Batman's True Creator Never Got Credit, and Now His Granddaughter Fights to Correct History

Video by Mitchel Worley and Ryan Pfeffer

Evil is bald. Evil is bearded. And today, Tamerlane -- who passes for evil personified here at UltraCon -- clunks his combat boots down the turquoise carpet of the Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, swinging around a riding crop like a five-star general. "There's only two places I'm comfortable!" he announces. "Fetish parties and cosplay!"

A gloved hand menacingly strokes his fire-red beard. Tinted sunglasses shield his eyes. His lips, hitched in a say-cheese grin, frame a gold grill. Around him, geeks hawk comics, adults waddle in Pokémon costumes, and nerds play Magic the Gathering. All eyes fix on Tamerlane.

Sounding like a classic English thespian who's been hitting the crack pipe, he booms,"Buy! Buy! Buy! Capitalism at its best, people. Shop away. Help the government."

A tall woman in a Jedi robe approaches. "I've got to know, what's the persona?"

Tamerlane shouts to two deputies passing by. "Thanks for coming. Do you want to do an illegal search and seizure on me?"

"Persona?" he says. "Me?" He reaches into a pocket on his chest, then flourishes a black card. "Congratulations!" it reads. "You've just met a Real Life Super-Villain."

Next, Tamerlane notices a ceiling-scraping woman dressed as an Elvish warrior. "Look at her! Isn't she wonderful? I'd like to climb her like the tallest mountain.

"Here's my card," he grandly announces. "In case you need me late at night, when you're alone."

In 2011, Ed Casas, then age 41, was sitting at home in Fort Lauderdale watching the Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring protests unravel across the world. He got tired of simply spilling anticorporate rhetoric onto his Facebook feed (plus, his Cuban family wasn't too hot on his pro-Che postings). Instead, Casas stepped inside the proverbial phone booth, swapping out his identity as a former history teacher, bartender, and occasional actor. He borrowed the name of a bloody 13th-century Asian warlord, rigged up an impressive costume, and began hitting up comic conventions, a real-life evildoer with an anarchist agenda.

Tamerlane shouts to two deputies passing by. "Thanks for coming. Do you want to do an illegal search and seizure on me?"

Tamerlane may reel in attention, but beside him is actual comic royalty. A short, 37-year-old woman with a burst of curly hair treks behind Tamerlane, her 12-year-old son at her side. Athena Finger, single mom and a math instructor at Broward Community College, is the granddaughter of Bill Finger. The shy writer was the creative engine behind arguably the greatest of all superheroes: Batman.

Experts in the comic industry have conceded that Finger created just about every one of the Dark Knight's signature details, from the Batmobile to the Joker to the backdrop of Gotham City. He also put a complex psychology between the bat ears, injecting serious themes into comics for the first time. But for decades, Bob Kane, who drew the images, got sole credit. Finger was served one of the rawest deals in entertainment history.

"Everything about Batman except the word 'Batman' came from Bill Finger," says Chris Sims, a comic historian. "If you are a fan of the comics and you know what's going on, you're a fan of Bill Finger over Bob Kane."

"Without the stories," Athena is fond of saying, "Batman is nothing."

Experts in the comic industry have conceded that Finger created just about every one of the Dark Knight's signature details, from the Batmobile to the Joker to the backdrop of Gotham City.

Athena, with the help of Tamerlane and others, aims to correct the mistake of history. But millions -- if not billions -- hang on that mistake, and fixing it will pit the quiet Broward woman against one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world: Time-Warner. It's just the kind of bruising battle for justice that would inspire the Dark Knight to strap on his utility belt.

Can you say, "Holy multimillion-dollar settlement, Batman?!?!"

The two young mensches from the Bronx huddled over a desk. The cartoonist clutched a sketch of his new creation, the dollar signs already spinning in his head like flakes in a snow globe. The writer was just happy to be working.

Bob Kane, slick and elegant, liked to remind his friends he looked like the big-screen swashbuckler Tyrone Powers. Bill Finger was a book-smart shy brooder who loved storytelling and German expressionism. Kane showed Finger his idea for "Bat-Man." On the desk was a sketch of a red-suited figure with veiny bat wings. He had flowing blond hair.

"He had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman, wearing a small domino mask and swinging on a rope," Finger recalled years later in an interview. "He had two stiff wings sticking out, looking like bat wings.

"I got Webster's Dictionary down from the shelf, hoping it had a drawing of a bat. Sure enough, it did. I said, 'Notice the ears. Why don't we duplicate them?' I suggested Bob give him a cowl -- to make him look mysterious, and not show any eyes at all. I didn't like the wings, so I suggested he make them into a cape with scalloped edges. That way it would flow out behind him when he ran and look like bat wings."

It was early 1939, and there was an arms race going on in the comic world. The previous summer, Action Comics had run a strip featuring a beefcake in blue tights who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. In nine months, Superman doubled its monthly sales, and other comics likewise saw bumps. Publishers swung their focus to this new superhero fad. One Friday afternoon in the offices of National Comics, which published Superman, an editor told the ambitious Kane that the cartoonists who'd invented the hero were splitting $1,500 a week.

Kane said he'd have an idea for a superhero by Monday. "I said for $1,500 a week, I can come up with anything, believe me," Kane told an interviewer in 1989.

Kane had been born Robert Kahn, the son of a Jewish engraver at the New York Daily News. Before 1939, his cartoons were mostly of talking animals.


Tamerlane, a self-described "real-life supervillain," is helping to right a 75-year-old wrong.
Tamerlane, a self-described "real-life supervillain," is helping to right a 75-year-old wrong.
Photo by Ian Witlen

Bill Finger, two years older and an alumnus of the same Bronx high school, lived for narrative. His father, a tailor whose shop closed during the Depression, pushed him toward medicine, but Finger instead devoted himself to writing, although he'd yet to ink anything memorable -- or profitable. When Finger and Kane were introduced at a party in late 1938, the writer was supporting his young wife by working as a shoe salesman. The pair agreed to collaborate on comic ideas.

In their first skull session over Batman, Finger urged Kane to rethink his character. Like the Shadow, a Depression-era pulp crime fighter, Batman should be dark and mysterious, a creature of the night who looked more like a villain. Also, Finger thought superpowers were a cop-out. Batman should be human, more detective than invincible warrior.

Monday, Kane took the now-iconic design into his editor. The company agreed to run Batman on the spot. But according to Finger's biographer, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Kane explained to Finger that the company was going to run the character with only Kane's name on it. He'd draw it, Finger would write the stories, and Kane would pay Finger a cut.

"Bob took full credit for it," says Nobleman, whose comic biography of Finger, Bill the Boy Wonder, was published in 2012. "That situation was fairly typical in those days, that there would be one name on a property [although a team had created it]. The publishers didn't care if it was two or 200 people producing the story, as long as it was on time and they agreed to the pay rate."

Detective Comics #27 landed on newsstands in May 1939. Between the usual gangster stories and whodunits, readers found "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate." It featured Batman snooping into the murders of wealthy industrialists. The Caped Crusader uncovers a business partner behind the plot. The comic's final frames show Batman brawling with the evildoer, who topples into a vat of acid.

It was an immediate hit. In subsequent issues, Finger wrapped a vivid world around Batman. Batman would be the alter ego of a playboy socialite named Bruce Wayne. Finger invented Gotham, a noir cityscape inspired by Fritz Lang movies like M. Finger coined the Batcave, the Batmobile, and the Dark Knight. Along with a talented 17-year-old illustrator named Jerry Robinson, he cooked up a supervillain: the Joker. The pair also formulated Batman's sidekick, Robin. (Robinson was eventually hired at DC.)

"Finger came up with a lot of what we consider to be the iconic Batman stuff," explains Fred Van Lente, who along with Ryan Dunlavey wrote the Comic Book History of Comics.

By the time the printing press spat out the first issue of Batman's own comic in 1940, Kane had farmed the operation out to Finger, Robinson, and others. "Bob's name was the only one on Batman, but he wasn't writing or drawing any of it," Nobleman says.

Finger's true masterstroke was Batman's backstory. A young Bruce Wayne had watched as a mugger gunned down his parents. Racked by pain, he vowed to fight crime to feed his revenge. This was where comics took a hard turn toward literature. As historian Gerard Jones points out in his book Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, prior to Batman, superheroes had been simplistic characters, do-gooder Boy Scouts in tights.

"Bill Finger was the first to bring a novelist's questions to bear on a superhero," Jones writes. "Why would a man choose such a life? He found the answer in pain. Bill Finger... saw how the pain of loss could harden into a rage that made a man unlike other men."

Plots poured out of Finger up until 1965. In total, he was responsible for more than 1,500 Batman stories as a freelancer, earning flat fees for each script, according to Nobleman. The writer also contributed to about a dozen other series as well, including Superman, and had a hand in creating an early version of the Green Lantern.

He rode around New York City on a public bus, scribbling stories into notebooks. Plots often hinged on oversized props, like giant pennies or typewriters that created a surreal visual element. He created a gallery of evil icons: Catwoman, the Riddler, the Penguin, Scarecrow, the Mad Hatter.

Yet every comic book was stamped "Created by Bob Kane." Always hustling, Kane saw an opportunity in the late 1940s to secure his legacy. Around that time, Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, resolved to sue National (which officially would become known as DC, for Detective Comics, in the late 1960s) for complete control of Superman in 1948. According to Van Lente's book, the pair asked Kane if he would be interested in joining the suit to fight for a bigger cut of Batman.

"Not only did Kane not go along with the lawsuit idea; he turned around behind Siegel and Shuster's back and tipped off DC that the lawsuit was coming," Van Lente explains, pulling from his research.

Kane bluffed his way into a new contract. According to Men of Tomorrow, the illustrator told DC brass his original contract from 1939 was illegal because he'd been 17 when he signed it. The company caved.

Through his research and interviews with former DC employees, Jones found that the company "reportedly returned legal ownership of Batman to Kane, including rights of reversion [meaning rights would be returned to him after a period of time] and permission to veto its sale to any other company, then guaranteed him a certain number of pages per month at a staggering page rate." He also nabbed a percentage of subsidiary rights, granting him a stake if, for instance, DC sold rights to foreign publishers to sell Batman comics in other languages. The deal also stipulated that Kane would get sole credit for the character in perpetuity. The only condition, Jones writes, was that Kane couldn't talk about the deal. Specifics like the dollar amounts of Kane's contract have never been publicly revealed.

"He probably got one of the sweetest deals that any creator or cocreator got from a publisher," Van Lente says. "Finger was just shut out of it."

Their creation, however, exploded. In 1966, ABC began running the Batman TV show starring Adam West. A year later, DC was acquired by movie and television studio Warner Bros. Between 1973 and 1983, Batman and Robin were regulars on the Super Friends cartoon series, which featured other DC superheroes.


Bill Finger (center) died alone and penniless, according to his biographer.
Bill Finger (center) died alone and penniless, according to his biographer.
Photo courtesy of Athena Finger

Yet it seems the writer never fought for his rights. "I wanted to believe that a guy who created a fighter like Batman would fight for himself," Nobleman says. "I asked the people who knew him best, and they all described a man who was professionally quite deferential and happy to be working. He was unwilling to do too much to rock the boat because he didn't want the assignments to stop coming."

Superman's Siegel and Shuster were cautionary tales. They eventually lost their lawsuit in 1949 and later were completely blackballed from the industry.

By the mid-1960s, a younger generation of comic producers was climbing the ranks. Holdovers from Finger's era began getting fewer assignments, and the writer finally left the comic world to write B-movies, most notably the cult classic The Green Slime. Finger then penned training films for the U.S. Army. He also wrote one two-part episode of the Batman TV show.

Meanwhile, a hard-core fan scene developed around Batman. In 1965, Finger gave an interview to a fanzine and appeared at a convention, finally announcing that he deserved more credit for Batman.

Kane fired back. "I, Bob Kane, am the sole creator of 'Batman,'" he fumed in a 1965 letter to a comic magazine. "Bill Finger has given out the impression that he and not myself created the 'Batman' as well as Robin and all the other leading villains and characters. This statement is fraudulent and entirely untrue... The truth is that Bill Finger is taking credit for much more than he deserves."

Yet it seems the writer never fought for his rights.

The he-said/he-said went on for years. "Bob Kane was using me as a kind of tool all this time, to bolster his own paycheck," Finger announced in a 1972 interview.

By the early 1970s, Finger returned to DC Comics to write mystery stories. But booze was soaking up more of the writer's time. Both his marriages ended in divorce. His son Fred Finger had come out as gay. Family members say the revelation strained the father/son bond. Finger's scripts kept coming in late, and the writer was constantly asking for advances on his pay.

On Friday, January 18, 1974, he owed DC two scripts. He handed one over, promising the other by Monday. The next day, a friend found Finger dead on his couch in Manhattan. Heart failure. He was 59. His ashes were claimed by his son, even though at the time of the death, they hadn't spoken in three years. Fred took the remains back to California, where he was living outside San Francisco. He spread the remains out on the beach, nudging the dust into a familiar shape before incoming waves: the now-iconic Batman symbol.

"When it disappeared, he felt his father had left this Earth," says Fred's ex-wife, Bonnie Burrell.

Bill Finger "died alone, poor, and unheralded," Nobleman says. "There was only a small obituary for him in a comic book magazine."

Kane finally acknowledged Finger's contribution in his 1989 autobiography, Batman & Me.

"Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved," Kane wrote. "I often tell my wife, if I could go back 15 years, before he died, I would like to say, 'I'll put your name on it now. You deserve it.'"

Kane passed away in 1998. Following Fred Finger's death in 1992, many insiders assumed the Finger story had slammed to a stop there.

"I have referred to Bob Kane as the biggest supervillain in comics history," historian Sims says.

It's a characterization Kane's surviving family members wholeheartedly deny.

"I've read some of the blogs about Bob from people who didn't know the facts," says Bonnie Rosenzweig, Kane's niece. "He didn't have any money. He lived in a small one-bedroom apartment on Sutton Place [in New York City]." Kane may have made good money as a young man, Rosenzweig explains, but years of womanizing and two marriages drained the funds. He made money only after the first Batman film, when he received a percentage of the merchandising.

Rosenzweig also says her family lore held that Batman was Kane's alone. "The story always went that he created it and that other people came aboard shortly after and helped with the characters," she says. "Bob was an incredibly imaginative person."

Although the men involved in the character's birth didn't see it, Batman made money.

In 1989, Batman's big-screen debut, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, grossed $411 million worldwide. Between 1992 and 1997, the three follow-up movies racked up $840 million. When director Christopher Nolan rebooted the franchise with the Christian Bale-helmed Batman Begins in 2005, the film took in $374 million. Each of Nolan's follow-ups -- The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises -- grossed $1 billion.

In part, it was the character's global reach that inspired Marc Tyler Nobleman to research the creator who'd been sidelined.

"I saw that he never had a book to himself, and it just seemed like a gross cultural injustice," says Nobleman, who began his work in the early 2000s.

Nobleman, who had previously written a book on Superman's creators, dug through high school yearbooks, fanzines, and death certificates. He had assumed Finger had no living heir. Then one day in 2007, Nobleman spoke to a nephew of Bill's who suggested he talk to the writer's granddaughter.

"I said, 'He doesn't have a granddaughter. His son Fred was gay and died in '92 without children,' as if I'd know better than the family," Nobleman recalls.

The nephew didn't recall Fred's daughter's name but passed Nobleman off to other kin. Eventually, Nobleman learned her name was Athena Finger. He then landed on her MySpace page.

"The first thing I saw was a picture of a dog whose name was Bruce Wayne," Nobleman says.

When Athena Finger was a third-grader growing up outside of Boston, she drew a book about her grandfather, cocreator of the world's most famous caped crime fighter. But kids at school didn't buy it.

"When you think of Batman, you think of a lot of money because of the TV show and the movies," Athena says today. Her family, however, was far from rolling in it. "Everyone was just like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"

Although Fred Finger had been struggling with his sexuality, in the 1970s, he had met Bonnie Burrell, a hippie who worked as treasurer for the San Francisco Symphony. They married, and Bonnie witnessed the emotional fallout over Bill's death. Fred "was upset because he tried to give DC comics all of his father's work, drawings, unfinished work, [and] original copies of work for DC," Bonnie recalls. "They refused to take them. He had no place to keep them, and they are now lost."


Athena Finger is the granddaughter of Bill Finger, the man whom experts credit for just about every one of Batman's signature details.
Athena Finger is the granddaughter of Bill Finger, the man whom experts credit for just about every one of Batman's signature details.
Photo by Ian Witlen

Fred had trained with famous chef and culinary writer James Beard, and Fred and Bonnie ran restaurants in Oregon, then Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Athena was born in 1976.

During these years, Fred "tried at different times to contact DC to get recognition," Burrell remembers, "and we even hired an attorney in 1977. They told us it was too difficult a case and dropped it after a month." DC did, however, eventually begin to pay Fred royalties for the reprints of Bill's work in 1980, although the company wouldn't call them "royalties," Bonnie says. "They called it 'discretionary compensation.'"

Burrell and Fred split when Athena was 4. Her father again began pursuing gay relationships. Although she lived mainly with her mother, she would see her father for chunks of time. "My dad was really proud of his father, so he would tell me stories," she recalls today. "He had fond memories of helping him with his stories, going to the museum with him, going to every kind of movie."

"He would talk about it, but he wouldn't talk about it very much, because it was painful. Nobody really gave his dad the recognition he deserved."

Fred's frustration peaked in 1989, when Tim Burton's Batman blew up the big screen. He shot a few calls into DC Comics and Warner Bros. Studios, Athena says, to get his father's name attached to the project -- nothing happened.

Bob Kane, who'd been paid as a consultant on the $30 million film, made a round of TV interviews. "Pretty hard to realize that I created Batman 50 years ago," Kane announced to the camera. "As I look at my characters here on the drawing board -- Batman and Robin, Catwoman, Penguin, and the Joker -- it seems like I just created them a day ago."

"My family has been basically screwed for the last 70 years."

Fred "was disgusted," Athena recalls. "Even though it was a great and amazing thing, it was a thorn in our side." Athena and her family didn't even see the movie in theaters. They let the matter drop.

In the early '80s, Fred contracted HIV. Fear and misinformation still chased the diagnosis, and the teenaged Athena was confused about what was happening with her dad. When Fred finally succumbed in 1992, he left no will behind. His boyfriend at the time received the tiny river of royalties that had been passed to Fred via reprints of Bill's work, Athena says. She had been only 15 then. "After he passed away, I really stopped talking about it," she says. "I really just backed away."

Athena took up painting and photography. "I was an artist, I went to art school, but I wasn't part of the comic book culture in any way," she says. "I think subconsciously I didn't want to be part of that because it brought a lot of extremely painful stuff up."

Athena moved down to South Florida for the weather in 1999. She eventually married a musician and later became a math instructor at Broward College. The couple had a son -- Benjamin -- in 2002 but divorced.

When biographer Nobleman got in touch in 2007, "it brought up a lot about my father's death and also how my family has been basically screwed for the last 70 years," she admits. "But, you know, it was time. I was excited."

During a panel at UltraCon, Tamerlane thunders on about villains throughout history: Milton's Satan, sociopaths in Shakespeare, and early-20th-century evildoers like Doctor Fu Manchu.

"There is always the trope of the bald supervillain," he says, -referencing Fu Manchu and Superman's Lex Luthor while nodding his own shaved dome. "Doctor Fu Manchu is also known for the mustache. So facial hair is also evil," he purrs, a gloved hand striking his own DayGlo beard. Tamerlane then brings up a supervillain who's both bald and bearded.

"Doctor Death. What comic book did Doctor Death appear in?" The audience of about two dozen is quiet.

"OK, you all need to leave the comic con, ask for your money back. You're the worst geeks ever."

He dramatically swings around.


"Yes?" she answers.

"Doctor Death -- what comic did he appear in?"


Tamerlane heaves his shoulders in mock disgust. "Doctor Death was the first Batman supervillain!" he shouts. "Wow. That's why I'm here, people."

After a pause, he introduces Athena. "The true heir to the true creator of Batman, ladies and gentleman, this is Miss Athena Finger. Miss Finger, what the hell is going on? Why, when I go see a Batman film, for the credits, it says, 'Created by Bob Kane'?''

Athena sighs and relates her story.

In the past year, Tamerlane has been at her side, an outrageous yin to Athena's sedate yang. The pair met in 2010, after Athena divorced and, to force herself out of the house, signed up for a bartending class. Ed Casas was her teacher.

Despite his persona as an evildoer, Casas -- who works a day job doing social media but dreams of taking his Tamerlane act into more regular entertainment work (or maybe politics?) -- has a surprising sense of justice. "Here's one of the most iconic characters on the planet, and she could be the heiress to his million-dollar fortune. Instead, no dice," he says. He pushed her to publicly address the controversy. "I'm very much anti-big business and capitalism, and it sounded again like big business fucking over the little guy."

In 2012, Athena and Nobleman appeared on a podcast hosted by Tamerlane. It was the first time she had talked publicly about her grandfather.

2014 marked Bill's 100th birthday and 75 years of Batman. Last January, Nobleman appeared on "Fat Man on Batman," a popular podcast helmed by Clerks director and geek king Kevin Smith. "You tell me Bill Finger created the bat suit? That cracks my fucking world wide open right there," an astonished Smith said. "It starts to be a question of what did Bob Kane do? Other than get credit?"


When Athena was growing up, her father, Fred (pictured in background), explained that his father, Bill, had been a creator of Batman but was never credited.
When Athena was growing up, her father, Fred (pictured in background), explained that his father, Bill, had been a creator of Batman but was never credited.
Photo courtesy of Athena Finger

Hundreds of fans began contacting Athena on Facebook. Many revealed how the Batman world had sheltered them during hard times. Complete strangers opened up about molestation, abuse, and suicide.

Athena felt the full blast of fanboy love. "That was a lot to take in," she says. "I'm just a simple little math teacher -- that's it. I'm not a celebrity or anything."

Still, she began making the rounds. At Comic Con International in San Diego, some of the event's 130,000-plus fans approached for autographs. Jay Mewes of Jay and Silent Bob was one table over. Athena noticed her table was bigger than The Exorcist's Linda Blair's. Organizers presented her grandfather with a posthumous Inkpot Award, a high honor previously awarded to Stan Lee, Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, and, yup, Bob Kane.

At the UltraCon panel, Athena finishes telling her story, and Tamerlane growls into his mic: "So what are we going to do about it, Athena?"

She looks about to tiptoe into a minefield. "Well...," she says slowly. "Talking about it helps, spreading the word."

At WonderCon in Anaheim last spring, a fan asked DC Comics' Larry Ganem whether the company would credit Bill Finger. The exec responded, "We cherish what Bill Finger did and his contribution to creating Batman, and we're all good with Finger and his family."

Athena responded publicly that her grandfather's "biggest flaw was his inability to defend his extraordinary talent" and that she was "currently exploring our rights."

Today, all she'll say is that she has lawyers working on the issue.

The clock is ticking. "One way or another," she says, "I just want it over."

Copyright law is a swamp. Most comic heroes created prior to 1977, when the law changed, are governed by a 1909 version of copyright law, says Thomas Crowell, an attorney and author of The Pocket Lawyer for Comic Book Creators.

"If a copyrighted work [was] created as a 'work for hire,' the company is treated as the author," Crowell says. The company then has an irrevocable right to the copyright, he explains. The law does have provisions that could allow creators to get their copyright back. Any litigation will likely revolve around whether the work was "work for hire" or not.

It would count as a work for hire, Crowell speculates, if DC "can show Kane was the one who drove the ship and said, 'I need you, Bill, to come up with a better character for me and tweak these ideas just like I've asked you to do.'"

A recent lawsuit gives Athena hope. Around the time Bill Finger was cooking up the classic Batman universe, artist Jack Kirby was working with a team headed by Stan Lee that would populate the rival Marvel Comics. Kirby invented Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Thor, and the X-Men.

Like Finger, Kirby was a freelancer paid by the page. In 2009, the now-deceased cartoonist's children launched a legal battle for royalties to the characters he created. When copyright law was revised in the 1970s, it allowed for artists who previously sold off their creations to cancel those deals -- this is called a termination of copyright assignment. They could then renegotiate better terms. The Kirby family exercised this option in 2009, when it sent Marvel dozens of cease-and-desist letters regarding characters Kirby had created.

In response, Marvel sued. The company argued that as a work-for-hire employee, Kirby had never actually owned his characters. In September 2014, three days before the U.S. Supreme Court was set to decide whether to hear the case, Marvel (which was sold to Disney in 2009) and the family inked an agreement. The terms are confidential, but it's widely assumed the family was awarded a sizable chunk of money.

Batman's worth is hard to quantify. "It is largely the merchandising and the movie rights that are the big cash cows for comics," Crowell says. Disney paid $4.64 billion for Marvel. DC's universe, of which Batman is the most profitable and well-known, is likely worth a similar sum.

When contacted about Finger, DC offered this statement: "Bill Finger was an accomplished writer who, during his 35-year career, made substantial contributions to numerous comic book series and characters for DC Comics."

Christian Bale was a douche.

It was 2008, and Athena was at a swanky party up on the 33rd floor of the Mandarian Oriental in Manhattan. DC had flown her in for the Dark Knight premiere. Bill Finger's granddaughter was circulating among the A-list afterparty crowd when she was introduced to the film's star. Bale didn't even look her in the eye. (Aaron Eckhart, the film's Harvey Dent, was nice.) Without my grandfather, she thought, none of you would be here.

DC also flew Athena in for the launch of 2011 Green Lantern and 2012's Dark Knight Rises. These are among a number of small signs that DC understands the slight done to Batman's creator.

In 2014, DC Comics released a 75th anniversary reprinting of Detective Comics #27. Brad Meltzer -- bestselling author of thrillers, hard-core comic book fan, and resident of Davie -- along with Chip Kidd and Brian Hitch were tasked with redoing "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate." Bill Finger's name was put on the cover along with Bob Kane's -- the writer's first cover credit ever.

Meltzer interpreted this as a concession by company execs that Finger indeed deserved credit.

"I put it in my script purposely," Meltzer says. "Chip put it on his cover purposely, and nobody fought it. Nobody said a thing." He adds: "It's the one thing I'm most proud of in that story."

These days, Athena compartmentalizes the two sides of her life: comic-world celebrity and single-mom math teacher.

"It's kind of like Two Face," she explains, referring to a Batman villain whose face is split down the middle -- one half, blasted burn scars; the other, clean skin. The character represents the internal battle between good and evil.

"I'm a private person," she muses. "I go to work, I go home, I play with my cat and dog, and I spend time with my kid. Then I'm forced to be in the public eye going to all these conventions. So you have two identities going on." (Ironically, most experts admit that Bob Kane probably created Two Face.)

Though Athena is happy with the reaction her grandfather's story is getting, she still can't shake one regret: "I just wish my dad was here to see all this."

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