BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 by Scott Snyder, Tony Patrick, Cully Hammer, and Laura Martin
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Despite a confusing tie-in to DARK NIGHTS: METAL and some minor artistic hitches, BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 delivers some stellar characterization of the newest Bat-Family member and a plot that manages to test Duke Thomas' new superpowers.
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Batman cannot exist without a Robin, or so the saying goes. Over the last several decades, the Bat-Family has grown exponentially larger. Whether it be the ballistic Jason Todd or the brilliant Tim Drake, there truly is a bird for every occasion. However, in Scott Snyder’s New 52 run on BATMAN, he introduced the reader to Duke Thomas. Until recently, Duke has seemed very similar to the other Bat-characters. Tactically brilliant and capable in a fight, Duke’s appearance as an unnamed superhero seemed very status quo. However, with the lead-up to DARK NIGHTS: METAL, Duke Thomas has found his own niche in the Bat-Family. Discovering new light-based superpowers, Duke takes to the daylight as the Signal for the first time in BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1.

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Having been working side-by-side with Batman in Rebirth, Bruce Wayne rewards Duke with his own secret base. Outfitting Duke with new equipment, Batman says that Gotham needs a new type of hero. A hero that can operate in the light. Teens all around Gotham are developing superpowers, and Batman needs Duke’s help to monitor the situation. After a near-deadly battle with a new villain named Null, Duke begins investigating the sources of these new abilities. This investigation takes Duke into the heart of a newly instated Arkham Juvenile Detention Center and face-to-face with his own Rogues Gallery.

Twisted Time

BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1
BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 is a brilliant introduction to Gotham City’s newest hero, and I for one really enjoyed the story. However, it does have one major issue for fans of the BATMAN mythos. Duke Thomas gained his powers during the lead-up to DARK NIGHTS: METAL. Capable of seeing patterns in light waves, Duke and Hal Jordan were able to build the first portal to the Dark Multiverse before slamming the door shut. After that, though, Duke hasn’t been seen in the pages of METAL, and no mention has been made of his powers since.

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I enjoy getting to follow Duke at the beginning of his solo adventures, but something seems to be missing. So much time has passed. Duke is somewhat comfortable with his powers (even if they don’t always work the way he wants). As a reader, I expected a bit more explanation of how we got here. How did this Gotham superhuman crisis begin? How does Duke acclimate to having superpowers?

BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 raises so many questions that simply don’t have answers. Assumedly, the book is set after the events of METAL, but there is no mention of Challenger’s Mountain or the events therein. This is even more confused by the fact that this story opens with the logo “From the pages of DARK NIGHTS: METAL.” Gotham is obviously recovering from something, with a new district being built in the city center. There’s just no context as to what led to this point and no attempt to provide that context by writers Scott Snyder and Tony Patrick.

Finding His Place

BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1
BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Even without that context, though, BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 is a surprisingly brilliant read. In the first several pages, Snyder manages to provide a really thorough explanation of Duke Thomas’ character. After leading the Robins gang in WE ARE ROBIN, Duke has joined a new crew where he isn’t particularly special. Outside of his new superpowers, he’s one of many sidekicks and partners who are just as good or far better at superheroing than him.

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This anxiety of exclusion follows Duke throughout the whole issue, and it makes this character likable and relatable. At first, it seemed too “high school,” that worry of finding the right clique. I soon realized that, as a storytelling mechanic, it actually worked brilliantly. Duke acts on the same anxiety that anyone who’s ever been a teen (which is everyone) has felt. It helps to humanize one of the strangest and most powerful characters in the Bat-Family.

Despite the lack of context, this focus on characterization gives BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1’s plot a deeper fluidity. Every decision Duke makes from the beginning makes sense because we have an understanding of who he is. His drive to stand out in the Bat-Family and his lack of knowledge about his own powers explains away any less than intelligent decisions. More importantly, though, it provides an interesting base to follow alongside the events. The best stories are intrinsically tied to their characters, and BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 succeeds because of its stellar lead.

Into Bat-History

BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1
BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 page 6. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

With so many decades in print, BATMAN comics have seen the absolute best artists in the industry. As such, new voices into his world have a hard time finding a bearing. However, artist Cully Hammer manages to add a new appeal to the world of the Signal. Alongside colorist Laura Martin, this vision of Gotham City is a bright, sunny world full of hope and possibility. Gone is the constant rainfall and darkness. Hammer constructs a city that gleams like a futuristic utopia. With that, he manages to add a new flare to the character styles, giving us a stylized realism that really reflects some of the best artwork in the medium.

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I do have one problem, however, with Hammer’s art. While his anatomy knowledge is fantastic and his faces are highly expressive, something just feels off when Duke dons his helmet. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the design, so when Duke takes off the costume, the artwork soars. Something just seemed off-putting about the character’s costume. Most of this comes from the fact that the helmet itself limits his expressions. The eyes of the helmet are constantly in a triangular “angry” expression, while Duke’s mouth takes the brunt of the expressive duties. There’s something almost creepy about a character whose mouth screams “OW,” while his eyes don’t change.

Final Thoughts: BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1

After reading BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1, I’m sad that this series will end after the third issue. I wanted some more context from writers Scott Snyder and Tony Patrick about how this issues ties into METAL. I did think that some of the art design surrounding Duke’s costume felt off. Yet, overall, BATMAN AND THE SIGNAL #1 is a great opening issue. With fantastic characterization and a relatively fluid plot, I cannot wait for further issues in this series.

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