ARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman and the Outsiders #7 by Bryan Hill, Cian Tormey, Adriano Lucas and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Batman hasn't had the best luck when it comes to sidekicks in the DC Universe. Recently, the Dark Knight's first sidekick, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, was shot in the head and lost his memory while Tim Drake has been tortured time and time again, with the latest coming during his imprisonment by Jor-El. Bruce Wayne's standout failures, though, are Joker killing Jason Todd in the '90s and assaulting/crippling Batgirl in the infamous The Killing Joke.
Things don't seem to have changed, either. In Batman and the Outsiders #7, just when we think maybe the Bat-Family might be getting it right with Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce helping out, another protege gets broken and this time it could be too late to save them.
Truth be told, once you're a Batman apprentice, chances are you're going to be killed or left close to death. Damian was also killed as Robin under Grant Morrison and now, it's Duke Thomas' turn. What makes this so painful is Duke (aka the Signal) recently told Batman he wasn't ready to return to duty full-time after multiple wars against the likes of Joker, Bane and Gotham's criminal underworld. From street-level to big-type crime, Duke's mentally shaken and as a high school student, you can't blame him as he was thrust into the big times without really getting years of the proper training.
Bruce had hoped Jefferson would help take the pressure off but the latest feud with Ra's al Ghul undoes that. Bruce told Jefferson he believes in Duke and wants him to bring out the best in the boy, but it just hasn't been going Duke's way, especially as he's struggling to balance his vigilante life as a partner to Cassandra Cain. Duke has been seeing how she's paid the toll after years of being a child soldier and when Ishmael (Ra's new apprentice) attacks them and tazes Duke, Cass knows this time it's a different kind of assault. Ishmael doesn't want the boy dead as he needs him for a higher calling.
Cass herself has a lot to deal with as her mom, Lady Shiva, is working with Ra's, so when she struggles to locate Duke, Ishmael's left to torture him. Duke asks what's been done to his body but this isn't revealed. We do know Ishmael was corrupted and turned into a one-man army by the Lazarus Pit so it could be Duke has been weaponized in the same way. To make matters worse, the Pit eroded the sanity of Jason when Ra's and Talia tried to revive him in the past, so Duke's disposition is quite worrying. Seeing his eyes emitting a green aura means he was either scientifically or mystically experimented on, but again, it's a total mystery.
Eventually, Cass rescues him and she finds Duke in severe anguish, and not himself. He can't see "the light" which means Ra's and Ishmael have altered his powers. They could also have turned him into a Trojan horse but either way, you can bet Jefferson is going to go after Bruce and cause a civil war in the Outsiders. They've already been betrayed by the Cable-like Kaliber so this is going to be the icing on the cake. Jeff won't like what happened to Duke and chances are he'll turn on Katana as well, as she's backed Batman through everything. Black Lightning warned him against using kids for such missions like rescuing Sofia/Babylon and now, it's come back to bite Batman in the butt.
Another sidekick has fallen but this time, Bruce has to directly shoulder the blame because upfront, several stakeholders told him Duke wasn't prepared for battle. It turns out the stubborn Bat didn't understand what they were trying to tell him, and for that, he's paying big time as the Signal seems to be shutting down, potentially for good.
Batman and the Outsiders #8 goes on sale Dec. 11.