The True Creator of Batman Never Got Credit, and Now His Granddaughter Fights to Correct History | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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

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Fred had trained with famous chef and culinary writer James Beard, and Fred and Bonnie ran restaurants in Oregon, then Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Athena was born in 1976.

During these years, Fred "tried at different times to contact DC to get recognition," Burrell remembers, "and we even hired an attorney in 1977. They told us it was too difficult a case and dropped it after a month." DC did, however, eventually begin to pay Fred royalties for the reprints of Bill's work in 1980, although the company wouldn't call them "royalties," Bonnie says. "They called it 'discretionary compensation.'"

Burrell and Fred split when Athena was 4. Her father again began pursuing gay relationships. Although she lived mainly with her mother, she would see her father for chunks of time. "My dad was really proud of his father, so he would tell me stories," she recalls today. "He had fond memories of helping him with his stories, going to the museum with him, going to every kind of movie."

"He would talk about it, but he wouldn't talk about it very much, because it was painful. Nobody really gave his dad the recognition he deserved."

Fred's frustration peaked in 1989, when Tim Burton's Batman blew up the big screen. He shot a few calls into DC Comics and Warner Bros. Studios, Athena says, to get his father's name attached to the project -- nothing happened.

Bob Kane, who'd been paid as a consultant on the $30 million film, made a round of TV interviews. "Pretty hard to realize that I created Batman 50 years ago," Kane announced to the camera. "As I look at my characters here on the drawing board -- Batman and Robin, Catwoman, Penguin, and the Joker -- it seems like I just created them a day ago."

"My family has been basically screwed for the last 70 years."

Fred "was disgusted," Athena recalls. "Even though it was a great and amazing thing, it was a thorn in our side." Athena and her family didn't even see the movie in theaters. They let the matter drop.

In the early '80s, Fred contracted HIV. Fear and misinformation still chased the diagnosis, and the teenaged Athena was confused about what was happening with her dad. When Fred finally succumbed in 1992, he left no will behind. His boyfriend at the time received the tiny river of royalties that had been passed to Fred via reprints of Bill's work, Athena says. She had been only 15 then. "After he passed away, I really stopped talking about it," she says. "I really just backed away."

Athena took up painting and photography. "I was an artist, I went to art school, but I wasn't part of the comic book culture in any way," she says. "I think subconsciously I didn't want to be part of that because it brought a lot of extremely painful stuff up."

Athena moved down to South Florida for the weather in 1999. She eventually married a musician and later became a math instructor at Broward College. The couple had a son -- Benjamin -- in 2002 but divorced.

When biographer Nobleman got in touch in 2007, "it brought up a lot about my father's death and also how my family has been basically screwed for the last 70 years," she admits. "But, you know, it was time. I was excited."


During a panel at UltraCon, Tamerlane thunders on about villains throughout history: Milton's Satan, sociopaths in Shakespeare, and early-20th-century evildoers like Doctor Fu Manchu.

"There is always the trope of the bald supervillain," he says, -referencing Fu Manchu and Superman's Lex Luthor while nodding his own shaved dome. "Doctor Fu Manchu is also known for the mustache. So facial hair is also evil," he purrs, a gloved hand striking his own DayGlo beard. Tamerlane then brings up a supervillain who's both bald and bearded.

"Doctor Death. What comic book did Doctor Death appear in?" The audience of about two dozen is quiet.

"OK, you all need to leave the comic con, ask for your money back. You're the worst geeks ever."

He dramatically swings around.

"Athena?"

"Yes?" she answers.

"Doctor Death -- what comic did he appear in?"

"Uh."

Tamerlane heaves his shoulders in mock disgust. "Doctor Death was the first Batman supervillain!" he shouts. "Wow. That's why I'm here, people."

After a pause, he introduces Athena. "The true heir to the true creator of Batman, ladies and gentleman, this is Miss Athena Finger. Miss Finger, what the hell is going on? Why, when I go see a Batman film, for the credits, it says, 'Created by Bob Kane'?''

Athena sighs and relates her story.

In the past year, Tamerlane has been at her side, an outrageous yin to Athena's sedate yang. The pair met in 2010, after Athena divorced and, to force herself out of the house, signed up for a bartending class. Ed Casas was her teacher.

Despite his persona as an evildoer, Casas -- who works a day job doing social media but dreams of taking his Tamerlane act into more regular entertainment work (or maybe politics?) -- has a surprising sense of justice. "Here's one of the most iconic characters on the planet, and she could be the heiress to his million-dollar fortune. Instead, no dice," he says. He pushed her to publicly address the controversy. "I'm very much anti-big business and capitalism, and it sounded again like big business fucking over the little guy."

In 2012, Athena and Nobleman appeared on a podcast hosted by Tamerlane. It was the first time she had talked publicly about her grandfather.

2014 marked Bill's 100th birthday and 75 years of Batman. Last January, Nobleman appeared on "Fat Man on Batman," a popular podcast helmed by Clerks director and geek king Kevin Smith. "You tell me Bill Finger created the bat suit? That cracks my fucking world wide open right there," an astonished Smith said. "It starts to be a question of what did Bob Kane do? Other than get credit?"

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson