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This fall, DC Black Label will launch a new vision of The Dark Knight with Batman: The Imposter, a three-issue miniseries written by screenwriter Mattson Tomlin (Project Power) and drawn by Andrea Sorrentino (Gideon Falls) that takes a back-to-basics approach with Bruce Wayne.
Set in the early years of Batman's career, the story grew out of Tomlin's experiences working on the script for writer/director Matt Reeves' upcoming The Batman, which tells its own story of the crimefighter's early battles. For Tomlin, who wasn't part of the entire writing process on the film, it was an exercise in generating a lot of ideas, but not necessarily having a way to fit them all on the screen. So, he turned to another medium.
"So much of what [Reeves] was doing was already set," Tomlin told SYFY WIRE. "And I spent so much time thinking about Batman that year, that I kind of felt like, 'Man, I have all of these ideas, and kind of things I would have done, or ways to go that just never applied to the movie, because it was its own thing.' And I ended up calling the folks at DC Films and kind of sheepishly asking them, 'Hey, I'm really interested in comic books. I actually really, really loved the 'books. So is there anybody at DC that I could talk to?' And they were very, very generous, and they set me right up."
There are lots of ways to explore Bruce Wayne's early years as Gotham's Caped Crusader, as evidenced by everything from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman: Zero Year, but Tomlin wasn't interested in telling another origin story. What he was interested in was an in-depth exploration of Bruce Wayne's motives and drive, something he achieved by immediately putting the character in conflict with a new version of Gotham City staple Dr. Leslie Thompkins.
In Batman: The Imposter #1, on sale this week, the young Bruce Wayne turns up on Thompkins' doorstep battered and in need of medical care, only to find himself blackmailed into what are essentially extended therapy sessions. It's an idea Tomlin got, oddly enough, from a social media meme.
"Certainly doing something that was very grounded, and something that was a detective story, that is something I'm very interested in," he said. "But honestly, I think that it might have come from a tweet. You know, the internet goes wild, and one of the memes that was going around is something like 'Bruce Wayne would rather dress up as a bat and beat people up than go to therapy.' And I just thought, that's kind of awesome. Let's send him to therapy! And I hadn't quite seen that in a really head on kind of way before.
"He's a character that there's just some dialogue that will never come out of his mouth, and anybody that goes to therapy, they know, suddenly they're saying things they've never said before," he continued. "So it just felt like a good place to put him because it was new, and kind of puts him on his heels."
Keeping Batman on his heels for The Imposter also meant projecting a lot of strength onto the Leslie Thompkins character. A pillar of various Batman stories and a frequent ally of the Wayne family, Thompkins is a Gotham City hero in her own right, and it was important to Tomlin to place her front and center in this tale as someone who wouldn't be a Bruce Wayne enabler, but a Bruce Wayne interrogator.
"It just kind of seemed interesting to me [if] we have a different kind of pillar of support, also a woman, and that kind of also really changes the dynamic," Tomlin said. "[Then it isn't] 'I'm the surrogate father trying to keep this guy alive,' but instead, 'No, I see this person as somebody who's maybe psychotic and a danger to people. And so I'm going to really deal with them in a very, very firm way while also trying to help them.' That for me was kind of the way in for her character. She has to be a force of nature that can really go up against him. And she disarms him pretty quickly because she's like, 'What are you going to do, kill me? Go for it.' And once she calls that bluff, she's got a lot of power."
Thompkins' ability to push back against Bruce Wayne and his ambition to save his city by dressing as a giant bat is reflective of the sense of realism that Tomlin, Sorrentino and company tried to infuse into the book. Batman might never be a 100 percent realistic character, but in trying to imagine the most grounded version of the character they could while also delivering the superhero goods, the creative team talked a lot about what the story's action would look like. The result is still Batman being Batman, but with a very practical action style
In the gallery below, you can get a closer look at what that action looks like, as Batman's quiet night in Gotham explodes into action with a chase through the city streets.
"Andrea and [colorist] Jordie Bellaire both make me look astonishing here, and it's all them. But one of the things I kept on talking about was the Michael Mann movie Heat," Tomlin said. "You can see a little bit of it in that first action scene, in the first issue, and these guys getting into cars, and Batman chasing them on the bike, and kind of the messiness that's on the street. And that to me was [thinking] 'OK, if we were really going to do this, there would be a lot of car chases. There would be a lot of car wrecks. It would be smashing into buildings. It would be like trying to get above people, but then they're getting away from you.' There's something about the energy of a bank robbery that [made me think], 'Let's just inject that into every page.'"
In the proud tradition of other more grounded Batman stories, Tomlin's version of the Caped Crusader also has an opposite number working in Gotham City law enforcement, but this time it's not his old pal Jim Gordon. Instead, in the spirit of stripping away more allies for Batman to rely on, Tomlin created a new character in Gotham City Detective Blair Wong, a determined investigator who's every bit Bruce Wayne's equal.
"[It's the] idea of [taking] away all of these friends that he has, because that's what it would be like, and then instead put him on a head-on collision with somebody who is legitimately as smart as he is," Tomlin said. "These two people who are both kind of vying for the mantle of World's Greatest Detective just kind of slam into each other. A big part of it was just making a kind of adversary for him that would create interesting complications for later in the story."
But Blair Wong and Leslie Thompkins aren't the only characters creating complications in Bruce Wayne's crimefighting life. There's also the title imposter, who appears in the first issue and sends ripples through Gotham City, from the underworld to the police department, with their attempts to imitate Batman. For Tomlin, creating an imposter Caped Crusader was motivated in part by his decision to steer away from direct confrontations with bigger villain names in his comics writing debut, but it was also part of the grounded nature of the story. If Batman really was going on, dressing up in a costume, and actually having an impact on his city, it makes sense that someone else might try to set up a twisted mirror image of that.
"We've seen pieces of that around, so it's not anything new, Tomlin said. "But again, really leaning into [the realism] in this way. Does he hold a press conference and say, 'No guys, that's not me. It's this other'? It just creates all of these complications for him that to me really felt like, 'Man, that's going to be tough for Batman to get out of.' And I love making his life hell. So that, for me, was really, it just felt like a very clear kind of obstacle."
Batman: The Imposter #1 is on sale Tuesday.