“Does Batman kill? People are really obsessed with that question.” Mattson Tomlin says, when asked about the inspirations behind the two plot lines of Batman: Imposter. Tomlin is no stranger to Batman, nor online obsession over the details of Batman stories. He wrote the script for Warner Bros.’ The Batman, a film that has been in some stage of production since 2014.
And now, as fans anticipate The Batman’s delayed 2022 release — and a new trailer from this weekend’s DC FanDome — Batman: Imposter #1 has hit shelves, written by Tomlin, drawn by Andrea Sorrentino (Joker: Killer Smile), and colored by Jordie Bellaire (Wonder Girl).
Tomlin tells Polygon that the series was a mix of inspirations. First among them was his own preference for Batman stories that felt more real than fantasy, but also two frequently asked questions when it comes to the Dark Knight: “Does Batman kill?” and “Why doesn’t Batman just go to therapy already?” Shake those ideas up in a jar with a “really unused” Batman character, and you’ll get something like Batman: Imposter, in which Bruce Wayne faces an enemy who keeps dressing up like Batman and murdering criminals, and an ally who tells him he has to attend daily therapy sessions or she’ll call the police and reveal his secret identity.
“There are always these tweets going around,” Tomlin said, “‘Bruce Wayne would rather dress up and beat up criminals and then go to therapy.’ And I just thought that that was a great way in. What happens if Batman goes to therapy? And then as he’s seeing this thing happen, this guy killing in Batman’s name. What does that do to him and his own analysis of what he’s doing? [And] there’s somebody who’s who’s really tough — Leslie is very tough on him — in [forcing him to analyze] What is the point of this thing?”
By “this thing,” Tomlin means “being Batman,” and by Leslie, he means Leslie Thompkins, recurring Gotham City denizen since she was created by all-time-great Batman writer Denny O’Neil and artist Dick Giordano in 1976. In most comics, Leslie runs a free medical clinic in the neighborhood of Crime Alley, where the Waynes were murdered all those years ago, and she was the child psychologist assigned to Bruce Wayne after their deaths. But without an appearance in a major Batman film adaptation (she was played by Morena Baccarin in Gotham and Krista Bridges in Titans, and only featured in one episode of Batman: The Animated Series) she’s not well known outside of Batman diehards. That in and of itself appealed to Tomlin.
“She’s had some moments, but she’s never really gotten a modern update, where I feel like ‘OK, that’s who she is today.’ [...] That’s really exciting for a writer, to go ‘OK, I can imbue them with a voice that is of its own thing and people aren’t going to be expecting it to feel like something that they’re used to.’”
Crucially, unlike most of Bruce’s allies, Leslie disapproves mightily of his choice to become Batman.
“There are these characters in Batman’s mythology that are there to be supportive. [... But] typically, Batman is the one in charge, Alfred and Jim [Gordon] are not going to be the ones to put him in his place. That’s what what drew me to Leslie [...] Creating a character that could be a lot firmer with him than some of these other characters that populate Bruce Wayne’s life.”
In the pages of Batman: Imposter #1, Leslie strikes a deal with Bruce: Either she calls the police and tells them that Batman is Bruce Wayne, or he can come to her clinic every day at dawn for a talk therapy session, to prove to her that being Batman isn’t completely destructive.
“In those first few pages she really takes him to town,” Tomlin tells Polygon. “She gets the upper hand on him, and that’s a really exciting place to put [Batman], where suddenly somebody else has the advantage over him.”
But there’s one more reason that Leslie Thompkins has a special place in Batman: Imposter. “Obviously, you know, the the character was created by by Denny O’Neil,” Tomlin says. “And Denny’s son Larry was my first screenwriting teacher. Larry, for DC Comics earlier this year, did a tribute for his dad with Jorge Fornés. He and I got back in touch; I hadn’t talked to him for a couple of years, and I said, ‘Oh, and by the way, I’m doing this book. I really I wish your dad could see this, I think he would have really liked it.’ Larry was really touched and also kind of mindblown, that one of his students was now writing a character that [his father] created. So there’s a fun thing for me there, just on the personal side, of being able to do something with this character that not only one of my heroes had written, but also his son taught me how to get off my training wheels.”
As for the obvious question: Does Batman: Imposter have anything to do with The Batman, Tomlin has an answer as well.
“There’s definitely a sympathetic vibe between the two,” he told Polygon. “They’re both dark, gritty Batman stories [but] beyond that this is so in its own continuity. As soon as people can experience both they’ll go ‘Oh, these these two are similar in the vibe, but their stories and the characters that are around and what can and can’t happen are so different.’ [...] Hopefully people who like the comic will like the movie and vice versa, but they’re standalone from each other.”
Batman: Imposter #1 is on shelves now.