Saturday, June 13, 2015

Character Study: The Creeper

Two years ago, I started this blog with the intention of writing these Character Studies to inform and entertain. As you can see by the abundance of cartoon reviews, things changed at some point down the line. Once again, I choose to mark the NewtCave’s Anniversary with a return to form. And once again, I’ll be looking at a Steve Ditko character.

This year, I’ll be looking at a real… Creeper.

There ya go.
Character Conception
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."
But Ditko had dabbled in the more psychedelic side of comics, having created Doctor Strange for Marvel and done some independent work at Charlton.

Wow. I have no idea what I'm seeing, but I love it.
The Creeper is really just a typical offbeat 60’s-70’s underground comic hero that just happened to be published by one of the largest comic companies around.

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.
Pre-Crisis Secret Origin
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.
Anyway, Jack would often investigate hot tips himself before he reported them. He got the word that some ne’er-do-wells were going to be up to no good at a local get-together. When he arrived on the scene, he discovered that the criminals were attending a costume party. With no costume on hand, he bought a bunch of random bits and pieces from a store. Makeup, a wig, a yellow body stocking, gloves and boots, even a sheepskin rug that he turned into a cape.

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?
As for more recognizably DC fare, the Creeper would later have an ongoing rivalry with the Joker after a few retcons to the Creeper’s origin, but, again, I’ll get to that.

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.
The biggest problem with the Creeper that stayed throughout his entire history is that barely anything would happen to him. Anything he was involved with was usually happening to somebody else and he was along for the ride.

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!
Then Creeper’s series was canceled again.

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?
This was probably done to fix the continuity error regarding the Creeper’s cameo at the very beginning of the New 52, when he was a candidate for the Justice League International. Still doesn't explain the costume differences.

Once again, the New 52 needs to retcon its own retcons. First the Titans, now this. Nothing new for the Creeper, tough.
Alternate Versions
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.
Most people who are familiar with the Creeper probably know the version from The New Batman Adventures episode “Beware the Creeper,” who was a newsman who had the misfortune to be ambushed by the Joker, gassed, and dunked in the same vat of chemicals that gave us the Joker. But through some fluke of chemistry, Jack Ryder emerged with super powers and even less sanity than the Joker. And that scared the crap out of the Clown Prince of Crime.

"You wanna get nuts? Come on! Let's get nuts."
In the end, Jack Ryder got a patch that suppressed his alternate form, but his alter ego would later join the Justice League Unlimited.

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!"
While the Creeper himself has never appeared in a video game, Jack Ryder has, most notably as a news anchor in the Arkham series.

Final Thoughts
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.


  1. It's a shame the Creeper gets so overlooked, especially the really great one made by the DCAU team (made from Paul Dini's disappointment of his Freakazoid series getting turned into a straight comedy series instead of one more in line with the DCAU template).

    That elseworld's creeper looks kinda cool, maybe I should try to dig it up on Comixology sometime.

  2. Could there be a possibility for more character studies in the future? Know that there's at least one person enjoying them.

    - That One Anon

    1. It's funny; I never actually meant to stop doing them. I was all set to start doing one once a month starting this year.

      Then Marvel and DC decided it would be fun to reboot ALL THE THNGS.

      Hence the shorter post than usual.

      But actually, I've had an idea for a multi-part Legacy Character Study based on a comment you left a while back. So expect that sometime this year. Between now and August, with a little luck.