Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Creeper

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Creeper (DC, 2010)

Of all the periods of DC's history, I'm most fascinated by the late sixties. For a couple of years, the stodgy company, losing market share and the hearts and minds of a generation of readers to Marvel, finally woke up and reacted, giving creators like Joe Orlando, Steve Ditko, Bob Oskner, Nick Cardy and Sergio Aragones the opportunity to create some original ideas. There were some terrific comics published during this time, but few of them hit their appointed sales targets quickly enough. Few lasted as long as their ninth issue.

Beware the Creeper didn't even make seven. DC published six issues between 1968-69, preceded by a one-off episode in the anthology Showcase introducing the character. This was a terrific book, crackling with originality and a great supporting cast. If you can get past the really implausible, goofball origin of the character - it has to do with a sci-fi gadget hidden in the body of TV network troubleshooter Jack Ryder - this was a very fun adventure book, written and illustrated by Steve Ditko. It's a masterclass in how to tell good stories using the medium, and darn near as good a book as his earlier Spider-Man and Dr. Strange adventures for Marvel. Its cancellation was incredibly short-sighted of DC, but then again, I say that about several of their books from the period.

After the book was axed, DC began using Ditko's character as part of their larger superhero universe, as they do, slotting him into occasional team-ups with Batman and the Justice League. About five years later, Ditko got the chance to do another installment in their First Issue Special series, but it didn't lead to a revival. Neither did a 1978 outing for Showcase; the book was canceled before the episode ran, but it did lead to a new series of eight-page episodes in another anthology, World's Finest. These episodes are considerably more playful and lighthearted than the original run; there is a recurring gag with one fellow's cigar smoke invariably tracking down a co-worker's nose.

DC's new collection includes every one of Ditko's Creeper stories, including the never-previously published episode for Showcase. Well, it was published, in a way, in a frequently-pirated in-house trademark-protection mimeograph edition, but this is the first time that most people have seen it. It's a great book, and I like everything about it. The whole package, from the restored color to the paper selection to the design, is extremely well executed, and really makes these comics shine. Very highly recommended, DC, now do Ditko's Shade the Changing Man next!

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