Truth, justice and fresh picture book bios

October 3, 2012 by Dawn Miller

Comic books are notorious for wrestling with themes of justice. Yet a sad vein of injustice seems to run through the lives of many comic book creators.

One is Bill Finger, the subject of Marc Tyler Nobleman’s newest picture book biography “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.” Nobleman will appear at the West Virginia Book Festival at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Charleston Civic Center.

Finger was responsible for much of Batman’s look, his character development and decades of stories. But because of an early contract with artist Bob Kane, Finger’s name is left off every book, film and TV show featuring the Caped Crusader.

While the writer never got official credit, fans and fellow comic book creators started to take notice and spread the word about Finger’s role in Batman starting in the 1960s.  Nobleman’s book builds on their work and rescues parts of Bill Finger’s story that might otherwise have been lost.

Part of what made Batman such an innovative character when he was introduced in Detective Comics back in the spring of 1939 is that he is a flesh-and-bone hero. He is not bulletproof. He can’t fly. He’s not an alien or a god or made invulnerable by radiation. He is a brave, clever, but flawed vigilante made by the world around him.

Nobleman concisely depicts the world that made Batman’s creators from page 1:

After Milton Finger graduated from high school, he invented his first secret identity. In 1933 Jews were sometimes not hired just because they were Jews. Milton was commonly a Jewish name, so Milton chose a new one: Bill.

Vivid panels of illustrations by Ty Templeton complete the story.

This book follows Nobleman’s 2008 “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman,” another story of comic book creators and their difficulties. This time, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a couple of teenagers from Depression-era Cleveland, sold the rights to their creation for $130, and then struggled for much of their lives trying to correct the mistake.

Illustrations again, this time by Ross MacDonald, enrich the experience. The art not only shows the style of dress and cars and pulp mags of the day; the style of painting actually evokes illustrations of the time.

These picture books are accessible to elementary-school readers and listeners, but they are sophisticated works of art and serious research capable of pleasing older readers as well. Both include detailed epilogues and bibliographies for further reading.

A page from “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman” by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald, imitates both the art and life of the Depression-era America that give rise to the Man of Steel.

 

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