“Bob Kane’s version of the story had been told for 6 decades,” Marc Tyler Nobleman announced at Hulu’s Batman & Bill panel on January 7th. “That was wrong, and I wanted to tell the story from the right perspective.” In order to tell the true story of Batman’s creation – including the very important contributions of comic book writer Bill Finger – Marc wrote the book Bill the Boy Wonder. As he was doing his research for that novel, he uncovered Bill’s granddaughter Athena Finger. Together they fought to get Bill credit for his creations alongside Athena’s lawyer and sister Alethia Mariotta, and their work was documented by Don Argott and Sheena Joyce.
The combined efforts of these five remarkable individuals resulted in Hulu’s upcoming Limelight Documentary, called Batman & Bill. And all five of them were on hand at the TCAs on Saturday, January 7th to share details of their journey into the life of Bill Finger and their struggle to make him as well known as Batman co-creator Bob Kane. In recognition of Marc’s behind-the-scenes efforts to establish Bill’s legacy, Sheena told him, “I know you would not compare yourself to Batman, but I’ll do it.”
There was one big reason that the documentary took longer to make than it takes Batman to fight a villain, though. According to director Don Argott, “The story needed time to evolve and take shape.” Until Bill was acknowledged by DC as a creator of Batman, there was no conclusion to the tale. “For the longest time, we only had two acts of a film.”
Sheena Joyce, who also directed and produced Batman & Bill alongside Don, explained how those years helped to grow the focus of the film. “Of course it’s Bill’s story, but it’s also Mark’s journey as well.” And both Bill and Mark’s stories dovetail with Athena Finger’s, changing the shape of the film once more. “I think we’ve learned to not try and predict who your film is for,” Sheena continued. “Because you’re always going to be wrong.”
Athena Finger’s role wasn’t necessarily one of a story teller, because she gave up on trying to convince others of her grandfather’s claim early on. “When I would try to tell people what my family history was, they would question it,” she recalled. But once she teamed up with Mark, she was able to press her legal advantage as heir and bring the fight to DC in an official capacity. Though she was offered an unspecified amount of money to drop her pursuit of Bill’s credit, “Obviously it wasn’t enough.”
As for why Bill didn’t try harder to get his name on Batman from the start? Marc said that had a lot to do with the power imbalance at the time, which is explored further in Batman & Bill. Bob Kane had the connections to publishers and pitched the ideas to them, while Bill “was a man who was desperate to create.” Comics at the time had barely begun to exist, let alone to make money, which meant Bill “was more willing to compromise in ways that we now look at as unacceptable.”
Bill Finger and Bob Kane comparing their respective designs for Batman.
Another obstacle in transferring Bill’s story to a visual medium is that there are only 14 photos of him in total. “We knew we needed to rely on some device to bring Bill to life, and the comic thing seemed like the most natural creative device to do that,” Don said. Rather than create an entirely animated film, they took inspiration from Bill’s preferred medium and utilized comic book panels to interpret important moments.
Since the film really tells two stories – one from comics’ Golden Age and one from the present – Sheena explained that Batman & Bill needed two aesthetics as well. “We wanted one style, kind of more like the old school comics, when we were telling Bill’s story. And a more modern look when we were telling Marc’s story.” Once Marc picks up the thread of Bill’s story, you can see the comic panels change and never really go back.
Batman & Bill debut through Hulu’s streaming services in May 2017.
GS Writer: Tatiana Hullender