Tom King Will Never Be a Co-Creator of Batman

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.”

I don’t think that’s controversial, I think that’s too daft to be a controversy. King’s wrong, and even if he wasn’t, the idea is unworkable.

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.

17 Comments

  1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    I can actually see an argument for Miller – every Batman run of the last 30 years has been, in some fashion, a response to Year One and DKR, to the point where “I shall become a bat” and “when all sense left my life” are far more iconic than “Warring on criminals.”

    If someone wanted to say “Post-Crisis Batman, creates by Frank Miller,” I wouldn’t object at all.

      1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

        Ah, I guess Miller only added the “Yes, father” part!

        Even so, I’d argue that what Miller created isn’t just the character who stars in “his own stories” but the star of every single Batman story from the past 30+ years.

        I’d love a single example of a Batman stories more indebted to Finger than Miller, since CoIE.

        1. Alaric

          How about ALL of them? Without Miller, all the Batman stories within the last 30+ years would certainly be quite different. Without Finger and Kane, there wouldn’t have BEEN any Batman stories within the last 30+ years. That’s a much bigger influence.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Sorry; but, create means to originate and none of those make the argument for anything other than new characters they added. Englehart and Rogers? Silver St Cloud they created, Boss Thorne Englehart and Walt Simonson created; but, that is it. Hugo Strange, Dr Phosphorus, Deadshot, the Penguin and the Joker were already there. O’Neil and Adams? Well, Ra’s al Ghul and Talia; but, they are just a reworking of Fu Manchu and Fah Lo Suee; so I wouldn’t exactly crow about that. Miller? I don’t think David Endocrine or Arnold Flass, Carmine Falcone or Commissioner Loeb count for much, or the Mutant Leader.

    They are significant contributors; but, in no way is it equivalent to Bill Finger.

    1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      And yet, Miller’s churning all those existing characters into a psychic comic-writer stew with every noir protagonist he’d ever read has a hell/i> of a lot more influence on every Batman comic from the last 30 years than anything Finger ever did.

      Therein lies the conundrum.

      1. Aaron

        Miller added more to the mythos of Daredevil than he did Batman but that still doesn’t make him a creator. He also did more with Kingpin and Bullseye than previous writers, but shouldn’t be considered their creator. Obviously he created Elektra and Stick, so he can take credit for that.

  3. Aaron

    The only time there’s any legit confusion like this is with Venom and the many, many cooks who had a hand in his eventual creation.

    There could be an argument for Wolverine since he was designed by someone who didn’t draw him first, then was significantly fleshed out by other creators very early in his career. Even so, Romita and Wein deserve most of the creator credit for him.

  4. John King

    on the ” Ra’s al Ghul and Talia; but, they are just a reworking of Fu Manchu and Fah Lo Suee”
    I’ve been thinking about this and, in my opinion, O’Neil’s Talia doesn’t really fit the Fah Lo Suee mould – she’s more a violent version of Karameneh (a servant who fell in love with a respected adversary of her master)
    On the other hand, Morrison’s Talia does seem like a psychopathic version of Fah Loh Suee

  5. The Frankenstein example is actually really interesting, because as far as I know, other versions of Frankenstein actually can’t use the neck bolts and such because Universal or whomever “owns” that look, so Whale and Karloff and Pierce DID create something unique to the adaptations of the story, but it falls under work for hire, I think, so the studio owns it.

    I think your overall argument is correct but I think there are examples that you could point to that operate as interesting counterpoints. I just can’t think of them right now 😉

    1. Yes, Universal owns it. They’ve been quite aggressive about designs from other studios that cut too close.
      That’s part of my point. Their Frankenstein’s Monster is probably what more people think of than have read Shelley, but she’s still the author.
      Well, I don’t think we close comments so you can always come back when examples come to mind.

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