Wednesday, April 01, 2015

BOOK REVIEW! THE CREEPER by Steve Ditko (DC, 2010)

After pouring through all of those Steve Ditko comics I wrote about three weeks back, I figured that I needed more of the man's comics in my life. So I did what I thought was best and latched onto this recent collection of every Ditko delineated CREEPER story that appeared under the DC imprint from the late-sixties until the late-seventies. There really weren't that many of these tasty tales made (the original series ran about seven issues and his Ditko-manned reappearances in the seventies only nine) so let's just say that this tome for our times makes for a nice 'n handy collection, especially for those of us who never did get enough of that good ol' ranch house fifties-sixties-seventies living and wanna make up for lost time before we're stuck at the Abundant Life rest home in a coma and the stoopid doctors there are pumping in disco day and night because that's what they think us old timers like!

Yeah the Creeper just ain't as legendary as that other Ditko creation SPIDER-MAN, but at least he left the Stan Lee-approved angst and imperfection back at Marvel where it belonged! Jack Ryder's a recently-fired tee-vee host who, while undercover at a mob costume party dressed up like a refugee from a gay pride parade, gets brutally stabbed when discovered. An Iron Curtain scientist who is been kidnaped by the badboys saves Ryder's life by injecting a new serum that causes not only the wound to instantly heal but a big upkick in strength, agility, energy and other superhero qualities. Oh, and before that wound healed the good doc slipped in this much-coveted device which can make Ryder's identity change from the costumed crimefighter into his real self (later on it's revealed that the Creeper costume is stuck on him and for good!) with the mere click of an activator making those quick-changes a whole lot more easier'n they were on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. In all a pretty neato origin story regarding a hero that I believe Ditko later re-vamped as Shag!

There's very little of the infamous late-sixties Ditko editorializing that you found creeping into his latterday SPIDER-MAN work or even the BLUE BEETLE title at Charlton (let alone Ditko's more commercial comic book friendly take on MR. A. entitled THE QUESTION). The only whiff of socio-politico pontificating I can locate is in the origin story where the still employed Ryder is poo-pooing Dr. Clayton Wetley, a thinly-disguised (I'll betcha!) take on Fredric Wertham who is going on an anti-violence tear that seems rather sympatico with the same line of thinking that got DICK TRACY dropped from the local paper back inna late-sixties. Oddly enough Wetley doesn't make it beyond this story like I thought he would (he does come off as a standard Ditko do-gooder type who woulda made for an irritating aside in the comic's run) and neither do the standard Ditko gadflies who popped up in the reams of his personalist work...I do find it really strange reading one of these sagas where the Ditko protagonist doesn't give a dying criminal a discourse on "A is A" as he slips into the sleep that knows no dawn, but I kinda get the feeling the Comics Code Authority wouldn't have gone for that!

These stories are better'n the usual late-sixties DC standard superhero sagas which at times were suffering from the ol' run down and let's try to copy the Marvel Comics format feeling. Even the ones where Denny O'Neill (the mastermind behind the short-lived and tres-relevant GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW early seventies revamp) took over the writing chores ain't as righteous as I thought they would be after reading those Ditko/Robin Snyder newsletters which stated otherwise. And hey, even though the series barely made it into 1969 I will say that what was done in these comics and done in such a relatively short time does rank with the better moments of Silver/Bronze Age funnybook hijinx and that include the top notch stuff that Marvel had been doing at least up until Stan Lee decided to retire and suddenly it seemed as if SPIDER-MAN had become nothing more than a spokesman for Hostess Pies.

I didn't have much hope for the seventies CREEPER revival but the ones here seem to pick up as if there weren't a good eight or so years between stories. A little clarification was in order---the mysterious burgh that Jack Ryder/Creeper were working in was none other than Gotham City (I guess this was brought out in a non-Ditko scratched issue of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD where the guy teamed up with none other'n Gotham's really favorite creep Batman) which kinda makes me wonder how the same hero could work in the same city at least in the old DC universe! But in Gotham City he was, and I will admit that it sure was great to read something in a late-seventies DC title that didn't try too hard to be cutting edge or just plain down pat retread (not that it's any worse than the social consciousness-packed dribble we are still constantly bombarded with even at a time when these people should know better...).

So if you like to read about a clean-cut early-sixties savvy kinda guy who lives in a world of sideburns and caterpillar mustaches and turn into freaky mop-topped hero with the click of a switch this 'un might the the one to pick. One for your goof off time reading list, and it does go well on a day off from my mid-Amerigan responsibilities along with the usual old time tee-vee shows and a spin or three of NUGGETS...who sez late-sixties suburban slobdom is dead!

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