“Beware The Creeper” (season 3, episode 23; originally aired November 7, 1998)
With The New Batman Adventures, the writers take advantage of the expanded playing field given to them by being paired with Superman, allowing them to explore some of the lesser-known characters of the DC Universe. As a kid, I had no idea who Etrigan the Demon or the Creeper were until I watched their episodes of TNBA, and I immediately became intrigued by these characters who weren’t like most superheroes I had seen. Etrigan had a connection to Camelot that appealed to my King Arthur-obsessed mind, while the Creeper was basically the superhero translation of how I behaved as a child: flamboyant, hyperactive, and morally cloudy. Seeing these characters on TV got me interested in finding out more about them, and the only place to do that was in comic books.
There were plenty of homage episodes in Batman: The Animated Series, but TNBA tells stories that are more reverent of specific creators, from Jack Kirby in “The Demon Within” to Dick Sprang and Frank Miller in “Legends Of The Dark Knight.” “Beware The Creeper” is the show’s tribute to Steve Ditko, the enigmatic co-creator of Spider-Man who would help create classic Charlton and DC characters The Question, Shade: The Changing Man, and Hawk and Dove. One of his most bizarre creations is the yellow-skinned wacky man known as the Creeper, a former talk-show host turned superpowered urban vigilante. In black-and-green-striped briefs and red boots, gloves, and boa, the Creeper doesn’t have the strongest grip on reality, and the writers of TNBA decide to connect him to another clown for his debut in Gotham.
In the comic books, Jack Ryder is transformed into the Creeper when he’s drugged and implanted with devices that give him enhanced strength and agility and heal him from nearly any wound. Unfortunately, this also makes him completely crazy. For TNBA, Rich Fogel and Steve Gerber change Ryder’s origin story, forgoing the mob stuff and turning him into a heroic mirror of the Joker. While filming “Joker: The Madness Behind The Laughter,” the TV personality comes face-to-face with the Clown Prince of Crime, who decides to recreate the tragedy that birthed him by tossing Ryder into a vat of ACE chemicals. As silly as this episode is, the sequence of Joker dipping Ryder into the acid over and over again while the reporter cackles in pain is a great mix of horror and slapstick comedy. It’s all the fun of watching someone get dunked in a pool with all the terror of watching a person gradually lose all sanity.
When he emerges from the Gotham bay after being flushed down the drain, Jack Ryder is the Creeper, and he’s ready to bring chaos to Gotham. He hits up Ditko’s Vintage Clothing to procure his absurd costume, then hits the streets to stop crime and damage Joker’s reputation. Joker can’t have a guy stealing his clown schtick, and he dedicates himself to get rid of the Creeper by any means possible, including death by “It’s A Small World” child when he starts dumping theme park attractions during this episode’s big chase sequence. It’s an incredibly goofy episode, but also a fitting final TNBA appearance for Joker and Harley, emphasizing how fun these characters are after “Mad Love” showed the tragedy.
Madcap ’90s heroes like Freakazoid and The Mask heavily influence this show’s interpretation of the Creeper, so there are lots of funny voices and sexual innuendoes in his dialogue. (This is definitely one of the racier episodes of BTAS/TNBA, what with the whole sequence of Harley Quinn doing a Marilyn Monroe impression while covered in off-white cream.) Thanks to the ’60s-inspired music, this episode does a great job of creating a light, carefree atmosphere, pushing the series into a Looney Tunes direction to make the Creeper seem more like an overgrown child rather than any sort of serious threat.
The idea of a heroic Joker is amusing, but this episode also gives the impression that the Creeper won’t be very good for long. After being rescued by Batman and Robin and given a patch that will prevent the Creeper from returning, Jack Ryder stands on his balcony and palms the piece of cotton keeping his id in check. And where’s the fun in that? He peels away the patch and that familiar cackle begins to rise, and it’s only a matter of time before the Creeper is in complete control. It would have been nice to see this episode explore more of the struggle between Jack Ryder and his wacky alternate personality, but “Beware The Creeper” is a delightful 22 minutes paying tribute to one of the early visionaries of superhero comics.
- Batman Beatdown: While getting shot at with a Tommy gun, Batman lifts up a pool table and walks backward, deflecting bullets as he crosses the room. He drops the table on the goon and turns him into the filling of a billiards sandwich.
- One of my favorite Vertigo miniseries, Beware The Creeper by Jason Hall and Cliff Chiang, is finally getting collected in August. Reimagining the Creeper as a figure in the 1920s Bohemian art scene in Paris, it’s a riveting drama with gorgeous artwork from Wonder Woman’s Chiang.
- This episode has two hilarious reaction shots: Batman and Robin after Harley drops a crate on the Creeper, and the Creeper biting Harley’s hat when they crash into the ACE plant.
- Beloved voice actor Billy West makes his only BTAS/TNBA appearance voicing the Joker’s Three Stooges-inspired goons in this week’s episode. Surprising no one, he does very good impressions.
- “Oh, I forgot. Mr. Obsessive.”
- “Lemme at ‘im! Lemme at ‘im!”
- “Fireworks make me all tingly inside.”
- “Ok, I love you! Buh-bye!”
- “What about the boa? Too much?”
- “Wanna try some of my pie?” “I’m sure you’ll want seconds.”
- Harley: “What do you want?” Joker: “The inside scoop on the Joker. Also, your number!”