Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the Creeper, the man with the maniacal laugh.
Steve Ditko, the man who co-created Spider-Man, came over to DC Comics in 1968 to do a few projects. While there, he created the team of Hawk and Dove and, a few months before that, the Creeper. In the pages of Showcase #73, DC’s book in which new characters were tried out before being given their own series, Jack Ryder made his debut. While not exactly a reporter, Jack was employed by a television studio. He would investigate stories before they would be reported on by the news anchors. After learning that local criminals were going to be up to something at a party, Jack decided to crash it. Only after he arrived did he realize it was a costume party. Desperate for a new look, he swung by a nearby costume shop and grabbed whatever costume leftovers were lying around.
From there, Jack investigated the party. There he found that criminals were after the work of a scientist named Dr. Yatz. Jack attempted to free the doctor but was mortally wounded in the battle. In order to save his life, Dr. Yatz injected Jack with a chemical compound he was working on. It gave Jack enhanced agility, strength, and tumbling abilities. It also helped him heal quickly. Dr. Yatz also implanted a small activator switch just below the skin in Jack’s arm. When Jack hit the switch, he found that his makeshift masquerade costume faded along with his enhanced abilities. His normal clothes were suddenly back on him. Before he could grill Dr. Yatz more on this amazing development, another fight with the gangsters broke out which ended with Yatz’s death.
With his new look and abilities, Jack learned that he made people around him nervous. He developed a laugh which made those he was battling uncertain and caused them to hesitate. Seizing this advantage, Jack played up this laugh more and more, which eventually got his yellow, green, and red persona known as the Creeper.
Jack’s debut was enough for a solo series to be launched later that same year. Ditko co-wrote these issues with a young Denny O’Neil. Under their care, Jack continued his battle against the underworld as the Creeper.
Ditko had a wonderful way of illustrating the seemingly magical transformation that Jack Ryder underwent when he became the Creeper. Whenever he activated the mechanism in his arm, there would be a panel showing the outline of the Creeper’s sheepskin rug / feather boa / lion’s main / red cape appearing from wherever Dr. Yatz’s chemicals had banished them to. It was quite the wonderful look. Later artists would mostly abandon this type of transformation, which is a shame.
Unfortunately, Beware the Creeper only lasted six issues. During those issues, an arch nemesis of the Creeper’s made his debut. The villainous Proteus, a man who could change his face to look like anyone else, became a leader of the criminal underworld. Not all that different from the Ditko creation the Chameleon, Proteus quickly waged war against the Creeper. Their battles lasted the entire six issues of this series.
After his series was cancelled, the Creeper floated around from title to title. He appeared as a guest star in a number of other people’s titles and it was eventually established that Jack Ryder was based out of Gotham City. This allowed him to not only have his own supporting cast at the news station where he worked but to also be a supporting cast member of the various Bat books. That’s just what happened when the Joker pulled a heist and the police blamed the Creeper. Their similar hair and penchant for laughter caused the confusion. Eventually Jack tried to bring the Joker in himself, which lead to a nice little story.
The police’s confusion as to the Creeper’s true allegiances would be a reoccurring theme in Jack’s life. Time and again, people were wondered if the Creeper was a force for good or evil. If he was good, why was he so creepy? Even the members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains thought he was a bad guy when they offered him a spot in their gang. Realizing that being a member of the Secret Society meant that he could disrupt their plans, Jack joined for just two issues.
Jack continued to bounce around the DCU, appearing in a series of backups in World’s Finest Comics and as an occasional guest star. In one fun adventure, he teamed up with several other offbeat heroes to help Blue Devil combat a global menace. At the story’s conclusion, Creeper wanted to keep the group together under the banner “Creeper and his Spirit Squad.”
Though the idea of a “Spooky Justice League” was initially shot down, the current Justice League Dark seems to indicate that Jack was onto something.
As with so many other characters, the mid-1980s’ Crisis on Infinite Earths subtly reshaped the Creeper. To chronicle the changes that the Crisis had made to the DCU, an ongoing series titled Secret Origins was published. There, various heroes and villains’ stories were retold and changed to fit a more modern audience. In his retold origin, Jack still crashed a criminally run masquerade ball. This time, however, his Creeper costume was given to him by the leader of the gang. Jack was also shot full of hallucinatory drugs and shoved out onto the dance floor where the party guests took pot shots at him.
Once again, Dr. Yatz shot Jack full of his special concoction. However, since Jack was disoriented and drugged when Yatz’s formula hit his system, those same drugs remained a part of him whenever he changed back into the Creeper. This helped explain his more outlandish behavior and gave Jack a reason to act more loopy when he was in his other persona.
Jack became engulfed in 1992′s big crossover event when the DCU battled against Eclipso. As he was among the first heroes that Eclipso took over, Jack had a distinct hatred for his powerful foe. After he was finally released from Eclipso’s hold at the story’s conclusion, his anger remained. When Jack learned that Eclipso had taken over an entire country named Parador, he volunteered to participate in an assault against the country. Along with every other costumed hero who went into the country, Jack was murdered. His particular death came at the teeth of howling hyenas controlled by the former Spirit of Vengeance.
This was the death of the Creeper. It was a bit inauspicious.
His co-conspirators, like Yolanda Montez and Beth Chapel, stayed dead. However, the Creeper was a Ditko creation. That kind of pedigree doesn’t just get forgotten. While he was out of commission for half a decade, he eventually returned in the pages of his own self-titled ongoing series. There, it was shown that Dr. Yatz’s chemicals which had healed Jack’s wounds while he lived also worked after he had died. The mangled pieces of his body were able to reconstitute themselves back into a single unit and Jack dug himself out of the earth.
It appears that this story makes Jack effectively invincible. Since physical conflict between Jack and other beings was no longer a real threat, the series focused on Jack’s psychology. In this series, it was shown for the first time that Jack and the Creeper were distinct personalities. The Creeper grew from one of Jack’s childhood traumas, which was caused by his mother. Suddenly, Jack wanted nothing more to do with the Creeper, who he viewed as a physical manifestation of his past. As the series continued, Jack struggled more and more against the Creeper.
This new Creeper series also retconned the Creeper’s origins once again. Instead of Jack getting his Creeper costume from a costume shop or from a group of criminals, now the Creeper outfit came from within Jack. Also, Dr. Yatz was now revealed to be the Creeper’s old nemesis, Proteus. Jack’s transformation into the Creeper was an experiment concocted by Proteus to see if he could find a way to gain even more control over his body. Jack’s previous origins had simply been memories that he’d invented for himself.
This series only lasted 12 issues. It’s a shame since it was actually pretty good, but the first three issues were a bit scattered and hard to follow. That may have killed the series’ chances.
With the cancellation of his latest title, the Creeper vanished from the DCU. He just stopped showing up alongside his fellow heroes. Seeing an opportunity, Vertigo grabbed the name ‘Creeper’ and moved it over into their line of books. In a new Beware the Creeper series illustrated by Cliff Chiang and written by Jason Hall, the Creeper was now a surrealist French woman living in 1920s Paris. It was quite the departure for the character and while it had absolutely nothing to do with what came before or after, this five issue miniseries is quite good. Seek it out if you’re curious.
Thinking that Jack needed yet another try, the editorial offices reclaimed the Creeper for the standard DCU. Towards this return to superheroing, Infinite Crisis wiped away everything that had come before in regards to the Creeper. A six-issue miniseries launched in which Jack once again was injected by Dr. Yatz’s experiment. This time, the chemicals themselves changed Jack’s appearance and not his messed up subconscious or a premade costume. Featuring some fine work by Justiniano on art and Steve Niles on the word processor, this new series was a good time.
Soon after his debut, the Creeper ran into the Joker for the first time. He learned that Dr. Yatz’s chemicals were adapted from the Joker’s toxin, which is why the Creeper looked somewhat similar to the Clown Prince of Crime.
Once again, this series showed that the Creeper and Jack Ryder were separate and distinct personalities. Though they shared the same body, they weren’t the same person.
Yet another retcon hit the Creeper the following year. During the events of a revolution in Hell, all of the magical beings in the DCU were thrown into chaos. Shockingly, the Creeper suddenly split off from Jack Ryder. The Creeper, it seems, was actually a kind of Hell spawn. In fact, there was a whole race of Creeper demons, which Ragman and his allies learned the hard way.
Let me be clear about something: this was an awful idea. It turned the Creeper from a spin on the Captain America origin into being a third rate Etrigan. Now Jack Ryder was the unwilling human host of a demon. The worst part of this change was that absolutely nothing was done with this idea. It was just stated that, oh yeah, the Creeper is a demon and life continued on. Specifically, it continued on in The Outsiders when Jack Ryder joined the team as one of Batman’s postmortem contingency plans. Alfred Pennyworth became the leader of the Outsiders per Bruce Wayne’s instructions.
The Creeper was just there. He did very little with the group, no matter what the Outsiders were told to do. He did manage to survive crashing one of Batman’s orbiting space satellites into the desert, but that was about it. Matters weren’t helped any when Dan Didio took over as the series’ writer and Jack disappeared. He eventually reappeared in Hell battling a succubus, but this story had some major problems. Suddenly, Jack Ryder was talking while the Creeper was in charge of his body, something that hadn’t happened since the Creeper was shown to be a distinct demon. It was jarring and annoying.
At any rate, the Creeper made it back to Earth and didn’t get a much of a speaking role from then on. He was in group shots and background cameos, but that was it. This was a depressing end for a promising character.
In the New 52, the Creeper has had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the now defunct Justice League International. He was considered to become a member of that organization, but was ultimately rejected for the job.
As far as I know, the Creeper and Jack Ryder has yet to have said a single word in the New 52. However, it seems like a sure bet that when his origin is once again retold, it will involve Dr. Yatz, chemicals, and that laugh of his. Here’s hoping that the demon stuff has been forgotten by the time he returns to the pages of the DCU.
Jeff Reid likes the connection between the Joker and Creeper. He hopes that sticks around. Jeff discusses even more of his hopes and dreams on Twitter.