Friday, January 18, 2013

Classic Comics: Beware the Creeper

Showcase #73, first appearance of The Creeper.

"The world has more than it's share of troublemakers, tormentors and terrorists! And perhaps not enough forces of courage, strength and justice to combat them. But now -- a new force against evil is about to make it's presence felt. A unique power, embodied in a remarkable character, and dedicated to the defeat of the destroyers. A man accidentally thrust into a dynamic destiny...and who accepts the explosive challenge. For it is he who will defy those destroyers, and make them Beware the Creeper!!!"

That quote is the first thing you read in Showcase #73, "The Coming of the Creeper". It's so awesome, I just felt that I had to add it. The Creeper was one of several properties that were created at DC Comics in the late 1960s by one Steve Ditko. Ditko is one of the most well known comic book artists of all time, along with the likes of Jack Kirby and Bob Kane, among so many others. Ditko had already made a name for himself by the late 60s, first with the Charlton Comics character Captain Atom (he would later also create The Question for Charlton, both of whom would become DC characters), and later more famously as the co-creator (visual designer) of both Spider-Man and Doctor Strange for Marvel Comics. He left Marvel after a period of great success, and went to rival DC where along with The Creeper, he also created or co-created the likes of Shade the Changing Man and Hawk and Dove.

Story-wise, the Creeper wasn't all that different from many other hero characters of the time. But character-wise, he most certainly was unique. WHAM-TV show host and personality Jack Ryder, who in his first Showcase #73 appearance would offend a guest and be fired from that job, only to be hired by the studio as a kind of security investigator, wound up following an assignment to his strange fate. Getting mixed up with mob boss Angel Devilin and his thugs, he discovers the missing Dr. Vincent Yatz at a faux high society party, which is really cover for the mob to sell Dr. Yatz and his secrets back to very interested communist parties. It seems Dr. Yatz has invented such things as an "instant healing formula", as well as a "matter displacement device", things those evil communists would love to use as weapons. To sneak into the party, a costume party, Jack had to don some sort of costume for disguise, and as luck would have it, all the costume shop he stopped at had available, was one box of leftover junk. So he just threw together one of the weirdest outfits of all time out of what was there, and voila, you have the basic look of the Creeper, though it's all makeup and even a green-haired wig (as seen in the cover art above). Upon successfully sneaking into the party, however, he winds up getting himself near-fatally stabbed, and thrown into the same secret room as Dr. Yatz. Both to save Jack's life, as well as to keep his secrets out of evil hands, Dr. Yatz injects him with the fast healing formula, and sticks the small matter displacement dohickey in the wound while he's at it. The good doc gets himself shot dead for his trouble, but his legacy now lives on in the form of Jack Ryder, who would soon take on the monicker "The Creeper".

The Creeper, in his own solo-title.

That legacy turned out to be the unwitting creation of DC's newest, strangest super-hero. The healing serum seemed to give Jack permanent fast-healing ability, a power none-too-common in comics at this juncture (not to mention many years preceding the more famous Marvel character Wolverine), not to mention exponentially increasing his natural strength, stamina, agility, reflexes, and so on. The other side-effect of the good doctor's work, is that via a tiny transmitter device he would keep attached to his wrist-watch, Jack could now use the matter displacement thingy grafted into his body, to automatically switch to his Creeper form. Whereas he had originally donned random bits of costume, accompanied by a green wig and yellow makeup, these things were now permanent so long as the device was activated, meaning baddies couldn't just pull his wig off, etc. When he hit the switch, he WAS The Creeper, and he could turn back into Jack Ryder just as fast, which added another unique-for-it's-time element to the character. The final piece to the puzzle, was a conscious choice on Jack's part to start laughing maniacally and acting as "creepy" and otherworldly as possible when fighting criminals, using the element of fear to his advantage in a similar, and yet far different way to Batman. This aura of fear, combined with his "inhuman" physical abilities and fast healing, made most thugs he faced doubt that The Creeper even WAS human, but perhaps rather a ghost or something altogether different.

This served Mr. Ryder well, as he was able to mop up Angel Devilin and his gang. But in so doing, he also found himself on the wrong side of the law, as in initially escaping from the mansion where Dr. Yatz had been held, he unknowingly attacks a police officer, as he had just been fighting his way through thugs. So while he was a hero for beating the bad guys and saving the day, he was from the get-go also established a "wanted man", both by the city's criminal underground ($100,000 for his head, to be precise), as well as the police. His initial appearance in Showcase was well enough received to lead into the character getting his own solo-title, "Beware the Creeper", plotted by Steve Ditko, but also written (as his first DC assignment), by one Dennis O'Neil. Denny O'Neil would later become famous for his work on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic, as well as his now-classic Batman work (creating such memorable villains as Man-Bat and Ra's Al Ghul, among others).

The introduction of his most dangerous villain, Proteus.

In the first issue of "Beware the Creeper", Ryder would face off against a new threat, both to himself as well as the mob, a seeming vigilante calling himself "The Terror". He faced and defeated this threat, in what would present itself in a very detective fashioned story of "whodunnit", with Ryder trying to determine who out of several likely candidates is in fact the masked "Terror". By issue #2, readers would be introduced to his biggest and most enduring villain, a mystery man who can disguise himself as anyone he chooses (so it would seem), known only as Proteus. It seems that this mysterious Proteus turned up at some point in the recent past, and had strong-armed his way into control of the local mobs. In his very first appearance, Proteus takes the form of The Creeper, attacking the WHAM-TV production room, setting off an explosive that kills one of the crew, framing The Creeper for murder in the eyes of the public in the process. The primary focus of Jack's activities over the remaining issues (what few they were) of his first title's run, was trying to discover just who Proteus really is, as well as bringing him and the criminal underground down for good.

The final confrontation?

Sadly, "Beware the Creeper" would enjoy a run of only 6 issues. I would imagine that the sales were just not up to snuff, which very sadly has happened to a lot of great comic titles over the years (same with tv shows, etc). In the last article, about The Doom Patrol, I had to "spoil" the end of that team and their comic, for one thing because (to comic fans at least), their fate was already pretty well known, and for another, it was just something when dealing with that team and that title, that had to be discussed. However, when it comes to The Creeper, or at least his original six issue "Beware the Creeper" run (seven if you count Showcase #73), I don't really want to spoil the fun, so if you want to know the scoop on this Proteus guy, and juicy stuff like that, I'd highly encourage you to find yourself these comics and read them, as they're well worth it despite their number.

The Creeper would thankfully not be done after his title was cancelled though. In fact throughout the 70s and 80s he would go on to make numerous appearances in various titles, including The Justice League of America, Detective Comics (Batman), and many others. Some loose ends of his own title would be somewhat further explored in an "Super-Team Family" issue #2. He would, however, go on to be nothing more than a cameo type of character until the 90s, when he would eventually get his own comic for a time again. Though after the infamous mid-80s "Crisis on Infinite Earths" storyline, he was one of many characters to have their origins retconned (or in his case slightly tweaked), adding some rather silly elements to what was already a perfectly fine character. Overall, though his own comic was very short-lived, and his appearances over the years have been sporadic, he is one of many DC "second stringer" type characters that I have really come to love and appreciate in recent years.

He actually even enjoyed some minor appearances in both "The New Batman Adventures" in the 90s, as well as the early 2000s "Justice League Unlimited". His episode of Batman, entitled "Beware the Creeper", despite featuring a completely wrong origin for his powers (you'll have to watch to understand), is still a rather entertaining episode. His limited appearances in JLU, while cool, are actually just non-speaking background parts, but it was still cool that they thought to include him at all. He's certainly a character that deserves some love. So there ya go folks, go check out "Beware the Creeper", you'll be glad you did!



  1. Do I understand correctly? The matter displacement device embedded in his body allows him to instantly be dressed in his costume (of which 80% is body paint)? That's some specific and very precise matter displacement. How did the device become configured for that little trick? Where did he get the wristwatch control? Where did his costume go when he turned the device off? Why did the device make it impossible for the costume to be removed?

    It is a neat take on the problem of hiding one's costume. It just sounds like you were intended to accept it without any questions asked.

    1. Well he was given the device activator, which he himself put in/around his wristwatch, from the good doctor before he was killed. As for the rest and how it all works? Well....yup. It was pretty much left up to your imagination, as were/are most comic book matters of advanced technology, etc. A tad ridiculous? Sure. But still pretty damn cool. :-)


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