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Bob Kane, a name associated with one of the greatest legendary comic characters from the Golden Age of Comics: The Batman.

Bob Kane’s original concept drawing of Batman. Batman used them to glide short distances, and wore a bright red body suit. The trunks, boots and utility belt survived the redesign, but the domino mask, fixed wings and bright colors just had to go. This Batman wasn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of anybody.

I know your next thought: Is this a celebration of all things Bob Kane or another hit piece which undermines and refutes Kane’s legacy, particularly in regard to his now-acknowledged co-creator, Bill Finger?

Wonder no longer, dear reader. We will celebrate the man while acknowledging his humanity. We will talk about his good fortune to be in the right place at the right time and the extra blessing of having Bill Finger offer his creative support to create the legendary Batman and a host of other creative icons such as the Batmobile, police commissioner Gordon, and the character who redefined Batman as a solo adventurer, ushering us into the idea of Batman as a family, Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Born Robert Kahn, October 24, 1915, Kane was similar to many of the comic legends of the time such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee to have been in New York city at this critical juncture in media history. Kane would attend and study art at Cooper Union before joining the soon to be legendary, Max Fleischer Studio in 1936. If that name sounds familiar, its because Max Fleischer Studios would become famous for its depictions of that other Golden Age icon, the Man of Steel.


Visionary, Prescient But Oh, So Human

Bob Kane was one of the few writers/artists of the era who had a contract which afforded him royalties and rights to doing work with a character. His contract was so good, there were ghosts artists who drew for National and Kane was credited with their work for almost twenty years after he left DC.

Kane was known for not acknowledging others during the creative process, which is how writer Bill Finger went unacknowledged for decades as a co-creator of Batman – but it was Finger who came up with the idea of dressing the Dark Knight in black and grey, replacing the fixed wings with a scalloped cape, and giving him a hood instead of a domino mask. It was also Finger who gave the Batman his civilian identity: that of millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne.

There were a number of artists who also were not recognized during Kane’s career as a creator at DC, including inker Jerry Robinson, artist, George Roussos.

Cover artist Fred Ray would be recognized (much later) as the first artist to work on a story without Bob Kane in the iconic issue of Batman #10 (1942).

Credit Where Due

Because of media priorities during the era, Kane stopped drawing Batman in comics and instead switched over to the much more prestigious comic strip. National was forced to give more art duties to Fred Ray, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley and Win Mortimer. Alas all of this work would be credited to Kane – though if you were paying attention, these men had very different art styles and I doubt anyone who was attentive would have assumed it was exclusively Kane’s.

Nonetheless, Kane is credited with more than his share of the Batman legend including its rogues gallery of Catwoman (the Cat), the Joker (though there is still controversy…) Two-Face, the Penguin, Clayface and the Scarecrow.

As with most men, Kane would come to regret his exclusion of these artists but this would not be until he had left the comic industry in the sixties. Kane would pursue a career in fine art and animation being involved in the creation of his a parody/homage to Batman and Robin called Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse.

The funniest part of the Courageous Cat episodes is the callbacks to the comic versions of early Gotham City, the Batmobile and the gadget guns of Courageous Cat. If you know anything about the early designs of Bob Kane’s Batman, he wore a bright red costume just like Courageous Cat does. The change in Batman’s outfit came as part of the retooling by Bill Finger. There’s an even greater irony that Adam West’s Batman a few years later (circa 1966) bears more than a passing resemblance to Courageous Cat’s humorous and tongue-in-cheek tone.

Secret Project: Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, a personal parody of Batman and Robin (and a personal favorite of mine when I was a kid.)

The Price of Admission

We learn that Bob Kane would eventually relent and repent after Bill Finger’s contributions were noted by a historian.

“Bill Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning. He wrote most of the great stories and was influential in setting the style and genre other writers would emulate … I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective.”

– Bob Kane

Kane and many of DC’s early writers and artists would be celebrated in the comic publication 50 Who Made DC Great, in 1985, which highlighted luminaries, writers, artists, corporate heads and superfans of the last fifty years. Kane’s autobiography “Batman and Me” was released in 1989 and revised in Batman and Me: The Saga Continues in 1996. He was also a consultant on the first modern Batman movie in 1989 as well as two of the sequels, with directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher.

Shortly before his death in November of 1998, Kane was inducted into the comic book industry’s Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1996. Kane was a complex man, who upon close observation, has a lot in common with Stan Lee, but where Lee seemed a bit more willing to share the spotlight with his co-creators, though perspectives vary wildly, Kane was lionized and seen by fans, at least, as a singular creator with few equals.

The Price of Admission

We learn that Bob Kane would eventually relent and repent after Bill Finger’s contributions were noted by a historian. “Bill Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning. He wrote most of the great stories and was influential in setting the style and genre other writers would emulate … I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective.” Kane and many of DC’s early writers and artists would be celebrated in the comic publication 50 Who Made DC Great, in 1985, which highlighted luminaries, writers, artists, corporate heads and superfans of the last fifty years.

Kane’s autobiography Batman and Me was released in 1989 and revised in Batman and Me: The Saga Continues in 1996. He was also a consultant on the first modern Batman movie in 1989 as well as two of the sequels, with directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher.

Shortly before his death in November of 1998, Kane was inducted into the comic book industry’s Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1996. Kane was a complex man, who upon close observation, has a lot in common with Stan Lee, but where Lee seemed a bit more willing to share the spotlight with his co-creators, though perspectives vary wildly, Kane was lionized and seen by fans, at least, as a singular creator with few equals.

Realization

The truth of Kane and his legacy is more complicated but almost everyone can agree Kane and Finger’s co-creation of the Batman legacy has stood the test of time like few characters from the Golden Age ever has. Few creations have inspired more creativity or more emulation. Movies, television shows, and some of the best animations series ever written, feature the Dark Knight: Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond and Batman: the Brave and the Bold. The iconic character and his extended family which has grown over the decades, despite the flaws of one of his creators, continues to thrill and amaze audiences everywhere.

Extras

A video of the first five episodes of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. You can see the connections to the old comic Gotham and the future version of the 1966 Batman series.

Bill Finger received official recognition for his contribution to the creation of Batman in September of 2015 from DC Comics and has been listed on any indicia showing Bob Kane and Bill Finger as co-creators of Batman.

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