Batman & Bill (2017) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Marc Tyler Nobleman, Roy Thomas, Kevin Smith, Athena Finger, Alethia Mariotta, Michael Uslan, Bob Kane (archival footage)
Director: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce
Review published May 16, 2017
Batman & Bill is a Hulu-original documentary that asserts that, contrary to popular belief, that Bob Kane was not only not the sole creator of the DC Comics' superhero, The Batman, but wasn't really the main ideas guy behind his most iconic aspects. As you could guess from the film's title, there is another person, a reclusive but creative man named Bill Finger, who molded Batman from the get-go to how we experience him today, from the trademark cape-and-cowl look of Bruce Wayne's costume, to his tragic backstory, to giving a name and atmosphere to Gotham City, to the Bat Cave, to Robin, to many of the rogues gallery of villains, like The Joker, The Penguin, and Catwoman.
Never heard of Bill Finger? That's the point of this doc. At no time did Finger, who write for Kane directly on things he put his name on, get any credit for himself and his own ideas, other than on one episode of 1960s camp comedy, "Batman". Leading the crusade to see proper props go to the creation of the Caped Crusader, we follow published children's book author Marc Tyler Nobleman (writes of "Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman" and "Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman"), who has dedicated a large chunk of his life trying to uncover details on Finger's involvement in the genesis of Batman, as well as to make sure that everyone recognize one of the important men responsible to making the iconic character one of the most well-known fictional characters around the world.
Much of Batman & Bill goes through the detective work undergone by Tyler in rooting out the creator of Detective Comics' most popular hero, as well as in trying to see if there's anyone else in Finger's family who might still be around to challenge status-quo thinking. What he discovers is a sad story of two separate lives, the high life granted to Bob Kane for wheeling and dealing contracts that benefited him very well financially and in the public eye, and the nearly complete obscurity, as well as the financial and personal hardships, of the man that helped Kane get that fame and fortune, Finger.
The documentary is very well-produced, with choice interviews from comics legends like Roy Thomas, Batman expert Kevin Smith (Clerks), and much news and archival footage of Kane and other Batman related events that chart the soaring popularity of the character into popular culture. Directors Don Argott (The Art of the Steal) and Sheena M. Choice (Slow Learners) use Nobleman as the through-line of the story, utilizing comic-book style animated sequences to fill in the gaps of speculation on what may have happened behind the scenes in the worlds of Kane and Finger to not only market Batman, but also how one person could hog all of the spotlight, while the other gets lost in the shadows of Gotham City's darkest alleyways. While Kane had a finger in every lucrative Batman pie, there was 'Finger' suspiciously barred from the discussion. It's a tragedy looking for a triumph.
As the outcome of the search for truth isn't well known, which is one of the main points of the documentary, I won't reveal much more about what Nobleman's quest uncovers, or whether Bill Finger's involvement in the creation of the Batman mythos would ever receive credit on any level from DC Comics, Warner Bros., or even if it gets resolved at some point within the film. All I will say is that, for fans of the Dark Knight (a nickname Finger also created for Batman), or just those who have an interest in an absorbing human-interest story (it's very accessible for non-comic book geeks), Batman & Bill is a compelling and insightful documentary that entertains, educates, and challenges. As a lifelong comic-book fan, I will also admit having never hearing of the Bill Finger story, but now that I have, I'll always think of him wherever I see the name "Bob Kane" found on the voluminous amounts of Batman-related material I consume from here on out.
©2017 Vince Leo