Batman and Bill
Finger’s involvement with Batman has always been an open secret in the industry—though Kane came up with the initial idea of the character, Finger wrote most if not all of the earliest stories and reportedly suggested many of the elements that became a signature of the character, such as the cowl, dark colors, scalloped cape, the batcave, batmobile, and many of the villains. Finger was essentially considered an early member of Kane’s shop—a ghost who also did other work for DC—and died in obscurity in 1974.
Unlike the more naive Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who created Superman and notoriously gave away the rights to the character for $130, Kane shrewdly leveraged a sweetheart deal with DC Comics that gave him sole creator credit and a share of the licensing and profits. As far as I know, the contract has never been made public, which the documentary seems to confirm.
(Kane himself does not come off well—while in moments of guilt he acknowledged Finger’s work, including in his memoir, at the end he seemed to double-down on the myth that he was Batman’s sole creator.)
I found the documentary moving—after Siegel and Shuster (and, over at Marvel Comics, Jack Kirby), Finger’s story ranks among the great injustices in the comics industry. Fittingly, an award presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con that recognizes comics writers—one deceased and one still living each year—who have not been adequate recognition during their lifetimes for their work was named the Bill Finger Award.
Though the family has dismissed the details of the story—which the filmmakers acknowledge is based on conjecture—it is nevertheless, at times, a moving account of their complex relationship and arrangement. The story is less successful when portraying their sexual life—though rated R due to subject matter, the film nevertheless keeps the portrayals relatively tame and in good taste; however, given that their relationship may have involved BDSM (which is partly relevant because the early Wonder Woman comics notoriously featured such acts explicitly in the comic book), these scenes sometimes unintentionally come off as humorous. While all the actors are fine, including Luke Evans as Marston and Bella Heathcote as Olive, Rebecca Hall particularly shines as Elizabeth.
What’s striking about the film is that they are similarly about two writers who were deeply scarred psychology by war, which manifested itself in their writing: Tolkien was gassed in World War I whereas Salinger saw combat on D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and other skirmishes in World War II (which included liberating the Dachau Nazi concentration camp).
Of the two, I found Rebel in the Rye to be the slightly better film, though it only lightly touches on Salinger’s questionable behavior related to pursuing (and perhaps grooming) much younger women. (The film came out about the time the #metoo movement was born.) In contrast, Tolkien focuses more on his relationship with the woman who would become his wife. Nevertheless, both are fine movies that provide some insight into the writers and the experiences that informed their writing.
I want to give a shout out to the outstanding film Margin Call, a perennial favorite of mine which I have watched several times over the years (meaning it’s shown up more than once in my end of year Entertainment Roundups!)
The film itself feels like a taut suspenseful thriller. At first, this might sound like hyperbole since the movie itself consists of talking heads (in fact, the film feels like it could be produced as a stage play), until one remembers that ordinary people’s very livelihoods and futures throughout the country and around the world were very much impacted by the over-exposure to risky investments and their collapse.
The cast is equally excellent all around, but Irons as the somewhat amoral head of the company is particularly delicious in a relatively small role—underscoring how complex and inscrutable high finance can be even to the people running the companies, at one point asking that the problem be explained to him as simply as possible: “Speak to me as you would a two-year old or a golden retriever.”
I always enjoy such these financial drama, though they vary widely in quality. I count Margin Call and 2015’s the Big Short among the very best of these (one could also include the influential Glengarry Glen Ross here, though the financial shenanigans there are more incidental to the plot rather than the centerpiece). Wall Street, the Boiler Room, and Too Big to Fail are additional films in this category that are less successful. Wall Street certainly hit the zeitgeist of the time, and while it's a great time capsule of the ‘80s financial world, I don’t feel it’s aged well.