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‘Batman: The Imposter’ HC (review)

Written by Mattson Tomlin
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Jordie Belaire
Published by DC Comics

 

It’s a great premise: Three years into Batman’s war on crime, someone posing as him is killing criminals. As Batman tries to stop his imposter, a female detective investigating the Dark Knight works her way to Bruce Wayne and unexpected, complicated romance. And amid all this, Bruce himself is forced by his childhood therapist to examine why Batman is. Is Batman truly is helping Gotham City, or is he simply an unwell man dragging the city down into his madness?

These are familiar themes with Batman that have taken shape over the past 50 years of the character’s history that moved him into comic-book and live-action realism. We can trace them back to those years of Denny O’Neill, Neal Adams, Marshall Rogers and Dick Giordano in the 1970s. And Frank Miller chiseled them into Mount Rushmore-sized granite with The Dark Knight Returns – a book whose stranglehold on the Dark Knight remains strong to this way, for better and (in my opinion, largely) for worse.

And those echoes of Miller, plus other big Batman stories of the past 20 years such as The Long Halloween and Hush, along with pieces of work from Scott Snyder and Tom King, now color the rain-soaked Bruce Wayne of Matt Reeves’ film The Batman. If you enjoyed that film (I did), Batman: The Imposter works as companion piece to the movie in themes and feel, and not only because Mattson Tomlin worked on the film’s script. The movie feels like a DC Black Label graphic novel, and The Imposter is one.

It’s the small touches in Sorrentino’s artwork that grab your attention. The way he X-rays a point of contact to show a broken nose or elbow that Batman delivers on muggers. Or, in a flashback of when Bruce tells Leslie about Gotham’s first night without a violence crime reported in 54 years, a classic shot of the Caped Crusader perched above the city skyline includes an inset panel of a single tear streaming down Batman’s mask.

When we first meet the Batman, he’s bleeding out on the floor of Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ apartment. Yes, that Leslie Thompkins, an ally of Batman who knows his secret because she was there at the beginning, when Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered. But this isn’t the kindly older woman who helps Batman from time to time with advice or the occasional bit of medical attention. This version is a tough woman who meets Batman with a mixture of revulsion, contempt, empathy, and skepticism. After patching Bruce up, Thompkins gives him an ultimatum – become her patient again and report every day at dawn for a session, or she’ll call the cops on him and he’ll be sent to Arkham forever.

Not merely content to do another Batman story about Bruce’s trauma, Tomlin creates a parallel story track focused on how Batman’s activity has rattled the cages of Gotham’s elite because of so much property damage. (Both this and the White Knight books discussed this as a city governance issue.) Batman also digs into how many of the Imposter’s victims are connected to one judge. Sorrentino matches Tomlin’s prose with moody, gritty art that felts like this leaped right off the storyboards for The Batman.

And similarly to The Batman, this is a story in which the characters surrounding Bruce Wayne often are telling him how he’s doing Batman wrong. Dr. Thompkins begins the story trying to persuade Bruce to hang up the cape and cowl, saying that he can do more good as Bruce Wayne to improve Gotham. There’s the patriarchal head of Wesker Capital, who thunders that Batman may be some hired goon among the city’s elites to sabotage competition. Or the poor man who winds up helping the imposter.

Then there’s the imposter himself, taking matters into his own murderous hands to clean up a mess Batman made through unintended consequences of his rooting out corruption.

Layers upon layers unfold in this well-paced, character-rich story. Including that, by story’s end, perhaps Batman has found a way to inspire hope and avert some future calamity. Even as more unhinged villains wait in the wings.

C’mon, you weren’t exactly an entirely happy ending in a noir tale, were you?

Grade: A

 

 

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