The first issue of Batman: The Imposter was an intriguing introduction to a Bruce Wayne who exists in the “real” world. There is no colorful rogues gallery or sidekicks or high-tech lair. Bruce Wayne is far from a gallant hero or mentor here. He is a mentally disturbed rich kid whose crimefighting career seems less like a way to avenge his parents — as is the traditional origin — and more of a deranged outgrowth of his grief.
This kind of strangely literal approach to Batman can bear storytelling fruit. (Ben Affleck essentially gave us this characterization in Zack Snyder’s films.) But I was unsure after issue #1 that writer Mattson Tomlin and artist Andrea Sorrentino could build on the promise of that inviting premise.
Good news: this second oversized issue is an excellent Batman comic, easily one of my favorites of the year. Tomlin treats the titular imposter, who kills criminals while dressed as Batman, as an existential litmus test for Bruce. What does it mean to be a vigilante (who necessarily exists outside the law) while maintaining some internal moral code? And, on a more practical level, how can Bruce still be Batman if “Batman” is believed to be a murderer?
Last month, Tomlin, who co-wrote The Batman before pitching this comic, told Screen Rant, “I’m pretty sure this was a tweet that was going around a couple of years ago: ‘Bruce Wayne would rather dress up as a bat and start beating up criminals than go to therapy.’ I saw that and thought, ‘That’s awesome. Let’s go there.’” That’s a wry way of putting it, but Tomlin is ultimately concerned with these questions about Bruce’s identity, which he filters through the imposter and the original character Blair Wong, a detective whose parents were also murdered when she was a child.
That macabre coincidence draws them closer as Blair investigates Batman, but it also allows the reader another reminder of how strange Bruce’s path has been. He could have just broken bad, like the imposter, and been a full-on Punisher-style vigilante. Or he could have fought crime within the boundaries of the law, like Blair. Instead he opted for a middle path, seemingly satisfying no one. (Cue that decades-long debate of why Batman won’t just kill the Joker already.)
“I wanted to introduce her as someone who could be Batman,” Tomlin said in that interview. “I think that the further you get into the story, you realize how complimentary Bruce Wayne and Blair Wong really are to each other.”
That is especially true over the course of Blair’s investigation, but also in quieter scenes like a diner sit-down that happens to include some of the comic’s only standard panel layouts. Sorrentino, as any Gideon Falls fan would know, is one of the best page designers in comics. He has an eye for when to use negative space and has a few breathtaking spreads here, including a set of spiral panels that show Blair interrogating Bruce and a near-silent page leading up to their romantic encounter, which looks like something Jim Steranko may have drawn.
This is a psychologically dense comic, which may not be what readers are looking for after years of Batman stories about Batman that exist at times entirely within his subconscious. By no means does Tomlin skimp on the action; there’s plenty of great fight scenes here, including a magisterial one at the end that throws into question who Batman inspires and what effect his crimefighting has had on Gotham. But the scenes of Blair and Bruce doing detective work separately pale in comparison to their time on panel together, which makes me wish we would see Blair in the main DC universe.
For now, I’ll content myself with her role in this surprising series, which built on its slow start and now seems prime for a fantastic finish.
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