Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Jeepers, Creeper

As my Silver Age reread has now reached Showcase #73 I planned to recycle my 2021 post on the Creeper. As my reread has done what it’s supposed to, giving me a different perspective on Steve Ditko’s character, I’m doing a new post instead, except for the following synopsis of #73

In the opening — and may I say that is one eye-popping Ditko cover — we meet controversial talk-show host Jack Ryder. That’s right, contrary to most later portrayals, he’s neither an investigative journalist nor a tabloid reporter — but after one page, he’s not a talk-show host either. When he interviews the sponsor’s friend without using kid gloves (and man, laughing at the idea police might be dangerous has not aged well), the sponsor has a hissy fit and Ryder’s show gets axed. The station head likes Ryder’s guts, though, and makes him the security chief, because hosting a talk show clearly qualifies him for the gig … somehow.

In the DC universe TV-station security is apparently a pretty cool job. You get to work with the FBI, track down wanted criminals and bust Commie spies, regardless of whether it threatens the TV station. While some of Ryder’s assignments make sense — guarding TV personality Vera Sweet in the first issue of his own book — they’re the exception.

In Showcase, for example, Ryder hunts down a missing scientist, Professor Yatz. Mob boss Develin has captured Yatz to sell to the Reds; as Develin’s holding a costume party at his estate, Ryder cobbles together a bizarre costume at short notice, crashes the party, but winds up getting caught and shot. The professor injects Jack with a super-soldier serum that heals his wound and make him strong, fast and impossibly agile.

Yatz also gives Jack a device that allows him to shift back and forth between his costumed self and his regular face and clothes. Wouldn’t you know it, Yatz then dies, leaving Jack Ryder the sole inheritor of these amazing discoveries. As the Creeper, Jack busts the mobsters, leading to organized crime putting a price on his head. Community leaders think he’s a dangerous psycho and demand the police Do Something.

End synopsis.

The first thing my reread has made me aware of is that DC thought getting Ditko on board was a big deal. DC didn’t name creators in house ads back then; I imagine promoting his arrival seemed like a good way to slice off some of Marvel’s fans. From Ditko’s perspective, working for DC must have seemed like a good idea too. After leaving Marvel he’d jumped to Charlton and created Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question and Nightshade. Low sales killed his line of Charlton heroes at the end of 1967 (a final Ted Kord story turned up late in ’68) so why not give DC a shot?

Coming to the Creeper fresh of Ditko’s Spider-Man and the Question (DC has some of the Charlton super-hero stories on the app), I can see very clearly how he borrows from them both. Like Spidey, the Creeper is an agile, acrobatic daredevil, feared by the crooks and hunted by the law. The Terror in Beware the Creeper #1 is a knockoff of the Crime Master; Proteus, Creeper’s arch-foe, is a blank-faced master of disguise like the Chameleon. And the Creeper’s fighting style, as rendered by Ditko, is pure Spider-Man.

Like Vic (The Question) Sage, Jack’s a TV personality who fights for the truth even if it pisses his superiors off. Unlike either of them, the Creeper fakes being a supernatural, demonic entity to scare the bad guys (I’ve always found this more interesting than later takes that make him genuinely crazy).

While I presume Ditko’s collaborators —Don Segall scripting in Showcase, Denny O’Neil on the early issues of the series — contributed something, the first couple of stories feel overwhelmingly Ditko. It’s a shame the Creeper falls short of both his role models. Vic Sage showed his fearless commitment to truth by exposing a station executive who was in bed with organized crime; Jack shows it by mocking the sponsor’s buddy in an interview. Jack’s supporting cast are no match for Peter Parker’s, or even the Question’s. Nor does he have any of Peter’s angst or personal conflicts, which may reflect that Ditko thought those weaknesses inappropriate for adults.

Neither the Creeper nor Ditko’s other DC creation from this period, The Hawk and the Dove, had as much effect on the company as bringing Charlton’s Dick Giordano over to DC. As artist, editor and executive editor, Giordano cast a longer shadow than Jack Ryder ever managed. In that way, if nothing else, Ditko’s arrival in ’68 was a win for DC.

#SFWApro. All art by Ditko.


  1. conrad1970

    I’ve always had a soft spot for The Creeper, I think it’s due to a story that was reprinted in one of the British hardback annuals back in the 70’s when I was very young.
    Such an underused character, it was enjoyable seeing him turn up in Dangerstreet last year.

  2. Omar Karindu

    It’s interesting that Ditko rather quickly leaves both Beware the Creeper and The Hawk and the Dove. which are taken up by his more liberal scripters, Denny O’Neil and Steve Skeates. We know he clashed with Skeates on the latter book, an I”m curious about why he dropped the Creeper around the same time.

    They contrast strongly with Shade, the Changing Man a decade later, which I find a lot more artistically complete and original than the late-1960s Ditko books. That feels like an evolution of aspects of both Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and an addition to them.

    I might argue that Ditko is better — or maybe just more palatable to normies? — when he tackles his favored themes at a greater level of abstraction.

    1. I know he and Skeates disagreed but Skeates said Ditko and Giordano always won, hence Dove having to be a wimp.
      No argument Shade is an amazing book. I blogged about the regrettably short run here a while back.

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