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The Creeper by Steve Ditko

01/11/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy The Creeper in the USA - or Buy The Creeper in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 256 page hardback graphic novel. Price: GBP 17.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-84856-571-5.

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This volume collects several ‘Creeper’ stories by the eponymous man whose name is in the title. It opens with 'The Coming Of The Creeper' from Showcase #73, created, plotted and drawn by legendary comic artist Steve Ditko. His legendary status is partly due to his works but is also based on never giving interviews or appearing in public and having political ideas that make George Bush sound like a soft liberal.

In 'The Coming Of The Creeper', Jack Ryder loses his job as TV chat show host when he is rude to a guest espousing liberal views who happens to be a friend of his boss. Straightaway, he is offered a job by the Network Security Investigators who investigate crank calls and other suspicious happenings. Ryder is sent to investigate Professor Yatz. He is a red defector and evil gangsters are planning to smuggle him out of the country back to Red-land (unspecified). For younger readers, reds were evil people lurking to the east of us in the fifties and sixties who wanted to force everyone to be equal. As this was un-American they were special enemies of the U.S.A. where they could often be found under beds.

Anyway, the gangsters are having a fancy dress party so Jack dresses up in yellow make-up, a green wig and stripy knickers to attend. He is captured, wounded and put in a room with Professor Yatz who uses his two inventions on Jack. One is a serum that helps healing and provides increased stamina and strength. The other is a device which can re-arrange the molecular structure of matter and will one day revolutionise mass transportation. This he implants in the wound and Jack soon discovers that when activated it instantly makes his Creeper garb vanish and he is dressed in civvies. This is better than squeezing into phone boxes. The Creeper disrupts the party and ends up wanted by the police so he will henceforth have to dodge them as well as the criminals. His job as an investigator for the TV station is useful for launching stories.

The Creeper has his own magazine for the second story but it only lasted six issues and mostly deals with his pursuit of a villain named Proteus. It will be obvious to old fans that the master of disguise trick which is this villain’s main talent is not entirely original. Ditko plotted the first issue but then seems to have lost interest somewhat and let Sergius O'Shaugnessy and then Denny O'Neill take over the writing completely. He also gives up inking his own pencils after issue #4, which does not improve the art. In general, the art is okay but not his best.

Interlude: Angular Panels.

‘Angular Panels’ appear to have started in 1968 and I was trying to find out which artist was the first to use them by close analysis of my collection of black and white reprints. ‘Showcase’ with the Creeper appeared March/April 1968 and Issue# 1 of ‘Beware The Creeper’ was June 1968. ‘Angular Panels’ started in December 1968 issue # 4.
Daredevil #44 appeared in September 1968 and was the first occasion on which Gene Colan used angular panel layouts. Interestingly, Colan took up Ditko's old creation Doctor Strange that same month but didn't introduce angular panels there until the November issue, after which he really went for them.

Bob Brown was doing angular panels in ‘The Brave And The Bold # 78’ (July 1968) so maybe he started it, though they were more slanted layouts than crazy angles. In ‘The Brave And The Bold # 79’, Neal Adams took over the art and he definitely angled panels. The cover date is the same as Colan's Daredevil. Angular panels were a new fad. The Creeper guest-starred in ‘The Brave And The Bold # 80’ (November 1968) but that story is not featured in this all Ditko book. George Tuska took up angular panels in a big way in ‘Iron Man # 8’. December 1968. Given that publication dates do not always reflect when the work was produced it is hard to say who was first but their does seem to have been a general rebellion against rectangular panels in 1968.

End of angular panel digression.

The demise of the Creeper's own mag did not end the life of the character. He came back in a ‘First Issue Special’ and then as a back-up strip in ‘World’s Finest’, written as well as drawn by Ditko. There is a nice supporting cast of workplace colleagues for comic relief but no romantic interest. Although the occasional female guest-star thinks Jack Ryder is cute, he doesn't seem too bothered about women. The length of these strips, eight pages, is reminiscent of Will Eisner's famous work on ‘The Spirit’ and it seems to suit Ditko quite well. In fact, these short works are probably the finest thing in the book. Lack of space resulted in about nine panels to most pages, which is how he seems to work best. Some of the villains are slightly off beat: Dagger Lady throws daggers, Mister Wrinkles turns you old with his touch and Rollo is a robot sent to wreck a building. Some are just bad guys in costume.

The last story is a 25 pager about a disgruntled former TV weatherman attacking the station with storm powers. It is from a cancelled and never printed issue of ‘Showcase’. The story is fine but the panels are bigger and there are a couple of double pagers. They are okay but in general, Ditko should leave the double page spreads to Kirby. For me, his best work seems to be the claustrophobic nine panel pages with realistic, film noir plots about gangsters. His later, more cartoon-like art style does not fit this as well as his more shaded, darker earlier work. Ditko can do costumed, athletic super-heroes and magical other realms, too, he's proved it, but perhaps the industry imperatives took him away from his natural bent. He does have strong ideas on crime and punishment.

This book is a nice collector’s item, quite a prize for Ditko fans, and may even increase in value when it is no longer available. Yes, in the crazy world of comics marketing even reprints can go for more than the cover price when they become hard to get. That's why I have buried mine in a lead-lined coffin at the bottom of a deep mine shaft and shall uncover it twenty years hence to fund my retirement. Well, you never know.

Eamonn Murphy

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