Bob Kane (1915-1998), the son of Eastern European Jews who changed his birth name from Robert Kahn to disguise his Jewish identity, studied art at Cooper Union before joining the Max Fleischer Studio as a trainee animator. In early 1939, the success of DC Comics with Superman led editors to seek more such superheroes and, in response, Kane conceived “Bird-Man” – later to become “Bat-Man” – whom, he said, was influenced by Leonardo da Vinci’s diagram of the ornithopter, a flying machine with huge bat-like wings, and by the 1930 film “The Bat Whispers.” According to Bill Finger, who joined Kane’s nascent studio in 1938:
Kane had an idea for a character called “Batman” and [wanted] me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane’s, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of…reddish tights, I believe, with boots…with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings…
Shown here is a beautifully drawn original signed felt-tip sketch by Kane titled “Batman” which, in a groan-inducing pun, he has signed with “Bats wishes.” In recent years, however, the idea that Kane’s was Batman’s sole creator has been largely debunked.
Batman was, in fact, the creation of two young Jewish teenagers of Eastern European Jewish descent who first met at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx during the Great Depression. Kane is improperly credited as the Caped Crusader’s sole artist and writer when it was actually Milton “Bill” Finger (1914-1974), the son of Jewish immigrants, who developed Batman’s defining iconography, including his cowl (instead of a domino mask), scalloped cape (instead of wings), gloves, blank mask eyeholes, pointy bat-like ears, and the gray-and-black color scheme of his uniform.
Finger also originated the Bat Cave and the Batmobile; came up with the name “Bruce Wayne for Batman’s civilian secret identity; titled Batman’s home base as “Gotham City;” thought up Batman’s nickname, “the Dark Knight”; and, perhaps most important, changed the essence of the character from the violent vigilante originally envisioned by Kane to a brilliant costumed detective.
After writing the first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” Finger went on to author 1,500 more stories over 25 years. He also created Alfred the butler; several Batman foes, including the Riddler, Two-Face, and the Penguin; and played a key role in the creation of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, and coined the phrase “dynamic duo” to refer to the Batman-Robin team. Indeed, he is credited by many for coming up with the mysterious nocturnal name “Batman” instead of “Birdman.”
Finger also originated “Kryptonite” in the Superman comics; created Lana Lang, a love-interest for the teenage Superboy; and originated another famous DC character, Green Lantern. (The appearance of the male members of the Guardians of the Universe, a group that made its first appearance in a 1960 issue of the Green Lantern comic book, was modeled after David Ben-Gurion, who at the time was serving his second stint as Israel’s prime minister.)
Moreover, Batman’s arch nemesis, the Joker, was not Kane’s idea but was conceived by Jerry Robinson, a Jewish journalism student whom Kane met at Grossingers, the popular Jewish Catskill resort. (Characteristically, Kane took credit for conceiving and developing the Joker but, in a rare concession, he gave Finger co-credit for creating Batman’s greatest foe.)
Batwoman – who, by the way, is Jewish (for example, she is shown in one issue of Batman comics celebrating Chanukah with a friend) – was created by another Jew, Sheldon Moldoff, an artist who served as one of Kane’s primary “ghost artists.
In fact, from the very beginning Kane used “ghosts” to draw and write Batman and, though he himself actually drew very few of the Batman comics, he is the only person officially credited with the creation of the Caped Crusader. He suppressed information about Finger’s integral role, even going so far as to publicly accuse Finger of having “hallucinations of grandeur.” Kane unilaterally sold the publishing rights without including Finger in the deal, signing away ownership of the character in exchange for, among other things, a mandatory byline on all Batman comics and character adaptations.
Finger, a humble man, never sought any credit or royalties but, according to an acknowledgement by Kane himself later in his life: “Finger was a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning. He wrote most of the great stories and was influential in setting the style and genre other writers would emulate…. I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective.”
In his memoir (1989), Kane conceded: “I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero…. I never thought of giving him a by-line and he never asked for one. 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.’ ”
Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the substantive challenges to Kane being the true creator of Batman, it is perhaps not surprising that his final tombstone, erected by his family in 1998, portrays him as the divinely inspired creator of the Dark Knight:
GOD bestowed a dream upon Bob Kane. Blessed with divine inspiration and a rich imagination, Bob created a legacy known as BATMAN . . . a “Hand of God” creation…. Bob Kane, Bruce Wayne, Batman – they are one and the same. Bob infused his dual identity character with his own attributes: goodness, kindness, compassion, sensitivity, generosity, intelligence, integrity, courage, purity of spirit, a love of all mankind. Batman is known as the “Dark Knight,” but through his deeds he walks in the Light of a Higher Power, as did his creator – Bob Kane.
Regardless of which Jew actually created Batman, some theorize that, much as Superman’s origins lie in the Holocaust (see my July 24, 2015 Jewish Press front-page essay, “Is Superman Jewish?”), Batman had his roots in Kristallnacht. The argument is perhaps best presented by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, who wrote: “Like the Jews in Europe, Bruce Wayne and his family thought they had all they needed to be insulated from the vagaries of life. Yet, like the Jews of Europe, it was all taken away from them in an instant.” It this context, it is worth noting that in “Swastikas over the White House” (1943), the Dynamic Duo defeat a mob of American Nazis.
Now, this is really fun, but you’ve got to follow carefully: there exists a good faith argument, albeit a creative one, that Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) is not only Jewish, but halachically so – even though there is no evidence of a mezuzah on the Bat Cave:
- Most Batman aficionados know that Bruce Wayne’s mother, Martha Wayne, was murdered with her husband in an assault witnessed by the young Bruce, which became the precipitating event in leading him to become Batman. What few remember, however, is that Martha’s maiden name was Kane – and, remembering that Bob Kane was Jewish, that last name cannot be coincidental.
- Kathy Kane (aka “Batwoman”) is not only officially Jewish, she is shown conspicuously observing Chanukah.
- In a conversation with Bruce, Kathy mentions that they are first cousins. As such, Bruce’s mother is Kathy’s paternal aunt.
4 As such, Kathy’s father is Jewish, and it therefore follows that Martha was also Jewish.
- If Martha was halachically Jewish, so was her son, Bruce.
Finally, Rabbi Cary Friedman, in his August 24, 2012 Jewish Press front page essay “Why Batman Matters,” tells a wonderful story about Batman and Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l. One of the rav’s students, asked to prepare little gift bags to be distributed to the children at the shul on Simchat Torah, included a Batman comic book in each bag. A congregant objected and, questioning the propriety of distributing the Batman comic, argued that copies of Tehillim be included in the gift bags instead. The student submitted the question to Rav Miller who, after reviewing the comic book, stated:
Tell the person who said it’s a sin to give these books out that he’s wrong, and that it’s even a mitzvah. The books teach law and order to the kids by making sure the hero always overcomes the villain, no matter what obstacles he encounters. The heroes even teach humility since they disguise their true identities and keep their good deeds confidential.
Batman: not only an American cultural icon created by Jews, but also a role model for young Jewish children!