Despite all of Gotham’s cruelty, Duke Thomas has managed to become the city’s greatest survivor even among the city’s other heroes.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for “The Outsiders: Finale” in Future State: The Next Batman # 3, by Brandon Thomas, Sumit Kumar, Raul Fernandez, Jordie Bellaire and Steve Wands, out now.
Gotham City is one of the harshest environments in the DC Universe. Throughout its history, Batman’s hometown has experienced some catastrophic events.
Despite Gotham’s cruel conditions, Duke Thomas has proven to be the city’s last survivor.
The Duke story began in bat Man # 30, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. In the final act of “Zero Year”, The Riddler had taken control of Gotham. The city was flooded after losing all its power. As a result, Gotham resembled an urban jungle. The Riddler ruled the city, appearing daily to answer a riddle in case anyone might confuse him. Duke was just a kid at this point, although he was still determined to beat The Riddler at his own game. The young hero worked tirelessly on crossword puzzles, training his mind to eventually come up with a riddle Nygma was unable to solve.
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Years later, after Batman and his allies restored order to Gotham, Duke experienced even greater suffering at the hands of Gotham. In bat Man # 37, from Snyder and Capullo, The Joker kidnapped Duke and his parents. The Clown Prince of Crime groomed Duke and his family so that he could replicate the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Although Batman saved the family, Duke’s parents were infected with a new strain of the Joker’s venom, permanently twisting their minds.
Duke was sent to foster care, struggling to maintain his old school life. However, Duke kept fighting, joining the “We Are Robin” movement and inspiring an amnesiac Bruce Wayne to become Batman again. Eventually, Duke became Batman’s new partner, The Signal, helping him fight villains like Two-Face and Victor Zsasz. Alongside Black Lightning, Katana, and Orphan, The Signal also teamed up with The Outsiders against enemies like Ra’s al Ghul. All of Duke’s experiences have strengthened him to face the “Future State” version of Gotham, ruled by the fascist magistrate. In Future state: the next Batman # 3, by Brandon Thomas and Sumit Kumar, Duke gives a speech to many of Gotham’s dissidents. Much of this speech goes back to the harsh existence that Duke has experienced in Gotham over the years.
For example, Duke mentions that he looked pure evil to his eyes, which is a lot like The Joker. Duke talks about fighting things that weren’t supposed to fall, like The Riddler. The Signal has experienced “pain beyond measure”, speaking explicitly about the pain of losing their parents. Despite all of this, it is Duke’s allies who have inspired him, as he mentions the “heroic men and women” who fought alongside him. Obviously, Batman was a great influence on Duke during events like “Zero Year” or “Endgame”. The Outsiders have also played an important role in helping Duke, specifically Black Lightning and Katana. During “Future State”, Duke spends time helping his allies fight the Magistrate while helping the common citizens of Gotham against the oppressive force.
As an ordinary Gothamite turned hero, Duke knows how to inspire others and fight alongside his heroic friends at the same time. It is for all the pain and loss that Duke has suffered in Gotham that he believes the city can improve. The biggest factor that shaped Duke has to be “year zero.” This devastating blow to Gotham came when he was just a kid, and it left a huge impression. “Zero Year” saw Gotham in a state of pure anarchy, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Despite all the harsh conditions in the city, the young duke remained hopeful, thinking of ways to defeat The Riddler.
Gotham, as seen in “Future State”, is more of a police state than “Zero Year”. Vigilantes and costumed heroes are forbidden, and most of Duke’s allies are hunted down. Although there is certainly more order in “Future State” than in “Year Zero”, this is not necessarily for the better. The massive leap from pure chaos to absolute order shows how well Duke can adapt to a variety of Gotham extremes. Drawing inspiration from the heroes around him and his own life experience, Duke remains willing and able to save Gotham.
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