Duke Thomas has a long history with the Batman. Back when he was a kid, Duke saved an unconscious Batman during the incident known as Zero Year. Later, Batman was there when Duke’s parents were seemingly killed by The Joker, in apparent imitation of how Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in Crime Alley. This turned out to be a sick joke, however, with Duke’s parents having survived the attack but being driven incurably mad by Joker toxin! Duke also became part of the “We Are Robin” movement that turned teens around Gotham City into vigilantes in Batman’s absence.
Upon Batman’s return, Bruce Wayne recruited Duke to join his team – not as a new Robin but as “something else.” Donning a yellow costume, Duke started out helping Batman from behind the scenes before coming to work with him in the field.
Now, having discovered a metahuman power that allows him to manipulate light to see the immediate past and future, Duke has taken up the name of “The Signal.” He’s also been assigned the task of protecting Gotham City from the evils that threaten it during the day. A good thing too, as metahuman teens are starting to run wild in the streets of Gotham and Duke may be the only one with the vision to stop them!
Your enjoyment of Batman & The Signal #1 will come down to one simple factor – how do you feel about the character of Duke Thomas? If you like him well-enough and what Scott Snyder has done to develop him in the pages of his Batman books, you’ll probably enjoy this book. If, on the other hand, you echo the sentiments that Duke utters on the first page of the book about “this isn’t going to work”, then it probably won’t work for you.
Duke is hardly the first brand-new-character introduced into The Bat Family who was meant to change things forever. Remember Sasha Bordeaux? Orpheus? Onyx? Probably not. And if this first issue of Batman and The Signal is any indication, Duke will be joining them in comic book limbo as soon as Scott Snyder stops writing Batman books.
The problem with this book is not that it does a poor job of making Duke into an exciting and likable protagonist. Tony Patrick’s script manages that feat with ease. Indeed, I love the idea behind Duke’s superpower, which gives him something of an edge as a detective and a combatant but still keeps him on a comfortable level with Gotham’s other vigilantes.
No, the problem here is one of presumption. The story assumes that we’re all well-familiar with Duke’s story and know that he has earned the trust that Batman has given him. Without that knowledge, Duke comes off as some random schmuck who won the lottery and somehow convinced Batman to share all these wonderful toys with him. Between that and a seemingly unrelated subplot involving a one-armed police detective who Commissioner Gordon tasks with investigating a strange series of murders involving teenage metahumans, those who picked up this book only because it was a Dark Nights Metal tie-in will be largely lost.
The artwork for this issue is good, if nothing else. I loved Cully Hammer’s work on The Shade and his artwork here is of comparable quality and composition. Laura Martin delivers a stellar job on the colors and Deron Bennett is a master of the printed word. I just wish this fantastic art team had been given a story that was more easily accessible to the new readers it was meant to attract to illustrate.