The Creeper Omnibus, written by Steve Ditko, Dennis O’Neil, Don Segall, Sergius O’Shaughnessy and Michael Fleisher; illustrated by Steve Ditko, Jack Sparling, Mike Peppe, and Mike Royer; introduction by Steve Niles (1968-69, 1975, 1978; collected 2010): Artist and occasional writer Steve Ditko co-created Spider-man and Dr. Strange at Marvel in the early 1960’s. By the late 1960’s, fed up with Stan Lee, Ditko left Marvel to work at a variety of comic-book companies that included Marvel’s arch-rival DC Comics.
Similar to its later handling of fellow Marvel defector Jack Kirby was DC’s handling of Ditko — they shunted him into his own corner doing his own sometimes inspired, sometimes oddball creations rather than being put to work on any of DC’s major titles. If you thought a Ditko Batman would be a natural…well, then you don’t know DC in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. While Marvel caught up to it in sales, DC flailed around, the short-lived hit Batman TV series being one of the few bright spots for the company as the turn of the decade approached.
As a character, the Creeper is both odd and inspired. For one thing, he’s got the most garish costume in superhero history, with yellow dominant and the other two colours being red and green. He looks like a jaundiced Christmas tree. His origin is severely odd, even for a medium in which heroes can get their powers from mongoose blood, hard water, or a soft drink.
A multi-tasking scientist manages to create both a super-soldier serum and a dimensional shifter kind of thingie. Shades of Walter Bishop! Former reporter and current TV-station security-guy Jack Ryder, disguised for a Hallowe’en party in leftover clothes and makeup that include a red-dyed fur wrap and a yellow body suit, gets mortally wounded while trying to save the aforementioned scientist from Communist collaborators at that fateful party.
Before he dies, the scientist injects Ryder with the only vial of the super-serum and, um, hides the dimensional shifter thingies (sans its control pad, which he leaves with Ryder) inside Ryder’s mortal wound. The wound heals almost immediately thanks to the super-serum, which also gives Ryder superior strength and agility. And so is born the Creeper, whose costume will no longer come off when Ryder uses the shifter’s control pad to phase into Creeperdom. But he can always phase back to normal just so long as he doesn’t lose that remote control.
This volume collects all of Ditko’s work on The Creeper, whom he created for DC and worked on for short runs in the late 1960’s and late 1970’s. Ditko was still a strong artist in the late 1960’s, and there’s a certain bizarre charm to an urban vigilante who’s as brightly coloured as a neon sign. The villains, though, are mostly terrible and indifferently designed, continuing a Ditko trend from his last few issues of Spider-man.
By the time we get to the 1970’s material, Ditko is well into his decline. It’s still interesting work from an old master, but the balloony bonelessness that characterizes Ditko’s post-1960’s, non-creator-owned work is on full display here, though it wouldn’t become painful to look at (even when heavily inked by others) until Ditko’s brief return to Marvel in the 1980’s.
I’m not sure this is essential stuff, but it entertains and occasionally exhibits flashes of Ditko’s importance to the superhero genre. An introduction that places The Creeper in historical and artistic context would have been nice, rather than a brief bit from 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles, who wrote a Creeper reboot series a few years ago. Recommended.