Issue #1 of Batman and the Signal was a rocky but not altogether unsatisfying start. Issue #2 continues the odd story of Gotham by daylight and avoids the major pitfall of the previous issue by barely including Batman at all. This is good in one respect because Tony Patrick didn’t nail the dark knight’s voice last time but readers who pick up this issue because Batman gets top billing on the cover might be disappointed.
The shadow of the bat looms large in the series, though. Detective Aisi reluctantly accepts Duke’s help like a young Gordon did with Bruce (and like Lieutenant Svoboda currently does in the pages of Nightwing). Izzy and Riko fulfil Alfred’s function in the operation (a role which belongs to Julia Pennyworth in Batwoman as well) in that they provide technical support and this month take an undeserved ear-bashing from the hot-headed hero. Practically speaking, I suppose these template roles are necessary for a vigilante who wants to remain well-informed and can aid the establishment without getting arrested himself. It’s just we don’t need a re-tread of Batman’s early days in the job, especially in a series that’s only lasting three issues.
However, it’s clear that Duke is no Batman. For a start, he has powers and he’s begun his first day of solo superheroing without knowing everything about them. Bruce would have spent years honing his abilities. This is a bad thing in that Duke should have learnt from his mentor’s example but it’s a good thing narratively as it ups the stakes and we are given the vicarious exhilaration of learning what Duke can do along with him. This month, he uses his powers in combat and it’s pretty cool. He also utilises some new camouflage tech which reminds me of Damian’s friend, Nobody II, and makes me wonder why the whole Bat-family doesn’t have this; how easy would it be to sneak up on people with this?! If Batman had had this when he infiltrated Santa Prisca last year, he could have saved himself a lot of pain and trouble. Speaking of underused tech, Tim could definitely repurpose the Colony drones we’ve seen in the pages of Detective Comics recently, no-one ever uses that electric glove Dick had during the ‘Hungry City’ arc a few years ago, and I seem to remember Batman using a facial recognition system to find a suspect in Batman Eternal that would definitely save him from manually interrogating criminals, working his way up the chain of command till he finds and stops their leader. And that’s before I even get started on what Cyborg could offer the family. I guess if you have all the tech all the time, the challenge dissipates and the reader’s interest along with it.
I mentioned last time how Duke also differs from Bruce in terms of personality. This issue, this is conveyed mostly in Duke’s narration. The book opens with some history of Gotham but Patrick deftly inserts Duke’s humour and his admiration for his father. It kind of gives me the feeling that Duke is telling us the story; depending on your mileage you may like this technique or you might not. It suggests the hero survives the ordeal portrayed, which is kind of a spoiler, but also brings us closer to them and disguises exposition. The way this issue began with a history lesson reminded me of issue #1 of Batman from the New 52 and most issues of Nightwing also use this method of hiding story points in a monologue so you’re probably already used to it. Beatty and Dixon made particularly effective use of the first person narrative in Batgirl: Year One; in that book, you have sympathy with Barbara right from the very beginning. I don’t think you’ll find yourself caring for Duke as much in Batman and the Signal but, thanks to his strong, youthful voice, you also won’t feel totally disconnected either.
Someone who clearly does feel connected to Duke is Gnomon. The villain of the series, named after the part of sundials that casts a shadow, is a little more involved this issue. This is something that I think will bring readers back for issue #3; there is a mystery unfolding and it looks like we’re about to get some answers. The only thing that annoyed me about Gnomon this issue is that he contradicted himself; in issue #1, he told Duke he’d sent his minions to kill him and this month he forbids them from killing him. Apart from that, I’m intrigued.
I’d love to hear what readers think of Gnomon in the comments. Is he Duke’s dad or someone else? Wasn’t he jokerised? If he is his dad, is that a good thing? It’s not exactly new ground to cover (see Cassandra Cain, Damian Wayne, etc.) but it makes Duke a bit more interesting and, given his reception in previous stories (with the exception of White Knight and We Are Robin), maybe he needs all the help he can get in this matter?
Cully Hamner seizes the opportunity to show us the detailed streets of Gotham by daylight and continues to give us consistent faces so we’re not rifling through the book wondering if we’re looking at a new character. The only thing I don’t like is the deep shadow on Duke’s cheeks; he looks like he’s squashed into his helmet. The action is clear and easy to follow which must be a challenge when you need to show the hero seeing things happening seconds in the future. As you’d expect in this series, there aren’t a lot of shadows for the heroes to hide in; there’s light everywhere in this book, even the claustrophobic detention centre, which does give it its own distinct look. Signal’s bike looks badass and there is a nice shot of a kid who’s just got powers who looks frightened and manic in equal measure.
Wake up! I wanna see how you fight!
- You can get over the feeling this is just day-time, inexperienced Batman
- There’s space in your Bat-family for a guy with Midnighter-style superpowers
- You’re intrigued by the mystery surrounding Duke Thomas
Overall: Bats is firmly in the background, Detective Aisi doesn’t make much of an impression and the juvenile delinquent baddies have confusing abilities and not much personality; if you’re here then it’s got to be for the journey of Duke Thomas. He may be one more family member than we need but he definitely has potential. The story moves quickly enough and I’m keen to see how it’s all tied up in the last issue.