In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne explains to Alfred that, “As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol…as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” But in the new graphic novel Batman: The Imposter (hardcover, Kindle), Bruce finds out the hard way that symbols can be corrupted, too. In the following email interview, Imposter writer Mattson Tomlin and artist Andrea Sorrentino discuss what inspired and influenced this corruptible copycat tale.
Mattson Tomlin (Photo Credit: Henry Joost), Andrea Sorrentino
Mattson, I’d like to start with you. What is Batman: The Imposter about, what’s the plot?
Mattson: Batman: The Imposter meets Batman at the opening chapter of his career as a crime fighter. Batman finds that he’s having a tangible positive effect on the crime rates in Gotham, but his progress is derailed when someone dons a Batman costume and begins to murder criminals. This kicks off a series of events in which Batman has to stop a killer who kills in Batman’s name, all while fending off a city and police force that is newly motivated to bring him down. There’s the obvious mystery of the story in asking “who is The Imposter?” but beyond that, The Imposter serves as a mirror to Batman’s own choices. Along the way, Bruce Wayne forges two dangerous relationships. One with a GCPD detective named Blair Wong, who is tasked with hunting Batman. The other is with Leslie Thompkins, who in this story serves as an unconventional therapist.
Where did you get the idea for Batman: The Imposter?
Mattson: Over the 80+ years of history of such a beloved character, it’s hard to find a story that hasn’t been done. We’ve had a number of really successful “grounded, realistic” Batman stories, but as a reader it felt like we’ve seen less of those in the last ten years. My favorite Batman is the one that exists just on the cusp of reality. The first hour of Batman Begins is so special to me because it presents a world in which you really believe that becoming Batman is a possible thing in our world.
When I sat down to think about what kind of Batman story I wanted to tell in comics, I really drilled down on the realities of being a masked vigilante. I would find myself walking around Los Angeles and thinking “ok, if I were Batman, and there was a liquor store robbery and it was all real. How would that go down?” and the imagery that came to my mind was way less something out of the comics or even the Batman films, and more akin to something like Michael Mann’s film Heat. A Batman in our reality would very quickly turn into scenes out of Grand Theft Auto. I felt like I hadn’t quite seen that version exploited to its narrative limit, which was exciting.
For the story of The Imposter, it just seemed like a natural, real obstacle for the real world. You look at any public figure — politician, an artist — and there’s always debate over what they stand for. Using Batman’s message as the thematic battleground was another exciting layer… And narratively, it’s so simple. Commit crimes while you look like Batman, people are going to chase after Batman. It felt much closer to the thing that would actually happen, before the traditional “escalation” narrative of other people donning costumes and personas.
Going into the writing with this mindset, I knew it was going to be tricky. As a fan, I understand the gut reaction to roll your eyes to anything “grounded and realistic” so all of the choices I was making come from a place of not just making it realistic for realisms sake…but to tell a story that allowed you to see a character that is 80 years old in a slightly new light.
Batman: The Imposter takes place about a year after Bruce Wayne first put on the Batsuit. Is there any connection between it and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One? Or, for that matter, any other Batman comics that have been set during his early years?
Mattson: The only connection is that there is no Batman: The Imposter without the incredible work of Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil, and dozens of other writers and artists who have come before. You’re always standing on the shoulders of giants when you’re working with a character as iconic and enduring as Batman.
Speaking of other Batman comics, what Batman stories — in both the comics and other media — do you think had a big influence on Batman: The Imposter, and what ways were they an influence? You mentioned Batman Begins…
Mattson: As far as the world, the story, this particular take, there’s no connection to any other books. There were certain choices I knew I wanted to make that I just hadn’t seen before, and that required setting The Imposter in its own little universe.
Alfred and Gordon can sometimes feel like the deus ex machina to a Batman story. Alfred in particular tends to show up and have just the right plan or device or ability to shed light on a situation where it feels too easy. I wanted to challenge myself by taking away some of those characters and seeing what happens when you deprive Bruce Wayne from some of the only family he has left.
And how about non-Batman stuff? Like, was Batman: The Imposter influenced by any novels or any movies, or any other things that don’t have a guy in a bat costume punching people? And I include in that anything comic book related that isn’t DC.
Mattson: As I mentioned earlier, Michael Mann’s Heat. That robbery that turns into a shootout in the streets, I wanted to carry that energy everywhere with this book. There’s a Richard Attenborough film called Magic that stars Anthony Hopkins. In it, he plays an amateur magician who makes a shift into ventriloquism. He starts to have a breakdown and his relationship with his dummy gets really intense. It’s a wonderful film, and definitely played a part in some of the inspiration for how I approached Arnold Wesker and Otis Flannegan.
Better Call Saul is another one. I’m in total awe of that show. In Breaking Bad, the characters are just allowed to show up to a secret underground meth lab and we don’t question it. But what Better Call Saul teaches us is that there’s wonderful opportunity in slowing things down and going, “Hey, wait a minute… How do you even get a secret underground meth lab?”
Approaching the world of Batman: The Imposter with that granular kind of thinking can seem like it’s taking all the fun out of it…but if done the right way, it creates a whole new way of thinking about Batman. If you don’t take for granted that there’s a cave, or a mansion, or the Batmobile or all this fancy tech. The Nolan films addressed some of it in a wonderful way with the military R&D, but then you have some moments where Bruce Wayne’s bat-suit comes out of this hydraulic chamber from the floor, and you don’t stop to ask “did Alfred install that in his downtime? How did that get there?” and I think there’s such fun opportunities in going down some of those rabbit holes because they bring you to places you haven’t been before.
Along with Batman: The Imposter, you’ve also written some movies, including Mother / Android and the upcoming Mega Man. How, if at all, do you think writing those screenplays influenced your script for Batman: The Imposter?
Mattson: Being a screenwriter definitely informed my sense of pace and rhythm. I thought of each of the three issues as if they were Act I, Act II, and Act III, so in a lot of ways The Imposter should feel like it’s a movie-sized story.
But with that said, movies and comic books are very different mediums, and when I was a little kid, I loved comics more than movies, so it felt important to me to really draw a line in my mind between what works in a movie and what works in a comic book. Being a screenwriter certainly helped my sense of pace, my dialogue, and conveying images. In this way, my job was exactly the same. In a movie, a handful of people read the script, but most people are going to be watching the movie. The job of the writer is to convey to their collaborators what the story is and give some idea of what it’s going to look like…
To that end, I’d be really out of line if I didn’t take a second to shout out Andrea Sorrentino and Jordie Bellaire as my partners in telling this story. My writing is only a small part of the package, but at the end of the day, it’s a comic book and the first thing people are seeing and judging it by is the artwork. To that end, if I was the writer and a kind of co-director, Andrea was the co- director, cinematographer, and the actor as well. I tried to be as clear and visual as I could in my writing, but the book really comes down to this extremely successful collaboration between myself, Andrea, Jordie, Steve Wands, and our editors Chris Conroy, Maggie Howell, and Marquis Draper.
Which makes for a good segue; let’s move on to the art. Andrea, how did you come to draw Batman: The Imposter?
Andrea: I think it was someway in the air. [laughs]. The DC editors asked me in 2019 if I had the time to do something Batman-related for a Black Label book. I love the character. He’s for sure my favorite DC character ever. But I was busy finishing Gideon Falls at the time and I had to pass on the opportunity. Luckily, they approached me again with this wonderful grounded and realistic take on Batman just the year after.
So then what was it about Mattson’s story that made you want to do it
Andrea: I love the way Mattson has laid out the story, giving heart to each one of its characters, taking in and reinventing classic ones, and grounding them all in an incredibly real environment where each hit hurts and every action has consequences.
I found his vision on the Batman pretty much identical to mine, so it was a blast working on this book.
Oh, and I definitely wanted to draw a Batmobile. I couldn’t wait to show readers my version. Unfortunately, due the rookie nature of the Batman we’re showing, he’s only using bikes so I had to put the idea on hold. Maybe there will be room in a sequel…
What Batman stories do you think had the biggest influence on your art for Batman: The Imposter?
Andrea: I think Batman: Year One was for sure the biggest influence when it comes to visuals, mixed with my personal view on the storytelling and lines, such as the super-grounded city and the moody colors. I clearly recall a brief chat we had when I was asking the team what they thought about a possible color approach in the vein of Year One or other old-time Batman books and Jordie really took it to another level that feels at the same time a classic Batman book, but also a totally modern one.
Would you say those were the same things that specifically influenced how Batman would look in Batman: The Imposter?
Andrea: No, I didn’t really have any influence for the look of Batman, honestly. Someone online has speculated I was asked to make something that would recall the look of the upcoming Batman movie; although I had only seen a brief teaser at the moment I worked on the book, I can definitely see why. But the truth is, the only guidelines I had was to make Bruce look quite young (as he is in his first years of activity) and that his suit and accessories would have to look real and functional, which is probably what I would have done anyways).
How collaborative were you and Mattson when it came to both the overall look of the book and such specific stuff as the Batsuit and the Batmobile, given that it’s a noir story?
Andrea: As I said, Mattson has a clear vision on how Batman has to dress in a totally functional and real suit, and that was exactly what I was also aiming for. I think one of the reasons the book feels so organic in the way everything mixes — the writing, the art, and the coloring — is that our visions on the Batman we wanted to show was exactly the same.
Finally, if someone enjoys Batman: The Imposter, what Batman book — either graphic novel or collected edition — would you each suggest they check out next and why that one?
Andrea: I’m going to say Joker: Killer Smile that, while being a story about the Joker, features the same artistic team of me and Jordie.
Also, definitely Frank Miller’s Year One and the Dark Knight Returns, which share with Imposter the same kind of gritty, depressive feel, and are classic stories no fan of Batman should ever miss).
Mattson: I’m going to assume that if you’re reading Batman: The Imposter you’re like me and you’ve read most of the books that informed it. So I’m going to try to not be boring and say go check out Batman: Cataclysm and Batman: No Man’s Land. The early ’90s had the Burton films come out, and the mid-’90s had the Schumacher films. We’re seven years away from Batman Begins. So I find Cataclysm in particular to be a really beautiful combination of tones. It lives somewhere in between Batman Forever and Batman Begins, tonally. It’s a lovely, understated hybrid of the past and the future. It’s an intensely colorful book that has the whole Bat-family in it, but the stories are extremely psychological, dark, brooding and adult. I think has something for everyone, and I feel like it’s extremely under-appreciated. I’d love it if I had more people to appreciate it with me.