Introduced in the first issue of the Zero Year arc during Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman run, Duke Thomas is initially presented as an incidental character. However, much like Harper Row — another original creation by Snyder — the more appearances he makes, it’s obvious that the writer has big plans towards Duke, who becomes part of the Bat’s war on crime.
Following the events of We Are… Robin and the crossover Robin War, Duke is no longer about carrying the mantle of Batman’s trusted sidekick, which is probably a good thing given that donning the Robin suit is similar to wearing a red shirt in Star Trek. In regards to the new suit he wears, it is a cool and bright spin on the Batsuit and with its primary color of yellow — it looks a bit like Wolverine.
What begins this book is a repackaging of the backup issues from Snyder’s All-Star Batman. Illustrated by the moody visuals of Declan Shalvey and later the noir-tinged art of Francesco Francavilla, this tale showcases Duke under the mentorship of Batman as he is put through the eponymous wheel, a test in psychology that uses colors to define whether a person becomes good or evil.
When it comes to the bleak nature of Snyder, he is about connecting the dots through various arcs that are told in one title to the next, so a prior knowledge of this continuity helps to understand our young African-American hero facing his past demons. Certainly, the main title that is only three issues long does rely on how much you know about recent events within the DC Universe, most notably the fact that Duke is a metahuman.
Written by Tony Patrick, who co-developed the story with Snyder, it revolves around Duke on his first day of protecting Gotham as the Signal when an imminent crisis is about to happen involving the rising nature of teenage metahumans. Centralizing on a youthful optimistic hero who prefers to fight crime during the daylight as oppose to his mentor, this approach is visually depicted by artist Cully Hamner who gives us a colorful and modern presentation of Gotham that doesn’t look as gothic.
However, the biggest problem with this storyline is Patrick’s writing as there is a disconnect in grabbing the reader’s attention with a cast of characters that we don’t really get to know. The masked villain in particular plays with the idea of Duke being something greater than he realizes, due to his metahuman biology, which feels like an unnecessary addition to Duke’s character that was initially interesting thanks to his poor background in the Narrows.
With its repackaging of old material and a new title that feels more like a missed opportunity, this whole comic is ultimately redundant and an unworthy addition to Scott Snyder’s bibliography in the DC Universe.