Review: Batman: The Imposter hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


The best I can describe Mattson Tomlin and Andrea Sorrentino’s Batman: The Imposter is like the DC Black Label equivalent of Batman: Earth One. Tomlin’s gritty young alt-Batman battles a new threat (a welcome rarity in these Batman recreations), but a bevy of familiar names go by in the background, a la Earth One, any one of which could be fodder for what one hopes will be the inevitable sequel.

But Tomlin improves on Geoff Johns' and similar stories in that Imposter does not go back with an “aw, shucks” grin to coincide with established Batman mythos by the end. Rather, Tomlin prominently jettisons two major Bat-characters at this story’s beginning (at least, for the duration of this volume), sending the book careening down a different path than many of its predecessors (and surprising, too, given that this differentiates Imposter considerably from The Batman movie that Tomlin’s connected to).

At one point the now-perhaps-defunct Earth One series' mission was to present origins of the World’s Greatest Superheroes as if they were created in the here and now and not 80 years ago. Tomlin’s hard-hitting, foul-mouthed story offers that vision better than most of the entries produced by DC establishment figures previously. Andrea Sorrentino’s gritty lines and Jordie Bellaire’s watercolor effects designate Imposter as something removed from the norm far better than similar works by Shane Davis or Gary Frank did.

[Review contains spoilers]

Batman: The Imposter takes place in the aftermath of when the good guys lost, so to speak. Young Batman Bruce Wayne apparently had a good relationship with Gotham City Police captain Jim Gordon until that relationship caused Gordon to be drummed out of the force, leaving only officers hostile to Batman behind. I thought Tomlin might bring Gordon back — thought he might be the killer, actually — but he does not.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Similarly, for what might be the first time in recent memory, this Bruce does not have Alfred’s assistance (nor even Lucius Fox), having driven Alfred off when he was young. This small change alone alters the book significantly — there’s not much banter here, no traditional stately Wayne manor where Alfred helps Bruce keep up appearances. I wondered too if Tomlin might bring back Alfred in the end, but thus far Tomlin seems set, happily, on a different Batman without the usual trappings around him.

All of that places Imposter in a Batman: Year One-type setting, with Batman as public enemy number one, but even moreso because there’s not an Alfred or Gordon around. The arrival of a murderous imposter Batman only makes it worse, as no one knows Batman well enough to know the crimes aren’t his doing. Tomlin arranges a Bat-dilemma with equal parts hopelessness and grandeur; even if Batman stops the imposter, neither the public nor the police are likely to change their opinion of him, yet he still hunts the imposter out of his basic tenets of right and wrong.

Paired with all that, Tomlin employs one of my favorite Bat-tropes, Batman in love, in which Bruce Wayne must squander a chance at real happiness to seek justice as the Batman. (One is reminded at times of both Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman: Year Two and/or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm [take your pick] here, all entries in the same genre.) Detective Blair Wong is a great addition to the mythos; Tomlin’s cafe scene is a hilarious meet-cute. If there’s a sequel, we get a suggestion Blair might join the Bat-team; I tend to think we need savvy Gotham cops more than more vigilantes, but I’m willing to see where Tomlin goes with it.

Indeed Tomlin leaves no small amount of other breadcrumbs to indicate where a sequel might go. Prominent in the story is Arnold Wesker, well on his way to becoming the Ventriloquist, and now paired with Tomlin’s wonderful iteration of Leslie Thompkins. There’s Jim Gordon and Alfred, each who could still show up, and also Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, Roman “Black Mask” Sionis, Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot, and Victor Zsasz all mentioned, any one of whom could plague Bruce in a follow-up. With Sorrentino on board, I’d be happy to read it.

I’ve been a fan of Andrea Sorrentino’s work at least since I, Vampire and through his work on Jeff Lemire’s Green Arrow. If in the climactic scene of Batman vs. Batman it’s a little hard to tell who is who, the book is overall stunning, particularly the double-page spreads of Batman floating across rooftops or crashing through windows. (Also a fantastic spread set in a Wayne manor rotunda.) A few pages with bats in the background remind of J. H. Williams' work on Batwoman, and now I’m curious what Sorrentino drawing a classic Greg Rucka-era Kate Kane adventure would look like.



This past month has seen the collections of both Mattson Tomlin’s Batman: The Imposter and Tom Taylor’s Batman: The Detective. That timing almost certainly due to the forthcoming movie and nothing more, though the two do offer an interesting contrast to one another — one, Imposter, the story of a bitter young Bruce Wayne who never had a family to speak of, and the other, Detective, the story of a bitter old Bruce Wayne where Alfred has died and he’s chased his partners away. The two speak to certain inevitables in the popular conceptions of Batman, born alone and dying alone with some other stuff in the middle. It will be interesting to see where The Batman falls in all of this — loner Bruce or not, scourge of Gotham or not; an effective movie certainly has the potential to shape the Batman zeitgeist for some time to come.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Batman meets the Sopranos
    This was interesting , and seems like a definite Trilogy (at least)

  2. Great and thoughtful review as always. I read this one right after Taylor and Kubert's Batman the Detective and what a contrast to say the least. Imposter was simply the better of the two for me. Imposter held my attention and worked on many levels. If Bruce Wayne lacks empathy as Dr. Thompson says in the beginning, can he really be trusted when he says he cares for Detective Wong? Tomlin really writes Bruce with a lot of depth. Sorrentino's artwork is excellent as always, though I see that he has used a lot of the stylistic elements of what he did in Gideon Falls. The only minor issue I had with his art is that it was difficult to tell what is going on at times (which is surprising given how well sequenced his art usually is). Was it meant to be confusing to show the chaos of the fight? Perhaps. Also, I have to mention the excellent colors by Jordie Bellaire.

    As soon as I finished it, I felt like reading it again....I would say this book is one of my favs of the alternate Batman reality takes - and the fact that Tomlin doesn't simply redress Batman by moving the same elements around, but instead takes chances with the story by removing familiar characters as well as adding a strong character like Blair....really makes me hope that in the sequel - we keep moving away from the established norms in terms of story and characters.

    I look forward to more entries in this universe and hope we don't have to wait too long. If this came out decades ago, perhaps it would have been more recognized as an instant classic. In the current climate - one can only hope that this gets the buzz and readers/audience that it deserves.

    1. Yeah, the chaos of the fight was where the art fell apart for me, too. But overall great story and art, and agreed I hope we get a sequel and that the sequel keeps moving away from the norms.


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