And the moral of his stories told this week in nine Sullivan County schools is that the truth will eventually come out if you dig enough, with a side note that everybody can and should be a historian and a detective and not just accept the generally accepted as correct or all that is available about a subject.
Nobleman, dubbed a pop culture archaeologist as introduced to students by Sullivan Gardens K-8 Principal Darrell Moore Thursday morning, unearthed never-before-published details about the story of Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as the seldom-credited co-creator of Batman, the late Bill Finger who got posthumous credit from D.C. Comics in October after 76 years of the well-known Bob Kane, also deceased, getting sole credit.
Asked by a student his most famous book, he said it might be “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.” After the book was published in 2012, Finger’s granddaughter won a settlement from D.C. Comics and a change in credit from D.C. that started with an Oct. 10, 2015, credit that says “created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger.”
“This has never happened,” Nobleman told the grades 3-8 students about a comics publisher making such a shift in credit for a major and popular superhero, news that made Forbes Magazine and other national media.
His talk at Sullivan Gardens K-8 Thursday morning, which had students asking questions and engaged in his stories, centered on the Batman book and “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman,” written in 2008. It chronicles how Sigel and Shuster, two Ohio high school students, invented Superman and took three and a half years to get it published as a comic. He said Superman is his favorite superhero.
Nobleman’s trip to county schools grew out of Blountville Middle librarian Donna Hatcher hearing him speak at a Tennessee Association of School Librarians meeting in Murfreesboro, according to Sullivan K-8 Librarian Suzanne Minga. He has or will by this afternoon spoken at nine Sullivan County schools: Blountville Elementary, Blountville Middle, Bluff City Elementary, Colonial Heights Middle, Sullivan K-8, Holston Elementary, Mary Hughes (a K-8), Bluff City Middle and Holston Valley Middle. Each school or library paid a fee for his visit, and the content about scouring public records and doing interviews fits in with the emphasis on the use of primary sources in Tennessee history standards.
“I was the kid who liked to read, and eventually I liked to write,” said Nobleman, who grew up in Connecticut and lives in Maryland. He said his two children, a daughter, 11, and son, 7, are not particularly comic fans or writers like him. “I just like stories. That’s how I was programmed. The truth must come out.”
“The guys who created Superman did it in high school,” Nobelman said of a character that opened the door to the genre of super heroes in comics and later movies and television.
Nobleman said he focused on details, including visits to where Siegel lived in Cleveland, Ohio, when he and Shuster created Superman. Through public records, he found that Siegel’s father, Michael, died in 1932 from a heart attack after a robbery of his store, not from a gunshot in that robbery as another book claimed. In fact, he said no shot was fires in the robbery.
The first appearance of Superman was in Action comics No. 1 in 1941, which sold 130,000 of 200,000 copies, unheard of for a new character, and cost 10 cents. One hundred of those are know to exist today, and a copy recently sold for $1 million. Another copy was found by a family moving out of a house because of foreclosure and allowed them to pay off their mortgage.
“It saved their house. Superman saved their house,“ Nobelman said.
As for the Batman book, its cover says: ”Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne,“ a reference to Finger, who over 25 years wrote 1,500 Batman stories but got no credit with minor exceptions like one in a comic with a grainy photos of him. A fan found out the secret in 1965 and interviewed Finger, which prompted Kane to say Finger was lying. Nobleman said the truth is Kane asked friend Finger to redo the drawing of Batman, which first appeared in the May 1938 Detective Comics. Finger went on to introduce a long list of characters, including Robin, the Joker, the Penquin, Cat Woman, the Riddler, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon and others.
”Bob was saying that Bill was lying when the truth was the other way around,“ Nobelman said.
Nobleman tracked down Finger’s second wife, Lynn, interviewing her, and eventually found out about a lone granddaughter, Athena, the only child of Finger’s son, Fred. Nobelman also tracked down 11 photos beyond the two generally accepted ”only“ photos of Finger. He also found out Finger’s son spread his ashes on an Oregon beach in the shape of a bat after Finger’s 1974 death.
”There’s more. I just haven’t found them yet,“ Nobleman said.
”You’re in my army now because you know the truth,“ he said of Finger finally getting his long-deserved credit for Batman. ”Truth can change history.“
And that is even if it is published in a book intended for children, he said.