Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko is one of the true masters of the comic book medium. After creating both the web slinger and Dr. Strange at the House of Ideas, Ditko returned to Charlton Comics where he had drawn several science fiction thrillers in addition to creating Captain Atom with Joe Gill. At Charlton, his new heroes the Blue Beetle (continuing the tradition of the Golden Age character) and the Question were minor hits but the publisher was in financial peril. Looking for work for a stable employer, he walked into the hallowed halls of DC Comics. His creation of Shade the Changing Man and Hawk and Dove are still with us today, but I’d like to take a look at the Creeper, one of his most unusual characters.
TV personality Jack Ryder was famous to Gotham TV viewers for his outspoken demeanor and willingness to speak his mind. His bold approach to journalism made him many enemies, including his employer. Fired from his TV gig, Ryder found a job as a security guard. It was during one night walking his route that Ryder witnessed the brilliant Dr Yatz getting abducted. Following the kidnappers to their base of operation, Ryder discovered that he was dealing with no normal crooks. These were honest to goodness mobsters and they were holding a costume party, providing Ryder the perfect opportunity to dress up and sneak indoors. Dressed in an outlandish get-up of yellow and red with a fur color and wig, he attempted to rescue Yatz but was shot in the arm. Looking to help Ryder, Yatz inserted the very invention that he was kidnapped for, a device that instantly healed the bullet wound and gave Ryder superhuman abilities including enhanced strength and agility. Adopting a racuous laugh and oddball attitude, he took after the mobsters and freed the scientist.
The Creeper proved to be quite popular and after a Showcase premiere, starred in his own series for a time before moving on to the status of co-star. Commonly teamed up with Batman or the Joker, the Creeper was a successful addition to the Gotham City cast of characters. The Creeper appeared in the Brave and the Bold, the anthology series Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics, DC Comics Presents and even the Flash before disappearing from DC. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths of 1985, his origin and abilities have been questionable. At one time the manic behavior Ryder employed was to put off criminals by unsettling them, other times it was genuine insanity caused by the chemicals in Dr, Yatz’s device.
In 1997, DC revived the character and gave him his own series again with writer Len Kaminski at the driving seat. This time the Creeper’s abilities were still altered by Yatz’s device, but it had healed his damaged brain cells rather than an arm wound, thus explaining his unstable demeanor. The series is a lot of fun and definitely retained some of the flavor that Ditko had infused into his creation.
In 2006, the Creeper returned but was clearly a more supernatural creature. With 30 Days of Night scribe Steve Niles the writer of the latest series, that should come as no shock. The art by Justiniano is just beautiful and certainly lends a new level of terror to the Creeper that had not been seen before. The Creeper had often been depicted as a comical hero in a similar vein to Plastic Man, but this new series had a sinister bite to it.
Now a demonic character rather than one of science, the Creeper is still active in the DCU, currently a member of the new Outsiders. With Dan Didio coming in to shake things up, don’t expect the Creeper to remain however, so you may see yet another revival in the coming months.
The Creeper has also made the jump to the small screen in the Bruce Timm helmed Batman animated series. For eagle-eyed viewers, he may look very similar to another Bruce Timm creation, Freakazoid. It turns out that Timm had intended to produce a Creeper animated series and adapted the ideas into what became Freakazoid.
A fantastic character from one of the most gifted geniuses in comics, the Creeper is one of those rare combinations of humor and horror that make the superhero medium so diverse.