A Tribute to the of

Time flies, doesn't it?  It struck me as I was deciding which story to review this time around that I only had two more shots at covering the ongoing special selections for our tribute to the 70th anniversary of DC comics before the year ran out on me.  With that in mind I did a little digging to see if there was a worthy candidate for a decade not yet covered.  I think I found one.  In September of 1981 a story appeared in the pages of the Brave and the Bold, issue #178, to be precise, featuring an unusual team-up between Batman and the Creeper.  It was entitled "Paperchase" and was written by Alan Brennert with cover art by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano, who also provided editorial oversight. Jim Aparo handled the interior pencils and inks. Colors by Adrienne Roy. There's also a note on the splash page:  "Respectfully dedicated to the talents of Steve Ditko.Steve Ditko, to those unfamiliar, created the Creeper back in 1968 along with being co-creator of the Hawk and the Dove.  Perhaps of more interest is another co-creation of his from before, that of Spider-Man.  More on Steve later, but now, let's check into the story at hand:

Back first to that splash page, where our favorite Dark Knight detective is being pummeled by paper in an alley off skid row.  The strange thing is that there is not any wind…Abruptly the torrent ends and Batman comes upon the latest homicide victim in a series of same, ten in three weeks to be precise, but the victims tend to be those on the fringe of society or the odd drunken college student.  The common theme is that a chain of paper dolls is left on the victim's torso.  This particular body has been crushed to death as by a boa constrictor and oddly there are bits of paper under the fingernails and newsprint ink on the skin.  As the World's Greatest Detective wonders at the connection we switch scenes to the studios of nearby WHAM-TV where a commentary show is being broadcast.  The speaker, a Dr. Clayton Wetley, is decrying the "Doll Murders" and is indicting the moral decay of society at large.  From the director's booth Jack Ryder, the station trouble-shooter and Hugo Marlies, the station manager looks on.  Jack is disgusted with the program, stating that Wetley is a reactionary loon, offering no solutions but only anger.  Hugo is dismissive and reminds Jack that it could have been his show, but he'd given up newscasting to work security.  Jack thinks to himself that part of his reasoning was to have more freedom to become the Creeper when necessary.  At that moment one of the reporters for WHAM announces to Jack that the Paper Doll killer has just struck again on Temple Street and she's on her way to cover the scoop.  Ryder decides that's his cue to spring into action as well and once Vera is safely out of sight he dives out an open window while simultaneously activating the molecular transmuter beneath his skin that transforms him into The Creeper, a being wanted by both the police and the underworld. 

The Creeper uses his great athletic ability to head for Temple Street via the rooftops.  He is a bizarre figure with his yellow skin, green hair, and red mane flowing from his shoulders and matching red gloves and boots, which are the only clothing aside from his green and black striped trunks.  He is soon spotted by a small mob below, who begin to hurl debris at him.  They call him a freak and invoke Wetley's notion that they need to get the freaks before they get them.  The Creeper dodges and makes his escape while thinking "Wetley's little cheering section gets nastier every day!  They're scared—of the killer, of a world they don't understand anymore—but is that any excuse for unreasoning hate?

We switch scenes yet again as another bizarre figure in Gotham City is seen above the rooftops.  It is the dread Batman and his own mind is working furiously:  "The first victim was burned to death—the second was hung, but with no noose in evidence and only paper burns on his neck…"  He then hears a cry below as a young man is being menaced.  Batman sweeps down, calling the man by name and then the Creeper arrives as well to confront the attacker.  Both heroes then pause in astonishment at the figure before them.  It's a large monster made of…paper.  The Creeper tries to put a fist through its torso, but merely tears through, causing no apparent harm.  The creature calls them criminal scum and somehow causes a nearby stack of newspapers to fly around the Creeper and begin to crush him.  As Batman attempts to offer aid the paper being cries that he is a pollutant and must be destroyed.  This time some nearby waste paper is brought into play, being formed into miniature missiles and hurled at such speed toward the Gotham Goliath that they risk lethal damage.  As Batman bobs and weaves, the right hand of the fiendish figure forms into a noose, but before it can be brought into play Batman pulls a portable torch from his utility belt and sets fire to the villain.  Immediately the papers constricting the Creeper fall to the ground, but then they note a whirlwind of litter that reforms itself into the paper horror just as it runs away with only a menacing backward glance. 

Segue now to the famed Batcave where Bruce is working at the computer while the Creeper looks on.  The World's Greatest Detective has just completed a spectroanalysis of the paper that had held the Creeper prisoner, but it is revealing nothing out of the ordinary, leading Batman to conclude some sort of paranormal activity, much like the way the Spectre operates.  He decides they'll concentrate on the creature's method of operation rather than motive and create a graph of the high crime areas to search.  The Creeper comments that he had two close calls tonight, the first at the hands of the Wetley-incited mob.  He suggests that someone needs to talk some sense into the man before he starts a riot. 

The next day, however, Dr. Wetley is again in full throated outcry.  Jack Ryder confronts him in his home and Wetley suggests it is mere jealousy on Ryder's part and sends him packing. 

Ryder later ponders matters, thinking that he'd given up much of his career so that he could devote more time to battling crime as the Creeper.  Unfortunately he was fairly ineffective against the monster, but perhaps as Jack Ryder he can do something about the influence of Dr. Wetley. 

Later that night the two heroes patrol Gotham City and after five hours of searching they finally come upon the monstrosity again, slicing a lamp post in half and crying irrationally:  "Parasite!  You live off the charity of the majority!"  This gives the Creeper pause, but he launches himself at the paper creature, who has managed to make itself as hard as rock.  Batman, meanwhile, has rescued the cowering woman and child.  The Creeper scoops up a section of nearby fire escape and swings it at the creature, beheading it, but when it is retrieved by Batman the sneering head says that "…we are more than the sum of our parts!"  The headless body then delivers a knockout blow to both our heroes.  It retrieves its severed head and walks away as the Batman struggles to act.  He deploys a batarang to get a piece of paper from the creature for analysis.

Later, back once again in the confines of the Batcave, another analysis is taking place.  Batman concludes that it is washi paper, a handmade pulp sometimes used in Japanese origami.  He has also learned that according to a local art dealer one of the state's foremost collectors of origami is Dr. Clayton Wetley.  A dawning realization crosses the Creeper's face as he notes the creature's comment about the majority and the probable connection to Wetley and his desire to eliminate the dregs of society. 

The two figures stride toward the Batmobile and are soon entering the window of the bedroom of Dr. Wetley.  Quite the wake-up call.  Wetley is defiant, calling them insane for their accusations and also calling them to task for their actions, encouraging others to be different, rather than productive members of society.  He threatens to call the police and Batman and the Creeper departs while planning their next move.  The Batman has a theory and tells his partner that in order to test it they must create an irresistible target for the origami.  As they melt into the night the selfsame origami has materialized and looks on malevolently. 

Two days later we witness a broadcast at WHAM-TV and Jack Ryder is once again in the newscaster's chair, making a rebuttal to Dr. Wetley's recent broadcasts:  "I'd like to close my first day back on the air with a commentary!  We hear a lot lately about the "will of the majority"…but a democracy doesn't mean freedom for the majority of the people…but for all people!  Democracy isn't forcing your idea of what's right on everyone—it's having the freedom to practice your own morality—and the courage to allow others to practice theirs!"  Dr. Wetley, of course, is outraged and later the Batman catches up to Jack Ryder and comments on the broadcast, asking if he's afraid he'll endanger his secret identity by taking such stands.  (Frankly, I don't get that part, but the next part is equally weird.)  "Sure, it's a risk!  But y'know, Bats…if I had to live in constant fear of exposing my identity…if the only way I could show any courage was putting on a costume…what the heck kind of hero would I be?"  Okay, is it just me or did Jack Ryder, aka the Creeper, just take a potshot at Batman? 

A little later, Batman has "encouraged" Dr. Wetley to join him on an excursion with the caveat that he hopes he isn't afraid of heights.

Meanwhile, Jack Ryder is walking the streets when he sees a shadow.  He looks up to see the paper horror descending upon him and attacking, shrieking that he'll never live to poison another mind.  Ryder rolls out of harm's way, hits the transmuter and again becomes the Creeper.  Above, the Dark Knight descends from a rooftop where he has left Dr. Wetley to witness what's happening below.  He tells Wetley that the monster is his doing.  The Creeper chimes in, stating that his broadcasts are promoting anger and frustration and that the souls of listeners have made this creature commit murder.  Batman replies that Wetley is providing a psychic focus.  His subconscious with its latent psychic abilities chose an origami as a weapon.  Clayton responds with denial, that nothing like this has happened since he was a child and then it was visions, dreams and voices in his head.  Batman continues to argue the point, telling the Dr. that he is the conduit for his listener's hatred and that he and he alone can break the circuit.  Wetley says that he'd been an outsider, made fun of and had been hated for being different.  The heroes, meanwhile, are fighting for their lives against the monster.  A sobbing Wetley then screams that he is not a murderer and as he does so the paper monster is engulfed in destroying flames. 

The final two panels contain this exchange between the Brave and the Bold team:  "It worked Creeper!  It's over!"  "Is it?  Wetley was only the focus!  The real murderers…are still out there!  All they need is another focus!  Somehow, Bats…I don't think it is over…"

The following is some information I obtained from the online Wikipedia about the Creeper and a bit of his history in DC's vault: His real name is Jack Ryder, a television news reporter who was demoted due to his outspoken nature. Relegated to network security, he protected a scientist who gave him two devices. One enabled him to instantly heal from any wound and gave enhanced strength and agility, but at the cost of somewhat unbalanced personality. The other enabled him to instantly alter his appearance at will. His usual appearance is that of a green-haired, yellow-skinned, and red-furred wildman, a costume he originally adopted while rescuing the scientist from kidnappers.

Following his debut in Showcase, the Creeper was given his own series Beware the Creeper, written by Ditko and Dennis O'Neil, which lasted only six issues. Apart from brief series in Adventure Comics (in 1978-1979) and as a back-up feature in The Flash (in 1983), all the Creeper's subsequent appearances have been guest roles.

This story was obviously one with social commentary, which of course is something I don't care for in a comics medium.  I liked Jim Aparo's excellent artwork, particularly where the Creeper was concerned as it made him look much less "cartoonish" though Lord knows his character practically begs to be a caricature.  The tale had some good elements to it.  Who would have thought you could make a menace out of paper and in some of the panels it was downright scary.  Not the sort of thing you'd care to run into in a dark alley.  I thought touches of Denny O'Neil's legacy were apparent as we saw the gritty and unforgiving underbelly of Gotham after dark once again.  Again, though, it was too preachy for my tastes.  I don't rate outside the Silver Age, of course, but if this is indicative of the 80's I don't think I missed much.

Please be sure to come back in approximately two weeks for the next edition of this feature.  I've received several e-mails recently and am always glad to hear from you, so don't be bashful.  Address any comments to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2005 by B.D.S.

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