[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Scott Snyder and Tony Patrick
Artist: Cully Hamner
As Bruce Wayne fulfills his corporate duties at Wayne Industries, Duke Thomas (a.k.a. the Signal) embraces his role as Gotham City’s daytime protector while battling a deadly new rogues gallery. Could these teenage villains be connected to the recent metahuman population boom in the Narrows? To find out, the Signal must learn to work with a different kind of ally…the GCPD!
Snyder and Patrick are smart in bringing minute flashbacks of Duke’s history to those who are unaware of how far back they go. It serves to enhance the paranoia in his mind as to whether his mentor has been manipulating him from the very beginning. The sense that Duke is both out of his league and in the middle of a superhero “Training Day” is keenly felt. Duke is not at the level of Batman yet with regards to organization and tactical strategy. The fact he’s stumbling through The West Narrows on his first day gives him the underdog motif not shared by the more seasoned Bat-Family members, and that is a breath of fresh air.
As to the antagonist, whom I’m tentatively calling “The Narrows” until it’s official, his design seems to evoke the Ancient Mayans with weird glyph imagery on his armor. That works in the sense that the source of his hostile takeover of the West Narrows is the sun. You need an antagonist that is a viable threat, and it’s smart to have him also be an expert hacker to push past the Batcomputer’s firewalls and security measures. This shows he is also a threat to Batman’s operations as much as Duke’s future.
It’s a nice touch to throw in conflict between Duke and Bruce; for the first time we see Duke start to question the seemingly unconditional guidance and support Batman has offered him from the day they met. Given Batman’s habit of developing multilayered strategies, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities in Duke’s mind. This is a good counterpoint to the interaction between Aisi and Signal; this new alliance mirrors the interactions between Bruce and Commissioner Gordon in Batman: Year One. While I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of Duke revealing intimate details of his parents’ fate to a police detective, the chemistry between these two works. Through the regular bat-books their lives have both been touched by the darkness Gotham breeds, so they are able to bond through those means.
For those new to the book, Snyder and Patrick could have taken some time to expand the backstories of Riko and Izzy and their connection to Duke. Their role in the Robin Wars is only revealed through name only, so it wouldn’t have hurt Cully to throw in an image of them working together in that period.
Speaking of Hamner, the artwork still feels very blocky at certain points. Cully loves his thick ink lines; there are other ways of making the imagery jump off the page. I don’t know whether he was the right artist to take on this project because the panels seem very confining and the sequentials of the metahumans either manifesting or using their powers seem sketchy as opposed to fluid.
Lastly, the final splash page doesn’t convey the right amount of menace and feels very rushed; the video footage on the Batcomputer should have been developed into the actual splash.
While I’m not cool with the artistic direction of this title, I can see Duke Thomas as The Signal getting his own series, but hopefully one without Cully Hamner. He’s trying too hard to mimic the art from Dark Nights: Metal and the initial artwork in the New 52 Batman stories.
Duke evolving as a vigilante separate from Batman this soon is indeed something different, and having former Robins as his backup make for a really good team. So far so good, but again the art could be better. Nuff said.