Batman Secret Files: Signal #1 Shines a Spotlight on Batman’s Brightest New Ally

Batman Secret Files: The Signal #1 solidly depicts Duke Thomas as the Signal in a bright rendition of a Gotham City plagued by weapons trafficking.

In Gotham, where chaos reigns and injustice runs rampant, one Batman is never enough. Throughout the years — and continuities — Bruce Wayne has taken in many a young upstart under his wing to continue the crusade against crime and evil. In a new monthly series, Batman: The Secret Files, DC explores the backstories and adventures of Batman’s disciples and successors through the ages. Written by Tony Patrick, drawn by Christian Duce and with colors by Luis Guerrero, Batman: The Secret Files #1 solidly depicts the Signal’s origin story.

Signal #1 shows Duke Thomas, aka the Signal, returning to Gotham after his years spent with the Outsiders — only to find the city completely changed under the negative influence of the White Market. As he struggles to track down a weapon trafficking market dealing arms to supervillains, he also has his own demons and fractured relationships to work through as well.

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The Signal #1 is not the first time the Batman franchise has forayed into sci-fi elements or explored how Batman trained his disciples. These plot points do well to establish Signal as someone to root for and as a worthy badass. Although the arms dealing underworld plot is good, it gets sidetracked too often. Despite its 31-page length, the issue doesn’t fully capture Signal’s quest. At times, Patrick’s dialogue can be exposition-heavy while omitting important plot details — creating a chaotically paced plot with a lot of promise but too many distractions.

Visually, Signal #1 is notably brighter than most entries in the Batman franchise. Here, the sun shines, the sky is blue and Signal’s rad superhero outfit is an eye-catching shade of yellow — providing an eye-pleasing contrast with Bruce Wayne as the duo patrols. Guerrero’s bright palette is a huge departure from the dreary greys and blacks most fans are familiar with in Batman titles. Further, Guerrero’s bold palette belies a much darker and disturbing story of crossed alliances, betrayal, tragedy and deceit so typical for life in Gotham.

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Despite the sometimes spotty pacing, Signal #1 sets up a compelling character in Duke Thomas. Like his mentor Bruce Wayne, Duke has suffered the loss of his parents, or at least their sanity, this time to the Joker — a running theme in the Bat Family. Duke is friendlier and more social than Bruce Wayne, having good relationships with fellow Bat-Family members Cassandra Cain and Izzy Oritz. As Signal, he has some cool powers and abilities of his own, such as light manipulation and invisibility. Despite a few embarrassing quips referring to him as a “diversity hire,” Duke is the most well-rounded character in the story and it’s a real treat to watch him fight and go undercover.

For all its strengths, there is an adolescent awkwardness about Signal #1 that goes beyond just appealing to its target teenage audience. The dialogue is a tad forced and Twitter-like, with a self-consciousness that is clearly meant to relate to what “kids these days” think is cool. The end result undermines the story and makes it harder to take seriously during moments meant to be more somber. Ultimately, it is a hard balance to strike between the cool, the tragic and the brutal, especially for younger audiences, so its “Hey, fellow kids!” tone can be forgiven.

While The Signal #1 can be an awkward read, it is still a solid entry and a good re-imagining of a rapidly growing series. While many future issues will go on to focus on other members of Batman’s growing young family, Signal #1 is a step in the right direction. Hopefully this will not be the last readers get to see of Duke Thomas and his character arc.

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