Duke Thomas aka The Signal is a character that DC often leaves to be explored in mini-arcs and cancelled series. Thus, he hasn’t gotten a lot of page time despite existing in the DC universe for around eight years. Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1 begins to remedy Duke’s dearth of presence with a fresh focus on the young metahuman/vigilante in a 40-page mega issue.
Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1 speeds up the development of Duke’s character and mythos. We find Duke fresh from the disbanding of the Outsiders and ready to jump back into his role as Gotham’s daytime vigilante. Tony Patrick picks up the threads he initially wrote in Batman and the Signal with such ease, despite a whole different series taking place in between. It doesn’t ignore the developments from Outsiders and the rest of the DC universe, but remembers and reinvents the past, expanding on the implications and consequences of taking on the daytime vigilante role again.
In a recent interview with AIPT, Patrick stated his goal with Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1 is to “help establish Gotham’s daytime ecosystem.” The story does this through multiple avenues, a less apparent one being newcomer Xander Pearl. He’s Bruce’s antagonistic Gen-Z equivalent in the sense that he’s a rich tech guy, but hostile as in he wants to deal in illegal business.
Positioning corrupt businessmen as part of Gotham’s daytime crime — the kind that is done in a literal and metaphorical broad daylight — is incredibly intriguing and goes beyond the “evil monster hiding in darkness” theme that occasionally plagues Batman comics. Xander is also written in a sincerely punchable way — which is a good emotion for an antagonist to evoke.
However, at times Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1 feels too Bruce Wayne/Batman heavy. It might be expected when “Batman” is in the title. But considering this is a one-shot supposed to be centered on Duke, some of the exposition Bruce is involved in could have been slimmed down. I would have hoped that the Batman name wouldn’t have had to be placed on yet another Duke-centric story (Batman and the Signal, Batman and the Outsiders) for DC to think it could be sellable, but it seems they aren’t there yet.
The introduction of Riko Sheridan and Daxton Chill, Duke’s former We Are Robin teammates, as people fighting against him is incredibly interesting. They haven’t been heard of much since the We Are Robin series and to bring them back as people (rightfully) angry at Duke for abandoning the rest of the Robins and their neighborhood harkens back to that era of his life appropriately. As always with this trend of characters wanting radical change portrayed as villains (seen a lot in film adaptations), I’m hesitant. The two aren’t quite villains yet, but they are antagonists.
Regardless, Christian Duce’s art is wonderfully expressive and conveys the vibe of each character aptly, but it’s Luis Guerrero’s colors that stand out. The pinks and blues that accompany the expected use of yellow create a symphonious color scheme, creating cacophony when tension is needed and harmonizing for the opposite. This fine use of color is especially impactful considering Duke’s powers of light manipulation. Panels in the scenes featuring the White Market stand out as a part of this brilliant melding of color and character.
Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1’s story arc is out of the ordinary for a tale that in theory will not be continued. It truly feels like a sequel series to Batman and the Signal, setting up a whole world of antagonists, relationships, themes, and plot directions.
It seems like this re-launch of Batman: Secret Files — which DC says is a one-shot collection each featuring different bat family members — is more of a testing ground of sorts to gauge interest on characters that have been in main titles but aren’t given much time otherwise (ex: Huntress and Clownhunter). It’s great if one of these stories gets picked up for larger arcs or series, but it would be incredibly disappointing if they didn’t. Especially since the huge cliffhanger in this one-shot indicates that Patrick set this story up for the host of others he has planned.
This is all to say that the incredible work done in this one-shot would be a waste if DC didn’t continue it in some way. Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1 pulls every corner of Duke Thomas together for an engaging story full of heart and growth and gives him a springboard to soar. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Duke or a bat-centric reader, if you needed a signal to pick Batman: Secret Files – The Signal #1 up, this is it.
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