REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS THE CREEPER
Riddle me this -- what's green and yellow, wears a red fur cape, and has a laugh that's scarier than the Joker's?
Yeah, I know, an obvious way to begin a review for one of Mattel's DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures, but I figure I can get away with it, since the Riddler is in this particular assortment -- Wave 16 -- of figures, even though that's not who this review is about. No, the character I'm referring to is one of the more bizarre beings in the DC Universe, a creation of the legendary Steve Ditko -- THE CREEPER!
Let's consider the background of this strange character, with a little help from some online research.
The Creeper -- real name Jack Ryder -- first appeared in Showcase #73, in a story both written and drawn by Steve Ditko.
Following his debut in Showcase, the Creeper was given his own short-lived series, "Beware the Creeper", which lasted for six issues. Following this, he turned up as a guest star in a number of places, including Brave and the Bold, Justice League of America, and Detective Comics. He also put in an appearance in the Joker's unfortunately short-lived title. He had another solo title in the late 1990's, which even enabled this bizarre character to be part of the "DC One Million" event.
When we first encounter the man who is to become The Creeper, he is Jack Ruder, a former Gotham City television talk show host who was fired due to his unspoken nature and insulting the wrong people. These days, that sort of thing would get him an Emmy. Finding employment in network security, he attempts to rescue a scientist named Dr. Yatz whom mobsters have kidnapped in order to obtain his newest discoveries. The chief mobster hosts a masquerade party at his mansion. To gain entry, Ryder improvises a costume from yellow tights and facial make-up designed to look like skin, a green wig and trunks, and red gloves, boots, and a furry cape.
Ryder locates Yatz inside the mobster's mansion, but the mobsters detect him and open fire, wounding Ryder. Yatz injects Ryder with a serum and implants a device in his wound. The serum confers the power to almost instantly heal any wound, and grants Ryder enhanced strength and agility. The device, used with its activator, causes the costume to disappear (don't try to figure it out...). At this point, the mobsters find their victims again, this time killing Yatz. Ryder discovers that with the activator, he can regain the wild costume whenever he wishes. Combined with a maniacal laugh and his enhanced physical abilities, he has no trouble routing the criminals.
The Creeper's origin has undergone some revision over the years. One such revision eliminated the serum and claims that the scientist implanted two devices that enhance Ryder's physical abilities and can recreate an object whose "imprint" is stored in its circuitry, in this case the Creeper costume. The scientist performs this surgery to save Ryder's life after criminals he was investigating attacked and drugged him. Because the scientist is unaware of the drugs in Ryder's system, he inadvertently recorded their "imprint" at the same time he recorded the imprint of the costume. This the device that recreates Ryder's costume when he becomes The Creeper also recreates the drugs in his system, explaining the Creeper's increasingly odd and unstable personality.
Eventually, Ryder comes to believe that he and the Creeper are two entirely different people instead of two roles played by the same man. He also holds this belief in his Creeper persona, which becomes increasingly disdainful of "Jack Ryder". The Creeper once regained his rationality while bound by Wonder Woman's magic lasso, but the implications of this incident were never explored.
More recently, in 2006, the Creeper's origin was revised yet again. Jack Ryder is the host of a controversial TV show, "You Are Wrong!", promising $1,000,000 to the person who catches the Creeper. Ryder seeks a scoop on the revolutionary "nanocell" therapy devised by Doctor Vincent Yatz, a mixture of nanotech and stem cell therapy able to enhance a body's regeneration to the point of giving new skin to a badly scarred burn victim. Ryder is caught attempting to steal Yatz's newly-discovered technology. Unable to escape, Yatz injects the last sample of nanocells, still unstable, into Ryder's body in an attempt to keep the sample safe from villains who also have designs on the technology. When the bad guys shoot Ryder in the head, the regenerative substance interacts with his body chemistry, restoring him as the Creeper. Where the weird wardrobe came from I'm not entirely sure. Ryder dispatches his opponents, discovering that he is now able to call forth his bizarre alter-ego at will.
A more recent storyline indicates that the Creeper side of Ryder's personality may be a member of a demonic species who all share similar physical characteristics. I'm not going to get into that, or comment on what a Hell full of Creepers would be like...
The Creeper continues to pop up, generally where least expected, and even appeared in Green Lantern #24, fighting members of the Sinestro Corps alongside other super-heroes.
The Creeper has turned up in animation, first appearing during the Batman animated series, in one of the wackiest episodes of all, but with a different origin. In this story, Ryder is a reporter retracing the origin of the Joker, back to the chemical plant where he was transformed into the lunatic he is today. Joker puts in an unexpected appearance, uses his laughing gas on Ryder, and then tosses him into the same vat of chemicals. Ryder survives, having gained superhuman strength and agility, but also having had his skin turned yellow and his hair green. He goes after the Joker and his gang, partly for revenge, but also because he develops a sudden and rather intense attraction to Harley Quinn. After a completely insane car chase through the streets of Gotham that end unceremoniously at the city dump, the Joker practically begs Batman to arrest him, saying of the Creeper, "He's a lunatic!" And brother, if you can get the Joker to say that about you...!
The Creeper also put in a few, mostly cameo appearances, in Justice League Unlimited.
The origin story used on the toy package for the figure uses the "nanocells" origin, in a basic summary.
As to his powers and abilities, along with the enhanced strength and agility given to him by -- whatever means -- he has also displayed a certain amount of enhanced speed and reflexes. These combined abilities make The Creeper is a formidable fighter, even though he has not had any formal training, but his physical enhancements combined with basic brawling techniques make him a tough opponent. He possesses a superhuman healing factor, which enables him to heal from virtually any wound. Gunshots and stab wounds have healed in a matter of minutes. Most notably, his laugh is depicted as being physically painful to the ears of his victims, causing a psychotic comatose state in most instances. If there's a scientific explanation for that one, I'd love to hear it. I'm sure he also has a lovely singing voice.
I have to admit, I've always sort of liked The Creeper, even if I haven't followed his stories all that closely. He's just so bizarre, you just never know what to expect.
So, how's the figure? Well -- hmm. You know, I really, really hate to be more critical than complimentary on any action figure I review, especially from as fine and impressive a line as DC Universe Classics. And I'm not going to say that this is a poor rendition of the character. It's actually very impressive. But the figure does have several problems, virtually all of which could have easily been avoided. And I will be addressing these over the course of the review.
Let's emphasize the positive for the moment. For starters, there's the headsculpt. For the most part, it's excellent. I'm not entirely sure that The Creeper needed quite the Joker-esque grin on his face that he has. Granted, this is something that is likely open to a lot of artistic interpretation, but Jack Ryder is a relatively normal-looking individual, and the facial features of The Creeper may be somewhat exaggerated, but I do find myself wondering if this is just a little bit much. Again, simply a matter of opinion, and I don't wish to be critical this early on.
It's not an especially pleasant grin, either. Between that, the massive green eyebrows, the black circles around the rather unreadable eyes -- yeah, you sort of get the impression that you're dealing with a serious nutcase even before you get to the yellow face paint and the green hair. The overall sculpted detail on the head is superb, even if I might regard it as being just a little over the top.
Obviously, most of the body is molded in yellow, and here we have what I believe to be an unintentional but interesting effect. Technically, The Creeper is wearing yellow tights, let's call it a body glove, that happens to somehow resemble skin. At least that's how he's always been presented in the comics. It's only his face that he's painted yellow. Well, somebody call "Irony Unlimited", because while the face of The Creeper figure is painted yellow, the bulk of the body is molded yellow. And while the colors are an excellent match, those with a sufficiently discerning eye can tell the difference between painted plastic and the molded color. So the face looks very slightly different from the rest of the body. Which, honestly, is entirely appropriate.
I'm sure that neither the Four Horsemen nor Mattel planned it that way, but it's interesting to see how it worked out.
Along with the yellow body suit, The Creeper wears green trunks, with a black waistband and black horizontal stripes. These have been recreated in the figure superbly well. He also has red gloves and boots, which are topped with borders of black fur. Now, in my opinion, the Four Horsemen are the best sculpting and design team in the business. But they really know how to sculpt fur. Take a look at characters such as Beast Man, Gygor, Battle Cat -- the Four Horsemen know how to sculpt fur. And certainly The Creeper is no exception. The little borders of black fur around the gloves and boots are excellent.
And certainly, I cannot argue with the quality of the sculpt of the furry red cape that The Creeper wears. It's superbly well done. But -- at this point -- I must enter the more critical phase of this review, and address some of the problems this figure has. And to manage as much of a segue as possible, I'll start with the furry cape.
It is designed to look as though it's being blown back somewhat. This exacerbates a problem that already exists, and honestly, I doubt there was really any way around the basic problem. Since this fur cape, by definition, is going to appear to be far bulkier than a traditional cape, the end result is far bulkier, and far heavier -- and there's the problem -- than a traditional plastic cape that one might find on other DC Universe Classics figures. Now, it may be that the Horsemen decided to give it a bit of a "lift" at the back, just to keep the legs decently articulated. I recall when the Mister Miracle figure came out, with a standard cape, but strangely molded from a barely flexible plastic, and it was a severe hindrance to articulation.
Unfortunately, the sheer weight of the cape, as unavoidable as it might be, makes The Creeper so back-heavy, that it is exceptionally difficult to get him to stand up straight. It's nearly impossible. I'm not sure that this problem would have been remedied with a less "wind-blown" cape, which admittedly might have created other problems, but it certainly didn't help matters.
This, alas, is a problem that I don't really have a solution for, and as such I hate to be critical about it to the degree that I am. But I do believe that an action figure should be able to stand on his own two feet. However, I would emphasize once again, the cape is a truly superb sculpt, with the phenomenal level of detail that the Four Horsemen are capable of achieving, and which I am surprised can be pulled out of a mold.
Now, let's talk physique. Initially I believed that The Creeper had a standard torso, at the very least. However, after taking some comparative measurements with another standard DC Universe Classics figure, this is not the case. The Creeper is almost an entirely unique figure. And -- he's somewhat thinner. He's got about the same physical build as Plastic Man, who was a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive in 2010. And he might even share a very few similar parts. I think the lower torso and upper legs may be the same.
The question must be raised -- is this appropriate for The Creeper? And my answer to that would be -- no. And in point of fact, the pictures shown of the prototype figure on the back of the package, and you can see two angles, would indicate that originally, the figure was planned to be of the same build as the majority of the male figures in this line. I have never seen anything in The Creeper's appearances to make me believe that he is undersized. So why do this? There's no good reason.
Now, let's talk articulation. And here we come to my serious, serious gripe. The Creeper has been inflicted with the double-joint articulated in the elbows and knees that a number of DC Universe figures are being given. Thankfully, most of these are, like The Creeper, nearly entirely new figures. Which still doesn't excuse it. Why do I hate this so much? Let me count the ways once again.
The most important, and the most basic, of those reasons is this -- I'm all in favor of a good range of motion in action figures. The days when a figure could be just articulated at the head, arms, and legs, and get away with it, are long gone. HOWEVER -- when the level of articulation gets to a point where it has a noticeably adverse effect on the look of an action figure, when the end result looks less like a character and more like some sort of construct, even if that's what action figures are, then it's time to back off a bit. And I believe that line gets crossed with double-jointed elbows and knees.
With only two exceptions, I have yet to see ANY action figure line that could get away with double-jointed limbs. Those exceptions are Gundam -- which are robots anyway and can stretch the envelope of a humanoid appearance, and certain 12" G.I. Joes, who are not only wearing cloth uniforms to conceal all the rivets and such, but also have SLENDER ENOUGH LIMBS under the clothes, so that the movement of the limbs seems fairly natural. That is categorically NOT the case with DC Universe Classics (or anybody else, really). Not even someone designed to be a bit more slender like The Creeper.
Why? Simply stated, the human body is a fairly flexible thing. Far more so than hard plastic. Our arms and legs can move to the degree that they do because our bodies are not completely solid. Trying to allow for a greater range of motion in a solid action figure by installing basically two points of articulation where, in reality, only one major point exists, results in a movement that does not look at all natural on the figure. Okay, maybe he can tuck his legs in further, or bring his arm up further -- but he doesn't look too right doing it.
Speaking of looks, this leads me to the fourth and final point. That extra articulation required extra parts. In the case of the DC Universe Classics figures, rather than, in the case of The Creeper, going from upper leg, to lower leg, with a peg holding the two parts together and allowing for their movement, you have the upper leg, the knee, and the lower leg, with two rivets holding all of these parts together, and frankly looking like heck from just about any angle. The knee sticks out in the front, the rivets look like heck on the sides, and the separation between upper and lower leg is glaringly obvious on the back.
Similarly, the arms, rather than going from upper arm, to the bicep swivel, which blends in with the musculature very nicely, to elbow, to lower arm, with a peg holding the lower arm to the upper, you have the upper arm, the elbow piece, and the lower arm, with two rivets holding the entire assembly together. And this looks even worse than the legs, from the vantage point of viewing the figure from the front, since the separation between the upper and lower arm is that much more apparent, and it doesn't blend at all.
What's really unfortunate is the deceptiveness of the early photos. There's a picture of the prototype of The Creeper on the back, and it almost doesn't look too bad. The knee-joint is pretty flush with both the upper and lower legs, and there aren't even any visible rivets. Same with the arms, although it's a little harder to tell because of the angle of the photo. Compare that with the production level figure, where the knee and elbow joints are reasonably flush, but the rivets are very obvious, as is the separation between upper and lower appendage sections. That is simply the unavoidable result of mass production. I wouldn't even care if there were a way to conceal the rivets, there's no way to conceal the separation of upper and lower legs and arms from certain angles, or the "cut" it makes into the musculature of the figure.
No action figure looks good with this sort of thing inflicted on it, and the DC Universe Classics figures are really such works of art, that it's a downright tragedy to inflict it on them, especially. And the ultimate sad part of it is -- it really isn't necessary. These figures have a superb range of motion. They don't need to be any more poseable than they already are, and they look perfectly fine as it.
I have little choice but to accept the figures that this is being done to, but I don't have to like it, and I don't, I will continue to speak out against it, and it is my sincere hope and prayer that it is a very short-lived aberration in one of the finest action figure lines ever created, that deserves a hell of a lot better than this being done to it.
And just to put a final point on it, the design of the legs somehow makes Creeper slightly -- taller -- than average, and it's entirely in the legs. All you have to do is stand the figure next to Plastic Man to see this. Not only is The Creeper's physical build not what it should be -- neither is his height, unless we find out Jack Ryder played basketball in college or something.
And the real shame of it all is that NONE of this had to happen. Okay, the cape might have been unavoidable. But the more slender build, the extra physical height, and certainly the double-jointed articulation -- none of this was necessary. A perfectly good Creeper figure could -- AND SHOULD -- have been created using the existing male body molds. Only a new head, cape, gloves, and boots would've been necessary. Mattel could have saved some money on molds, and the result would've been a far better figure.
Consistency is one of the things that I have appreciated about the DC Universe Classics line, and this figure of The Creeper, as impressive a likeness as it may be of the character, has enough structural issues to make me deeply concerned about the future of that consistency. This sort of aberration needs to stop and it needs to stop right now.
One last note. The figure was pre-posed in his package, in such a way that it left his head tilted at an awkward angle. And -- I can't quite straighten it out. I'm reluctant to force it too hard, and I'm not sure that every figure will be this affected, but I felt it needed to be mentioned. I can understand wanting to give a figure a cool pose in his package. But nobody expects them to be contortionists.
In fairness, The Creeper is superbly articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. And unlike a few DC Universe Classics figures I've picked up recently, none of his parts were stuck -- another matter of concern for me on those other figures.
So, what's my final word? Mixed -- obviously. The figure is, as I said, a great likeness of a cool, and admittedly bizarre, character in the DC Universe, whose appearances I have generally looked forward to. The Four Horsemen have rendered a great figure here. The headsculpt may be a little over the top, but I can't deny the detail. The cape is a bit too heavy for the figure, but it looks great. And, I'm sincerely pleased he's been added to the DC Universe Classics collection, which on the whole remains the single most impressive lineup of super-hero action figures that I have ever encountered -- and I hope it remains that way.
However, I cannot ignore the structural problems this figure presents. Between the needlessly more slender build, the double-jointed articulation in the elbows and knees, and the figure's overall excessive height -- The Creeper has some problems. And they're ones that I am deeply concerned we have not seen the end of. And we need to.
With all of that, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of THE CREEPER nevertheless receives my recommendation -- with reservations, and as much for the sake of the character as anything.