SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Batman and the Signal #1 by Tony Patrick, Cully Hamner and Scott Snyder, in stores now.
Duke Thomas was introduced as a different kind of ally for Batman. He started out his career as part of an unsanctioned gang of Robins, but it wasn't long before he was brought in as the newest member of the Bat-family. However, instead of going the obvious route, DC had a different plan in mind for Duke. From the start, it was clear that he wasn't just going to be the next Robin at Batman's side. From the get-go, we were told that Duke was going to be different. What that meant exactly, we weren't sure. That is, until, Duke put on his yellow costume and chose his name: The Signal.
As the newest soldier in the endless war on crime in Gotham, Duke's role would be to operate in the daytime. Where Batman, Robin, Batwoman et al. operate in the dead of night, Duke starts his missions when the sun comes up. In the miniseries Batman and the Signal, we see Duke begin this new role as Gotham's sole (and first) daytime protector.
His first day on the job, The Signal goes up against a new villain called Null, a criminal whose ramblings make us wonder if the miniseries, which is billed as an off-shoot of the Dark Nights: Metal event, might be tied to a classic DC object: the mysterious H-Dial, of Dial H for Hero fame.
The suspicions first arrive when Null manifests himself, a new villain of metahuman origin. His powers, which allow him to manipulate negative space, make him an immediate threat. As Duke attempts to stop him, Null spouts off about a dial. "You're on the dial, eh?" he says to Duke. "You're one of us," he asks. And the mentions don't stop there. Null keeps talking about this mysterious dial. At first, he is convinced that Duke is a part of it. Then, for a moment, he thinks that he is wrong, that Duke couldn't possibly be linked to it. That is, until The Signal activates his metahuman power, which gives the superhero the upper hand in the fight. With this power on display, Null changes his tune, now certain that Duke is "the Dial's center." What does that all mean?
Dial H for Hero is a comic series that went through many iterations over the years. At its heart, there is the mysterious H-Dial, an old telephone that can grant different superhuman powers (complete with costume and superhero identity) to whoever dials H-E-R-O on the artifact. This Dial, and others like it, are believed to be magical in nature, and their origins are never fully explained. In the New 52 volume of the series, we learned that there was also the S-Dial, which could turn anyone into a sidekick, the Q-Dial for villains, as well as a few others.
With a case involving new metahumans popping up all over Gotham City, could one of these Dials be at the heart of the mystery established in Batman and the Signal? After all, we only very recently learned that Duke was a metahuman -- in the prelude chapter of the Metal event, Dark Days: The Casting, by writer (and Duke Thomas creator) Scott Snyder. Of all people, the Joker revealed to Duke that he had a special metal in his bloodstream that made him a meta. Duke barely understands the powers he has, and he is only beginning to understand them. Where did they come from?
Now, with Null bringing up mentions of a mysterious Dial and the belief that Duke could be related to it -- if not the very heart of it -- we wonder if the H-Dial, and its other off-shoots, might be coming back to the DCU. These Dials could be the reason so many different metahumans are appearing in Gotham. And, on top of that, they just might tie back to the Dark Nights: Metal. With so many powerful metals involved in the event, could we be looking at an origin for the H-Dial? Could we finally learn what these Dials are actually made of? With Snyder at the helm of all this, we wouldn't put it past him.