Bill the Boy Wonder
written by Marc Tyler Nobleman; illustrated by Ty Templeton
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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Most casual comic book readers, as I was in my childhood, assumed Bob Kane was the creator of Batman. It has probably been asked as a question on Jeopardy! and Bob Kane was the answer. In his book, Bill the Boy Wonder, Marc Tyler Nobleman reveals that The Dark Knight has a dark real history behind the creation of the comic. It turns out Batman was a collaboration between Bob Kane and Bill Finger, but Finger never received full credit for his efforts. Kane and Finger met at a party in the 1930s. Kane was a cartoonist and Finger was a writer for comic books. Kane had an idea for a character called The Bat-Man. He asked Finger for help in fleshing out this idea. According to Nobleman's research, Finger changed the design of the character so he would not closely resemble Superman who was wildly popular at the time. He also thought Batman should be a human character, not from another world as Superman. The following Monday, Bob Kane presented the Batman character to Vin Sullivan, an editor at what would become DC Comics. Only Kane did not mention the efforts of Bill Finger. A deal was negotiated and Bob Kane asked Bill to write Batman, but without credit. This was a common arrangement at the time and Bill was a guy that was agreeable, so he decided to go with Kane's offer. Nobleman's book goes on to show that Finger created the ideas for the back story of Batman as the secret identity of Bruce Wayne and many of the characters that appeared in the comic book. We find that while Bill received some recognition and payment for his work, it was not nearly what he deserved. As Nobleman writes, "He could write great fights but could not seem to fight for himself."
Bill the Boy Wonder is a fascinating look at the history behind the creation of a famous comic book character. It is also a lesson on character. Using this book, you can investigate with your students the big idea of fairness and why not everything seems to turn out the right way. If your students do group projects, this would be a great introduction to how you should collaborate and make sure proper credit is given. This book is also an excellent example of why we need to study history. New information is constantly being unearthed about events so we can get to the truth of what really happened. If Nobleman was not so dogged in his research, we wouldn't be finding out about Bill Finger's role in the creation of this comic book superstar. Ty Templeton's comic book style illustrations are the exact right touch for this book. They are the perfect complement to the text. Bill the Boy Wonder would be a terrific source for a biography project for a reluctant reader. You will want to preserve the cover of this book as many hands will be reaching for it.
Charlesbridge has included a section for educators with plenty of ideas for lessons connected to Bill the Boy Wonder.