Batman: Impostors, a tie-in to the Gotham City Impostors video game, spanned the four issues of Detective Comics immediately preceding Scott Snyder’s celebrated Black Mirror run. Fans expecting some sort of tonal continuity between Impostors and what follows will likely be disappointed, but how does it fare on its own? Read on, my friends.
This volume contains Detective Comics #867-870–the entire Impostors arc.
You ready to say uncle?
I did not enjoy this book. I’ll elaborate shortly, but here’s the thousand-foot view: bands of Jokerz (Hine’s word, not mine) are popping up around Gotham and creating non-lethal mischief and inconveniences. The wrinkle: said Jokerz have no prior history of madness or criminal activity; all spontaneously take up the mantle of the clown and spread extra-low-grade terror around the city. As Batman investigates, a group of impostor Batmen rise to challenge the Jokerz, and what started out as childish rudeness quickly escalates into something far more serious.
If you just read my plot summary and found yourself thinking “what’s so bad about that?”, I understand. The saddest thing about this book is that it starts with a really good idea but fails to do it any justice. Batman and Bullock are unrecognizable in every way but visually (and even that’s debatable–more on that in a bit), and there’s a plot twist at the end that I saw coming six miles out. Batman does strange things like dose himself with the “Joker Juice” that’s turning folks into Jokerz, and Bullock is more often than not pitted against fellow cops who want to use more force against the mobs of clowns.
Real laughter is infectious
I hesitate to call the artwork bad in and of itself. The layouts and breakdowns are actually decent, and much of what I dislike in McDaniel’s aesthetic can be chalked up to taste. The real problem here is that the style does not seem especially compatible with the subject matter. There are a couple of places in the story where Hine manages to break out and do something meaningful, but the cartoonish, silly style drags any such ascension right back down to earth.
This isn’t really fair to hold against Impostors as a standalone volume, but it’s worth pointing out that McDaniel’s style sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of its neighboring arcs in Detective Comics. The issues prior to #867 are far less cartoonish, even when they aren’t aiming for pure realism. It’s pretty much the same with #871 and beyond, as well. The art of Impostors is jarring on its own, but taken in a slightly broader context, it represents an odd disruption in an otherwise tonally consistent string of issues.
As mentioned previously, there are a few moments where Hine gets out of the mess he’s made and delivers something with impact. The backstory for the main villain, and some of the consequences for the Batmen were particularly resonant. These moments fail to salvage the arc, and are themselves brought down by a mismatched artistic style, but they’re here and worth mentioning.
The most moving of these moments comes fairly late in the book, when the little brother of one of the Batmen decides he wants to help his brother fight the Jokerz. The little Robin pays for it with his life, and it is a truly heartbreaking part of the story. That his death goes unnoticed by Batman and the police could have been a worthwhile theme to explore in another story, but Hine doesn’t seem interested in going there.
The original covers are included in the back, as though they were bonus material (they aren’t included in the flow of the story). There aren’t any real extras, and there’s nothing noteworthy about the book’s design that would make me want this on my shelf.
Value: Dirt Cheap
I wouldn’t buy this, and I don’t think you should, either. If you insist, please don’t pay more than a few dollars for a copy in good condition.
If I had been reading Detective Comics in 2010, I would have been upset to see this arc come through such a high-profile series. Not having played the game, I can’t say how much it ties in, or, consequently, how much ties to the game ultimately bring this down. Regardless, Batman: Impostors is a decent concept with poor execution. Hine’s dialogue and characterization make Gotham staples like Gordon, Bullock, and even Batman himself seem unrecognizable, and McDaniel’s particular style undermines the few moments of gravity that the script manages to create. Find this in a library to satisfy your curiosity, but don’t give anyone money for it.