Some of the most enjoyable documentaries about the comic world are those about authors who are either unknown or rarely heard from. Documentaries like “Dear Mr. Waterson” or “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’” are able to tell intricate narratives while being extremely informative about their subject matter. This is the space “Batman & Bill” should inhabit, yet the documentary never lives up to the subject matter it portrays.
“Batman & Bill” follows the story of Marc Tyler Nobleman as he attempts to unravel the story of writer and artist Bill Finger. Nobleman posits that the famed creator of the Dark Knight was not solely Bob Kane, but instead, that Finger and Kane co-created the character. Nobleman is an extremely thorough researcher and is able to compile a substantial amount of evidence on Finger and his work. Sadly, Finger passed away in 1974, penniless and alone. Meanwhile, Kane was rich beyond his wildest dreams, and would only become wealthier as the years went by.
In many ways, the narrative of Bill Finger is not unlike Eduardo Saverin’s story in helping to found Facebook. Yet Saverin at least saw money for his contributions to that company. Finger was forced into the shadows and publicly defamed by Kane through the years. Kane’s vengeance was harsh and swift, similar to the ways in which Lance Armstrong attacked those who accused him of doping. It’s a despicable act and makes for a very strong narrative at the heart of the story.
Unfortunately, the documentary also contains a huge problem. Simply put, it is far too focused on Nobleman. Rather than the high stakes story of intrigue at the center of it all, the filmmakers put the focus on a side story. Nobleman’s story is extremely interesting, there is no doubt about it. After years of searching for answers to DC’s cover-up, he breaks through with the Finger family tree and finds a rightful heir to challenge the copyright. Eventually, Finger is given credit for his role in creating Batman. In 2016, for the first time, he was credited as a co-creator on the big screen in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” The Bill Finger narrative is extremely interesting.
Yet, there’s a lingering feeling over the film that Nobleman is more in the business of self-promotion. In archival footage, Nobleman is presented as authentic and exciting. Yet in the modern-day footage, Nobleman comes off as a bit smarmy. He often places himself in the center of the story, referring to himself as a great detective who must track down the truth. It is odd that Nobleman’s narrative begins to take a repetitively self-aggrandizing tone, while the film rips Kane for doing the same thing. It’s an odd dichotomy that ultimately becomes distracting.
The blame for this conundrum seems to lie on the directors. While Nobleman is likable almost every step of the way, the film is needlessly repetitive. This contributes to the negative attitude toward Nobleman and grinds the story to a halt. The Bill Finger dynamics with Bob Kane are absolutely enthralling. The documentary feels much longer than its 93-minute run time, and the editing feels off the entire film. This is perhaps the biggest struggle of the film. If a film feels overly long, and simultaneously makes its characters unlikable, that’s a problem. The narrative was strong enough to focus on the Bill Finger story. Yet by widening the scope, the film is a watered down and less emotionally fulfilling.
While the documentary has an extremely interesting subject matter, it may only appeal to Batman fans. As one of those Batman fans, the Bill Finger story is interesting enough that it could make for great dramatic material. The film editing presents a one-sided view of a very complex situation. Ultimately, the editing and poor direction hurt the film dramatically. Instead of focusing on Kane and Finger, the film makes Nobleman unlikable. Hopefully, the next time that we see the story of Bill Finger, he is the focus of the story.