If you had asked me which characters I thought would be popping up in Peter Tomasi’s run on Detective Comics, I’m fairly sure the Reaper would have been… if not near the bottom, then at most toward the middle of the list. The idea of the character is interesting (a vigilante who was active in Gotham before Batman, yet one who resorted to more lethal means of delivering justice), yet he hasn’t exactly had a huge presence in many stories since he was introduced. There was Batman: Year Two, which served as the character’s debut, and then the follow-up story Batman: Full Circle that dealt with his legacy.
And boy, are those some comics. The pedigree of the creative teams should have guaranteed that each story would be cemented as an instant classic (Mike W. Barr wrote Year Two and Full Circle, Alan Davis and Todd McFarlane both drew the former, and Davis returned to pencil the latter), yet despite being immensely entertaining stories with some interesting ideas, they fall short of their potential. I mean, having Batman team up with Joe Chill (who he knows murdered his parents) is crazy enough, but the Dark Knight also wields the gun that murdered his parents to mete out his own brand of justice? That’s… bold, to say the least.
But still, the Reaper has his place in history, even after being wiped from continuity after Zero Hour. If nothing else, he’s the maybe-sort-of-possible inspiration for the Phantasm from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, even though the film’s creators insist that they didn’t even know about the character when writing the film. And, you know, about the only real similarities are the spooky mask and scythe.
And the murder. All that murder.
So, having said all of that, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Reaper would be involved in this month’s Detective Comics Annual.
Honestly, the excitement began right when I saw the cover, where Batman is pulling his “Black Casebook” from his shelf. The Black Casebook was introduced by Bill Finger way back in Detective Comics #148, and given new relevance by Grant Morrison. Put simply, the book’s purpose is to chronicle the Batman’s strangest cases, those that involved the supernatural or any unexplainable elements.
So yeah, these are the kinds of stories I like to read.
Truth be told, the Reaper story is maybe the least interesting part of the book. I really enjoyed the setup, with Batman consulting his old cases to get a feeling for how he should approach this new take on an old foe, and it’s a more than entertaining read throughout. There’s just a twist at the end that’s a little weird, though not outright unbelievable, and it makes the whole thing feel like a prelude for something to come in the future. Again, not bad by any means, but I left feeling like I’d had a fairly large appetizer as opposed to a full meal.
But man oh man, what a tasty appetizer it was. The Reaper elements are an enjoyable diversion, but the banter between Bruce and Alfred is spot on.
I’ve been reading a lot of Batman stories from the Seventies lately, and Tomasi’s dialogue feels like something that Wein, O’Neil, or Englehart would have written. It’s fun on its own, but more importantly, it makes Bruce Wayne feel like an actual person. He’s not just “Batman without the cowl” when he’s walking around, but a complex man with friends, loved ones, and an actual personality. Not saying Bruce needs to crack jokes like Spider-Man, but I love seeing that he has his own sense of humor, especially when he’s with Alfred.
Honestly, I would read an entire series with Bruce and Alfred jetsetting across the world and making sassy comments to each other. Throw in some scenes of Batman punching bad dudes in the face and we’re golden.
Travis Moore and Max Raynor are joined by Tamra Bonvillain and Nick Pilardi on art, with the always excellent and reliable Rob Leigh lettering. I want to see more from this team in the regular ‘Tec rotation, as they’d fit nicely right alongside Doug Mahnke and Brad Walker. The visual storytelling is incredibly strong, with some stunning double-page spreads and kinetic action scenes throughout. Like Tomasi’s dialogue, though, I appreciated the scenes with Bruce and Alfred the most, especially a particularly funny sequence involving a fast car, a beautiful woman, and the Cretan countryside.
Even more impressive: they managed to update the Reaper’s costume to where it’s still recognizable, but has some modern influence. Much as I loved those silly, huge spiked mace on the original suit, housing the scythes and wrist-mounted pistols in gauntlets is a bit more practical. I mean, as far as huge blades and gun barrels attached to your wrists can be, anyway.
If nothing else, I hope this annual opens up storytelling possibilities in the future, not just with the Reaper. How fun would it be to get an anthology series about Batman’s Black Casebook, where he reminisces about old cases or uses his knowledge from a forgotten tale to solve a modern day mystery? That, and more of the easy, comfortable relationship between Alfred and Bruce is always welcome. This annual may not reinvent the wheel, but it does feel like a classic Batman story in all the best ways.
More importantly, we get the modern upgrade of the Eraser that we didn’t know we wanted.
I mean, if Captain Stingaree and Kite Man can make a comeback, why not?
- You love Detective Comics.
- You’re a fan of the quick banter between Bruce and Alfred.
- You’ve wanted to see the Reaper make a comeback.
- Also the Eraser.
Overall: Come for the Reaper, stay for Alfred talking some sass. This annual feels like a Batman comic from yesteryear in the best ways, with strong dialogue, great chemistry between Bruce and Alfred, and a globetrotting adventure. While the story itself feels like a setup for a bigger arc down the road, here’s hoping that the return of the “Black Casebook” means we can get more Batman adventures where he encounters the weird and unexplained. And also the Eraser, because that guy is delightful.