So in response to a recent Twitter call for “most controversial Batman opinion,” Tom King responded that the O’Neil/Adams team, Englehart/Rogers and Frank Miller should get co-creator credit alongside Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Why? “At this point their contributions to who Batman is equal and maybe surpass Kane/Finger.”
He’s wrong because “creator” has a pretty clear meaning. Sure, there’s often debate in comics and other collaborative media about who created what, but that doesn’t change the meaning of the word: it’s the person or persons who came up with the character, or the story. Not the person who made the most significant contribution. Or reinvented the character. Or redefined the character. Or wrote the best stories. Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller didn’t create Batman, Bob Kane and Bill Finger did.
Any counter-argument is nonsense. To give just one example, thanks to the 1931 Frankenstein, James Whale, Boris Karloff and makeup genius Jack Pierce have probably contributed more to the popular conception of Frankenstein and his Creature than Mary Shelley. Nevertheless, she’s still the author of her novel and the creator of the characters and no edition of her books will ever list Karloff and Whale as co-creators.
I also question whether King’s list of creators have really contributed as much as Finger and Kane to Batman. Miller certainly had a huge impact on all subsequent Batstories, making them darker and grittier than they’d have been otherwise. But Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers?Much as I love their run, which is one of my favorites since Julius Schwartz took over the book, I can’t see how they contributed anything comparable to Finger or Kane. It was a first-rate string of Batman stories but it didn’t redefine or reinterpret the Darknight Detective (Deadshot, sure).
I don’t know that there’s a case for Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams either. They were a sharp break with the tone of the Silver Age, but that’s partly because they went back to the darker, shadowy Batman of his first year or two. You know, the guy created by Finger and Kane? “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” for instance, is terrific because it replaces the clowning crook of the previous decade with the the Joker-venom killer of Batman #1 (though making the Joker clinically insane was a major change and did redefine the character, though not for the better).And shouldn’t Frank Robbins and Irv Novick get at least as much credit for their contributions? Before O’Neil and Adams came along, it was Robbins/Novick that ended the Batman/Robin team, shut up Wayne Manor and moved Bruce and Alfred into a Gotham City penthouse. They started the break from Schwartz’s New Look and the camp era; O’Neil and Adams followed in their wake (no disrespect to Adams or his art intended).And that’s a good example of why King is not only wrong, his idea is unworkable. Once you redefine “creator” to mean “anyone who made a significant contribution to who the character is” you reduce the word to gibberish. There’s simply no way to pick fairly or accurately. King, for example, seems to be going by which runs since the Golden Age have been mostly highly praised and that’s not the way. I like Englehart’s stories more than Frank Robbins (whom I like a lot, don’t get me wrong) but Robbins had as much or more of an impact on the character.
- How about Len Wein? His post-Englehart run was the first to make Selina Kyle a serious love interest rather than just a sexy temptation.
- Gerry Conway? He brought Jason Todd on as Robin, and with him the idea that Batman should have a Robin, rather than being the solo act of the previous 15 years.
- Walter Gibson? His Shadow certainly contributed as much or more to Batman as many people who actually wrote the Caped Crusader. Or how about Tim Burton? Dini/Timm?
And that’s without even considering that what looks like a significant contribution now may not be a decade in the future. In the 1950s, King might have picked Dick Sprang; in the 1980s, Doug Moench. Even in a given era, people will disagree on the influence of a given run. Creating the character? That’s open-and-shut, or should be.
Like I said, this idea is too daft to be controversial. But obviously it irked me enough I decided to write about it anyway.
#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Bob Kane, Marshall Rogers, Neal Adams, Irv Novick and Michael Kaluta.