old-timers had moved on and a lot of the younger generation who knew what was going on really wanted Bill to finally get his credit.