Why Is the 'Joker' Trailer Paying Tribute to Batman "Creator" Bob Kane? 

For decades, Bob Kane was credited as the sole creator of Batman and the Joker. It wasn't true.

It shouldn’t surprise you that there are Easter eggs in the movie trailer for Joker. What is surprising is that there’s a tribute to Batman co-creator Bob Kane. Which is kind of okay, except: Why?

Why the shout-out when Bob Kane has spent years hogging credit away from the real architect of Batman’s mythology, Bill Finger?

On Wednesday, Warner Bros. released the trailer for Joker, Todd Phillips’ unique take on Batman villain, the Joker, and how he came to be. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as “Arthur Fleck,” a failing, aging comedian in 1980s Gotham City who is pushed and bullied into turning to a life of crime.

In one moment early in the trailer, Sharon Washington plays “Debra Kane,” a social worker for the U.S. Department of Health who counsels Phoenix’s Arthur. Her name tag can be seen at the very bottom of the frame.

The name “Kane” carries a lot of weight when it comes to all things Batman. It’s because of Bob Kane, who for decades took the credit as the sole creator of Batman even though that’s only half-true. While the concept of “Bat-Man” was Kane’s, it was Bill Finger, a cartoonist and shoe salesman, who wrote most of the Batman comics and defined everything we know about the Caped Crusader.

Joker Movie Bob Kane
Screengrab of 'Joker,' with "Debra Kane" who counsels Arthur Fleck.

From his Bruce Wayne identity to his costume to his gadgets to the world of Gotham City, Finger is the true architect of Batman. But because of Kane’s original 1939 deal with Detective Comics that stipulated him sole credit, Finger never received the proper recognition on the page until several decades after his death in 1974. For so long, Batman was officially created “by Bob Kane.”

As Chris Sims wrote for ComicsAlliance in 2013, “the guy credited with creating Batman was probably the person who did the least amount of work in that creation, while the people who did the heavy lifting never even got to put their names on the stories they created.” Even though literally everything fans know about Batman, including the Joker, is the work of Finger, Finger is a textbook case of a publisher short-changing its creators.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, are another case of creators dying almost penniless and unknown despite their immeasurable contributions to the popular imagination.

Batman Bob Kane
For decades, Bob Kane accepted credit as the sole creator of Batman, while his primary collaborator and chief architect of the series, Bill Finger, went unacknowledged.

Finger’s input was never a secret. The comic book community knew of Finger, as did fans. In July 1965, Bill Finger made his first and only appearance at the first New York City “Comi Con” (not related to the current convention now held at the Javits Center) where Finger fielded questions. And Kane himself acknowledged Finger for his work in his 1989 autobiography Batman & Me.

“Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved,” Kane wrote. “He was an unsung hero … I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say. ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.’”

This was, of course, after Finger couldn’t say jack to Kane, making his half-assed mea culpa in his book all the more slimy. Over twenty years before his book, Kane penned an open letter in 1965 — when the Batman TV show was about to be red hot and more fans began to know about Bill Finger — where he called Finger a liar for going public about his contributions to Batman, and maintained he was the sole creator.

“The truth is that Bill Finger is taking credit for much more than he deserves,” wrote Kane, who said Finger was suffering “hallucinations of grandeur.”

“I, Bob Kane, am the sole creator of ‘Batman,’” Kane actually wrote.

Kane’s gaslighting echoes the opinion of Sims, who called Finger “a great writer but an awful businessman” (for failing to fight for the credit he deserved) and Kane capitalizing as “a moderately talented artist who happened to be an evil genius.” In some ways, then, it’s actually appropriate that a movie about the Joker is paying tribute to Bob Kane.

An in-depth documentary on Hulu about Batman and Bill Finger was released in 2017 and is available now to stream on Hulu.

Joker will be released in theaters on October 5. Batman & Bill, a documentary about Bill Finger, is now streaming on Hulu.

Media via Warner Bros. Pictures, YouTube.com/Hulu, Hulu