Bizarro Back Issues: The Creeper Takes On Firefly In The Battle Of The C-Listers (1975)
Despite the pedigree of being created by Steve Ditko, the Creeper has never really caught on. You'd think he would --- if nothing else, "What if the Joker was a good guy?" seems like a question that could result in some pretty compelling stories, even if that doesn't quite explain the preponderance of bright red back hair that he ended up with. Still, there's some potential there. It's just a question of how you can go about tapping into it.
Well, if you happen to be Michael Fleisher and Steve Ditko and you're writing 1st Issue Special #7 in 1975, you might think that the best way to go about that was to have him fight a third-string Batman villain and hope for the best. And needless to say, that didn't really work out.
If you've never seen it floating around dollar boxes, 1st Issue Special was a bizarre little publishing experiment from DC that ran in the mid-70s as an anthology. The idea, at least as I understand it, was that each issue was potentially the "first issue" of a new series, so the book alternated between new characters and forgotten concepts that were pulled out of DC's archives and dusted off to see if any of them proved popular enough to land their own book. It was essentially the same trick they'd been pulling with Showcase ever since the dawn of the Silver Age, but with something new every issue.
Out of thirteen issues, though, the only one that made it was Mike Grell's Warlord. The other twelve never really got any traction, despite the fact that it included Walt Simonson drawing Dr. Fate, the high concept fun of the Green Team (teen millionaires!) and no fewer than three brand-new concepts from Jack Kirby thrown in there, including the amazingly titled Dingbats of Danger Street. The new characters, like Codename: Assassin, Lady Cop and one of the many iterations of Starman would end up as obscure characters that would be brought back decades later to fill in gaps in continuity, and the revived characters didn't really do much better.
For the Creeper, his attempt at breaking back into the bigtime starts off solidly enough, with ace reporter Jack Ryder touring Gotham Penitentiary with designs on thrilling viewers by showing them all of Batman's most famous foes:
Incidentally, while I count myself as a pretty big fan of Fleisher's work, Two-Face saying "I'll only be able to kill you once when I get out --- not twice!" is almost dumb enough to be dialogue from Arkham City.
Anyway, it's not Two-Face that we're here for, even though he might be the single best Batman villain for Ditko to draw. Instead, our attention should be on this nondescript criminal in the other cell: Garfield Lynns, who had made a single appearance over 20 years earlier as the Firefly, a villain with mastery over light and optical illusions. Such mastery, in fact, that he's able to build a "laso-lighter" out of equipment that he found working backstage on "the annual prison play" and promptly use it to escape.
What he doesn't count on, though is Jack Ryder sneaking off to transform himself into... The Creeper!
I maybe should've mentioned that Jack Ryder is the Creeper. Oh well, you're smart, you can pick it up.
Anyway, unfortunately for the forces of good, it turns out that it's a lot easier to get the jump on criminals when you're not wearing bright colors and cackling at them as loud as you can. This is a lesson that I think most of us could've assumed, but the Creeper learns it the hard way, getting laso-lighted right in the chest:
With that, Firefly makes his escape, heading back to a lighthouse that has all of his equipment, just sort of sitting there right where he left it back in 1952. It's a pretty prominent detail, and when I went to check, sure enough, it's the same lighthouse that he uses for a headquarters way back in Detective Comics #184. Bringing back an obscure character like Firefly is one thing, but dredging up those details makes me think that Fleisher was likely writing this while working on the next year's Original Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Vol. 1: Batman, in which he catalogued every single character, location, and piece of equipment to ever appear in a Batman comic. But that doesn't really matter.
What does matter is that Firefly gets all of his gear back, and we get a page that is Steve Ditko as hell.
Huh. Some kind of journalist being sent by his headline-hungry editor to cover his own heroic alter-ego in a way that makes him look like a bad guy, all drawn by Steve Ditko? Somebody oughtta do something with that! It's a pretty solid concept!
With that, the Creeper leaps into action, setting out to foil Firefly's heist of a skyscraper's top-floor diamond exchange, using an illusory fire as a distraction. It's here that we find out that the Creeper can effortlessly crawl up walls (again: a pretty good concept), but that's about where his skills seem to end. Even though he gets the drop on Firefly and his gang of toughs, he's pretty quickly taken out with another gadget, and ends up plunging all the way down to the street and splattering on the concrete.
He survives, though, and wakes up in a hospital, having been arrested in the process:
But no mere handcuffs and headboards can contain the Creeper, who manages to un-bondage himself as soon as his doctor steps out of the room, making a beeline for Firefly's lighthouse. It seems that Firefly couldn't resist bragging about his upcoming crimes while using obscure lighthouse-oriented tools, and the Creeper was able to use those clues to suss out exactly where he was hiding. It should be noted that the Creeper has absolutely no reason to know anything about what specific lighthouse taxes are called, but one assumes that he took the standard Apophenia And You course that's given to any superhero who comes to Gotham City.
With that, the battle between the Creeper and the Firefly ends, not with a bang, but a tinkle. No, really.
And that, as they say, is that. The Creeper would go back into the drawer to wait for a decade's worth of sporadic team-up appearances. But at last, the world would be safe from the scourge of laso-lighters.
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