Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Comics Interview Super Special: Batman—Real Origins of the Dark Knight"

This 1989 edition of David Anthony Kraft’s magazine comprises a meaty collection of material that alternately bolsters and insults Bill Finger.

Here are a few examples, most from the Bob Kane interview:

  • The names of all the main players are bolded—except Bill Finger’s. Surely only an oversight, but a disappointing (and odd) one.
  • Bob did not even know when his onetime partner died: “I guess in the ‘60s.” (Correct answer: 1974.)
  • Bob: “I’m a very honest person with a lot of integrity” (Correct answer: No, you weren’t.)
  • Shockingly, Bob is quoted as saying this: “Bill Finger created some of the villains: I believe he created Penguin. Catwoman, I think he came up with. I came up with the Riddler and the Joker. Maybe Penguin was mine—time erodes the memory.” He uncharacteristically credited Bill with creating Penguin and Catwoman but then slipped back into his familiar refrainsand even took back what he just gave.

In one respect, Bob is right—time does erode memory. However, that’s a convenient cover. Bob had been laying claim to most everything Batman all along, so this vagueness seems even more insincere than usual.

Elsewhere between the same covers is the lone print interview with Bill’s son Fred; in it, Fred relays the story he’d been told of how his dad (and mom!) created the Penguin. Jerry Robinson has credited Bill with creating all of the classic villains except the Joker (see next paragraph); in any case, there is no question that Bill wrote the first Joker story. And no less reputable a source than editor Julius Schwartz gave Bill sole credit for the Riddler.

Later in the issue is an anecdote about Bill telling DC Comics writer/editor/continuity guru E. Nelson Bridwell that he recalled when an excited Jerry Robinson told him (Bill) about a new character called the Joker. Bill liked the idea but not the playing-card-styled drawing and produced a photo of Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs—which does strongly resemble the Joker as he looked in his debut and subsequent early appearances.

Given Bridwell’s legendary encyclopedic comics knowledge and what seems like a reputation for integrity, this seems like a particularly reliable account of this oft-disputed creation story.

1 comment:

Richard Bensam said...

There's no "seems" about it; Nelson Bridwell's astonishing memory and his integrity were both legendary among people fortunate enough to know him. If Nelson said Bill told him that, you can be sure Nelson relayed what Bill told him accurately.

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