Having just read Beware the Creeper, the most recent reworking of Steve Ditko’s Creeper (I’ll review it Saturday), I had the impulse to show off my comics-geekery and talk about the original character (covers by Ditko, rights with current holder)
Steve Ditko’s The Creeper was nowhere near as good a series as Shade the Changing Man, but it’s been a lot more successful, the lead having been revived multiple times. The beginning, in the Showcase story above, introduces us to Jack Ryder, a hard-hitting talk-show host who loses job when he interviews a sponsor’s friend without using kid gloves. The station head likes Ryder’s guts, and so assigns him to chief of security, which in the DCU apparently involves working with the FBI, tracking down wanted criminals and busting Commie plots.
Investigating a missing scientist, Ryder discovers the underworld has captured him to sell to the Reds. Sneaking into the mob boss’s home during a costume party (the bizarro cover outfit is the best he could put together at short notice) he ends up getting the benefit of the Professor’s miracle science. By the end of the issue he can shift back and forth from ordinary clothes to his “creeper” look, and as the Creeper he’s phenomenally fast, strong and agile. Naturally, he fights crime (Pat’s Silver Age Comics notes the resemblance to Ditko’s earlier reporter-turned-hero, the Question)
Rereading these a few years ago, I was struck by how dated they felt. In a time when super-villains were the norm, the Creeper’s foes are almost all ordinary mobsters or the master of disguise Proteus (who seems modeled on the Lee/Ditko villain the Chameleon, from Spider-Man). The idea of stumbling into crimefighting because you tangled with crooks while wearing a costume-party costume goes back to the Golden Age—most Silver Age characters had stronger motivations (Batgirl also took up crimefighting after a costume party, but even she had more reasons to do it). This isn’t Ditko’s fault as Denny O’Neil did the writing for most of the run, but the villains are a dull lot, except the first issue’s Terror.
What does work is some snappy dialog from O’Neil and Ryder’s decision to milk his eerie look for all it’s worth. People think he’s a demon? Fine, he’ll play it that way, terrifying hoods with hints he can drag their soul to the netherworld. And Ryder himself clearly gets a kick out of playing the part. Still, that’s hardly enough to make him a character worthy of continued publication.
DC writers, however, can’t seem to stop reviving him. I don’t know if it’s the look (which is pretty bizarre) or that he’s a super-hero created by a comics legend or just that DC hates to waste an established property, but the company keeps reviving him again and again.
Of course, a station security chief who busts common mobsters doesn’t fly, so what do you do with him? One stock solution is to make the Creeper genuinely crazy, and an involuntary split personality of Ryder’s. Which actually makes him less distinctive, because that kind of alter ego is a dime a dozen in comics. Still, it’s the approach most writers take.
That still leaves the question of what to do with Jack Ryder. The default setting seems to be making him the Bad Reporter in contrast to Clark and Lois. He’s the sensationalist tabloid-journalist who doesn’t care about people, just about headlines, or the TV pundit whipping up public outrage over some distorted bullshit story. Which is not a bad idea, but I don’t know that I’ve seen it done well.
And then we got Beware the Creeper, which while not a classic series, did do something fresh. Details on the weekend.