At a glance, the news that Duke Thomas is teaming with Batman brings with it an obvious conclusion: As with the early appearances of Harper Row when the previous “Batman” series debuted four years ago, we’re led to think Duke will be the new Robin. But what Tom King, Scott Snyder and Mikel Janin actually give us in “Batman: Rebirth” #1 is something a bit more intriguing.
In the DC Comics one-shot, some plot elements are a return to the status quo, like Bruce Wayne regaining his family’s assets (thanks to some accounting magic from Lucius Fox) or Alfred Pennyworth serving as assistant to Bruce in both of his identities. When Duke asks why Batman’s summoned him, however, it’s not to be trained as a Robin. Yes, Duke is offered a place to stay at Wayne Manor until a cure for his parents is discovered, and yes, he’s offered a new, costumed identity — but it’s certainly not the traditional Robin outfit.
Instead, Duke is presented with a snazzy yellow-and-black number with a Bat-emblem on the chest. “I’m trying something new,” the Dark Knight explains. While no new code name has been revealed, we begin to see the nature of their relationship: They appear to be in a crime-fighting partnership – as equals, with Duke assisting Batman to defeat the Calendar Man.
Duke, of course, was introduced in the “Zero Year” storyline as a young man who, confronted with the Riddler’s promise to return power to Gotham City if given an unsolvable riddle, attempted to outwit the villain. It wasn’t until the Joker returned in “Endgame,” however, that we saw the modern-day Duke Thomas. Targets of the Joker, Duke and his parents were kidnapped, and the elder Thomases victims of the villain’s latest mind-warping gas. That ultimately led to Duke’s presence not only in the “Superheavy” storyline — where he was one of the people pushing Bruce Wayne to regain his memories and become Batman — but also as a Robin within the army of costumed teen vigilantes in “We Are Robin.”
This attempt to evolve Batman’s work with a younger assistant is echoed by the new rendition of the reinvented Calendar Man. Previously confined to DC Comics’ “Channel 52” backup features promoting new titles, here we see the villain reinvented in the new continuity as a character whose body ages and shifts with the seasons. Forever reborn in his “spring” cycles, Calendar Man bursts forth from the cocoon of his older skin as a slightly different person, but with the memories of his previous incarnation. The idea that Batman needs to continue to evolve to keep up with the Calendar Man ties into the themes of “DC Universe: Rebirth,” too.
Here we see a brighter, more hopeful take on Batman with a less-brooding, more forward-thinking main character. He’s less interested in being a shadow in an alleyway and more inclined to work with others to save people. With King’s “Batman” #1 just around the corner, and Snyder’s “All-Star Batman” #1 arriving in August, we’re sure to see much more of the new relationship between Duke and the Caped Crusader, as well as Batman’s brighter attitude, in the months to come.
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