Grim Reaper: The Marvel Comics history of the Wonder Man villain

Grim Reaper in Marvel Comics
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Marvel's upcoming Wonder Man streaming series is starting to shape up, with Fear the Walking Dead actor Demetrius Grosse reportedly joining as the big villain, Grim Reaper, AKA Eric Williams, the older brother of Simon Williams, the eponymous Wonder Man, played himself by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

Grim Reaper was teased all the way back in the Bewitched-inspired opening credits of the first episode of WandaVision, which included a glimpse at his distinct Silver Age style helmet as an Easter egg thanks to the Williams family's connection to Scarlet Witch's family tree.

WandaVision Grim Reaper

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Now that Grim Reaper is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we're looking back at the classic Avengers villain's decades long history in the Marvel Universe to see how it could play into the future of the MCU.

Who is Grim Reaper?

Image of Marvel's Grim Reaper

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Though he's hardly as well-known as Thanos or Ultron (more on him soon), Grim Reaper is one of the oldest Avengers villains, created by seminal Avengers writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema (who also created Vision) all the way back in 1968's Avengers #52, first in his secret identity of Eric Williams, the brother of Avengers enemy-turned-ally Simon Williams/Wonder Man, who perished after being imbued with ionic power by the villainous Baron Zemo.

Eric Williams was a criminal who attempted to save his brother Simon's failing company by investing his ill-gotten money, a scheme which failed, leading to Simon undergoing the experiment that turned him into Wonder Man in a bid to attack his rival Tony Stark, whose Stark Enterprises was putting him out of business.

When Wonder Man's attack failed, he decided to join the Avengers and help take down Zemo and his Masters of Evil – but died in the fight. Later on, when Ultron created the Vision, he used parts from the body of the original android Human Torch, and based Vision's 'Engram' brain pattern on that of Simon Williams, which had been preserved by Ultron's creator (in comic books anyway), Hank Pym.

Following all of this, Eric Williams sought out the villainous Tinkerer (MCU fans will remember him as Vulture's tech-savvy ally in Spider-Man: Homecoming) to outfit him with a weapon to defeat the Avengers, who Eric blamed for his brother's death. To wit, Tinkerer sawed off Eric's arm and installed the gnarly cybernetic scythe that gave Eric his villainous identity as the Grim Reaper.

Using his scythe's ability to drain lifeforce, Grim Reaper fought the Avengers to a standstill before Black Panther appeared out of nowhere and took him down, earning a place on the Avengers in the process. Grim Reaper went on to fight the Avengers (especially the Vision) countless times both as a member of Ultron's Lethal Legion supervillain team, and as a solo villain – a path that led him to a fate even darker than his brother's.

What are Grim Reaper's powers?

Grim Reaper in Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Initially, Grim Reaper was possessed of a cybernetic scythe that could drain the lifeforce of his victims (a convenient way of not having an actual vampire supervillain, something against the Comics Code at the time, and a trick Roy Thomas pulled several times at Marvel, as with his X-Men villain creation Sauron). This would empower him physically and let him shoot a variety of energy beams from the scythe, making it a versatile and deadly weapon in its own right.

But Grim Reaper was also originally possessed of a dark kind of super science-based necromancy – a skill that gave him a special obsession with the Vision. And when it comes to Grim Reaper, his deadliness is almost less about his somewhat limited powers themselves, and more about the ghastly nature of his schemes and what he does with those powers.

Given Vision's personality was initially based on the 'Engram' of Simon Williams, Grim Reaper wanted to use his dark science to transfer Vision's mind into the body of the deceased Wonder Man, both restoring Simon Williams to life and giving Vision a true flesh-and-blood human body, something that, at the time, played into Vision's longing for humanity.

Though Vision always refused, Grim Reaper's quest to revive his brother continued, leading Grim Reaper to eventually enlist the magical Black Talon to resurrect Simon. Now obsessed with discovering whether Vision or the resurrected Wonder Man, who rejoined the Avengers, was the 'real' Simon Williams, he eventually decided to kill them both, attacking Vision, Wonder Man, and the Avengers countless times – eventually leading to Grim Reaper's apparent death during a conflict between Vision, Simon, and Grim Reaper's Lethal Legion.

But that wasn't the end for Grim Reaper – he himself was resurrected by the necromantic villainess Nekra, who would repeatedly raise Grim Reaper from the dead to take on the Avengers. In this incarnation, Grim Reaper had essentially the same powers as before, but as a kind of undead, he was forced to absorb lifeforce through his scythe to survive, making him even more murderous.

After a long cycle of death and rebirth, Grim Reaper gained his own modicum of dark magic, using it to resurrect long-dead Avengers to fight their still-living allies, and even summoning demons to fight for him.

Later, Grim Reaper was resurrected by the Apocalypse Twins, scions of the one-time X-Men villain, as their Horseman of Death, which included a whole host of new powers centered on his service to the despotic villains.

In one of Grim Reaper's most recent appearances, he showed up in Tom King and Gabriel Walta's Vision series, attacking the Synthezoid family Vision had built for himself in an attempt to move on from Wanda and live a kind of normal life. He destroyed Vision's daughter Viv (though she was later rebuilt), and was in turn killed by Vision's wife Virginia, who buried him in the back yard - a turn of events that led to the end of Vision's suburban life.

Grim Reaper in the MCU

Grim Reaper in Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

With Grim Reaper coming to the MCU as the villain of Wonder Man, his own role in the story seems like it will likely follow some of his comic book backstory.

That said, it's still unclear how or if the Williams family's comic connections to Vision and Wanda Maximoff will come into play, especially with Vision set to eventually receive his own VisionQuest streaming series.

There's also the chance that Grim Reaper's appearance in Wonder Man could somehow signal the long-speculated return of Ultron, who has his own comic book history with Eric Williams.

However it shakes out, Grim Reaper makes perfect sense as the villain of the Wonder Man streaming series, both in terms of his direct connections to Wonder Man himself, and because of his potential connections to other MCU stories and characters.

Grim Reaper has connections to some of the best Avengers villains of all time.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)