For every Batman villain who has managed to rise up and become a major character in their own right, there are ten others who have become background players with a handful of schemes and stories. Sometimes, these villains only exist as one-off characters who are forgotten almost as soon as they appear. Even though he's never become a major Batman villain, the Reaper has caused the Caped Crusader plenty of trouble over the years in all of his various incarnations.
Now, CBR is taking a look back at the history of the Reaper, his weaponry and the men who have been behind the mask.
WHO IS THE REAPER?
The Reaper was first introduced in Batman #237 by Denny O'Neil. The character was revealed to be a Holocaust survivor named Benjamin Gruner. Desiring revenge on the Nazi soldiers who'd escaped justice after the war, Gruner donned the identity of the Reaper.
Using a massive suit and a large scythe, the Reaper proved to be a surprisingly tricky villain for Batman to defeat. In the end, he seemingly perished when he fell off the side of a dam.
Shortly before DC's New 52 reboot, the original Reaper returned in the Batman story arc, "Life After Death," by Tony Daniel. Restored by Black Mask and Hugo Strange, the Reaper terrorized the streets of Gotham in a slightly modernized costume. He also utilized more weapons than just his scythe, fighting Dick Grayson's Batman with a mix of medieval weaponry including axes and chains. His advanced age led to his bodily disintegration, however. He was only sustained by a serum administered to him by Strange and Doctor Death.
WHO IS THE REAPER IN BATMAN: YEAR TWO?
The most prominent version of the Reaper appeared as the main villain in Batman: Year Two by Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis. The sequel to the seminal Year One storyline saw Batman confronted by a former vigilante protector of Gotham City. Judson Caspian was a socialite living in Gotham when his wife was murdered by a robber decades before Batman ever became a hero. Turning into a vicious vigilante known as the Reaper, he used a red and black armored costume that protected him from most injuries. He also utilized two massive scythes attached to both hands as his primary weapons, which also had concealed firearms.
The Reaper murdered criminals across the city and eventually came to blows with Gotham's first hero, the original Green Lantern Alan Scott. Fleeing to Europe, Caspain returned to Gotham shortly after Batman began his own crusade against crime. What neither man knew was that Caspain's daughter Rachel had entered a relationship with Bruce Wayne. The pair were even engaged while the two vigilantes came to blows. The Reaper pushed Batman to the edge, forcing him to even consider using the gun that Joe Chill had murdered his parents with to outright kill the Reaper. But Batman resisted the urge and tried to save Caspain. Instead, Caspain jumped off a building and to his death. His exposed double life led Rachel to leave Bruce and become a nun in repentance for her father's crimes.
The Modern Reaper
The identity of the Reaper would later be usurped by Joe Chill Jr. in Batman: Full Circle, by the same creative team behind Batman: Year Two. The son of the man who murdered Batman's parents, he found the discarded gun that had belonged to his father. He adopted a similar costume to what Caspian had worn and tried to revenge his family against Batman. However, his plans were prevented and he was eventually brought to the authorities by Batman without ever learning his true identity.
After the New 52 reboot, a new Reaper reappeared in David Finch and Paul Jenkins' Batman: The Dark Knight #1. While his identity was never revealed, this Reaper uses the character's traditional scythes and took part in a supervillain gang war between the inmates of Blackgate Penitentiary and the patients of Arkham Asylum.
The Reaper and the Phantasm
Although the Reaper hasn't made the transition to other media as other Batman villains have, the look and motivations of the character (particularly the Judson Caspian incarnation) had a hand in inspiring another villain, the Phantasm. The the main antagonist of the animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was largely based on The Reaper. The villain featured a more art-deco inspired take on the costume but still utilized a scythe as their major weapon. The Phantasm was eventually revealed to be Andrea Beaumont, conceived as an amalgamation of Judson and Rachel. A former love interest for Bruce Wayne, she became a bloodthirsty vigilante while trying to avenge her father and eventually fought her ex-lover.
While the Reaper hasn't been seen in comics in years, the Phantasm is set to make her DC Universe debut in the upcoming Batman/Catwoman series, proving the concept of the Reaper might have better-staying power than the character himself.