Detective Comics #575 (1987)

Detective Comics #575 (June, 1987)
“Batman, Year Two – Chapter One: Fear the Reaper”
Writer – Mike W. Barr
Penciller – Alan Davis
Inker – Paul Neary
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Letterer – Richard Starkings
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $0.75

It’s funny, I’ve been using this orange themed blog for almost a year now… and I’m still surprised how many comics have orange-y covers!  Here’s another…

We open with the newly-minted Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, James Gordon being interviewed on the Gotham Open Forum television program.  The host is grilling him over the Department’s potential affiliation with a certain caped crusader.  She even compares him to a “costumed law breaker” who prowled the streets of Gotham some two decades earlier… the Reaper.  Gordon assures her that the Batman works on his own, but admits he has offered Gordon his services.  We shift to a darkened apartment where a television is playing this broadcast… some nogoodniks barge in with their loot for the night.  Unlucky for them, there’s been someone waiting for their arrival.

It doesn’t take Batman long to wipe the floor with the geeks… and he is outta there before the police arrive.  We shift scenes to the home of a young woman by the name of Rachel Caspian.  She is an associate of Bat-friend, Dr. Leslie Thompkins.  Tonight, she welcomes her father home.  He is a man of imposing stature, and has an overall ominous look to him.  Wonder who he might be… hmm…

Rachel and Leslie have a dinner date this evening, and Mr. Caspian insists they keep it.  He will catch up with his daughter in the morning.  The ladies head out, and find themselves at a Wayne Enterprises construction site.  Directing traffic at the site is one Bruce Wayne.  He shows Leslie the penthouse apartment they are building into the large structure, and inform her that she is its intended tenant.

Leslie balks, as her clientele wouldn’t be comfortable in such a nice neighborhood.  She changes the subject by introducing Bruce to Rachel… who has a proposition for him.  She is heavily invested in charity work, and is soliciting Wayne for a bit of financial assistance.  The trio head out to dinner, and she makes her pitch.  She is able to win Bruce over, and he makes a generous contribution… he however, proves unable to win Rachel over… well, that’s not entirely fair.  He asks to see her again, and she breaks the news that she is just about to take her final vows toward becoming a nun.

Rachel enters her home and asks if her father is in… but he’s not!  Where could he be?  Well, maybe he’s stalking the streets of Gotham… we catch up with him as he walks down a seedy street.  He enters a building and futzes with a candelabra to trigger a secret door… behind which is his Phantasm Reaper costume! 

Later, in the same neighborhood, a young woman is grabbed into an alley.  Her assailants are surprised to see the imposing form of… the Reaper.  Now, if we gotta know just one thing about the Reaper… it’s that he does not screw around.  He straight up kills the baddies with his scythe-hands… and shoots the attempted escapees in the back as they flee.  Dude is hard-core.  He tells the poor woman she has nothing to fear from him… but asks that she spread the word, the Reaper… is back.

We shift to Wayne Manor where Bruce is chatting with Dr. Thompkins.  She warns him to stay away from Rachel… as she is “untouched” by the things that happen in his world.  Bruce ain’t entirely buying it… but cannot press the issue, because he is interrupted by the Bat-Signal.  As he heads into the Grandfather Clock, Leslie pleads with him not to go out tonight… because one of these nights is going to be his last.  Bruce agrees, but promises that tonight is not that night.

Batman meets up with Jim Gordon, and gives him some passive-aggressive guff for his comments that Batman “offered him his services”.  Gordon waves it off as just being something he had to say for TV.  He then informs Batman of the apparent return of the Reaper.  His reappearance was on Bank Street, which seems to tip Batman off.  We next join him as he watches a prostitute approach a strange man… why, that’s not just any man… that’s our Reaper!

Batman hops into action… and, is quite unsuccessful.  He lays an elbow into the Reaper’s gut only to find it protected by leather armor.

What occurs over the next several pages can best be described as an absolute mugging.  It is so very rare we see Batman get his be-hind handed to him like he does here.  The Reaper is positively brutal… outclassing Batman in every way possible.  

Knowing he’s got no chance, Batman goes on the defensive… hiding behind a manhole cover and eventually escaping through the sewer.  We next see the Batman the following morning when Alfred comes across his beaten and battered body.  It’s not long before Leslie arrives to patch him up.

We wrap up this chapter with Bruce standing up before a portrait of his parents.  He knows he cannot beat his current foe if he “plays fair”… and so, he does the unthinkable… he reaches into a hollow part of the wall and retrieves the very pistol that took the lives of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

What is the saying?  That escalated quickly…

It’s been awhile since I read this, and despite Batman holding a piece on the cover, I could’ve sworn it didn’t come into play this quickly.  I also thought it would be more profound when he finally pulled it out.  I mean, from how this plays out to this point… we’d have to figure that Batman never had his butt handed to him before.  He gets beaten up once… then automatically goes for the gun?  That just doesn’t feel right, does it?  I know this takes place during his second year… but doesn’t he get beaten up a bit during Year One?

Speaking of Year One, I remember this story going up in value due to its name… well, Todd McFarlane on art for the next three issues didn’t hurt either.  Anyhoo… if you picked this up expecting a story in the tone of Frank Miller… you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Now, that’s not to say this is a bad story… I actually rather like it.  It feels more grounded in the canon… if that makes any sense, and it’s definitely different than it’s sorta-kinda predecessor.

Now… the story here is, well… the Reaper… and, I gotta say, he’s portrayed as quite the bad ass here.  He’s a weaponed and armored force of nature… that most definitely has the Batman’s number.  I mean, this was a Bane-level thrashing… okay, maybe not that bad… but pretty bad, right?  What’s more, the whole time the Reaper is calmly talking to Batman.  He’s not depicted as a raving lunatic… he’s just speaking while he slices and pounds the dark knight.  And, damn… howsabout that brutality in the alley?  He just starts severing limbs… and perforating fools… and he did so as a… heroic (?) vigilante!

I think this is a great Batman story for all folks to check out… even though it’s doubtful it’ll ever be referenced again (that is actually one of my “grading” metrics, for better or worse).  Hell, this story was out of continuity just… seven years later following Zero Hour.  After that event, Batman was considered an urban legend… that is to say, people weren’t sure whether he actually existed, or was just a boogeyman.  There’s no way Gordon would be mentioning him by name on television after that.

Still though… check it out.  Alan Davis puts in some great immediately recognizable work here… and in the latter three chapters, we’re gonna get pencils by… Todd McFarlane!  Worth tracking down… it’s been collected (it’s outta print), but I cannot find it digitally.  It might be out there, but it might be a toughie to track down.

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