Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creator of “Creators of the Superheroes”

Academic, author, and all-around class act Thomas Andrae kindly sent me a copy of his new book Creators of the Superheroes. He’s been working hard on this project for several years, and readers will reap the payoff.

The book is a loving tribute to what could be called the Significant Seven, the pantheon of comics creators: Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Jack Kirby, and Will Eisner. I, of course, took special interest in the sections on Siegel, Shuster, Finger, and Robinson.

Several photos were new to me, such as the one of young and surprisingly handsome Shuster on page 18 and another of Shuster and Robinson (alongside their lovely ladies) on page 26.

It will be no surprise to Tom or anyone else who knows me that I was disappointed to read, on page 57, “Batman was the creation of Bob Kane…” with no mention of Finger. Tom co-wrote Kane's 1989 autobiography and pushed for Kane to include as much as possible about Finger. (I cringe to imagine how that book would've read without Tom's involvement.) And Finger is given ample space (and credit) later in this book. Yet to set the tone, I still wish Finger’s name had been included in that initial line about creation.

I was also surprised to see the infamous “1934” Kane sketches reproduced on page 59 with no discussion about their almost certain forgery. I’m not saying Kane didn’t draw them; I am saying (and am not the first to say) that he did not draw them in 1934.

Kane was notorious for taking credit for others’ work, but he did give Finger credit for designing Batman’s now-iconic costume…which both men agreed happened in 1939. Therefore, it does not make sense that Kane in 1934 could've drawn sketches featuring the bat-motif. (In other words, if Kane had designed this look in 1934, why wouldn’t he have used it in 1939? But again, he credits Finger with that design…) General consensus is that Kane deceptively created these sketches in 1939 (or beyond) to retroactively “prove” the design was his. He didn’t seem to realize he was contradicting himself.

The book includes some colorful quotations that I've seen in only one other source before, which means Tom really dug in his research. One example: how Finger’s peers called him the “Cecil B. DeMille of the Comics. Another: Finger’s sharp response when asked if a particular story from years earlier was written by him or by Don Cameron: “It must have been me. Don Cameron never wrote this badly” (both page 77).

I noticed several inaccuracies. One is in the recap of the 1965 New York comic book convention (page 80), at which Finger first appeared on a panel of comics creators. It states that Finger described to the audience how he helped design Batman, and also that he invented most of the villains, neither of which are in the panel transcript that ran in its entirety in Alter Ego #20 (1/03). These are honest inferences and might be considered smaller points with lesser characters or creators, but with regard to Finger and Batman, the all-important is who did what when and who knew what when.

For me, the book’s biggest selling point is the interview with Finger (conducted by Robert Porfirio in 1972) that runs from page 85 to 89. It is a bigger deal than the average reader may realize because it was recently rediscovered and has not been published before. That makes this the first “new” Finger interview since his death! That’s quite significant yet Tom doesn’t toot his own horn and announce that. You should, Tom! Put that in a reprint!

(On a side note, the 28-minute interview was on audio tape. Tom transcribed it and most generously sent me that transcription before his book was out. We’d both gotten ahold of it independently, but he was the first with the stamina to decode the recording, which was of fairly poor quality.)

Of the parts of the book I have read thus far, my favorite is probably Tom’s original interview with Jerry Robinson, beginning on page 93. No seismic revelations but quite a lot of good moments, made better by Robinson’s dependable eloquence. And Tom asked some great questions I haven’t seen other interviewers cover with Robinson.

One of the most fun novelties of the book is the fact that it reprints in full the first (which became the last) Wonder Man story, published in 1939 and almost immediately afterward litigated out of existence.

Congratulations, Tom. Thanks for sharing. Despite my quibbles noted above, which I relay in the name of scholarship, the book will be invaluable for comic fans and researchers alike.

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