I watched the Hulu documentary BATMAN AND BILL the other night, about the struggle to get credit for Batman’s co-creator Bill Finger, and it put me in the mind of this story which saw print in AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS #10, an issue of DC’s house-produced fanzine. I have a really strange love/hate relationship with this story, because I read it at a young age and truly loved it. It gave me an insight into how the comic books that I adored were made. but I didn’t have the context to truly understand what was going on here, and when I did find out, I was horrified. And now, I’m going to share that horror with all of you,
Here’s the thing: Bill Finger died in 1974, pretty much penniless and forgotten. And this story was produced either right at the time he was approaching his deathbed, or right after. And the whole thing is a pointed barb at Bill Finger. It’s one of the most mean-spirited and cruel comic book stories I’ve ever read.
The truth of the matter is that Bill Finger was certainly always scrambling for money, and so I can see where that might have grown annoying to his editors at DC. But let’s put this in perspective a little bit: this is the person who co-created not just Batman (even in 1974 a million dollar property) and all of his key players but also Green Lantern and Wildcat and scores of others. And if he was having to constantly ask for an advance to pay his rent, it seems like maybe that’s because the people he was working for when he came up with all of this stuff didn’t take better care of him. In Finger’s case, everybody knew what his contributions to Batman were, but nobody wanted to rock the boat of Bob Kane’s deal granting DC the rights to the character, which also granted him sole credit.
Perhaps due to Bill’s passing, wiser heads prevailed and this story was shelved. I don’t know for certain who commissioned it, though it doesn’t seem to be difficult to work out–that’s a Sergio Aragones cartoon of Cain on the splash page introducing the story, meaning that it was intended for HOUSE OF MYSTERY. And all during this era, HOUSE was edited by Joe Orlando, whom Finger did some of his last work for. So I’m guessing that Joe commissioned this tale (though it’s also possible that writer David Vern/David V. Reed came up with the idea of it, or that they hatched it together.)
ADDITION: Reader Steven Thompson points out that the Aragones version of Cain appeared regularly in PLOP, so this story was probably intended for that magazine. Same editor in any case.
ADDITION 2: Paul Levitz confirmed that this story was intended for PLOP, so I consider that the definitive statement on the matter.
And it has to be said, it’s a wonderfully told story. It certainly grabbed me as a kid. The artwork by Ramona Fradon is expressive and inviting–it’s just cartoony enough to put across the ridiculous story events. I certainly can’t hold Ramona accountable for any of this–she just did the job, and while it’s likely that she would have been able to make the Phil Binger/Bill Finger connection (it’s hardly hidden), it would have been a paycheck. Everybody else, though, I have to question. This was a shitty thing to do, especially right then.
The comic book field has a long and shameful history of not treating the people who contribute to it particularly well. And there’s also a vein of mean-spiritedness that runs through a lot of the material, especially when it comes to the depiction of the folks who toil in the field. There’s a lot of this sort of thing if you know where to look for it. But this story in particular takes the cake.