July 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM ET
Everybody knows Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne. But few have heard of the writer who came up with that name, as well as many of the most familiar facets of the Bat-mythos, including the Batmobile, Gotham City and the character's tragic origin.
Marc Tyler Nobleman is out to change that. In his book "Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman," he argues that even though artist Bob Kane has received sole official credit for creating Batman since the character debuted in 1939, a writer named Bill Finger carved most of the legend we know today.
"If you break it down by who did what, by their own accounts, Bill Finger was by far the prime mover behind Batman," Nobleman told TODAY.com.
Nobleman's illustrated biography recounts how aspiring writer Finger's collaboration with cartoonist Kane began after they met at a party. When Kane was challenged by an editor at National Comics (precursor of today's DC Comics) to come up with a superhero to repeat the success of the company's Superman, he turned to Finger for help.
"Bob Kane came up with the name Batman," Nobleman acknowledges, but his design -- a character in red tights with wings and a small mask -- bore little resemblance to the figure that has now become iconic. It was Finger who suggested the familiar cowl, cape and gloves.
And Finger's contributions didn't stop there. "He wrote the first Batman story, the first Robin story, the first Penguin, Catwoman and other villains," Nobleman said. "But most enduring of all was that Bill Finger crafted the origin."
Early superheroes did not have deep psychological underpinnings -- except Batman, who was driven by the trauma of seeing his parents murdered before his eyes as a child, as first chronicled by Finger.
"It was unprecedented that he came up with the origin," Nobleman said. "He was bringing elements of novels and films into what was considered to be a lower art form."
But despite all of Finger's contributions, it was Bob Kane's name alone that appeared on Batman stories decade after decade -- even stories that were actually drawn by "ghost" artists. And though Kane himself acknowledged Finger as "a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning" in his 1989 autobiography, it was he who basked in the spotlight when the Batman TV series became a pop-culture phenomenon in the late 1960s and when the 1989 "Batman" film broke box-office records, while Finger died in virtual obscurity in 1974 (Kane died in 1998 at age 83).
Now Nobleman is working to give Finger long-overdue credit as he retells Batman's real origin. "Amazingly enough, no one beat me to it and told the Batman story as it should have been told all along, with Bill Finger in the lead," he told TODAY.com. "This became a detective story and a quest and a crusade."
The quest led him to find Finger's sole heir, a previously unknown granddaughter born two years after he died. "She did begin to get checks, royalty statements for reprints of Bill's stories," Nobleman said.
"It's a very emotional story for me," Nobleman added. "Batman is by some counts the most lucrative superhero in history. For the man who co-created him to be a ghost is not fair."