What the heck, IMDB? I had to open up Hulu to find out what the rating for this movie was. That's not fair on me or my readers, what few there are. Usually, you at least say "Unrated." Um, the rating is TV-14. I don't know why. This movie is remarkably tame. If anything, the only reason that it isn't TV-Y7 is because it gets into corporate politics. But this is a story about a guy who talks to kids about the creation of Batman. Why TV-14, yo?
DIRECTORS: Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce
It's another of those, second time writing the intro bits. I'm going to give you context why I watched this one. I guess, first and foremost, I should say, "I wanted to watch it." It looked interesting. But the reason that this movie jumped ahead of Five Easy Pieces was that I had a paper to write for my grad school class. Big surprise, nerdy Tim decided to write a paper on comic books and might be prepping his capstone project around it. Roll your eyes harder, Internet reader. I'm a two-dimensional person. My Superman DVD box set has up and vanished after I lent it to someone who has not returned it and I needed something out of there. So I got the evidence I needed from this documentary and got out. Then I felt bad that I didn't finish it, so I did. The biggest issue I have with this documentary is that this documentary isn't so much informational as it is an emotional journey. I knew all about Bill Finger years ago. That might be putting an unnecessary responsibility on the filmmakers. The goal of this movie was to inform an audience about the legacy of Bill Finger. The only problem is that much of the audience that would watch a movie about Bill Finger probably already know about him. So does this documentary have the value it needs to stand up by itself?
The curse of this film is that the reason why Bill Finger has gotten so much attention in the past decade is due to Marc Tyler Nobleman. Nobleman has been a Batman fan and author for many years, often investigating the roots of comic book history. In his love for Batman, he always wondered why Bill Finger never got credit for the creation of Batman. For those not in the know, things that have Batman in them always have the following credit: "Batman created by Bob Kane." But Bob Kane only created some of the lesser known elements of Batman. Much of the mythos and look of the character was created by Bill Finger, who ended up dying in obscurity and buried in a pauper's field. It's a remarkably sad story and that's where Batman & Bill succeeds in its storytelling. The goal of the movie was to bring attention to Bill Finger's legacy when it comes to talking to the masses. I don't know if that is exactly achieved. I don't think many people would watch this who didn't have a solid love for Batman. However, the movie really succeeds in humanizing this awfully traumatic story. The way that the movie is arranged mirrors my favorite moments of Life, Animated. Much of the movie is formatted with a traditional documentary format. Interviews spliced with footage either shot for the documentary (often clunkily re-enacted) or comprised of found footage, which is far more compelling. But like Life, Animated, the filmmakers tried to match the tone of the comic book by creating art and then doing limited animated. If you have ever seen a motion comic, it is the same process. It is clearly a still image, but elements of the image are manipulated to simulate limited movement.
The animation elements are cool and dorky at the same time. I don't know why it is so hard to create an authentic comic book feeling when discussing comic books. I've watched a lot of documentaries and a lot of movies where comic books are the theme. No one said I was a cool guy. For some reason, these things always look chincy. I think the reason is that actual comic book artists rarely work on these things. I think graphic design houses take a feel of a comic book and try mirroring them, which often makes them get most of the idea right, but the whole product is just off. The problem is that comic book fans know what is real and what is fake. I always spot the gross mistakes. For example, Comic Sans isn't a comic book font. Use a bold version of Anime Ace for a more authentic feel. While I say that Batman & Bill is better than most, there are times where the animation looks extremely chincy. Part of the reason, also, is the gravitas that the movie tries giving Nobleman. There is this constant tie of Nobleman to Batman, which he admittedly downplays. At one point, Kevin Smith (yup) tweets that Nobleman is Batman for Bill. The filmmakers play this idea up, which I don't think is part of Nobleman's personality. In the footage of Nobleman on the hunt for Finger's history, he's often clothed in a tee-shirt and dad shorts. But the drawings portray him wearing a trenchcoat with the wind whipping around him. His shadow is that of Batman's. C'mon. I get what the movie is going for, but there are times that the stakes don't match reality. I know what the movie is trying to do, but it often just makes it look silly.
The first half of the movie is what I find interesting. Bill Finger's life was incredibly tragic. It was this period in history where publishers tried to milk every penny out of creators. While Stan Lee is probably considered one of the more giving creators, he has also been accused of many of the shannanigans discussed in this movie, especially when it comes to his relationship to Steve Ditko. But the movie really does an amazing job of contrasting the greed of Bob Kane and the innocence of Bill Finger. Is the movie accurate? Who knows? Since we have little about Bill Finger trying to defend himself and trying desperately to get credit, we can't know how intense he was about this fight. But the filmmakers do a fantastic job destroying Bob Kane. I always got the vibe that Bob Kane was kind of a creeper and the movie does a fantastic job confirming my suspicions. The movie goes on to show Bill Finger and his very rough life. This is where I was moved. It is composed entirely through personal anecdotes about Finger's life. Those stories are absolutely rough. He seemed like a nice guy, but there are elements that seem to be left out. What is interesting is that this narrative about the background of Bill Finger is coupled with the hunt for an heir to Batman. The goal of the documentary is to have Bill Finger's name to all future Batman credits. That's a cool idea, in theory. But what that also brings to Finger's backstory is his relationship to his son. His son was gay and died of AIDS in the '90s. There was an odd relationship there and the movie mentions that FInger died alone in his apartment with no family. While there is this interesting epilogue (SPOILERS ABOUT REAL LIFE) about Finger's son spreading his ashes to the sea, why did the movie not discuss the relationship between Bill Finger and his son? I have a feeling that this might not paint Finger in the light that the movie was trying to accomplish. I have to imagine that Nobleman had to decide, considering that there was a persuasive element to the film, whether to include things that would impede his cause to Bill Finger's credit. Few people are saints, but the movie almost portrays him like a saint. I get why. His death deserves meaning, but then does that tarnish the validity of the whole documentary as well? I'm not sure where I'm coming down on this one, but it is something to think about.
The latter half of the movie is the one of goal accomplishment. Over the course of the film, Nobleman finds an heir that can refute Bob Kane's hold over the credit. The movie stresses that this action is altruistic. The only way to get Bill's name on the credits is to find a family member to fight for the rights. The problem is that money has to be a part of this and the movie completely glosses over this. I'm not saying that Finger's granddaughter doesn't deserve money. It seems like her family is not well off and that she had a rough childhood, indirectly from the way that DC Comics treated Bill Finger. But making it to be a fight over what is right might not be the most accurate portrayal of the events happening here. Again, a lot of this is speculation because I'm a cynical dude, but this really had to be a fight over money for this lady. I believe that Nobleman (oh, I just got the irony of his name) is doing it because he's a fanboy. But this girl never met her grandfather. Yes, the dog's name is Bruce Wayne and that is awesome, but I got the vibe that she enjoyed the fact that her world instantly got a lot bigger than it was before.
I find it hilarious that the big victory is the fact that Bill Finger got his name on the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opening credits. That's what everyone was fighting for. I'm not blind to the greater implication, but that movie...guys. C'mon. That's what we were arguing about? Alan Moore was probably fighting to get Bill Finger's name off that movie. (I didn't HATE Batman v. Superman, but it is not a good film.) Regardless, it is a very touching movie that seemed to take a bit of the Hallmark route when it came to reporting the events of Bill Finger's life. Regardless, it is an interesting watch, if I could find an audience open to watching it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.