I am nearly certain that a written contract between Bill and Bob regarding you never existed—thus their arrangement would have been only verbal.
These were two twentysomethings with little reason to think that what they were creating in a Bronx apartment in the infancy of superheroes would still be around in five years, let alone 75. When Batman was conceived, Superman was less than a year old so his cultural influence was unproven and his endurance (in the real world) as yet unknown. Comic books themselves were considered a low art form, if they were considered at all. It didn’t seem like anyone besides 10-year-olds was paying attention.
What about a contract between Bill and DC?
When Bill died in 1974, Fred offered DC Comics the material Bill had saved (in particular his gimmick books), but DC declined…and then Fred threw it out. Heartbreaking, but I understand. Even then, it would have been hard for a person in Fred’s position (an extension of Bill’s—that is to say marginalized) to see the historical value of storing them somewhere.
It’s highly doubtful a contract between Bill and DC was among Bill’s papers because if one had been, I’m confident Fred would have held onto it. Bill freelanced for DC, meaning any contract he signed with the company would have been work-for-hire, but Fred was savvy enough to consider that even a work-for-hire contract might somehow benefit his family in the future. I say this because Fred did petition DC for royalties, and he got them; he would have known the significance—the possibility of multiple interpretations—of a contract.
Therefore, if any contract with Bill’s name on it did exist, and any copy of it is still out there, most likely it is in the vault of the Kane estate behind a couple of underfed Dobermans.
However, either way…
…Bill started on Batman as the secret ghostwriter for Kane. Upon “discovering” Bill, DC hired him away from Bob.
When this happened seems vitally important.
The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1 states (based on Steranko’s interview with Bill himself) that Bill began to work “officially” for DC after “about a half-dozen issues.”
“About” is, of course, imprecise.
In Alter Ego #39, Jerry Robinson recalls that it was around 1941 when DC hired Bill (and Jerry) for more money than Bob paid.
“Around” is, of course, also imprecise.
But even if we go with the conservative estimate and say it was exactly the first six issues that Bill wrote secretly for Bob—though Detective Comics #32 (10/39)—those six issues introduced Batman/Bruce Wayne (obviously) and Commissioner James Gordon (the lead character in Fox’s 2014 series Gotham). If it was one more issue, it would also include Batman’s origin (first told in Detective #33).
And if Jerry’s recollection is correct—if the transition was in 1941—we would then add the following to the list of characters/concepts Bill wrote the debuts of while under no contract with anyone:
- Robin/Dick Grayson
- Gotham City
And depending on when in 1941, we might also be able to add these:
So if Bob had a contract with DC at that time, but Bob was not producing the ideas he was getting credited for, can the person who was secretly producing them make a legal claim to them?