Duke’s make-or-break series comes to a dramatic end and though the book itself suggests he’s here to stay, I suspect readers may feel differently.
Just like the previous issues of Batman and The Signal, issue #3 opens with a page of confusing monologue from Duke that has little to do with the story. I think Tony Patrick read Snyder’s New 52 Batman and thought that these were a crucial ingredient that made readers like his work. There’s two problems with this approach; one is that there are many more important elements in Snyder’s stories than the narration on the first page and the other is that said narration is much better when written by Snyder. Even Snyder was sometimes a bit oblique and grandiose (see the opening page of ‘Endgame’) but usually these pages were perfect for setting the tone (see the foreboding beginning of ‘Death of the Family’). Patrick, meanwhile, has Duke recall his mother saying stuff about social work which makes little sense unless you apply it to the situation Duke is in as the story begins; it’s a clumsy attempt to tie what’s happening in the present to some resonating advice the hero received in the past and it doesn’t land because it doesn’t ring true.
Elsewhere, Duke’s voice remains consistent with previous portrayals; grounded, affectionate and self-deprecating – until the last moment when he has to step up and I felt like the transition was believable. Damian and Jason cameo and their banter, though kind of rote, is pretty funny and characteristic of the two rebellious Robins. However, once again Patrick fails to get the dark knight right. He’s one of the best known characters in the world and his name is on the cover so I feel this is a grievous error. Just as in issue #1, Bruce is depicted here as a friendly guy who can’t get enough of his new protégé.
In his first appearance in issue #3, all the family are assembled except Duke, which inexplicably leads to Batman shouting ‘Signal!’ repeatedly over only a few frames like a parent who’s misplaced their toddler. If Duke is ready to be a superhero, Bruce can’t be this frantic. Later he puts an arm around Duke, calls his work ‘excellent’ and describes him as ‘a gift to this city.’ If I were any of the rest of the family, I’d be feeling pretty jealous by now; it’s decades since Bruce was this nice. And is his appreciation warranted? Well, Duke has an unfair edge over the rest of the family in that he has powers (which just don’t belong in this city; villainy in Gotham is about greed, corruption, insanity and vendetta, not who can punch who into orbit) and he can’t even follow instructions! Batman tells Signal to search for Gnomon at the Solar Arc Needle but as soon as he makes it to the Narrows, he asks Detective Aisi if he can help clear the area! Do as you’re told, sidekick!
The other thing that really irritated me in the dialogue was the overuse of disguised expletives. Six times at my count! You might say it’s $%@#*<£ annoying.
A few more matters that drew my attention:
- Duke says he’s out past his curfew at 5pm. What kind of teenager has a 5pm curfew? Didn’t he used to go out later than that in We Are Robin? Maybe Bruce has imposed this rule so he’s well rested for crime fighting.
- Bruce talks to Duke about school. How can he go to school if he’s a daytime superhero? I guess it would be a Spiderman scenario where he’s constantly late because he’s busy saving people.
- Alfred serves pancakes at Wayne Manor. We recently saw Rorschach eating Bruce’s pancakes in the pages of Doomsday Clock. Does the caped crusader have a new favourite food? I guess you need to load up on carbs if you’re going to be up all night beating up criminals.
- In issue #1, another meta keeps talking about Duke being on ‘the dial.’ It’s taken me almost four months to realise this is probably a reference to Dial H for Hero, the DC series in which normal teenagers can manifest all kinds of superpowers by using a mysterious device called an H-dial.
- As I predicted in my review for issue #2, Gnomon is Duke’s father. It’s a well-worn trope but if DC are going to force more Duke down our throats, it makes sense for him to have an important relationship with one of his villains.
- Duke’s confrontation with his father begins at 5:30 and ends at 7:00. They fought and bickered for an hour and a half?
- Aisi defeats the villain, which is odd because it’s Duke’s story. Even stranger, she loses him! Gnomon’s escape seems contrived to me; it’s a ham-fisted means of delaying his unmasking until another day.
- For all the series’ faults, it does contain a nice message about confidence and doing the job that’s in front of you. Duke grows across the single day the series takes place in as he learns to trust Bruce, earns the acceptance of the family and establishes a relationship with the GCPD.
- On the final page, Aisi tells Duke that the Joker has been sighted and they go off to stop him…on their own! Isn’t it a big deal when someone sees the Joker? He’s the most dangerous villain Gotham has ever known; even if it is daytime, this is definitely a job for Batman.
Cully Hamner has to handle a lot of action this issue, with mixed results. For every weird, disproportionate face like the ones above, there’s also a rocking shot of a giant snake mutant in cut-off jeans. There are plenty of oversimplified, ugly figures in this book, yet they occupy detailed environments like the complex observatory setting of the finale and behind these sits a pretty dusk sky courtesy of Laura Martin. The nature of Duke’s powers gets less clearly defined later in the issue, which means there are some frames I don’t understand but that’s more down to the writing than anything. The only two shots that actually irritated me were one of Red Robin uncharacteristically cowering in a crowd of metas, and the one below of Batman’s hand which gives us no information whatsoever.
- You don’t mind a dodgy portrayal of Batman and a few logical inconsistencies.
- You’re invested in Duke’s story, which has been running through a variety of titles for five years now.
- You’ve had enough of the existing Bat Family and yearn for something new.
Overall: I love that DC is introducing a host of new characters off the back of ‘Metal’ and they need to continue to focus on increasing the diversity of their heroes and villains. However, in order to succeed they also need to make sure their new characters are interesting and original. Even with all the emotive narration, I can’t bring myself to care about Duke. The Bat Family is so large already and the only thing that makes him unique are his powers, which I hate because crime fighting in Gotham is about more than that. If he has to stick around, move him to another city or make him a sidekick to one of the better creations that preceded him and give him more character (Tim is cerebral, Damian is a little snot, etc. What is Duke?).
Patrick has done a serviceable job on this series; like Duke, he’s embraced a challenge and though there’s nothing exceptional about Batman & The Signal, it delivers the development of a hero and cogent world-building. It has a paint-by-numbers plot which is far from what I expected but makes sense when you’re only given three issues to tell your story (Putting Batman in the title was misleading; he’s barely present and when he is, he doesn’t act like himself. Because of the title, what I expected was a mystery that needed investigation by night and day where each hero would pick up where the other left off). I’d like to see this writer tackle a hero with a rich history next so he can get his teeth into the lore and not have to focus on building up a less popular character (just please don’t let him get his hands on Batman!).