Every superhero saga needs a villain, and Mark Pracht’s new play The Mark of Kane—an origin story for the comic-book character Batman—provides one in the figure of Bob Kane. In Pracht’s account, Kane was an ambitious freelance illustrator who, in 1939, came up with the concept of a crime-fighting vigilante who could fly with the aid of batlike wings inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s ornithopter design. But it was writer Milton “Bill” Finger—Kane’s former schoolmate at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx—who shaped Kane’s idea into a workable alternative to Superman, who had made his debut in print the previous year.
Finger—a fan of “The Shadow,” Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—saw the mysterious, dark-cowled, night-prowling Batman (originally known as “The Bat-Man”) as embodying the idea that everyone carries a dark inner “secret identity.” But Kane, an aggressive entrepreneur, for decades claimed sole credit for being the Caped Crusader’s creator, while Finger was relegated to the status of an uncredited ghostwriter in Kane’s studio.
The Mark of Kane Through 12/4: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Mon 11/21 and 11/28 7:30 PM; City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-293-3682, citylit.org, $34 ($29 seniors, $12 students and military)
Finger died in poverty in his late 50s in 1974; Kane was rich and famous when he passed away in his 80s in 1998. Not until 2015—under pressure from Batman fans and Finger’s descendants—did DC Comics begin acknowledging Finger’s role in inventing one of popular culture’s most enduring icons.
In City Lit Theater’s entertaining world premiere, directed by Terry McCabe, Josh Zagoren plays Kane as a glad-handing, ascot-wearing dandy who bears a bit of a resemblance to Adam West’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne, Batman’s daylight alter ego, in the 1966-68 ABC TV series Batman. Weirdly, Zagoren’s Kane never ages, even though the play’s action spans 35-plus years. Finger is played by Todd Wojcik as a sweet, sad dreamer who has developed a rich fantasy life to compensate for low self-esteem instilled as a boy by his psychologically abusive family.
The narrative is framed as flashbacks recounted by Kane and Finger’s former colleagues Jerry Robinson (played by Lee Kanne), Sheldon (Shelly) Moldoff (David Valenta), and Arnold Drake (Adam Bitterman), veteran artists and writers of the “Golden Age of Comics,” as they are being interviewed by artist and historian Jim Steranko (Michael Sherwin) at a 21st-century comic-con. The show benefits greatly from the visual design by G. “Max” Maxin IV and the ominous music by Petter Wahlback—augmented occasionally by the wailing of real-life sirens from Bryn Mawr Avenue outside the theater.