The Creeper: Welcome to Creepsville

May 24, 2008

So far, all the post-Infinite Crisis spin-offs I have read prove remarkably good. I may even venture to say that Infinite Crisis itself seems the weak link when set against series like Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighter, Tales of the Unexpected, 52, The New Atom, Checkmate, and this one.

One look at the cover and write-up was, however, enough to have put me off reading it straight away. And, boy, did that turn out to be a grand “go-back-5-squares” mistake! This story gets it right in so many ways that I am happy to call it an exemplary text in Creative Writing 101 (although, if it doesn’t work for you, it’s you). Writer Steve Niles knows how not to give his readers too much or too little to work with. Considering that the backdrop is Gotham City itself, the potential of getting hit by a bus while avoiding the truck is also a real concern.

But the Creeper lands nicely and confidently into the already crowded freak space of Batman’s local patrol. It may have one of the best re-imagined origin stories in recent memory too. The surprise element here is another thing of beauty. You know what, and who, the Creeper will be running into in this neighbourhood and yet you’re still thrilled each time the oh-so-predictable happens. You think that its devilish blood-curling laugh is all too banal and familiar; yet, you don’t suspect that more can be done with a cliche. In short, you are invited to make the same mistake Batman does: see a ticking bomb and assume the worst when living, or writing, on the edge can work just fine!

Jack Ryder, the irritatingly acerbic TV news anchor who splits into this Jekyll-Hyde entity, is a great character. Niles casts him in a light that reminds us that, even in brazen ideological pig-headedness, there are Lefties and there are Lefties. Jack doesn’t just preach scepticism and paranoia; when the time comes for him to show why those should mean something, he lays down half his soul with finesse. In such steady strokes, Lefty becomes buddy to the Creepy in us all — or should the other way round flatters us more?

The book’s great lesson is its own theme, that everybody is wrong about somebody some of the time. This does not just involve Jack and his on-off girlfriend but goes all the way to the top: even Batman can judge poorly (but Jason Todd already knew that). So — here’s the logic bit — if reason does not give us the best path all the time, then intuition still remains the best bet when we are in real doubt. This kind of life-affirming open-endedness can be executed badly with another writer or character, but here we reach the end joining the Creeper to say with glee: “Thanks, Jack!”

Gweek gives this book 9 tummy rubs.

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