It’s been over a decade since Duke Thomas started rolling with Batman’s crew. He’s gone to the mat against the Riddler, the Joker, Zsasz, Ra’s al Ghul and even holds his own against Cassandra Cain. He gets burgers with the Robins. Plays mini golf with the Batgirls. He’s even, arguably, the reader surrogate protagonist of the decade’s most popular Batman comic. So why is it so hard for the Signal to get the respect he deserves?

Maybe it’s time to change that. In fact, we’re well past time. So today, for your consideration, we’d like to make the case for why Duke Thomas has earned his seat in the Batcave, and the texture he provides that no other member of the Bat-Family can.

The First Ally

We first meet Duke Thomas in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman: Zero Year, where Batman faces his first city-wide crisis: the absolute subjugation of Gotham by the megalomaniacal Riddler. Before Batgirl, before Robin, before any of a dozen others, we learn that the first child to look up to the Dark Knight and see someone who could use his help was a young Duke, toiling away at Riddler’s puzzles to fight back against the city’s captor.

Before his mission even began in earnest, Duke Thomas showed Batman that he was not alone in his crusade against injustice. That as long as he fought, others would join him. Years later, in Batman: Endgame, Duke’s parents would become victims of the Joker. As Duke began his search for a cure, it was little surprise where his next steps would take him. He’s been following the Bat longer than any son of Gotham has.

Outsider’s View

Within the Bat-Family, there tends to be two camps of characters. The Good Soldiers, like Tim Drake and Cassandra Cain, who live by the Bat and be all they can be for the mission, and the Rebels, like Jason Todd and Damian Wayne, who push boundaries and frequently challenge what the mission should be. Duke Thomas is neither. He’s an outsider who’s made it in—a trusted ally who has taken no oaths.

Duke briefly took on the Robin identity with a group of unsanctioned allies in We Are Robin, during a period when Batman had disappeared from Gotham. Some time after, he was literally cast in Batman’s team of Outsiders, under the supervision of Katana and Black Lightning. Perhaps it’s Duke’s connection to the light which gives him the ability to shine reason and rationality into Batman’s world, standing by him when it makes sense and questioning him when he strains credulity.

The Day Shift

So, even now that Duke has been fully accepted into Batman’s ensemble, why don’t we usually see him around? As we discover in Batman and the Signal, Duke Thomas has an important, permanent assignment no one else in the Bat-Family covers. While Batman and his allies protect and avenge Gotham’s citizens at night, Duke alone bears the responsibility of covering Gotham during the day. When the city skies are an uncharacteristic blue, you can count on the Signal to catch those villains who think they might escape the Bat’s justice under the glare of the Gotham sun. This also makes Duke the only member of the Bat-Family with a balanced Circadian rhythm, which probably plays a part in his pragmatic perspective.

Power Trip

Another very particular way that Duke helps Batman keep up with the times in an always escalating DC Universe is that starting with Dark Nights: Metal, he became the first certified metahuman in the Bat-Family’s inner circle. In Metal, Duke began to discover light-manipulating capabilities inherited from a biological father he never knew. By manipulating light, Duke boasts an array of vision-based powers that rival Superman’s and can bend light to render himself invisible. The most prominent application of Duke’s light powers, however, is a unique ability he calls “Ghost Vision,” which allows him to trace the history of light projection in any given place so he might observe what happened there up to several minutes in the past—an extremely useful ability for Gotham’s day shift detective.

As a member of the Outsiders, Duke gained the ability to manipulate shadows as well, granting him similar abilities to powerful darkness-based figures like the Shade, Obsidian and Nightshade. Together, these abilities make him formidable enough to solve any mystery or take on any metahuman threat.

All in the Wayne Family

Early in 2022, WEBTOON launched a new Batman comic that certain spaces of fandom had long clamored for—a slice-of-life series depicting the Bat-Family at rest, rarely glimpsed but tantalizingly teased through the years. In the very first chapter of Batman: Wayne Family Adventures, our introductory character into the established Bat-Family dynamics is Duke Thomas himself, moving into Wayne Manor as the latest addition to Bruce’s collection of strays.

What follows is an often chaotic, always loving episodic depiction of life under the cowl, characteristically emphasizing the daytime Gotham which Duke has come to represent. Readers of Batman: Wayne Family Adventures either come in loving the Bat-Family already, or learn to love it through Duke’s eyes. Through Duke, the reader gets to experience a place of their own amongst the Batgirls and Robins of Batman’s world.

Seizing His Moment

This month, we catch up with Duke Thomas in DC Power 2024, where he comes face to face with his currently most occupying insecurity. Sure, he’s been hanging with the Bat-Family for a while now, but there are newer heroes who have come into the fold since then. He’s had his Batman team-ups. He’s had his super-team. Is it possible that this character with so much potential’s time has passed him by? Did he have his one shot already and miss it?

Tens of thousands of characters populate the halls of the DC Universe, but only a select few ever rise to the top. But Duke’s already survived the first and harshest test—he’s outlasted the creative team that introduced him him to continue on to a myriad of new interpretations and stories. There’s a future, more possible than you might think, where he even becomes Batman himself. Nobody only gets one shot at greatness. Success is never guaranteed, but we all get as many shots at it as we’re determined to take. And Duke’s story isn’t over just yet.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about games, movies, TV, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Bluesky at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.