Welcome to another special Adventure(s) Time's installment, this time looking back on Steve Ditko's influence on the DC Animated Universe. With the news of the enigmatic artist's passing, I thought it would be fun to examine the numerous tributes to Ditko's work in this canon. Many fans were first exposed to Ditko's genius through these animated series.
Most of the producers of the DCAU series are open about their deep affection for classic comic pros. Typically, that's expressed through homages to Bruce Timm's artistic hero, Jack Kirby. The initial run of Batman: The Animated Series didn't present many opportunities to acknowledge Ditko, but the creators soon made up for lost time.
"They call me Yellow-Skinned-Wacky-Man! But I prefer the Creeper."
The first overt Ditko tribute appeared in the New Batman Adventures episode, “Beware The Creeper.” (The name itself an homage to the original Ditko Creeper series.)
The plot takes the traditional origin of Ditko's madcap adventurer the Creeper and remolds it for the show's continuity. Ditko's origin had newscaster Jack Ryder transformed by the experiments of scientist Dr. Vincent Yatz into the deranged hero. The adaptation has Ryder covering the seventh anniversary of the Joker's debut, immediately making himself a target of the villain. Joker recreates the accident at ACE Chemicals that altered his skin and hair with Ryder as the victim. The result plays up the physical similarities between Joker and the Creeper. Since we are meeting Creeper within the context of Batman's world, it seems to be a justifiable move.
The rest of the episode has Joker and Creeper at odds, with Batman stuck in the middle. This Creeper is very much of its times. (The influence of Jim Carrey in The Mask is undeniable.) It's one of the sillier episodes of the era, ignoring any of the psychological torment Ditko intended for the straightlaced Jack Ryder. There is a direct homage to Ditko when Ryder is crafting his Creeper ensemble, invading "Ditko’s Vintage Clothing." (The first patron we see at the story is also a ringer for Spider-Man's gal, Mary Jane. Ditko never rendered MJ's face, however, making this more of a John Romita homage.)
Also, thanks to the folks at World's Finest for these images. Additionally, note that the Question makes a cameo as a mannequin in this scene.
Initially, the producers planned a much larger role for the Creeper. Reportedly, the initial title for this run of Batman was going to be Gotham Knights. And joining Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing would be none other than Ditko's wild hero. The Creeper would also serve as an inspiration for the Warner Brothers animated series Freakazoid. According to Timm, his original conception for the character was very much inspired by Ditko.