In 1933, Milton Finger, weary of signs that read “JEWS NEED NOT APPLY” changed his name to Bill. His lifelong dream was to be a writer but like many living in the Great Depression, he would gladly settle for whatever employment he could find. However, in 1939, a chance encounter with another artist gave him an opportunity few of that era had. He had a real chance to realize his dream and walk away from work in dry goods and shoe sales. He was so happy to be earning money, good money for something he was passionate about, that he didn’t fret over his new partner meeting the publisher without him nor did he care when his name didn’t show up on the byline of their creation. He didn’t have any interest in contracts and most importantly he had no idea– no one had any idea– how long lasting his work would be. This is the story of Bill Finger, a man who lived life from paycheck to paycheck doing what he loved. Bill Finger, who was not given an obituary. Bill Finger, the true father of Batman.
You probably know the name Bob Kane. You’ve seen “Based on Characters Created by Bob Kane” in the credits of every Nolan film, every Burton film, and every Animated Series episode that’s ever aired. Every issue of Batman features “Batman created by” along with Kane’s trademark signature with that giant “O” in Bob. Every. Single. One. And since he is credited as the sole creator of Batman, the Kane estate is now worth….well, lets just say its an amount of money that would likely make that mountain of cash from The Dark Knight look like an ant hill.
Bob Kane’s original concept “Birdman” before Bill Finger came along
Obviously, no one can have all the answers about what really happened back in the 1930s between these two men but author Marc Tyler Nobleman spent six years of his life gathering all the information he could and he presents it all right here in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. And even with a staggering six years of research this book is still quite thin! That should give you a good idea of how little information regarding the creation of your hero still survives. And thanks to Nobleman and his had work on this difficult project we now know just a little bit more about Bill Finger. For example, before he began working on this book it was believed that there was no living heir to the Finger estate and that only 2 photos of the man even existed. He proved both of these assumptions wrong and you learn all about it within these pages as well as the story of Bill Finger’s life.
I’ve seen enough accounts on the matter of who should be credited for Batman that I couldn’t be happier that Bill the Boy Wonder was published. As far as I know it’s the only real biography about the man. Internet message boards are filled with debates that quote Finger’s contemporaries regarding how Kane was a greedy, unoriginal man who never saw an idea he wouldn’t hastily pass off as his own. There are many who believe, some even with supportive evidence, that Bob Kane did not even draw that many of the comics. Did Kane hire several ghost writers and artists and then take all the credit for himself? Did he get rich off the backs of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, and Bill Finger? Nobleman’s book makes a strong case for it but I also urge you to read the other side’s argument, namely Bob Kane’s own memoir Batman and Me. Read both works and then come to your own conclusion. For me, I tend to believe Nobleman’s take on these events (but I should make it clear that the book doesn’t go out of its way to paint Kane as a villain. It’s not an anti-Bob Kane book).
It’s important that I point out how short of a read this is. As much respect as I have for Nobleman in getting this book out there, I was able to read the whole thing in something around a half an hour. You’ll notice on the cover that it says the book is “illustrated” but that’s not to say that this is a graphic novel. Bill the Boy Wonder is neither a graphic novel nor an academic essay. I had hoped for the latter. There aren’t any speech bubbles or rich prose and the art by Ty Templeton isn’t that expressive or detailed compared to his traditional comic book work. The illustrations are very simple and straight forward. Bill the Boy Wonder is more like a picture book. A picture book for older readers with a larger goal of reaching a young audience. I was admittedly feeling a bit underwhelmed after finishing the book so quickly but after glancing at the back cover and identifying an “A Junior Library Guild Selection” tag I realized that the book wasn’t trying to be a biographical graphic novel like say Maus nor was it trying to be an overly research paper. It’s aiming to please everyone from 8 years of age on up which is both commendable and a bit of hindrance. Trying to educate a new generation on where their hero comes from is wonderful and I could see it reaching that audience if given as a gift, but I don’t think many 10 year olds are clamoring for biographies on 1930s comic book creators. If this can get added to a school library or be given to a young Batman fan on their birthday then that’s terrific but I feel like this book would’ve been a lot more rewarding had it been written for a more mature audience. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t some more robust content here for you to sink your teeth into.
The portion of the book that I enjoyed the most was the Author’s Note. These un-illustrated pages detail Nobleman’s journey making the book and I found everything here extremely fascinating. Nobleman’s sleuthing was worthy of the Dark Knight Detective himself and I think you’ll be very captivated by the story of how he found Bill Finger’s few surviving photographs and even more shocking, the long lost heir to Finger’s estate. I’ve been passing the book off to friends and ordering them to read these passages. I just wish that the Author’s Note had been the bulk of the book and not an epilogue.
For a behind the scenes look at Bill the Boy Wonder, click here.
It may be a thin book and quick read, but there’s definitely nothing small about this book’s pages. I noticed by looking at Amazon and the publisher’s own site that you can’t really get a feel for the overall size so I placed a modern comic book on top of the cover to give you some perspective.
And if you like to remove the dust jacket when reading like I do, you’ll be pleased to see that the true cover isn’t a blank board but is instead the same glossy, illustrated image in full color.
The inner cover shows off some tag lines and a few quotes.
It’s a very important book and one that I feel every Batman fan should read but the $17.95 cover price is rather expensive for something that can be read in half an hour’s time. You can buy this wherever books are sold, order it by phone by calling 1-800-225-3214 and deal with Charlesbridge Publishing directly, or you can go to Amazon and buy it for $12.21 which I think is a much more reasonable price.
Those who don’t know who Bill Finger is owe it to themselves to read this book. It’s not as in depth as I would have liked but even so it stands as the most thorough biography on Bill Finger. As for my copy, I have a shelf at home stocked with my favorite Batman graphic novels, the ones I’ll re-read again and again or lend out to friends. I’m adding Bill the Boy Wonder to that shelf not because I think my friends are going to be begging for it or because I’ll want to read it again and again, but because it’s comforting to know that there’s finally a book up there with Bill Finger’s name on it.