Movie Review: Batman & Bill
The title Batman and Bill, may sound like some new personalized TV concept from Hulu, but sometimes, perceptions can be deceiving.
For years, I and many others had been used to seeing artist Bob Kane’s name on anything Batman-related, assuming he was the full creator of one of comic’s most famous characters. However, there was one name that was often pushed out of sight, except by a select few. That name, was Bill Finger.
Throughout the years, Finger’s name would pop up in conversations with Kane and others in the comics industry. Some could easily assume Bill was one of the many ‘ghost artists/writers’ over the years who worked on the comics, but unlike an artist hired on for a small stint, Bill worked with Bob for several decades, starting at the creation of Batman!
While Kane may have gained notoriety for drawing the character, much of Batman’s mythos was created and written by Finger. He not only helped shape Batman’s intimidating look, but was also responsible for the creation of many of the series’ characters, and even came up with the nickname, “The Dark Knight.”
Bill would write over 1,500 Batman-related stories (often going to great lengths to research what went into them), but was never given any credit in the comic books. It wasn’t until the 1967 Batman TV series episode, The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes, would Bill’s name finally be associated with the character he co-created.
However, while that one episode gave Bill a chance to shine, he remained largely hidden in the shadows of Bob Kane. Over the years, many would try to give Bill Finger proper creative credit, but none roared loud enough, until author Marc Taylor Nobleman.
Upon researching the history of the Batman character, and finding out Finger’s importance, Marc set off on a quest worthy of “the world’s greatest detective”: to find out everything he could about Bill, and maybe, get him and his family the recognition that had been denied him for over 75 years.
Directed by Don Argott (Rock School) and Sheena M Joyce (The Atomic States of America), the film is a simple-yet-intriguing documentary, with Nobleman (whose name sounds perfect for a comic character!) being the main focal point.
The film could easily have ended up as simply a large progression of ‘talking heads,’ but to illustrate the life and times of Bill Finger and his family, the filmmakers turned to a company called Alkemy X. They created the animated, comic book-style imagery for references to Bill’s journey, that prove to be a real, emotional treat.
A number of notable Bat-fans are included as well. There’s commentary by Kevin Smith and Michael Uslan (the executive producer on all modern Batman films), as well as those who actually knew Bill (like his friend, Charles Sinclair).
It should be noted, that while there is some flak thrown towards Kane and how he seemed to deny Finger credit (Kane didn’t even share the 1966 TV show’s monetary successes with Bill!), there is very little hate on-screen for the man. I found this largely admirable with many parties, who at the most, simply wanted Bill to just get some recognition.
Where the film trips up for me, is in it’s last third.
This area deals with those who knew Bill, along with his surviving family and descendants, including his granddaughter, Athena Finger. Though having never met Bill, she did recall some stories her father (Finger’s only son, Fred) told her. Through Marc Nobleman, her role in the story, becomes about finding acceptance and closure regarding her family’s legacy.
I can understand the filmmakers wanting to give the family it’s 15 minutes of fame, but it feels like they spend a little too much time with Finger’s family members, and it seems to slow down the momentum of the film in some places.
Marc Nobleman’s quest also seems to suffer a bit from the filmmaker’s overuse of his fanaticism for Batman as well. A few instances that could be simple little mentions, are fleshed out a little too much in certain areas.
With some tighter editing, the film could have clocked in a little shy of it’s one hour and thirty-five minute mark, but I feel it might have been a little stronger if these changes had been made.
Even so, much of the documentary was very intriguing, as we start with a number of puzzle pieces, and slowly, we see them come together.
Of course, it’s a sure bet that this documentary will not be for everyone. There will be those fervent fans who will stand by Bob Kane’s word over the years, and say Bill Finger was not the man whom Nobleman and others claim him to be. However, I for one believe them, and though the film is not one of the best entertainment-related documentaries out there, it has enough amazing insight and storytelling, to keep you entertained, and maybe, make you a believer too!
*Note: At the time of this review, this documentary is only accessible through the Hulu channel and digital app.*
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Batman and Bill” is the little documentary that blows open the doors to a secret that could have been buried forever. It’s chronicles of how author Marc Nobleman helped Bill Finger’s family and legacy, is one that is definitely entertaining, albeit largely ‘safe’ in it’s multi-generational story of an entertainment legend that struggles to become fact. The editing at times does get a bit loose, but overall, a very entertaining and informative film.