Examines Trauma at the Heart of Batman’s Legend

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When it comes to Batman stories, back-to-basics tales that immerse themselves in the grittiness of Gotham City and Batman’s mission more broadly tend to be a comfortable place for both readers and creators. It’s in the darkness and shadows, both literal and figurative, where there’s no shortage of stories – though the quality of those bleak tales is still up for debate. But in the world of Batman, there’s a specific time in the hero’s life where the dark and the gritty seem to have the most potential and, thus, the most interest, and that would be the early years. Those first few years of Bruce Wayne’s crusade are fascinating and not only will we see them explored in Matt Reeves’ upcoming film The Batman, but that’s the world writer Mattson Tomlin takes us to in Batman: The Imposter #1. While this issue is certainly a “dark and gritty” Batman tale, the first issue of this three-issue series is also a revelation, illuminating not only the deep-rooted challenges the vigilante faces but the dark madness that is the hero himself.

Mental health, specifically Bruce Wayne’s, is a solid focus of Batman: The Imposter #1. When a near-dead Batman crashes into her office, Dr. Leslie Tompkins finds herself with a choice no healthcare professional would envy: call it in, exposing Bruce’s secret identity and ending his mission, or treating the man inside the mask and, perhaps, finding a way to help him truly heal. Where Dr. Thompkins deviates perhaps from a real-life professional is that she ends up essentially holding Bruce hostage by requiring nightly therapy sessions (lest she call the police) but that notwithstanding, it’s a fascinating narrative choice. Anyone who has ever read a single Batman comic knows that this is a character who is created from and defined by his trauma. Exploring that trauma by calling out the damage it has done to him rather than glorify his purpose is a significant choice. It sets a tone for this story and, given the direction things go, it’s a sound call.

While Dr. Thompkins insists upon therapy for Bruce, things are getting very complicated for Batman. During the approximate year the vigilante has operated, he’s started impacting Gotham City and it’s garnered him some enemies – and not just the criminal elements you’d expect. It turns out, the GCPD isn’t exactly keen on the Bat and, more than that, neither are some of the city’s business elite. An imposter soon carries out three brutal murders that make it appear the Batman has become a monster requiring captured and thus it becomes a race to solve this mystery and, therefore, save the Batman.

It’s this duality, the work of “saving” Bruce Wayne and the work of “saving” Batman, that makes for an interesting push and pull in the issue as Tomlin tees it up brilliantly with well-crafted supporting characters. There’s Dr. Tompkins, of course, but there’s also Detective Blair Wong, who is investigating the Batman murders as well as who might stand to benefit the most from the existence of Batman. The two highly-skilled and intelligent women shift the noir elements of this comic in a fresh direction and it’s well done. Also well done is Andrea Sorrentino’s art, especially when paired with Jordie Bellaire’s colors. Everything here feels intimate and crisp, even with the heavy subject matter and even heavier setting.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t a few rough edges. Dr. Thompkins’ internal monologue as she diagnoses Bruce’s various mental health concerns—particularly the commentary that he’s “possibly on the spectrum”—feels out of place and her manipulation of the situation compelling him into therapy isn’t a winning way to present that form of healthcare (and, full disclosure, accurate portrayal of mental healthcare is something that matters to me personally). There’s also the clear influence of the upcoming The Batman in the artwork is not necessarily a strength. There are panels where Batman looks very much like the glimpses we’ve already seen Robert Pattinson’s take on the character and, while it is perfectly fine, it does briefly interrupt the otherwise immersive experience of the issue.

Ultimately, even with some questionable mental healthcare and slightly jarring visual moments, Batman: The Imposter #1 is the gritty, complex story that the main Batman title wishes it were telling. By leaning into the internal and external darkness, this comic is opening up a fresh look at the world one of comics’ most recognizable characters exists within and, while there are still two issues to go so anything is possible, Batman: The Imposter #1 feels like the most authentic Batman comic to appear in a very long time. There are many things in the darkness; this Batman: The Imposter #1 makes them worth exploring. 

Published by DC Comics

On October 12, 2021

Written by Mattson Tomlin

Art by Andrea Sorrentino

Colors by Jordie Bellaire 

Letters by Andrea Sorrentino

Cover by Andrea Sorrentino

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