Ah yes…the writers behind Batman. Before you doze off to sleep, I implore you all to think about just how significant these unsung heroes have been, not only in the creation of the Caped Crusader himself (Bob Kane) but also by their ability to sustain him as an internationally renowned fictional hero for nearly 75 years. In 1939, the Great Depression was coming to an end, a new World War was beginning its wave of global horror, and one man created a character that could rise the downtrodden spirit of America, lifting them up to escapist heights that every melancholic soul desperately yearned for. A 24-year old man had no clue that he’d just unleashed a beast onto society, one that would ravage their eyes as they rapidly scrolled up, down, right, left, and back again, marveling at a man in a bat suit who starred in a popular comic strip, Detective Comics. The instant popularity seemed unreal considering this was a guy in a freaking bat suit, who was starting to become as popular as God himself. But those who actually read the words on the pages knew this comic book detective was no ordinary hero. He was something special, precisely because he wasn’t very extraordinary at all. Kane introduced a man, Bruce Wayne/Batman, who lived the epitome of the American Dream, but didn’t stop there — Batman was a hero who fought for everyone’s “American Dreams,” and for that he was someone worth idolizing well into the next century, and beyond. Below, you will find biographical synopses of some of the most prolific writers of the Batverse, so I hope you all enjoy and learn something you hadn’t already known about these nearly invisible yet omnipresent forces behind our favorite man in black…
Bob Kane (1915-1998, Co-Creator and Lead Illustrator of “Batman”) — The son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Bob Kane was born and raised in New York City, a city he’d soon find himself replicating and renaming (thanks to Bill Finger’s suggestion) as the now infamous “Gotham City.” Kane, whose original name on his birth certificate was Robert Kahn until he changed it after high school, graduated from the prestigious art school of Cooper Union and furthered his career as a newly decreed artist at the Max Flesicher Studio, where he served as an animator in training. Following this brief stint, Kane joined the comic book studio Eisner and Iger in 1937 after freelancing some work for them the year before. Admiring this young talent, the studio then gave Kane free reign to share his skills as a writer and animator with other large companies, two of which would soon merge together to form DC Comics (“Detective Comics” and “More Fun Comics”). Once DC Comics struck gold with “Action Comics’” Superman, the company demanded more superhero characters be made to mirror the success of The Man of Steel. Rising to the challenge and surpassing all expectations, Bob Kane stepped forward and presented his character of “Batman,” who was heavily influenced by Douglas Fairbanks’ portrayal of Zorro and the 1930 movie The Bat Whispers. After his successful debut in 1939′s Detective Comics #27, Batman became the second most recognizable superhero of DC Comics, and Kane continued on for an additional four years as lead animator and co-writer of Batman’s Detective Comics tales. He rather surprisingly left his respected position at DC Comics to help animate the newspaper Batman strips, but returned in 1946 to continue the evolution of the Batman mythos. Kane penciled nearly every issue of “Batman” until 1965, but hired ghost writers to create stories for many of the released issues following his re-entry into DC Comics. Kane broke away from writing comics for DC for good in 1967, but enjoyed a great career in television animation. The remainder of his years, he won numerous awards for his contribution to the the comic book world (inductee of the “Jack Kirby Hall of Fame” in 1994 and “Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame” in 1996) and had biographies and autobiographies published that detailed his life and his contribution to comics and the legendary hero he created. At the age of 83, Bob Kane passed away of natural causes in the late fall of 1998, but I reckon somewhere he’s smiling proudly at the direction his creation has gone in a post-20th century world.
Bill Finger (1914-1974, Co-Creator and Writer of “Batman”) — Ever seen the film Dreamgirls? Well, Bill Finger is like Jennifer Hudson/Effie and Bob Kane is like Beyonce/Deena. In other words, Bill Finger has never really gotten his share of the credit for the creation of Batman and the many villains that litter the Batverse. He’s always somehow been in the shadow of Bob Kane, and it’s high time this impeccable storyteller come into the spotlight so I can remind everyone why he deserves equal applause. In 1938, Finger was right alongside Kane during their brainstorming of the character that would come to be Batman after DC Comics requested the creation of a hero who would be just as gripping to a wide audience as the already megastar Superman. Finger, unlike Kane, didn’t want to merely mimic Superman’s All-American bravado and machismo. He pushed Kane to create a character who wasn’t just a brawny crime-fighter, but a brainy one as well. While Kane wanted to basically recreate Superman with an edge (vigilante/”rebel with a cause” type), Finger fought for Batman to be a crime-fighting sleuth, his gadgets and his wits setting him apart from the jock-driven robustness of Superman. Finger also created Batman’s true identity, Bruce Wayne, believing the playboy facade would throw off an unsuspecting public to his brooding and enigmatic Batman disguise. Other major contributions from Finger included the villain The Riddler, the “Batmobile,” “Batcave,” and the naming of “Gotham City.” Bill Finger wrote the first Batman story, Detective Comics #27, as well as numerous other Batman tales that can all attribute their riveting narratives to his unlimited imagination. After leaving Kane’s comic book studio, Bill Finger worked full time as a writer for DC Comics, and created many popular DC characters such as Superman love interest, Lana Lang, and The Green Lantern himself. Bill Finger also tapped into movies and television with notable works such as Track of the Moon Beast, Hawaiian Eye, and even Batman: The TV Series (Season Two’s “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes/The Clock King Gets Crowned” two-part episode). Despite his involvement with Batman, DC Comics, and other forms of media that incorporated comic book heroes, this genius never found himself on anyone’s radar, and seemed to be left unappreciated until long after his death (1974). Finger was posthumously inducted into the “Jack Kirby Hall of Fame” in 1994 and “Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame” in 1999, and even has his own “undervalued” award named after himself at Comic-Con: “The Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing.” Many attribute Finger’s negation of Batman credit to the deal Bob Kane made when he sold the ownership rights of the Batman character with the condition that only his name would be on the byline as creator. To no one”s surprise, that contract negotiation did not include adding in Bill Finger’s name alongside Bob Kane’s. Make of that what you will, but can we at least give not just a finger, but a spiritual high-five to one of comic-books most undervalued talents? Bill Finger, you won’t ever be forgotten here…
Frank Miller (b. 1957, Writer/Illustrator “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One”) — This neo-noir comic book writer, artist and movie director was born in Maryland in 1957 where he was raised up in humble Irish Catholic family of nine. Frank Miller knew he wanted to work in an environment where he could infuse his two greatest loves together: comic books and film noir. Miller got that opportunity in the late 1970s when his artistic skills were embraced by an important member of the DC Comics art department, following a dismissal of his talents by DC Comics Vice President Joe Orlando. DC Comics allowed Miller, who already had experience writing for The Twilight Zone comics, to write a few stories in their war comics’ series, and it was then that he met and collaborated with Roger McKenzie, an up-and-coming writer who had recently joined DC Comics as well. Together, the two published their first of many collaborative comics, Weird War Tales #68. After the publication of many of these war comics, Miller transferred to Marvel in 1979, where he worked on popular comic book franchises like Spider-Man and John Carter. One character that Miller and McKenzie were able to make popular for Marvel was Daredevil, as fans soon found this formerly dull hero a complete delight after reading Miller and McKenzie’s noir-themed stories featuring the Marvel hero. After DC and Marvel saw how Miller was able to successfully incorporate noir in a pulp-like manner to the world of comic books, and make it popular with the readers, he became one of the most sought after writers/artists in the business. Miller is often credited for bringing the dark, neo-noir style to the Batverse that would soon be replicated in Burton’s Batman films, Batman: The Animated Series, and even Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Miller’s two Batman graphic novels, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One are both considered to be two of the best stories in the Batman universe, with stenciled drawings that enunciated the Gothic and grim world of Gotham City. The latter work even inspired Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, as the film shared many of the villains featured (Gotham crime lord Carmine Falcone and bad cop Flass) as well as the idea that Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after a long absence. There is no denying that Frank Miller’s style and in-depth characterizations of Batman/Bruce Wayne has made him the most influential comic book artist for Batman multimedia post-1988. Aside from the tonal shift he brought to the Batverse, Frank Miller’s Sin City and 300 are also popular graphic novels which were adapted into profitable Hollywood blockbusters. Miller even tried his hand at directing with 2005′s Sin City and 2008′s The Spirit, but failed to make a big splash as a successful comic book writer-turned-director when he was given the task of solo director on the latter film (as opposed to his co-director status for Sin City, whose duties he shared with Robert Rodriguez). Currently, Miller is working on bringing his second book in the Sin City series, A Dame to Kill For, to the big screen.
Lorenzo Semple Jr. (b. 1923, Script Supervisor/Writer Batman: The TV Series) — I touched a bit on Lorenzo Semple Jr. in my article on “The History of Batman the Comic to Batman the TV Series,” but he’s worth digging into deeper as he’s a pioneer writer for Batman in a live-action role. Lorenzo began his career as a short story writer for prominent magazines like Colliers Weekly and The Saturday Evening Post. Before he moved to Los Angeles to begin his career as a writer in Hollywood, he was a playwright who produced a couple of Broadway shows. His big break came after MGM picked up one of his plays, The Golden Fleecing, and wanted to adapt it into a major motion picture. Semple Jr. risked everything with this offer by moving to Los Angeles and embarking on a path as a Hollywood writer. Lorenzo’s knack for the theatrics was surprisingly popular, as he had several television hits under the guidance of his campy scripts: The Rat Patrol, Krafte Suspense Theatre, and Burke’s Law to name a few. Lorenzo Semple Jr. then wrote a “pilot” for ABC known as Number One Son, which was produced by ABC executive William Dozier. The series failed to get picked up, but Frazier was a fan of Lorenzo’s over-the-top style of writing that he immediately hired him on to write a pilot episode for ABC’s new “Batman” live-action show, starring Adam West. Not only did Lorenzo write the pilot, which turned out to be a success, but he also wrote the additional four episodes, the tie-in movie, and served as story editor and overall script supervisor during the series’ inaugural season. Aside from creator William Dozier and the ABC network, Lorenzo turned out to be the most powerful figure behind the popular program. Lorenzo slowly drifted away from Batman after his screenwriting career began to take off. In fact, he was so ashamed of the campy style that he’d set in motion on the series, that he immediately rewrote, no pun intended, his own writing style from amusing, tongue-in-cheek humor to one with serious underpinnings. Lorenzo Semple Jr’s most well-known screenplays include Three Days of the Condor, James Bond’s Never Say Never Again, the 1976 King Kong remake, Papillon, and Pretty Poison. Lorenzo Semple Jr. is considered to be one of the last surviving Hollywood living legends in the Writers Guild of America, and perhaps he should accredit his “legendary” status to a comic book hero who shares that same adjective. After all, it took writing a silly television show like Batman for Lorezo Semple Jr. to focus on a writing style that was more “baity” to critics and awards groups, and so he has the Caped Crusader and ABC’s William Dozier to thank for his post-Batman screenwriting career. On our part, we have to thank Lorenzo for being the first major storyteller to bring Batman to any type of major screen, camp and all!
Paul Dini (b. 1957, Writer, Producer, and Editor for Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond) — Paul Dini is so brilliant at his job, not to mention his complete understanding of Batman and the world he inhabits, because he is such an ardent fanboy at heart. At no point in anything that Dini writes for television, usually based upon popular comic books or movies, do you ever feel like Paul Dini is out of his depth or incapable of replicating visions of past authors to the small screen. He simply gets it — he’s an unapologetic geek and walking encyclopedia for anything comic-book, sci-fi related, especially (to our delight) the Batverse. He’s living proof that a fanboy can take the reigns of a popular fan-driven franchise and make it work (listening, George Lucas? — oh wait, you did!). After graduating Boston’s Emerson College, Paul Dini was invited to work as a staff writer on George Lucas’ animation team, which included his work on the Ewoks animated series (where his stories incorporated appearances of The Empire, a foreshadowing into Dini’s love for highlighting the darker elements of a franchise). Dini got his big break with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which proved to be hugely popular among young audiences. After writing for a few other animated series, including Transformers, Dini was hired as a writer for Tiny Toon Adventures in 1989 (*we’re tiny, we’re tooney, we’re all a little looney la la la*…oh come on, you know you had that theme song stuck in your head the moment you read that nostalgia-inducing title!). His work on the series resulted in the first of five Emmys for writing Dini would win over the course of his esteemed career. Next was the series that most people credit him for being the key player in a team full of brilliant talents, 1992′s Batman: The Animated Series. Dini’s writing was hailed as truly ground-breaking, bringing about a maturity to animated programming that no adult or child had ever bore witness to before. As such, Dini picked up his next Emmy for “Best Writing for an Animated Program” at the 1993 Daytime Emmy Awards. Even when Batman: The Animated Series came to a close in 1995, Dini remained a vigil and protector of the Batverse with his continued assistance as writer, editor, and producer on the sequel series, Batman Beyond. Not to sound like a broken record, but Dini once again picked up his third Emmy for this futuristic take on Gotham City and its new Caped Crusader. Dini never once let go of the Batverse, and even helped the universe find its way to critical acceptance in the realm of video games with the beloved Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, which Dini helped create with the video game company, Rocksteady®. Besides his commitment to Batman, Dini has been a member of the writing staff for ABC’s Lost, 2007′s Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series (the 2D one, not the CGI one, folks), and is currently working on an original graphic novel titled Bloodspell, featuring Black Canary and Zatana from DC Comics. We look forward to it all, and let’s give this champion, fanboy, and ultimate contributor to the Batverse a huge and deafening applause (with our keyboards, of course)!
Sam Hamm (b. 1955, screenwriter for Tim Burton’s Batman, story provider for Batman Returns) — Another somewhat invisible player, Sam Hamm is best known for his wickedly delicious and fantastical screenplay of 1989′s Batman. Hamm got his first beak in Hollywood with Disney’s 1993 Never Cry Wolf, which was nominated for an Academy Award™ for “Best Sound.” The film is still one of a few films to have a 100% fresh rating on the aggregate movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes®. Following this big jump under the Hollywood eye, Sam Hamm managed to attract Warner Bros. and Tim Burton with his slightly campy yet dark screenplay of Batman. Burton wanted to hire a Hollywood screenwriter who was an avid fan of the Batman comics, and whose writing could evenly match the stylistic flair of the Beetlejuice director. Sam Hamm’s biggest paid compliment was an approval from Batman co-creator, Bob Kane, for his script. That was all the confidence Warner Bros. needed to take the project to the pre-production level, and the rest is Bat-history. Although he did not write the screenplay for the sequel, Batman Returns, Sam Hamm was such a beloved component of the first film that the studio and Burton wanted Hamm to write out a story outline for a screenwriter to come in and tweak into a working script. Hamm’s Batman screenplay even drew praise from DC Comics, and the company then presented Hamm with an opportunity he had most likely longed dreamed of: the chance to write his own comic book story. What followed was the graphic novel, Batman: Blind Justice, which introduced the character of Henri Ducard into the Batverse. That name sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, if you haven’t been catching up on Nolan’s first two Batman flicks before the release of The Dark Knight Rises, you ought to know that Ducard is the character that Liam Neeson plays in Batman Begins, who then is revealed to be *SPOILER* Batman nemesis Ra’s al Ghul. So you see, Sam Hamm, despite not being a major player at all in Hollywood nowadays, still leaves his mark where it counts the most: The Batverse.
Jonathan Nolan (b. 1976, co-writer of The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises) — Sure, Christopher Nolan did co-write three of his Batman films, but surely we can all agree that it’s the director’s younger brother who’s been slightly overlooked for his contributions to The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Heck, scratch all those and let’s go back to the very beginning. If you’re going to call Christopher Nolan the Spielberg of the 21st century, at least give Jonathan Nolan a pat on the back for catapulting his big brother’s career thanks to a short story he wrote called “Memento Mori.” This story would become the inspiration for Nolan’s “neo-noir” classic Memento, and it became clear that while Nolan was no slouch behind the camera, and had an innate ability to bring all of his story elements together with his technical mastership as a filmmaker, it was Jonathan Nolan who planted the creative seeds that sent Nolan’s masterpieces into motion. Thus, it became clear to everyone that part of the reason why The Dark Knight is a superior film to Batman Begins is because of baby brother Nolan’s spellbinding dialogue. Revisiting Batman Begins recently, it’s alarming to see how much corny dialogue is littered in a beautifully crafted film, and we have to be grateful that Nolan chucked his ego (which doesn’t seem big at all, by the way) out the window and invited a member of his own kin to help write the sequel. Jonathan Nolan already proved his writing chops in 2006′s The Prestige, adding a layering of intricacy, mystery, and surprise to a pleasantly acted magician caper. With The Dark Knight, Jonathan Nolan emerged as quite possibly one of the youngest and most talented of Hollywood screenwriters working today. His ideas, which Christopher can spin to align with his own directorial vision for how the scene will end up playing out, is a thing of beauty to see unfold. Together, the brothers are a blessing, but Jonathan Nolan no doubt has a huge career ahead of him post-Batman. He’s already had great success with his CBS show Persons of Interest, which he created with the help of J. J. Abrams who serves as executive producer. Television is a great medium, but I’m ready to see Jonathan Nolan break out as a director and see what he’s capable of. I’ve been pleasantly surprised when heralded screenwriters have made the big leap to working behind the camera (see: Paul Haggis for Crash *cue the boos*). Jonathan Nolan, you may currently be in the shadow of your big brother, but your time will come, and Oscar™ will be rolling out the red carpet for you. Who knows, it may even happen next year!
Thank you so much everyone, and I can officially conclude my participation in our 30 Days of Batman Series. I hope you all enjoyed reading these articles as much as I and the rest of the staff enjoyed writing them up. Please be sure to check out all of our articles by clicking on the top right Batman icon, titled “30 Days of Batman.” You’ll be hearing a lot from me after I finally see The Dark Knight Rises, so…as always…stay tuned!
Tags: batman, Batman Returns, Batman: The Animated Series, Frank Miller, Jonathan Nolan, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Paul Dini, Tim Burton
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