The Haunting of Robert Kane!
Secret Origins of Batman
Kane claimsCHAPTER 3 of 3

If the general public knows Robert Kane at ALL, they know him as "Bob Kane," the man who created Batman -- then went on to write and draw Batman comic books for years, if not decades. Kane said so himself, loudly and often (see panel right). But how much of this PERCEPTION is actually TRUE? Reader, it’s time to find out, once and for all.

Central question: Did Kane create Batman all by himself, as he claimed
as late as 1965? Kane says he was inspired by three things: Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of a bat-winged flying machine, and two movies: “THE MARK OF ZORRO,” and “THE BAT WHISPERS.” Let’s look at Kane’s three supposed sources of inspiration for creating Batman, one by one, and see what kind of "inspiration" they may or may not have provided. We'll start with the da Vinci drawings.


Leonardo da Vinci
made the
sketch seen left, around 1496. It’s true that da Vinci’s "flying-machine" sketch is somewhat bat-like, but the similar sketches Kane said he did in 1934 and 1938 (both shown below) have been proven to be back-dated forgeries that Kane actually created years later. Yet despite the fact that Kane included these drawings in his autobiography to “prove” his claims, according to Gerard Jones's "Men of Tomorrow," the dates specified on them were intentionally falsified by Kane. Strike one!

Kane's forgeries


In “
THE MARK OF ZORRO,” the first Zorro film (1920), the title character has virtually nothing in common with Batman, except for the fact that both heroes wear disguising headgear and have secret identities. But>in HIS secret identity, the original Zorro posed as a fop, and was not a playboy millionaire. And Zorro was a wise-ass jokester who used a sword -- bearing little resemblance to the grim, black-clad, gun-toting original Batman. Strike two!

Zorro 1920


Kane claims to have seen “THE BAT WHISPERS” when he was 14. He describes the titular character as having a “bat-shaped head” that made a big impression on him. Problem: The elaborate bat-head was seen ONLY in the silent original version of the film, “THE BAT.” In the remake, the version Kane claims to have been
SO mightily influenced by, the character wore only a simple black hood...


Kane also claims to have seen a prototype of the “bat-signal” in this movie, and says, “The Bat used this signal to announce that someone would be his next victim.” Problem: In the actual movie, the “Bat-signal” announces nothing -- it’s not even used by The Bat! It turns out to be nothing more than the silhouette of a moth projected by the headlight of a moving car, as the title card shown below, right, makes explicit.


Finally, it’s difficult to see how even “The Bat” -- which Kane never even claims to have seen -- could possibly have inspired the creation of the comic book Batman AT ALL. The Bat himself is hardly seen in the whole movie. He appears in full bat-head for only about five minutes in the entire film, which, like its two predecessors (a stage play and a silent movie) is a glacially-paced drawing-room murder mystery. Strike THREE! Yer OUT!


So if da Vinci, Zorro and The Bat DIDN’T inspire the creation of comic book Batman, what DID? Strangely, Kane never mentioned what MUST be called his most IMPORTANT source of inspiration. As we covered last issue, Anthony Tollin and Will Murray PP2recently discovered that the Shadow pulp story “Partners Of Peril” provided the plot for the first Batman story, and also pointed out that “Partners Of Peril” mentions the terms ‘bat-like’ and ‘bats’ on SEVEN different occasions. If this is a mere coincidence, it has to rank as the comic Batman for President!world’s most...BATTY.

Who came up with the name BATMAN? In an interview quoted in CREATORS OF THE SUPERHEROES, Bill Finger said Bob Kane "had an idea for a character called 'Batman,' and he'd like 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, no gloves, no gauntlets, with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a sign... Batman."
BELOW: The art Finger saw as depicted in Marc Tyler Nobleman's BILL THE BOY WONDER.
Batman for President!
Did Bob Kane ever WRITE Batman?

In a 1965 letter to the fanzine “Batmania,” Bob Kane stated, “Although Bill Finger literally typed the scripts in the early days... he wrote the scripts from ideas that we mutually collaborated on, and Batmania 10many of the unique concepts and story twists also came from my own fertile imagination ... many a story I ‘silently’ wrote by giving Bill the premise, and he took the ball from there.”

We can dismiss this claim immediately as sheer braggadocio, because it is universally acknowledged that Bob Kane never actually WROTE a Batman story. Early Bat-tales were written by Bill Gardner FoxFinger and Gardner Fox, a lawyer who gave up practicing law during the depression and went to work for DC in the late 1930s, co-creating the Flash, Hawkman and the Justice Society of America.

When Kane finally disclosed Bill Finger's earlier involvement to DC, Finger was hired directly by the company. Finger wrote the next several years worth of Bat-stories after that, and became known as THE formative Batman writer. Finger’s stories, unlike Kane’s, were not written “silently,” but on paper.

DC historian E. Nelson Bridwell put it bluntly in his introduction to a 1971 collection of Bat-stories: “Kane did not write the stories, though he often had a hand in creating the characters in them." So, rhetorical contrivances such as “silent writing” and “mutual collaboration” not withstanding, it is absolutely certain that Bob Kane never actually wrote a single Batman story. And his sometime-claim to have created the character all by himself, when he was as young as Kane bioage 14, without Bill Finger, is complete hogwash.

Was Bob Kane HAUNTED by the way he treated Bill Finger? When his former partner passed away in ill health and desperate poverty at the young age of 59, it appears Kane finally started to feel a twinge of remorse... maybe.

In his 1989 autobiography, “Batman and Me,” Kane mixed fact with fiction when he wrote, “Now that my longtime friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero. Because he came into the strip after I had created Batman, he did not get a by-line... 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.’ “

Typically, Bob Kane dedicated his autobiography to relatives, friends -- and to Bill Finger -- but lip service notwithstanding, he never made a serious effort to have Bill Finger's name attached to Batman as a co-creator of the character. Which is exactly what he was.

OK, what about the ARTWORK? Surely Kane drew Batman’s adventures for decades, right? The character was created in the late thirties, and in 1965, Kane stated, in no uncertain terms, “In the ‘Golden Age’ of Batman, I penciled, inked, and lettered my strip by myself ... The Truth: I STILL draw Kane claimsabout 90% of all Batman stories. I do all the stories for Batman bi-monthly, and share Detective Comics with Infantino, who draws every other one. Infantino now does all the covers for Batman and Detective Comics.”

Is this, as Kane insists, “The Truth”? Let’s start at the beginning. Bob Kane DID draw the FIRST Batman story in Detective #27, no one disputes this -- but as we shall soon see, for Kane, the word "draw" was interchangeable with the word "trace." Batman’s SECOND adventure was also credited to Kane, but the style is totally different, and the story was clearly drawn by someone else. No one knows who.

By early 1940, Kane’s roughs were finished by one of his assistants, 17-year-old Jerry Robinson, who had been selling ice cream at a resort when Kane met and hired him. In “Batman and Me,” Kane contradicts his earlier statement and admits, “In the early forties, Jerry [Robinson] was hired away from me by DC... they allowed him to draw and ink complete Batman stories by himself, as well Kane Ghostsas his own covers.”

Other early Bat-adventures in Detective Comics were finished by Sheldon Moldoff and George Roussos, who penciled backgrounds in addition to refining Kane’s main figures. So, to sum it up, Kane's claims that he did virtually everything on the early Batman stories is totally false. It almost HAD to be, because the workload was too much for one man.

When “The Bat-Man’s” popularity exploded, so did his page count. Kane hired several artists to help him keep up with demand. Batman was eventually drawn by a host of Kane ghosts, including James Robinson, Jim Mooney, Stan Kaye, Win Mortimer, Mort Meskin, Dick Sprang, Lew Schwartz, Sheldon Moldoff, Charles Paris, Carmine Infantino, Fred Ray and Jack Burnley.

According to Mark Evanier, "There were two kinds of Bob Kane ghosts. Bob contracted with DC to provide a certain number of pages per month and he hired men like Sheldon Moldoff and Lew Sayre Schwartz to draw them. But DC needed more pages of BATMAN art than that number and so the DC editors hired men like Dick Sprang, Jim Mooney, Winslow Mortimer and Curt Swan to draw stories that never went anywhere near Kane or his studios. As per Kane's deal with DC, no one else's name could appear on them but his, but it would be wrong to suggest that Mooney (for example) was a Kane assistant. Or Sprang or Infantino or any of about two dozen others who did Batman art for DC."

"Ghosting" was a common practice in the comic industry at this time, but Kane took it to extremes. Each Kane ghost-artist apparently thought he was Kane’s ONLY ghost. Kane viewed them as employees, and never discussed with them the fact that there were others -- even though Kane used enough ghosts to HAUNT him for an eternity!


“I liked Bob,” Jerry Robinson says. “He was very personable. I must say that he had a pretty big ego. Bill [Finger], on the other hand, did not. He was very quiet, intense, unassuming and insecure. His position vis-à-vis Bob made him more insecure, because while he slaved working on Batman, he wasn't sharing in any of the glory or the money that Bob began to make.”
Kane and friends
Kane left comic books entirely in 1943, preferring to pencil the Batman daily newspaper strip. Mark Evanier states, “In the first year or two of BATMAN... [Kane] seems to have quickly turned dailya lot of it over to assistants, especially when the newspaper strip started and he preferred to spend his penciling time on that. And eventually, he wasn't doing any of it.”

Kane's work on the daily strip was inked by Charles Paris; the Sunday strip
was mostly by Jack Burnley. So ultimately, Bob Kane intentionally reduced his role to that of glorified Kane 1944production manager of a secret art studio.

It went like this: Kane got stories from DC written by his "pal" Bill Finger, or Gardner Fox; hired other artists to pencil and ink them; then relentlessly plastered his BOB KANE signature on the finished product, loudly and publicly maintaining that HE, and he alone, was its sole creator. And DC never said otherwise.

"Bob remained a company man, and they've been good to him," Kane’s second wife, Elizabeth, once confessed. TRIVIA NOTE: Elizabeth Kane, an actress, appeared in “Batman and Robin,” “Batman Forever,” and “Batman Returns.” I’m SURE she got all three parts based on sheer talent, not connections! (I may be wrong.)

Kane’s lucrative arrangement with DC lasted until 1968, when the company renegotiated their deal with him, and stopped buying artwork from him. By then, most of Kane’s ghosts were  working for DC directly. Meanwhile, Kane’s childhood dreams came true as his slice of the Batman comic, movie and TV series fortune made him rich and famous as Bruce Wayne himself.


According to a wildly-fawning biographical profile of Kane that appeared in Batman #1, “Bob is certainly not a copyist; his work shows a definite originality and freshness which has attracted many fervent fans.” There’s just one small problem with this statement: As we shall soon see, Kane’s first Bat-story, far from bursting with originality and freshness, is a shocking parade of outrageous plagiarism.

As we mentioned last issue, several years ago, Arlen Schumer discovered that the Batman figure on Kane’s famous cover for Detective Comics #27 was a direct swipe from an Alex Raymond Flash Gordon drawing. Now, thanks to DSK of the Vallely Archives Blog, we know that several panels in Kane’s first Batman story were swiped from the work of an illustrator named Henry E. Vallely (1886-1950).

Who is Henry Vallely? He was a talented painter who illustrated ads in women's magazines, cooking periodicals and children's books, as well as several Big Little Books. One of them,
"Gang Busters In Action" written by Isaac McAnally Gangsters In Action(1938, pictured), was definitely a part of young Bob Kane’s collection -- although it’s more than likely Kane tore his copy apart so its pages could lie flat, making them easier to TRACE. Which is exactly what he did with them.

DSK only scratched the surface of Kane’s penchant for appropriating the work of others. I dug deeper, and discovered that Kane’s entire STORY is little more than a collection of swipes! There’s no denying it, because the sheer number of panels Kane swiped from Vallely and others is almost absurd. And so, DC’s Golden Age claims notwithstanding, one fact is now clear: Bob Kane plagiarized
much of the first Batman story. The truth: BOB KANE WAS A PLAGIARIST!

A serious charge, but one I intend to back up with indisputable PROOF! And just WHO AM I? OK, say it with me, DIAL B for BLOG fans -- say the phrase you have been waiting to read for TEN LONG MONTHS: “I am ROBBY REED, author of this article and creator of this blog!" And I am BACK! Sockamagee!!!

I am back, and here IS the proof: A devastating side-by-side comparison as only Robby Reed can render it. Reader, examine the evidence! And if you still agree that Bob Kane was “certainly not a copyist,” as his DC profile in Batman #1 claims, there’s only one thing left for me to say... “You need glasses!” Here we go...
Vallely's Capt. Olson (left) looks suspiciously like
the criminal seen on the cover of Detective Comics #27 (right).
Take Vallely's night scene (detail on left), add a bat-silhouette, and you
get Kane's splash panel for "Case of the Chemical Syndicate."
Vallely's Capt. Olson looks a lot like Bruce Wayne, and
both share the same pensive hand positioning!
Capt. Olson serves as a model for Commissioner Gordon,
where did Gordon's NAME and FACE come from?
Commissioner James Gordon got his NAME from a character in "The Whisperer" pulp magazine, and Bob Kane MAY have modeled Gordon's FACE after a man seen in an Ex-Lax ad which ran in the "Partners of Peril" issue of The Shadow pulp. Both men have gray, receding hair, round wire-rim glasses, a mustache, and wear a suit and tie!
Commissioner Gordon
The man in this ad from the "Partners of Peril" issue of The Shadow looks
a lot like Mr. Bruce Wayne, black-haired, jacket-wearing pipe smoker!
Take a Henry Vallely car, add three lines for a curb, and you get
Bob Kane's swiped panel in "Case of the Chemical Syndicate!"
A panel from an AD in "Partners" shows a young man who looks a lot
like the young man in "Chemical Syndicate." (Note his ironic dialog.)

Vallely's figure position was swiped by Kane, but the
dead body's placement is changed from front to rear.

Capt. Olson's pensive hand position copied AGAIN, this time for
the young man suspected of murdering his business partners!
Vallely's "He Put Through a Call" becomes Kane's
"Commissioner Gordon Put Through a Call."
Vallely's thug continues his crime spree in "Case of
the Chemical Syndicate," changing his suit -- but nothing else!
With a few alterations, Vallely's silhouette of a murder being
committed becomes Kane's silhouette of a murderer escaping.
The Kane scene in the middle, from "Chemical Syndicate,"
swipes TWO of Vallely's "Gang Busters" images.
Another blatant case of "Grand Theft Auto"!
JLA 37
BACK TO THE STORY -- "Partners" art by Tom Lovell vs.
"Syndicate" art by Bob Kane and a pad of tracing paper!
Another blatant swipe from Tom Lovell's art in "Partners Of Peril"!
Another "inspiration" for Kane: this publicity photo for "Mark of Zorro"!
Bob Kane can't even draw a CHIMNEY without swiping it!
-- THE END --

Bob Kane's swipes, which at this point have to be called outright plagiarism, did NOT stop in his early days. Batman's origin story, which didn't appear until Spring 1940, is ALSO replete with Kane's Vallely tracings
-- a discovery made by DSK of the Vallely Archives blog. Below are some of the panels Kane stole from another Big Little Book illustrated by Henry Vallely (pictured right), this one titled "Junior G-Men and the Counterfeiters!"
Kane combines of two of Vallely's "G-Men" images to
visualize the mugging of young Bruce Wayne's parents.
A boy finding a small white card becomes young
Bruce Wayne realizing his parents are dead!
Batman's origin resembles the origin of The Phantom!
Phantom - Batman
A momentous decision... and another blatant swipe.
"I'm Batman!" meets "Me Tarzan!"
And finally, here's the Batman origin story's last panel (below, inset one), featuring a classic Batman pose that Bob Kane stole from a Tarzan drawing by Hal Foster (inset two)! This swipe was first pointed out in Brian Kane's "Hal Foster: Prince of Illustrators, Father of the Adventure Strip," and brought to my attention by DSK of the Vallely Archives. Kane later stole the same pose all over again when he recreated the famous panel for a 1940 poster (main scene below).
Kane - Foster
Batman #1, another book credited SOLELY to Bob Kane, featured the debut of Batman’s arch enemy, the Joker. Who created HIM? Influenced by Dick Tracy’s outlandish rogues gallery, Jerry Robinson claims to have invented the Clown Prince of Crime. Robinson's first sketch of the character still exists today, as shown below, left.
But according to Bob Kane, “Jerry drew this card AFTER Bill Finger and I had already created the Joker... If Jerry had come to me first with the Joker playing card, than I would have drawn the Joker in the image of that card, instead of like Conrad Viedt in the movie [The Man Who Laughs].”

As the graphic
below shows, the Joker clearly owes a great deal to the image of Conrad Viedt as “Gwynplaine” in Joker vs. Veidtthe silent movie “The Man Who Laughs" --but still, Kane’s initial interpretation of the character (as seen in Batman #1) IS an almost exact match with Robinson’s original sketch!

What’s more, the sketch can actually be SEEN in the first Joker story! It’s presented as the playing card the Clown Prince of Crime leaves at the scene of his fiendish murders. The relevant panel, shown
above right ("The sign of the Joker!"), may have been penciled by Robinson, who definitely inked the story.

It’s long been thought that the Joker’s appearance was partially based on “Gwynplaine” in Victor Hugo
's novel The Man Who Laughs," but Gwynplaine was presented as a heroic figure of great tragedy and pathos. As the comparison below right shows, it’s quite possible that Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson created the character’s Man Who Laughsdistinctive look by combining a playing-card style joker with... BOB KANE! Perhaps creating the Joker was Robinson and Finger’s secret revenge on their stingy, credit-hogging boss.
Bob Joker

Jerry Robinson recalls, “I felt that I was part of a team. Unfortunately Bob did not feel that way, most of all with Bill. He should have credited Bill as co-creator, because I know; I was there. The Joker was my creation, and Bill wrote the first Joker story from my concept. Bill created all of the other characters... Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman. He was very innovative. The slogans, the Dynamic Duo and Gotham City -- it was all Bill Finger.”

According to Neil Gaiman, "No one else who did anything got any credit in Bob Kane's head. The other people who drew Batman –- even Neal Adams, or Frank Miller -- in Bob's mind, were just his ‘ghosts.' The only thing that was important to Bob Kane was Bob Kane."

Amazing World of DC Comics had once run a shameful story about Bill Finger (see
Chapter Two of this series), but now it was Kane's turn! A man in a situation similiar to Kane's was portrayed in CREEPY #1 (reprinted in EERIE #13, February 1968), in a wonderful story by Archie Goodwin featuring beautiful art by Al Wiliamson (click here to read a few pages from the story, and thanks to Mark of Mark's Super Blog for pointing it out, and scanning it).


When Bob Kane passed away in 1998, he was 83 years old. Kane was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter Deborah, and sister, Doris. The bizarre inscription on Kane’s comic-book shaped grave marker (shown below, complete with Bat-Signal!) reads:


Robert Kane aka Bob Kane -- GOD bestowed a dream upon Bob Kane, Blessed with divine inspiration and a rich imagination, Bob created a legacy known as BATMAN. Introduced in a May 1939 comic book, Batman grew from a tiny acorn into an American Icon. A ‘Hand of God’ creation, Batman and his world personify the eternal struggle of good versus evil, with GOD's laws prevailing in the end. 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!"


We’re almost done. Here comes the end of the story. The part where the hero confronts the villain face to face, and dispenses justice. In Batman stories, it’s the part where Batman hands the bad guy over to the law. But in Shadow stories, it’s the part where The Shadow rises up from a splotch of darkness in the corner, guns in hand, to CALL OUT the villain’s name, SPECIFY his wretched crimes in uncanny detail, and mete out final PUNISHMENT.

Here it comes, reader... the confrontation comic book nation has been dreaming of for more than SEVEN DECADES. It’s Judgment Day -- time for the self-styled “sole creator” of the Dark Knight to be called to account by the Knight of Darkness himself... THE SHADOW!


SOURCES OF INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE: WEB PAGES: Bob Kane Interview; Bob Kane’s letter to “Batmania”; Jerry Robinson Interview; Henry Vallely Archives; BOOKS: Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones; The Shadowy Origins of Batman by Will Murray; Steranko History of Comics by Jim Steranko; Partners of Peril by Theodore Tinsley; Foreshadowing The Batman by Anthony Tollin.