Gotham City’s newest bat-signal operates in the daytime.
“Batman and the Signal,” a new three-issue miniseries starring Duke Thomas, a popular teenage character in Batman comics who flirted with the mantle of Robin the Boy Wonder before being given the vigilante suit of the Signal, debuts Wednesday in print and digitally from DC Comics.
Scott Snyder and Tony Patrick are co-writing the miniseries, with Cully Hamner illustrating.
Patrick and Snyder crossed paths at DC’s Writers Workshop in 2016. Patrick is an alum of the workshop, and Snyder is a teacher there for DC. Patrick came to Snyder with ideas for Duke Thomas, a character who first appeared in the retelling of Batman’s origins, “Zero Year,” written by Snyder back in 2013.
“Duke is a character that we’ve been trying to find a home for a while,” Snyder told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “Tony came along, he had a real passion for the character, and a tremendous pitch about making him a hero by day, about developing his powers. [This comic] shows a side of Gotham we’ve never seen before. Not just Gotham by day, but a whole secret history, a whole secret war that’s been going on. So I knew [this miniseries] was the right place to try to land the character.”
Batman has no shortage of former sidekicks and allies, all heroes who primarily work at night. By taking a bat-character and having him fight crime during the day, a new type of Batman-universe storytelling is developing.
“Daytime Gotham is just a very fertile playground for us,” Patrick said. “One of the ideas we’ve been playing around with is could daytime Gotham actually be more dangerous and corrupt than nighttime Gotham?”
Gotham’s daylight also gives Hamner a slightly different artistic perspective than an artist who normally draws Batman characters in darkness and shadows.
“From a visual standpoint there’s a lot to [work with],” Hamner said. “At night people are going to be more about being at play or also being involved in shadowy crimes. During the day you’ve got people being involved in much more kind of above board crimes.”
A look at the Signal’s bright yellow and black helmet and suit with a large bat-symbol on the chest could lead fans to believe he’s intended to look like a living bat-signal, but Snyder said he and Patrick came up with the name Signal, inspired by the knights of medieval times.
“Signal is also a term for the first knight on the battlefield. The signal knight,” Snyder said. “The knight that goes out before everybody else. There’s the sense of Duke being the first one on the front line. One of the ideas we had was eventually what he’ll wind up doing is meeting [Batman] at the [bat-signal] at sunset and trading places and information.”
Thomas won’t just stand out in the bat-family for fighting crime by day as the Signal: He’s also the only member with powers, and he’ll face villains just as powerful. Snyder describes his powers as “photokinetic” and part of a bigger mystery involving the Signal’s family history.
“[Duke] sees sunlight differently than we can. We didn’t want to give him laser-eye powers,” Snyder said with a laugh. “He processes sunlight quicker than we do so he can see what’s coming a split second faster than you can. We wanted to give him something that gives him just enough of an advantage to help him get started in Gotham and yet at the same time his powers are also a big mystery. Duke believes deeply that if he can figure out where his powers came from and what they mean and why they run through his family, maybe he’ll understand his place in the city better.”
As for the term “sidekick,” Patrick said the Signal is anything but.
“[This is] Batman’s opportunity to empower a new generation of heroes versus just adding another member of the Bat-family,” Patrick said. “There’s an opportunity for fans to get in on the ground floor of watching the evolution of a [DC Comics] teen turn into hopefully, depending on how long we’re allowed to play with Duke here, watching him evolve into a fully fledged hero. My dream is the Signal at some point joins the Justice League. I’d love to see that kind of future for Duke Thomas.”
Patrick said he recognizes the significance of being a black writer and the voice behind a new black superhero at a major comic-book publisher in the current era — one where social media has given fans of color a voice in demanding authenticity and not just token characters when it comes to diverse representation.
“It’s a responsibility I take very seriously,” Patrick said. “But then there’s also the responsibility to also be true to the character himself and also to be true to the DC universe and Gotham and Batman and the bat-family. The largest responsibility in all of this is to tell an incredible bat-family story. That’s the priority.”