Who Was the Real Creator of Batman?

Batman movie poster

Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

When you open up a Batman comic book or watch any program involving Batman, there's always a credit line that goes along with the product. It reads “Batman created by Bob Kane.” But was Kane really the sole creator of Batman? 

Who Was Bob Kane?

Adventures of Rusty and His Pals banner
Before he created Batman, Kane's greatest success was the adventure strip, Rusty and Pals. DC Comics

Bob Kane was born in New York City in 1915. He attended high school with future comic book great Will Eisner. After getting his start as an animator, Kane began working with comic books in 1936 as an employee at Jerry Iger and Will Eisner's comic book packaging company. Eventually, like many of the young artists that worked for the packaging companies like Iger-Eisner, Kane went to work directly for a comic book publisher. Initially, he drew humor features for National Comics (which eventually re-named itself Detective Comics or DC Comics), then moved on to create an adventure/humor strip for DC called “Rusty and Pals.” In 1938, National gained the first superhero comic book character, Superman, from writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Superman became a sensation and by early 1939, National wanted more superheroes. So, Bob Kane threw his hat into the ring with his new idea—Batman.

Bill Finger Enters the Picture

Rendering of one possible version of Batman
In their book, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman,Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton envision what Kane's version of Batman would look like. Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton

Here's the problem: Kane's idea did not go much further than a character named Batman. He enlisted a writer and artist named Bill Finger, who had done some uncredited work ("ghostwriting") for Kane on “Rusty and Pals” to help develop the hero. Finger later recalled to Jim Steranko for Steranko's History of Comics that what Kane had at this point was "a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of...reddish tights, I believe, with boots...no gloves, no gauntlets...with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign...BATMAN.”

Finger then suggested making the character darker, eliminating the red colors, and giving him a cape instead of wings and add a cowl to make him look more like a bat. Finger then came up with the backstory for the character.

Admittedly, Finger was himself cribbing much of his idea for Bruce Wayne from Lamont Cranston, the millionaire playboy alter-ego of the popular pulp fiction character, The Shadow. The first Batman story, for instance, was a re-worked Shadow story.

Why Only Credit for Kane?

Cover of Bob Kane's autobiography
Bob Kane's autobiography was an impressive exercise in self-serving revisionist history. Eclipse Books

The character now settled, Kane sold the new comic idea to National Comics. The issue was that Finger was working for Kane independently and thus only Kane had business dealings with National Comics. The bigger issue was that Kane later reworked his deal with National during a time when Siegel and Shuster were in a lawsuit with National for ownership of Superman (no one knows the particulars of this secretive agreement, but legend has it that Kane claimed that he was under the legal age to make a binding contract when he first sold Batman to National, thus nulling and voiding his original deal with the company). The deal was mutually beneficial to both Kane and National Comics. For Kane, it guaranteed him steady, well-paying work on the character for the rest of his life and for National, it guaranteed that they would own the copyright to Batman completely and without worry of later legal challenges (as unlike Siegel and Shuster, Kane was not looking to get the rights to his character back).

That deal remained, with modifications in the 1960s, for the rest of Kane's life (he, of course, very soon farmed out his work to other artists). Thus, if DC Comics were ever to credit Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman, that would make their deal with Kane void and open themselves up to a lawsuit by Finger's estate over the Batman copyright. Hence, Finger did not get any credit as Batman's creator. 

Kane, for his part, also made sure never to give Finger credit for the creation of Batman. Only in the last years of his life (Finger passed away in 1974, Kane in 1998) did Kane even acknowledge Finger's role, noting in his book, Batman and Me, “Bill Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning. He wrote most of the great stories and was influential in setting the style and genre other writers would emulate ... I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective.” 

It was only in 2015, though, that DC Comics and Warner Bros. agreed to give Finger any credit on Gotham and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. They eventually settled upon "with," as in "Batman was created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger", which is likely the best credit Finger will ever receive due to the aforementioned contracts, and it's a wonderful piece of news.