The Creeper by Steve Ditko

Writer / Artist
The Creeper by Steve Ditko
The Creeper by Steve Ditko review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC - 978-1-4012-2591-9
  • Release date: 2010
  • UPC: 9781401225919
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Crime, Superhero

Steve Ditko was one of the comic industry’s greatest and most influential talents and, during his lifetime, amongst America’s least lauded. Always reclusive and reticent by inclination, his fervent desire was always just to get on with his job, tell stories the best way he could and let his work speak for him. His time with DC, resulted in a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association.

The auteur’s comings and goings allowed revisiting past triumphs and none more so than with The Creeper who kept popping up like a mad, bad penny. This superb hardcover compilation gleefully gathers every Ditko-drafted and delineated Creeper classic from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, and the spooky superhero spectacle kicks off with an effusive introduction from appreciative fan Steve Niles.

A moodily macabre origin introduces suicidally-outspoken TV host Jack Ryder, whose belligerent attitude to his show’s sponsors and cronies loses him his cushy position. Offered a job as an investigator and occasional bodyguard, Jack’s first case involves locating recent Soviet defector Professor Yatz. Displaying a natural affinity for detective work, Ryder tracks a lead to a gangster’s costume party. Promptly kicked out by thugs, Ryder heads for a costume shop but can only find a box of garish odds and ends… and lots of makeup.

Kitted out in strange psychedelic attire, he breaks back in, but is caught and stabbed before being thrown into a cell with the missing Yatz. The scientist – also grievously wounded – is determined to keep his inventions out of the hands of evil men. These creations comprise an instant healing serum and a Molecular Transmuter, able to shunt whatever a person is wearing or carrying into and out of our universe. To preserve them, Yatz buries the Transmuter inside Ryder’s knife wound before injecting him with the untested serum, and the Creeper is born. Ryder exacts justice for the professor and discovers his uncanny physical prowess and macabre, incessant unnerving laughter give him an unbeatable edge and win him a supernatural reputation.

With scripting help from others, primarily Denny O’Neil, successive Creeper adventures from his opening series see gangsters remorselessly tracked, and the threat of the faceless Proteus, although by the end Ditko has abandoned his creation. Jack Sparling draws the final chapter. It’s fun and thrilling and – unlike many series which folded at that troubled time – even provided an actual conclusion, but it somehow wasn’t satisfactory and it wasn’t Ditko.

The Creeper enjoyed many guest shots before Ditko returned to DC and his creation in the mid-1970s. Written by Michael Fleisher, restored TV journalist Jack Ryder inspects the fantastic felons in Gotham Penitentiary. By the time he’s recaptured an escaped rogue the Creeper has discovered something extremely disturbing about his own ever-evolving abilities.

A few years later DC instituted a policy of giant-sized anthologies and the extra page counts allowed a number of lesser lights to secure back-up slots and shine again. This time Ditko wrote as well as illustrated and the seven resulting stories are pure eccentric excellence. The bonus is a story that only ever saw print in a very limited photocopied version after DC abruptly cancelled many series. Presented in black and white, fans can at last see the Garish Gallant’s last Ditko-devised hurrah, pitting the Creeper (and cameo crimebuster The Odd Man) against a deranged weatherman turned climactic conqueror with the power to manipulate the elements.

Fast, fight-filled, furiously fun and devastatingly dynamic, Beware the Creeper was a high-point in skewed superhero sagas and this is a compendium no lovers of the genre can do without.