This year, I’ll be looking at a real… Creeper.
|There ya go.|
Steve Ditko’s work was characterized by the way he didn’t even try to disguise the fact that he was using it as a mouthpiece for his philosophical and political views. Which makes the Creeper’s relatively apolitical feel odd for our Objectivist-and-proud Mr. Ditko.
|This is what Steve Ditko calls "subtlety."|
|Wow. I have no idea what I'm seeing, but I love it.|
The Creeper was the first character Ditko created for DC, having already left both Marvel and Charlton. The Creeper debuted in Showcase #73, the same series where Green Lantern actually got his start, in 1968. No pomp, no circumstance, just yet another try-out character that they hoped would make it big.
|Well... You might want to stick to Blue Beetle, Mr. Ditko.|
Jack Ryder was an infamously outspoken TV host who wouldn’t let his views be silenced, no matter what. And because his beliefs “coincidentally” lined up with Steve Ditko’s, Ditko would use him as a bit of a mouthpiece, despite this comic being less overtly political than his other works.
|Looks look I spoke too soon about Ditko's politics not showing up.|
When he arrived at the costume party, he discovered that the no-goodniks wanted the revolutionary work of one Dr. Yatz, who was being held there. Jack tried to free the good doctor, but got injured in the fight. Yatz had just happened to be working on a super-solider serum, so he shot Jack up with it, giving him super powers that he used to defeat the bad guys. Not only that, but Dr. Yatz gave him a small device that would let him switch between his costume and super-powers and his normal clothes with no powers.
Before he could explain how anything like that could possibly work, Dr. Yatz was ambushed and killed by more criminals. And so, acting like a maniac to strike terror into criminals, Jack Ryder used his new powers to fight crime as…. The Creeper.
Post-Crisis Secret Origin
After DC rebooted their universe for the first time, the Creeper’s origin was pretty much the same, except that when he had gone to save Dr. Yatz, the gangsters and criminals at the masquerade party drugged Jack up and made him dance for their amusement. So when Yatz’s device recreates his costume and powers, it also recreates the drugs in his system, making him act genuinely deranged as the Creeper instead of it just being an act.
Typical stuff for the most part. Enhanced strength, speed, durability, reflexes, healing, same old. But Jack only has powers when he activates his arm implant, rather than having them all the time. And according to some continuities, the Creeper persona is anything from a drugged-up Jack Ryder to a full-blown alternate personality. So he tends to only use his powers in emergencies. And there’s also the Creeper’s signature laugh, which can do anything from simply making people afraid to shattering their eardrums, depending on the writer.
|It is to laugh.|
They say a hero is only as good as his villains. Well, Creeper was never an A-lister, so that should tell you all you need to know.
The Creeper only lasted for six issue of his own series originally, and he didn’t really develop a very good gallery of rogues in that time. Proteus was a shape-shifting knockoff of one of the Chameleon, one of the villains he helped create for Marvel. He would later be turned into Creeper’s main nemesis, but I’ll get to that. As for the other villains they’re pretty standard low-rent, almost-a-threat supervillains. My personal favorite is the Dagger Lady.
|Why did she strap knives to her head?|
Notable Character History
Not much, to be honest. As I said, the character only had a six-issue run after his first appearance. But the Creeper was a fan-favorite guest character who started showing up in other characters’ books immediately after his own series ended.
|A spooky Justice League, you say?|
|Monthly, you say?|
|Under a different name, you say?|
|Creeper, you are a prophet.|
It wouldn’t be until 1992 that something major would happen to the Creeper. And that’s only because hyenas controlled by the Spirit of Vengeance ate him to death. Of course, the chemicals in his blood brought him back to life a few years later, but this is when things got… weird.
First, it was retconned that his Creeper persona was a separate personality; a remnant of his childhood trauma given physical form. Then it was retconned that there was never a Dr. Yatz. Proteus had used Jack Ryder as a guinea pig to test a formula that would give him greater control over his shapeshifting, and the whole thing where he saved Dr. Yatz was simply a set of false memories.
|Boy, I sure hope this doesn't get canceled before they can explore this plot point!|
After Infinite Crisis, those retcons were retconned, and the Creeper was once again the result of Dr. Yatz’s experimental chemicals. Which he apparently developed by modifying the Joker’s famous Joker Toxin.
But the retcon mambo continued as the Reign in Hell storyline showed that Hell was full of demons that looked just like the Creeper.
And after nothing more than some guest appearances and background cameos, (including a stint in the Outsiders that saw him pretending to be a WayneCorp employee in order to keep a villain masquerading as Bruce Wayne in check), the New 52 came along and decided that the Creeper’s story was getting too convoluted and they’d be starting from scratch.
Notable Character History (New 52)
The Phantom Stranger walks the Earth doing errands for divine forces to earn his way into heaven. One of these deeds was leading Jack Ryder to his “destiny.” By leading him to his death.
The magic sword of the hero known as Katana contained the Creeper’s spirit, as it was used to kill the Creeper, an Oni, long ago. When the Creeper was released, it sought out and bonded with the body of Jack Ryder, noting that they'd met before.
|Do I even need to explain how this version has nothing to do with anything even vaguely Creeper-ish?|
|Once again, the New 52 needs to retcon its own retcons. First the Titans, now this. Nothing new for the Creeper, tough.|
Back when DC canceled the Creeper’s ongoing series for the second time, their darker-and-edgier Vertigo imprint created an unrelated female Creeper who stole riches in 1920’s Paris.
|Still more faithful to the source material than the New 52 Creeper.|
|"You wanna get nuts? Come on! Let's get nuts."|
Interestingly enough, the Creeper is based on the original, less-cartoony, more heroic version of Freakazoid that had been planned until Warner Brothers decided to go in a more Looney Tunes-inspired direction.
And the Creeper made one appearance on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where he fought Hellgrammite while spewing random punchlines.
|"No soap, radio!"|
Much like the Question, the Creeper is a character that never really got the chance to shine on his own, but makes a great addition to an ensemble cast.
As an extra fun fact, it is theorized that either Ditko’s Creeper or the Scooby-Doo Creeper is responsible for putting “Creeper” into the popular vernacular, resulting in the modern usage of the word. (E.g. See that guy over there with the white van and the candy? What a creeper.)
Is this true? Possibly. And if it is, then I’ll be glad that the character has made some kind of mark on history.
As it is, we can add the Creeper to the loads and loads of comic heroes who could have been a contender under the right circumstances. The Creeper’s initial offbeat style was was too counterculture for the mainstream, and too mainstream for the counterculture.
What a shame.