Thursday, December 9, 2010
I don't get the Creeper. To a large degree beyond my control, I was exposed to a lot of Steve Ditko as a kid. I thought his work was weird, stiff and kind of unpleasant. I preferred John Romita Sr. on Spider-Man, Frank Brunner or Gene Colan on Dr. Strange, and if exposure was unavoidable, a heavy handed inker like Wally Wood over Ditko himself. Even his occasional appearances in bizarre venues like Cracked Magazine were unsettling. I had similar uncertainty when it came to Gil Kane, who I grew to love, and Jack Kirby, who I came to respect. I certainly learned to appreciate Ditko, and I especially adore his trailblazing run on Strange Tales, but I'm just not into anything I've seen from the '70s up (especially if Ditko lacked a writing partner.)
The one Ditko creation that I find in no way creepy is the Creeper. I guess it's one of those instances where an unintentionally funny guy tries to tell a joke, and it's just stilted and sad. I often think Ditko was just trying to recreate his Marvel successes through something of a scientific process. Industrialist/inventor Ted Kord was the kind of man Ditko likely imaged Peter Parker would grow to become... a productive member of society like pre-reveal Norman Osborn. Captain Atom, Shade the Changing Man, and even ROM Spaceknight traded in trippy visuals similar to those of the Master of the Mystic Arts, but unambiguously grounded in science fiction instead of the metaphysical. Hawk and Dove had bright, iconic super-hero costumes and dynamic, acrobatic fighting styles, but they were hardly twice the Spider-Man. It seems like the Creeper was intended to plumb the eerie depths of Ditko's heyday on Spidey, but I think a word more immediately associated with the Creeper is garish. He's an ugly character with a miserable design and a secret identity with an untenable worldview whose principles its own founder betrayed. The Question is creepy because he's supposed to be an admirable hero while preaching borderline sociopathic objectivist nonsense, while the Creeper is just a bellicose buffoon.
From my criticism, you might think I hate the Creeper and/or Steve Ditko. Absolutely untrue. Ditko was one of those rare comic book creators with the strength of conviction to make political and moral stands, offering controversial opinions and using his art as something more than a paycheck for fantasizing. One of the major failings of The Hawk and the Dove was that rather than confronting '60s youth with hard, cold conservatism, liberal scripter Steve Skeates forced words into the characters' mouths and bias into the narrative that made the book just as pandering and pointless as every other wannabe hip crap on the stands. Ditko's heroes still spoke in absolutes at a time when guys like Green Lantern were becoming wishy-washy wusses. You need contrasts and extremes to point the way toward or away from directions as necessary. I'll take Ditko and Gill's giddily jingoistic Captain Atom over O'Neil and Adams' preachy, meandering Green Arrow stories seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Besides, nobody outside of maybe Charles Burns can draw hallucinogenic visuals like Ditko.
Unfortunately, none of this helps the Creeper. Jack Ryder was maybe a bit right wing, and Keith Giffen got some mileage out of making him a Morton Downey Jr. stand-in for a while, but it never really fit with the Creeper persona. Maybe if the alter ego were some sort of were-Marxist, but Ditko created the Creeper very much in the Shadow mold of hard-nosed vigilantes who only pretended to be madmen. There was an attempt to play the Creeper as suffering from the effects of mood-altering drugs tied to his transformation, but that only allowed him to be dismissed as something of a junkie. Some have tried to play him as a good Joker, but the whole point of the Clown Prince of Crime is that he's an unpredictable anarchist maniac. Heroes can't just randomly torture/maim/kill anyone with the misfortune to cross their path, and if they only direct their violent tendencies against the deserving, they're just a much sillier take on the Punisher.
So I say again, I do not get the Creeper. Dichotomy can be fascinating, but rather than a walking contradiction, he's more of a shuffling negation. Everything that could/should work about the Creeper is diluted or muzzled by another aspect. His powers and abilities are just a bit too potent for him to mingle with the more realistic nighttime rooftop set, but too weak to hang with the big boys, and he looks terribly out of place in either company. When you're such the odd man out that a pack of misfits like Justice League International or the Outsiders don't even suit you, there's no place to ever call home.