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Film A dawn of justice for Batman’s overlooked co-creator Bill Finger

Panel from Bill the Wonder Boy: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

Ty Templeton/Charlesbridge Publishing

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in theatres next week, fans will witness many things never before seen on the big screen – two of the greatest titans of all time going toe-to-toe, the most famous female hero from the DC pantheon, Jesse Eisenberg doing Lex Luthor as Silicon Valley twerp. But to catch the moment of real-world justice offered up by the film, you'll have to pay careful attention to the credits.

For the first time in a movie about the Dark Knight, Bill Finger will finally get the recognition he deserves for bringing the character to life.

"It's unprecedented in the 80-year history of the superhero that they amend the credit line of an A-list character," says Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, a Finger biography. "If anyone deserves justice, it's the guy who created our biggest crusader for justice."

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Whether it's Tim Burton's classic 1989 film, the sad times of George Clooney's nipple suit, the Christopher Nolan trilogy, the TV show starring Adam West or any other property featuring the Caped Crusader, only one man – Bob Kane – has ever been officially credited as the creator of Batman.

To be fair, it was Kane who approached Finger with the idea for a character called "the Bat-Man" in 1938. The artist showed Finger a sketch of the character. He had blond hair, a red suit, wings and wore a domino mask.

"Bill completely overhauled it," Nobleman says.

Finger came up with the cape, cowl, darker costume, gauntlets with spikes, the name Gotham City, the name Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Wayne's tragic backstory, the Batmobile, the Batcave and the nickname "The Dark Knight."

When you strip away everything Finger contributed to the character, what's left of Kane's? "To be honest, really only the name Batman," Nobleman says.

Yet in his 25 years of writing Batman stories, Finger's name never appeared on any of them. The man died penniless in 1974. Kane had been savvy enough in the early days of superhero comics to ensure his contract with DC stipulated that he would forever be credited as the sole creator of Batman, whatever the contributions of other writers and artists.

But near the end of his life, he clearly felt some guilt about how he had treated Finger.

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"If I could go back 15 years, before he died, I would like to say, 'I'll put your name on it now. You deserve it,'" Kane wrote in his autobiography, published in 1989.

Others have said this wasn't guilt; it was public relations. Kane never amended his contract, after all.

Comics insiders have long known about Finger's contributions in creating one of the most popular superheroes in the world. Jerry Robinson, an artist who worked with both Kane and Finger, created an award named after Finger that has been given out at the San Diego Comic-Con annually since 2005. The award is meant to honour writers who have not received the recognition or rewards that are rightfully theirs. Otto Binger, who co-created the characters Supergirl and Brainiac, as well as the concept for Kandor (Krypton's capital city), Steve Gerber, who co-created Howard the Duck, and Gardner Fox, who wrote the first comics featuring the Flash and created the Justice Society of America, a superhero team, are among the scribes who have been posthumously given the award.

Finger's granddaughter, Athena, was never much of a comic-book reader. But of course she knew Bill's story. She never tried to fight DC because she believed it was an impossible battle.

"I was told it was a lost cause for most of my life," she says.

In 2007, Nobleman approached her in the hopes of convincing Athena to change her mind.

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With Batman's 75th anniversary celebrations in full swing two years ago – at the same time that the estate of legendary artist Jack Kirby settled its long-standing dispute with Marvel Comics – Athena decided it was "time to get a resolution," she says.

Thanks to public support Athena Finger had drummed up touring comics conventions across the United States, DC Entertainment announced last fall it had reached an agreement that "recognizes Mr. Finger's significant contributions to the Batman family of characters," according to a press release (the company declined an interview request).

"People at DC and Warner Bros. deserve a huge round of applause for this," says Michael Ulsan, a producer of every Batman movie since Burton's.

Following the announcement, Finger's name now appears in the credits of Gotham, the Fox television series. But the biggest audience will come with Batman v Superman.

Athena says some have grumbled about the particular wording that negotiations with DC finally arrived at: "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger." They think it should be "and," not "with." But the wording doesn't bother Athena in the least.

"The point is that his name is right next to Bob Kane's, where it belongs," she says.

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