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One of my pet peeves when it comes to entertainment is when the creators of iconic material are not given sufficient (or any) credit—financial or otherwise—for their iconic creations. The example of this I always give is all Three Stooges dying basically penniless while their shorts will be played forever and make many other people much money. I realize that there is a legal side to all of this (sometimes creators "sell off" early in hopes of a quick buck only to see "their" property zoom in popularity), but I always have a soft spot for stories of "creators vs. studios" and the like. That is why I can give "Batman & Bill" the full 10 stars here and consider it one of the most incredible documentaries I have ever watched, as it unearths a truly hidden story from the annals of history and restores creative credit where it is due.
Basically, "Batman & Bill" tells the story of how author/comic fan Marc Tyler Nobleman started a research project into the origins of the Batman character. Initially he had no idea what he would find, but very quickly he stumbled upon a bit of an investigative gold mine: Though Bob Kane was given basically 100% of the credit for creating Batman back in the late 1930s, in actuality a man named Bill Finger was involved in a great deal of the process as well (likely coming up with the iconic cowl/cape/symbol costume design and a number of the original villains). Nobleman sifts through old articles, recordings, and personal recollections to reconstruct the story of Finger, of which barely any was publicly known. In order to take his research to the "next step" of actual getting Finger credited for Batman's creation, Marc must find an heir which he (rather improbably) does, at which point the story morphs into an emotional tale of a family still grieving a death from many, many years ago.
I think the reason that "Batman & Bill" works so well is because it turns into a great story on two levels: First, Finger's influence on the Batman character is utterly fascinating, as well as the belligerence (and sometimes out and out negligence) of Kane, DC, & Warner Bros. in keeping Finger's name off the Batman credits. Nobleman stays very fair and balanced throughout this entire investigative portion, fortunately, as the whole thing easily could come off as a ranting attack on "big boys" Kane/DC/WB. That isn't nearly the case here, however, as Nobleman backs up any claims on Kane's behavior with documented evidence to support him. The bottom line is that research and accounts show that Finger's name should be on the screen or page with Kane's when it comes to the "created by" credit, and it is amazing to think that this has been "hidden" (or at least not unearthed) for 75-odd years.
Perhaps just as important, though, is how the story turns out to be a very emotional one once Nobleman starts unearthing people who personally knew Finger or members of the Finger family. Finger himself was bisexual and died from AIDS, both of which were much more taboo in the era they occurred (1980s) and thus hidden or swept under the rug. What Nobleman finds, then, is a family yearning to have some closure on the life of their father/husband/grandfather. At times there were tears welling up in my eyes, as Nobleman really was doing this family a great service in painting a picture of Bill Finger's life.
Anyone who is a fan of Batman (in any iteration) or pop culture documentaries in general absolutely needs to see "Batman & Bill". In terms of investigative work and righting some of the wrongs of history, the documentary is a shining example of how that is done. For those who might say "who cares this happened 70-some years ago", all they must do is look at the impact this information has on the Finger heirs, and the "who cares" question is answered in emotional fashion. All told, easily one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long, long time.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful.
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