1st Issue Special #7 (October, 1975)
“Menace of the Human Firefly!”
Writer – Michael Fleisher
Penciller – Steve Ditko
Inker – Mike Royer
Editor – Joe Orlando
Cover Price: $0.25
On this weeks Cosmic Treadmill, Reggie and I discuss Strange Tales #110 from Marvel Comics in 1963. In it, we met that Master of Black Magic… Dr. Stephen Strange, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
As you might imagine, by the time we were getting ready to wrap up we had discussed the creators so much that we’d almost forgot what book we’d even covered! If you’re interested, you can check it out right here… and/or in the archives.
It left me in a Dikto-y mood, and I figured why not work some of that blog/podcast synergy (black) magic and cover a book with the man himself making the pictures happen? It’s also an issue of 1st Issue Special… so, it’s got that going for it too!
We open with Gotham City newscaster, Jack Ryder (with cameraman in tow) being given a tour of Gotham Penitentiary. We can see familiar faces like the Scarecrow and Two-Face (who had been temporarily transferred from The Arkham Asylum) along with Garfield Lynns… the Firefly! Funny that they preface Arkham with “The”… but again, this is back in the time where the Arkham brand really wasn’t a thing. Anyhoo, after Ryder and company are out of sight, Lynns turns to his lighting-effects genius to finagle a laso-lighter out of some lenses he’d snagged while helping out, get this… backstage during the annual prison play! Gotta wonder what kinda show they put on in the Gotham Pen… I hope it ain’t Zorro.
So Lynn’s cuts his way through the cell bars and goes about making an all-around nuisance of himself. The prison alarms begin to sound, and Jack pulls away from the Warden and his cameraman so that he might transform into… The Creeper!
With a cackle, the Creeper swoops into action… well, he would’a if not for the laso-light blast he takes to the chest! Well, that’s embarrassing.
Even worse, the Warden and prison guards arrive and begin to swarm… assuming that the Creeper, who… ya know, doesn’t really look like a hero, has aided in Lynns’s’s’s escape! There’s a brief skirmish, which ends with the Creeper escaping… those left behind can’t help but wonder if he’s Hero… or Menace! Well, not really… they all pretty much think he’s a menace. Jack Ryder reappears and justifies his disappearance as wanting to catch the hot scoop.
We shift to a lighthouse where Lynns is in the process of adorning himself in one of the gaudier supervillain costumes I’ve ever seen. I’m almost certain I’ve seen this shot in Wizard Magazine as “Mort of the Month”… you might recall that the Wiz-folk were always keen on their low-hanging fruit. Anyhoo, what we need to know is that his belt o’ many colors actually consists of light-weapons and illusion-granting lenses and stuff.
A short time passes, and we rejoin the Firefly as he enters a smoke-filled pool hall… in full geek attire. Ditko really does a great job showing how out of place a costumed fella would appear among civilians as Firefly looks pretty ridiculous. It’s not about looks though, folks… at this juncture, it’s about power and ingenuity. Firefly approaches a few patrons and introduces himself as a “Master Criminal”. After they stop laughing, he (temporarily) belt-beams one out of existence! At this point, the remaining geeks agree to become his “assistants”… which is more formal a title than I would have figured.
We shift to the studios of WHAM-TV Gotham, where Jack Ryder is walking and talking with J. Jonah… er, I mean Mr. Marlies. Let’s not get it twisted, dude looks nothing like Jonah… but the stuff that comes out of his mouth is very JJJ. He’s convinced that the Creeper is not a hero… but a menace (okay, he doesn’t say menace… spoilsports), and insists Ryder present him as such during the next broadcast… and company guy that he is, Jack obliges.
Following the broadcast, Jack is alerted to a raging inferno atop the Skytop Diamond Exchange. He hustles off to cover the hot scoop. After checking in with the firefighters and camera crew, he excuses himself to… er, interview passersby. Seems legit.
And so, Jack “Creeps up”, then climbs up to the top of the building where he learns there’s no fire at all… just an elaborate light show borne out of a lighting and special-fx genius’s twisted mind.
The Creeper pounces! Or, uh… he would’ve if not for the electro-lighter blast he takes to the chest. By now he should know he’s not all that great at this kind of frontal assault, right?
A second blast… and monologue which mentions “collecting light-duty” sends the Creeper off the side of the skyscraper… and he plummets to the ground below and hits with a gut-wrenching THUD. Somehow… he’s still alive (and as we’re about to find out no worse for wear). He wakes up in the Detention Ward of the General Hospital where he finds himself shackled to his bed.
When he’s left alone he goes about freeing himself from the cuffs… and busting the bars off the window. He’s got a pretty good idea where Firefly and his geeks are holed up.
Remember Firefly mentioned “light-duty” earlier? The Creeper does! It doesn’t mean he’s suffered an on-the-job injury and is stuck jockeying a desk… it’s a reference to fees paid by ships to lighthouses… sooooo, stands to reason Firefly’s shacked up at the lighthouse, don’t it? The Creeper (uh-oh) leaps into battle… and for the first time this issue, is successful!
He busts up Firefly’s nerdy belt… and the fight is taken outside. Firefly attempts one last blast… which Creeper reflects back at him with a shard of broken glass. This knocks Firefly off the lighthouse… sending him into the angry (and craggy) seas below… and, if I were a betting man… to his death. Thankfully I’m not a betting man, because I’m fairly certain this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. We close out with the Creeper celebrating his hard-fought victory by cackling in the moonlight.
Now I ought to preface by saying I don’t know a whole lot about the Creeper. I can’t rightly say I’ve ever read a solo adventure of his before. I mean, I might have… but couldn’t reference it off the top of my head. That said, I had a good time with this one. It did feel like a very quick read though.
It’s so strange how Marvel-like this issue felt to me… and not just because of the Ditko art. The Creeper feels a lot like a Marvel character. There’s the whole “hero or menace” vibe… he’s not perfect… he didn’t check for a body after Firefly fell… just a few things that don’t scream “DC hero” to me.
Let’s parse that a bit. Thinking the Creeper is a villain works better for me than folks in Marvel New York thinking Spider-Man is a villain. I mean, Spidey’s costume… while it hides his face, isn’t outright scary. Yeah, it’s not like Captain America’s or anything… but I’d imagine it’s something folks would see as “cool” before “scary”. The Creeper, on the other hand… looks like a creepy (pun!) goblin or something. The fact that he cackles all the time only adds to the, er… creepiness of it all. Plus, this is the DC Universe, and costumed folks who laugh and cackle sort of have a precedent. The evening news fomenting fear (or bewaring) of the Creeper is just the cherry on the sundae.
The Creeper makes mistakes… I mean, if he were a ball player, his batting average would be a 0.3 for this adventure. Two out of three times, he got his butt handed to him… and that’s no indictment on how awesome Firefly is… it’s simply the Creeper’s own impetuosity. “Look Before you Leap!” needs to be stitched on a sampler at the Ryder home. I liked this though… it made it feel like the Creeper doesn’t quite have the experience or finesse of some/most of the other DC heroes.
I thought it was interesting that Firefly was just allowed to fall to the “angry sea” below the lighthouse… and the Creeper’s reaction was a “long, chill, mocking laugh” rather than a rescue attempt followed by turning over to the police. Hell, not even the narrative captions mention Firefly’s fate… you’d usually expect a “the police scoured the seas for hours before finding a frantic Firefly” or something. But, nope… nada. Like I said above, I’d assume he was dead… if this wasn’t a comic book.
The art here is from Ditko… and it’s his haunting and sorta uncomfortable style that we all love. The characters aren’t especially handsome, nor do I believe are meant to be. That was the thing with Ditko… take a look at old Amazing Spider-Man comics… Peter Parker wasn’t a terribly good looking kid. That wouldn’t come until John Romita arrived and gave Pete his “lunchbox look”. It’s weird, the Creeper is actually more visually appealing to me than Jack Ryder. Ryder looks kinda like Lupin III here, only with a narrower face.
Overall, had a lot of fun with this one. This has been collected in The Creeper by Steve Ditko collection released by DC in 2010… and, I believe was set to be in a SHOWCASE Presents volume… which either fell through, or was just a rumor. Can’t find a whole lot of agreement online about that. There is an Amazon link to a(n unavailable) book bearing the name… and classic SHOWCASE Presents cover though. Either way, this issue shouldn’t be terribly difficult to procure. I’d say it’s well worth a read.
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