Mar 9, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 13: 1st Issue Special #7, October 1975

Today's 1st Issue Special is really pretty interesting. I'm not a huge fan of the character of The Creeper, though reading through the brief history of the character that's at the back of this comic, perhaps it's because there really hasn't been enough of him in the DCU to foster fandom. I know over the last 15 to 20 years he's played a large role in the occult side of things, but that's never the popular side of things, is it?

The Steve Ditko art is a treat, as always. Ditko is one of those artists with whom I have a long history. Way back when I was still living in the UK, and then in Vancouver, I would read the British Doctor Who magazine, and these publications reprinted Ditko's creepy little time travel and horror stories from 60s and 70s Marvel horror titles. And, in the interest of demonstrating the power the medium has always had on me, these stories scared the crap out of my little 6 or 7 year old self. The other ramification of this, though, is that I've known Ditko's art for basically my whole life. This is not to say that I'm always a fan. While sometimes his art really does capture the same dynamism, though in a wholly different aesthetic, as Jack Kirby, with whom he is most often compared for his early Marvel work, sometimes it just seems....I don't know. Not sloppy, but hurried somehow. Like his brain has already moved on to the next thing he needs to draw, and the thing he's working on just needs to be finished. I wonder if this is something similar to what happened when I first read Judith Butler's Gender Trouble? I found myself repeatedly thinking that many of the things she was saying were self-evident, that I'd heard them all before, until I realized that the reason I'd heard them all before is because she wrote this book and it became part of our scholarly zeitgeist. Ditko is the same, as is Kirby, as is Curt Swan, and a host of famous artists. We recognize, and sometimes are tired of, their art because it is so much a part of the zeitgeist of the medium, especially in the case of superhero comics. For this reason, regardless of whether or not I enjoy the particular artwork, I always respect and enjoy Ditko for what he has brought more widely to comics.

A brief word on the scripter (though more likely the dialoguer) of this issue, Michael Fleisher. I'm not that familiar with his comics work, at least his actual comic book work, but I do rely pretty heavily on an interesting project he worked on probably around the same time he was writing this issue. Fleisher was behind three volumes of The Encyclopedia of Comic Books Heroes, one each on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They are well-researched and give a nice overview of the first 40 or so years of each characters' history. While not the kind of scholarly publications I'm more often encouraged to cleave unto, to ignore the wealth of information within them would make me a negligent comics academic.

The story itself is a standard "villain escapes from prison, hero goes after him, is mistaken for a bad guy (the Spider-Man trope), but good guy does his duty regardless." One thing that does separate this tale from many others is the seeming death of the Firefly at the end of the story. Firefly falls afoul of his own technology in the end, causing him to plummet to his death. The Creeper, ostensibly a superhero, does nothing to attempt to save the hapless villain, and in fact ends the comic laughing manically over the ledge that the villain fell from. And perhaps here we have an indicator of why the Creeper lacked, or lacks, the popularity that he may or may not deserve. This is, really, the sort of character that would have worked far better as an early Vertigo comic, when the imprint was mining the DCU for dark characters with which to push at the boundaries of the superhero genre. Trying to slot him into the mid-seventies DCU seems, well, a terrible idea, actually. Perhaps I'll have to have a look at the late 90s series the character received. I've read the DC One Million crossover from that series, and it was dark and weird, and along with Chronos, Chase, and a number of others, represented a mid-point between DCU and VU (Vertigo Universe, that is) superheroes, a tradition we see continued in the "dark" side of the New 52 titles.

More 1st Issue Special tomorrow.

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