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The True Creator of Batman Never Got Credit, and Now His Granddaughter Fights to Correct History

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A tall woman in a Jedi robe approaches. "I've got to know, what's the persona?"

Tamerlane shouts to two deputies passing by. "Thanks for coming. Do you want to do an illegal search and seizure on me?"

"Persona?" he says. "Me?" He reaches into a pocket on his chest, then flourishes a black card. "Congratulations!" it reads. "You've just met a Real Life Super-Villain."

Next, Tamerlane notices a ceiling-scraping woman dressed as an Elvish warrior. "Look at her! Isn't she wonderful? I'd like to climb her like the tallest mountain.

"Here's my card," he grandly announces. "In case you need me late at night, when you're alone."

In 2011, Ed Casas, then age 41, was sitting at home in Fort Lauderdale watching the Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring protests unravel across the world. He got tired of simply spilling anticorporate rhetoric onto his Facebook feed (plus, his Cuban family wasn't too hot on his pro-Che postings). Instead, Casas stepped inside the proverbial phone booth, swapping out his identity as a former history teacher, bartender, and occasional actor. He borrowed the name of a bloody 13th-century Asian warlord, rigged up an impressive costume, and began hitting up comic conventions, a real-life evildoer with an anarchist agenda.

Tamerlane shouts to two deputies passing by. "Thanks for coming. Do you want to do an illegal search and seizure on me?"

Tamerlane may reel in attention, but beside him is actual comic royalty. A short, 37-year-old woman with a burst of curly hair treks behind Tamerlane, her 12-year-old son at her side. Athena Finger, single mom and a math instructor at Broward Community College, is the granddaughter of Bill Finger. The shy writer was the creative engine behind arguably the greatest of all superheroes: Batman.

Experts in the comic industry have conceded that Finger created just about every one of the Dark Knight's signature details, from the Batmobile to the Joker to the backdrop of Gotham City. He also put a complex psychology between the bat ears, injecting serious themes into comics for the first time. But for decades, Bob Kane, who drew the images, got sole credit. Finger was served one of the rawest deals in entertainment history.

"Everything about Batman except the word 'Batman' came from Bill Finger," says Chris Sims, a comic historian. "If you are a fan of the comics and you know what's going on, you're a fan of Bill Finger over Bob Kane."

"Without the stories," Athena is fond of saying, "Batman is nothing."

Experts in the comic industry have conceded that Finger created just about every one of the Dark Knight's signature details, from the Batmobile to the Joker to the backdrop of Gotham City.

Athena, with the help of Tamerlane and others, aims to correct the mistake of history. But millions -- if not billions -- hang on that mistake, and fixing it will pit the quiet Broward woman against one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world: Time-Warner. It's just the kind of bruising battle for justice that would inspire the Dark Knight to strap on his utility belt.

Can you say, "Holy multimillion-dollar settlement, Batman?!?!"


The two young mensches from the Bronx huddled over a desk. The cartoonist clutched a sketch of his new creation, the dollar signs already spinning in his head like flakes in a snow globe. The writer was just happy to be working.

Bob Kane, slick and elegant, liked to remind his friends he looked like the big-screen swashbuckler Tyrone Powers. Bill Finger was a book-smart shy brooder who loved storytelling and German expressionism. Kane showed Finger his idea for "Bat-Man." On the desk was a sketch of a red-suited figure with veiny bat wings. He had flowing blond hair.

"He had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman, wearing a small domino mask and swinging on a rope," Finger recalled years later in an interview. "He had two stiff wings sticking out, looking like bat wings.

"I got Webster's Dictionary down from the shelf, hoping it had a drawing of a bat. Sure enough, it did. I said, 'Notice the ears. Why don't we duplicate them?' I suggested Bob give him a cowl -- to make him look mysterious, and not show any eyes at all. I didn't like the wings, so I suggested he make them into a cape with scalloped edges. That way it would flow out behind him when he ran and look like bat wings."

It was early 1939, and there was an arms race going on in the comic world. The previous summer, Action Comics had run a strip featuring a beefcake in blue tights who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. In nine months, Superman doubled its monthly sales, and other comics likewise saw bumps. Publishers swung their focus to this new superhero fad. One Friday afternoon in the offices of National Comics, which published Superman, an editor told the ambitious Kane that the cartoonists who'd invented the hero were splitting $1,500 a week.

Kane said he'd have an idea for a superhero by Monday. "I said for $1,500 a week, I can come up with anything, believe me," Kane told an interviewer in 1989.

Kane had been born Robert Kahn, the son of a Jewish engraver at the New York Daily News. Before 1939, his cartoons were mostly of talking animals.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson