Which face hides my enemy?

Beware the Creeper #4

Beware the Creeper #4 cover

Created and illustrated by Steve Ditko
Written by Denny O'Neil

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Creeper. I really want to love him — he's got this strikingly odd Steve Ditko character design and a weird set of powers that fit together nicely. On the other hand, he's got zero personality and appears in some of the worst stories you've ever read. The only take on the character that's ever really worked for me was the Kaminski/Martinbrough/Buscema Creeper from 1997, which put a lot of work into establishing Jack Ryder and the Creeper as distinct personalities, explaining why they needed each other to survive, and creating a status quo that was reasonably different from the other DC heroes of the time. So of course it was canceled after twelve issues and immediately ignored the next time the Creeper showed up.1,2

This issue, from the 1968 Beware the Creeper series, is squarely in the "worst stories you've ever read" category. As part of his long-running quest to expose the mysterious shape-shifting Proteus, the Creeper teams up with a bunch of spies from the country of "Offalia" to bust the syndicate of the mysterious "Yogi Bizerk." It's all awful, filled with characters who act like total idiots, villains who don't actually do anything villanous, and contrived artificial drama. When people think of "Bam! Pow!" comics for kids, this is the sort of awful comic that comes to mind.

It doesn't help that the issue is filled with some of the worst work I've ever seen from Ditko...

Beware the Creeper #4, p. 16

Beware the Creeper #4, p. 16

I get the effect Ditko is going for here — trying to pull the reader headlong into the story with disorienting, constantly shifting panel boaders and layouts. Unfortunately, it's overdone — there's only one page in the entire issue with regular, rectangular panels — and never quite works. The technique isn't even appropriate for this page, which isn't a slam-bang action scene, merely two guys talking in an office. It also doesn't help that the letterer's decided to get in on the act by tilting the lettering; it's not hard to read, but it's odd and just a little unsettling.

I appreciate Ditko's willingness to experiment, but it still doesn't make this an issue worth seeking out.

  1. In a Joe Kelly-written issue of Action Comics, if anyone cares.
  2. Actually, I liked the Vertigo-ized French art thief version too, but that's really a completely different character.

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