WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Dark Days: The Casting #1, on sale now.
Following the events last month’s Dark Days: The Forge, Dark Days: The Casting #1 continues to unearth mysteries spanning millennia of DC Comics history, with Batman increasingly finding himself at the center of something far beyond his normal sphere of influence. Despite the multiversal wingspan of the epic, writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV don’t forget that, multiversal or not, Dark Days is still a Batman tale, and they ensure the story is advanced for at least one of the players in the Dark Knight’s own world.
Batman’s latest crime-fighting partner, relative newcomer Duke Thomas, has played a surprisingly prominent role in the story so far, so it’s fitting perhaps this issue provides multiple revelations about his character. Among these developments, the most fundamental is that Duke is finally provided an official moniker, and it’s one that’s bestowed upon him by an unlikely party. Beyond getting his own superhero name, though, Duke also learns about his surprising origins, and for a short time thereafter takes on another unexpected, if temporary, superhero role.
Not Robin, Not Batboy – Duke Thomas’ Superhero Name Is …
After last issue’s disclosure that Batman has been keeping The Joker locked up within the depths of the Batcave, The Joker explains his role – according to him, anyway – in the dark “metal mystery” now coming to light across the world and the rest of the DC Universe. Along the way, Joker reveals that Duke has his own role to play in Batman’s investigation of this mysterious dark force, and that Duke will be the hero who enables Batman to see in the darkness, rather than be consumed by its nature. Intended to serve as a beacon of sorts, The Joker subsequently refers to Duke as “The Signal.”
Of course, The Joker’s intent likely isn’t to officially name Batman’s newest partner, but The Signal is all too fitting a name for a Batman ally – like the theory of Batman always needing a Robin to keep him from being consumed by dark emotions, the Caped Crusader will seemingly need some kind of signal to likewise avoid being enveloped by a different kind of pending darkness. It wouldn’t be the first time The Joker ended up naming a member of the Bat-family, either; see the latest origin of Ace the Bat-hound, as told in last year’s Batman Annual #1.
Not Only Is Duke Officially a Superhero, He’s Also a …
Before The Joker even gets to Duke’s – ahem, The Signal’s – purported role in the upcoming conflict, he taunts the youngster about not only about being a knockoff sidekick, but about the permanent damage he inflicted on Duke’s parents during the “Endgame” arc. Enraged, Duke lunges at The Joker through the energy field that imprisons him, but the result isn’t simply him just being propelled back. Instead, his body unexpectedly reacts with the containment field, ultimately allowing The Joker to free himself from his cell when he in turn reaches back and makes contact with Duke through the force field.
Rather than trying to immediately escape, however, The Joker reveals to Duke that his body’s unexpected reaction to the energy shield was the surprising result of something unusual coursing through his bloodstream – namely, traces of the metal extract known as Dionesium, the same mysterious element that revived Batman and The Joker from certain death at the conclusion of “Endgame.” The Joker says that Batman knew of Duke’s potential, and had tracked him throughout his life, in a kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi/young Luke Skywalker monitoring that ultimately became the reason the teen was recruited.
Of course, as Batman later notes, The Joker is known to lie, so his account of Duke’s history could be called into question. A moment between Batman and Duke in All-Star Batman #2, though, potentially foreshadowed that Dark Knight may have had a then-unknown motive for taking Duke in – one that The Joker may have just uncovered. True to his new namesake, Duke shortly thereafter does indeed manifest a new power: emitting a momentary flash of bright light whose full nature needs to be explored, but one that apparently makes The Joker disappear, either via teleportation, or the unlikelier option of disintegration. Either way, the revelation is clear: Duke Thomas – aka The Signal – is a metahuman.
Duke Even Gets His Very Own …
After The Joker’s unexpected disappearance in front of an incredulous Duke Thomas and Hal Jordan, Batman arrives back at the cave, now in possession of a dagger comprised of the so-called “Ninth Metal,” once owned by the wizard Shazam, and given to Batman earlier in the issue by Talia Al Ghul. Upon unsheathing the weapon, its energy reacts with Duke’s own, allowing Duke to envision an image of the restoration machine Batman was shown to have constructed in “Superheavy” that he ultimately used to reinstate his memories after the Dionesium had resurrected him but left him without any recollection of his time as Batman.
Duke doesn’t exactly take baby steps in his quickly evolving new identity – with his new powers just manifesting, Hal takes a leap of faith and loans Duke a spare Green Lantern ring, so that Duke can mimic the image he sees for Batman and Hal’s benefit. The mystery of the Shazam’s otherworldly dagger, and the moments leading up to the end of the issue, will be covered in an upcoming article on CBR.
As The Signal, Duke has officially been christened with an important role in the impending arrival of the dark forces now lurking just below the surface. The story gets rolling in earnest in Dark Nights: Metal #1, on sale Aug. 16.
Dark Days: The Casting #1, by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, John Romita Jr. and others, is available now from DC Comics.
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