The Creeper is a fun character who has some of the craziest attributes one could imagine. This guy has a crazy origin, a crazy costume, a crazy laugh, a crazy walk, crazy one-liners, and even crazy villains. When Steve Ditko created him, he was obviously just trying to have fun. The result was a character that is inherently entertaining for a while, even without a compelling plot. After about seven issues, however, he is no longer able to entertain simply by showing up, and Ditko and the other writers are unable to break from the plot molds in which they’ve become entrenched. That makes this collection of Creeper comics a bit too complete for its own good.
Gung-ho news reporter Jack Ryder has found himself in an odd situation. After accepting a job at some sort of security agency at a television network, he is assigned the task of searching for a scientist held prisoner at a mob mansion on the night of a masque. He finds a last-minute costume -- yellow body paint, green underwear, a green wig, and a red sheepskin rug cape -- and sneaks in to find the scientist. He is wounded in the process but finds his man. The gangsters catch on to him, and the scientist, desperate to keep his invention out of the hands of the mob, hides a device in Ryder’s wound and seals him up with some super serum that also gives him super-strength, -agility, and -endurance. This device, a molecular transporter, allows Ryder to change between his real self and his yellow-and-green, supercharged persona at the push of button on a small remote. Ryder soon adopts the moniker “The Creeper” for his alter ego and plays on his outlandish look by acting equally as outlandish. This all happens in the first ten pages.
Like Batman, The Creeper is a fairly ordinary, if eccentric, man who dons a disguise and uses fear to fight his enemies. In fact, it is revealed late in this collection that The Creeper lives in Gotham City, and he at one point even visits a jail that holds Batman’s nemeses Two Face and Scarecrow. However, the Creeper differs from Batman in that the former takes the hero act to wild extremes, bordering on an amalgamation of Batman and the Joker as he fills panels with maniacal laughter while fighting bad guys. Just as Ditko is having fun with the Creeper, the Creeper is fighting criminals for fun, not justice. The character is, in a way, an exercise in freedom, an outlandish being in every way, running wild in a world populated by men in suits.
Of the sixteen Creeper comic issues comprising this collection (and comprising almost everything the Creeper ever appeared in), the first seven follow a linear arc wherein Ryder acquires his powers and spends some time trying to oust a villain called Proteus. It is after this arc that the comics become monotonous, consisting of self-contained issues in which the Creeper does repeatedly what he did throughout the first seven: traverse schemes set up by mob-like characters while tracking a chief villain. In order to add some dynamics to these issues, Ditko and the other writers throw in villains almost as bizarre as the Creeper, such as the Firefly, a man that manipulates light to create illusions and fire concentrated beams of various sorts at his foes. These characters are unable to save the comics, though, because they lack the panache of the Creeper. Whereas the Creeper relishes every showdown against an enemy, performing Captain America-esque acrobatics while saying things like, "Send a telegram when you've had enough!" the villains are out just to accomplish tasks, usually centered on a method of procuring large sums of money.
From left to right: The Disruptor, Dagger Girl, The Firefly. This guy needed better villains.
One welcome aspect of the storytelling style is the limited use of narration boxes. With a few exceptions, such narration appears only at the beginning of the issues. While this does lead to a near constant use of thought clouds containing “It’s a good thing I can turn into the Creeper at the push of a button”–like lines clearly aimed at the reader (at one point, Ryder explains four times within two pages that a preceding appearance of the Creeper was in fact an impostor), the relative absence of needless narration keeps the pace steady. The Creeper is not meant to be analyzed but simply to be a fun, dynamic character. Because of this, there is no need for prolonged dialogue and tension building. Ditko understood this, and used every page to progress the plot and allow the hero to close in on his next encounter.
The strange and fun nature of the character is reinforced by the art. The Creeper himself is colored with solid, bright yellow, red, and green, which causes him to stand out visually among the comic’s other, more mundane characters, just as he stands out in his personality. Furthermore, beginning with the Creeper’s fifth comic appearance, the artists allow themselves the freedom to play around with the page layouts and begin incorporating panels that look something like broken glass. This is partly a dramatic, semi-expressionistic flourish, but it also evokes the sense of the Creeper breaking the normalcy of society. Thankfully, the artists and writers are also never afraid to include a lot of action in these comics, so practically the entire collection is filled with silver age art done right.
As Steve Niles points out in his introduction to this edition, the Creeper is strange in every way. He is therefore meant not to be a character that we can relate to but to be simply fun to watch. For a while, this strategy is successful. However, once the Creeper overcomes his arch nemesis in the final issue of his own brief series, his creators struggled to find new things for him to do. He is then relegated to eight-page spins in World’s Finest Comics, where he performs the same old tricks until he is effectually retired. It was clear from the beginning that the Creeper would never be able to last. During his original, single-arc run, however, he shined.