Batman and The Signal #1
Written by Tony Patrick
Art by Cully Hamner and Laura Martin
Published by DC Comics
It’s been a long time coming for Duke Thomas to embark on his own solo superhero story. We were first introduced to Duke during the New 52, when he appeared in Scott Snyder’s Batman: Zero Year. The Duke we knew then was a bright student who wanted to save Gotham from the Riddler. The turning point for his character came after the events of Snyder’s Endgame where, after losing his parents to the Joker’s toxin, he decided to lead the civilian-vigilante organization We Are Robin.
Once DC Rebirth started, we saw Duke become Batman’s new protege. Over the pages of All-Star Batman, we saw Duke go through Batman’s unique brand of Vigilante Training. At the start of the DC Metal event we learned that Duke has light-related metahuman abilities. Now, he is finally ready to go out as a new protector for Gotham – not out at night like the rest of the Bats, but as Gotham’s daytime defender now known as the Signal.
Finding His Place
The first page of the issue gives us an insight into what Duke perceives as his spot on the Bat Family. He stands out from the rest of them. Not only because his relationship to Batman is different from the others, but because he is also a metahuman. Duke’s internal dialogue lets us know that he doesn’t feel like he belongs, and that he is not confident that being the Signal is going to last.
His First Assignment
But Gotham City doesn’t wait for its superheroes to get comfortable. A new rogue is immediately introduced to Duke’s story, a metahuman teen criminal named Null who is able to use negative space as a weapon. Null can sense that Duke has powers, and desperately wants him to use them. Duke finds himself losing this fight, until he is somehow able to tap into his power and find Null’s weak spots. But after he defeats Null, the civilians around him complain that the daytime should be when people are safe from criminals and vigilantes. Definitely not the best start to his first day on the job.
Enter Alex Aisi. She’s an amputee detective working for the Gotham City Police Department. Commissioner Gordon drops by her apartment to give her some information on the new metahuman attacks in Gotham, the most recent incident being two teens found dead after a party. A couple hours after the party, the teens seemed to develop metahuman abilities that caused their bodies to almost immediately shut down. While there are no leads yet on these cases, Gordan thinks something is infecting these people during the daytime and causing the metahuman outbreaks.
Just Teen Stuff in The Narrows
We visit a notoriously disenfranchised district of Gotham city, called The Narrows. Here we see the return of two We Are Robin characters – Isabella Ortiz (Robina), Duke’s girlfriend, and Riko Sheridan (R-Iko). They help Duke run a test on Null’s blood, and Riko discovers that Duke’s power had the same effect as whatever activated Null’s metagene.
We also learn that Duke is now living with his older ex-military cousin Jax. We get an insight into Jax’s relationship with Duke. It appears that they were close when Duke was younger, but now some sort of tension exists, as both are readjusting to their new roles as guardian and ward.
Next, Duke heads to the Lucius Fox Center at the break of dawn. Duke is remembering how his role as Gotham’s daytime protector came to be. His inner dialogue gives us an insight as to what his relationship with Bruce is like. Duke thinks that even though he has been part of the Bat Family for months he never knows what to expect from him. Simply put Batman calls, Duke answers. Bruce shows Duke a new base of operations under the center that Bruce made for him, called the Hatch. Duke doesn’t believe he deserves it, yet Bruce strongly thinks that is long overdue. Duke believes that there is no place for him, but Bruce says that he is part of something bigger. Bruce exclaims that he admires Duke’s dedication to become a hero of his own. The conversation between them then reveals that the work Duke’s mom did as a social worker inspired him to go by the Signal, the first knight out on the battlefield.
The Gotham Solarium has been turned into a Juvy Arkham, basically like the Asylum for teenage metahuman criminals. Detective Aisi tries to enter the facility, but her access has been denied. Duke sneaks to the area after she stomps out. We then witness Duke’s ability to use light to see what has occurred a couple of minutes before. He uses this to see the code the guard entered to open a door. Using the code, he enters the building and starts walking down the hallway… until a voice taunts him about knowing who Duke is and what his place is in the superhero world. As Duke reaches the end of the hallway he finds empty cells…
But it’s a trap! Null and two other metahumans ambush him.
I have been waiting for this miniseries for a while, and I’m extremely happy that it surpassed all my expectations. Patrick’s writing style feels fresh and genuine, and my appreciation for Duke increased while reading Duke’s internal dialogue. He just graduated from Batman’s Vigilante Academy, and now he faces the question of what now? We have all been in the spot in our lives where we wonder who we are and what our place in the world is, so Duke’s internal conflict feels relatable without being cliché.
One of my favorite things about this issue is how we are introduced to new characters that are part of Duke’s story. Creating new characters for Duke allowed me to see him as his own hero separate from Batman. I also love the fact that metahumans are now a threat in Gotham. Gotham has never faced metahumans before, though the city’s vigilantes have fought criminals that had their biology changed by science. I’m glad Duke is getting his own storyline with his own characters that are unique to him.
For all its newness, this issue doesn’t disregard Duke’s background and what he has encountered already. I had the biggest smile on my way when I saw Iz and Rizo, because it made me realize how far Duke has come as a character. I hope we see other We Are Robin characters pop up in the next issues. Adding these characters to the introduction of his older cousin Jax, who now has custody of Duke, allows the story to feel more grounded and approachable. Yes Duke is a superhero, yes he has a cool costume and superpowers, but there’s more to his life than just being a vigilante. Showing us that he has situations that are normal for regular teenager expands his character and creates an extra layer of character development.
Also, to say that the art on this issue is PHENOMENAL is an understatement. The way the colors pop from the very first page got me so excited to read it, and the colors really allude to how Duke sees himself in the Bat Family. My favorite frames were whenever we see Duke using his powers. The way the design and color show how his powers work is amazing. It allows the reader to see how Duke sees things that happened in the past, without having to use a flashback, and without slowing the flow of the story. It felt as if I was following the guard along with Duke, and it was very exciting.
There’s so much diversity in this series and it’s barley issue one. We have a black protagonist, Aisi is an amputee female detective, Iz is Puerto Rican, and Rizo is Japanese. I really believe the reason the story feels so real and genuine is because of writer Tony Patrick. I remember reading a recent interview where he recalls the experience of seeing an African-American Robin on a t-shirt and how cool and exciting it was for him. Seeing Duke in Snyder’s Batman stories inspired him to write a story that expanded his character and at the same time expand Gotham.
I loved this issue, it was a great way to start the year. I honestly give it a 9/10. It was simply too good.
Lastly, I think it’s very important that we support diverse stories from diverse creators. If we want to see Duke go on to have his own ongoing series, we have to support this mini-series. Everyone should get a copy of this issue at their local comic book shop or digitally through an online shop. And be ready to support Issue #2, which will be available on February 7, 2018!