Year of the Artist, Day 187: Steve Ditko, Part 6 – Beware the Creeper #1

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Year of the Artist, Day 187: Steve Ditko, Part 6 – <i>Beware the Creeper</i> #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Ditko, and the issue is Beware the Creeper #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1968. These scans are from The Creeper by Steve Ditko, which came out in 2010. Enjoy!

The last time we checked out Ditko (see the links below), he was drawing for Warren, presumably not making much money, but really pushing his art in interesting directions. The siren call of DC could not be resisted, however, and soon after that, he was back at National Comics and creating the Creeper, who’s quite odd. I wanted to take a look at his work here, because it’s obviously done with much less care than his work at Warren – he didn’t have as much time to labor and he needed to fill more pages. For this second half of Ditko’s art, I want to look at some of the inkers he worked with, because his style really didn’t change all that much. So let’s take a look at Ditko inking himself! (As usual, you’ll have to forgive me if the scans get cut off on the edges. These hardcovers that DC puts out, as nice as they are, have the same dimensions as the comics, so the art tends to fall into the spine. It sucks!)

Ditko tilts the panel to lead us from the upper left to the bottom right, as the “Terror” (the story is called “Where Lurks the Menace?”, but throughout the issue they call him the “Terror”) swoops in to the window and his target, Jurgen, stands with his back to it (come on, Jurgen, you should know better than to stand with your back to the window like that!). Ditko surrounds the Terror with sinewy lightning, completely unlike the way lightning acts but which adds a strange surreal vibe to the background. The tilt in the panel makes the slanted rain streaming over the city almost horizontal, which adds to the sense of a tremendous storm raging outside. The frame in the window separates the Terror from the rest of the background, creating almost a separate panel within the panel, and the frame also points directly at Jurgen. Jurgen is nicely drawn. He’s worried and scared as he waits for Jack Ryder to show up (it sure is helpful that Jack Ryder is coming!), and Ditko gives him worry lines across his forehead and hatches his face well – we get the black underneath his right eye, and the rest of the right side of his face is in half-shadow. Ditko puts lines under his eyes, and his heavily lidded eyes show his exhaustion and fear. The hand on the side of his head and the cigarette (even though that was still a common thing to see in 1968) complete the picture of dread. Ditko does a wonderful job in this panel of showing Jurgen’s mindset and giving us a moment of anticipation before the Terror crashes through the window.

Ditko, while not my first thought when “action” comes to mind, does know a thing or two about drawing fights, as he always lays the page out well in action scenes. The Creeper leaps over the diving thug and assists him in smashing into his cronies, and then the Creeper attacks them all while they’re a bit disorganized. He gets bonked on the head by – I kid you not – Gerk Kreg, the head bad dude (or one of them), and the punks grab him. In Panel 4, the gun moves our eyes from the left to the right, where we find the Creeper incapacitated, and then the punks realize that the Creeper isn’t actually wearing a mask (well, he is, but when Ryder is the Creeper, it can’t come off). Ditko adds some touches to the scene to create more “action,” from the radiating lines in Panel 1 to the small bursts in Panels 2 and 3 when the Creeper and Kreg connect. Other than that, this is a fairly standard page, with nothing too surprising, just a well conceived page.

I don’t usually write too much about the story in these posts, because it’s not the point, but this issue is weirdly problematic because of the presence of Vera Sweet. First, however, I’ll just point out that Ditko still draws nice-looking women, even when he’s on more of a clock than when he was drawing comics for Warren. He gets the right mix of Vera’s beauty and haughtiness in this panel, with her eyebrows arched … um, archly, and her nose upturned and her lips pouty. The akimbo arms also speak to her belief that the world owes her something as she waits impatiently for Jack Ryder. Ditko draws Ryder as insouciant as he usually is, and he does a good job even though Jack is tucked into the background. It shows Jack’s “irreverence” much better than his somewhat hateful words (yes, I know he’s joking, but the context of the story shows that he doesn’t think much of Vera at all). Ditko plotted this and Denny O’Neil (writing as “Sergius O’Shaugnessy”) scripted it, and Vera’s subplot is … well, we’ll get back to it.

Here’s another nice panel, as the Creeper catches up to the Terror and eventually unmasks him. The storm rages on in the background, with the purple sky and black clouds providing a nice backdrop to the brightly-clad characters in the foreground (the credits don’t list a colorist – although the hardcover lists Jerry Serpe – but I imagine this was touched up a little for the collection). The Creeper shows a disdain for safety, as he follows the Terror (who, naturally, scares easily when the chips are down) out the window without a rope, counting on being able to grab his quarry. Ditko draws him as somewhat chaotic – he manages to grab the rope, but he’s parallel to the ground and his legs are splayed out at awkward angles. The Terror, meanwhile, grips the rope with both hands, but he’s desperately trying to block the Creeper without letting go, which isn’t working out too well. His mask, the expression of which never changes (obviously), has become less a menacing one and more a terrified one – the angle upward gives more prominence to the downturned mouth, which changes it from one that strikes fear into people to almost a pathetic face of a whining coward. It’s kind of interesting. Notice the sinews of lightning again. Ditko dug ’em!

The final page of the issue takes us back to Jack and Vera. Again, Ditko does a nice job with the facial expressions. Vera is peeved in Panel 1, but Jack deflates that with his tale of a two-headed goblin – his wry face in Panel 2 is well done, as is Vera’s expression of both scorn and slight belief. In Panel 3 she panics, and once again Ditko draws a fine female form. Jack collapses on the sofa in Panel 4, and Ditko draws a nice rendition of a jerk who’s rather pleased with himself. The problem isn’t really with the art, it’s with the entire subplot. Vera – the “weather girl” at the television station – claims someone threatened her, and Jack’s boss assigns Jack to watch out for her. This causes sitcom-like problems, naturally, as Jack needs to keep slipping away to figure out who the Terror is, and Vera becomes increasingly annoyed with him. The problem with the plot is that Ditko and O’Neil never even bring up the fact that someone threatened Vera – we hear about it only from Jack’s boss, and it’s never mentioned again. Plus, she’s a stereotypical woman who wants Jack to walk her dog, for instance, because she’s so scared of going outside. Jack, as we’ve seen, treats her with nothing but disdain, and in the end, he scares her away and laughs about it. But what happens if someone actually was threatening her? Ditko and O’Neil never give that any credence, which makes it seem like they wanted to put a woman in the story who spun tall tales about her safety simply to distract Jack from doing manly work like beating up the Terror and other assorted unsavory types. Vera became a recurring character in the short series, and I guess Steve Niles used her in his Creeper series, but at least in this iteration, her depiction really never gets any better. It’s kind of frustrating.

But Ditko’s and O’Neil’s attitudes are a discussion for another day! Tomorrow we’ll check out a Ditko book where he’s inked by another legend, and the results are predictably awesome. And, uh, yeah, there’s some more regressive attitudes toward women, too. Dang it.

As with Kirby, I’ve already shown Ditko, and you can take a look at his 1950s and 1960s work here, here, here, here, and here. Of course, there’s always the rest of the archives, too!