If anybody were actually reading Katana, I imagine that rebooting the quirky sometimes-good-sometimes-bad loco-in-the-coco goblin man that is the Creeper into a psychotic sassy Japanese Oni would be a highly controversial move. Maybe it wouldn’t cause as much controversy as next week’s Lobo one-shot has, but it’d still annoy some people.
Although the Creeper has appeared in pretty much every issue since Katana #4, we actually have had no idea what’s up with him. Why is he an Oni now? How is he inhabiting Jack Ryder? Didn’t Jack Ryder die in The Phantom Stranger #7? What’s his deal? Now, thanks to Villain’s Month, we know what his deal is. But is it a good deal? Well…
While this is a very good standalone issue, it would be best to consider this comic as part of Katana, as it stars the current villain of the series and is written by series author Ann Nocenti.
While Katana has been hit and miss, I’ll admit that I did go into this book with some trepidation. And then, to my surprise, I found a really intriguing story about an ancient monster and how he likes to terrorize mortals. Katana is usually a mess of several subplots going on at once, where good ideas are present but put on the back-burner while the less-interesting stuff gets to dominate the comics. So why was this so good? Did Nocenti just get into the spirit of Villains Month and write up something great?
Dan Didio is a great idea guy. While his solo writing leaves a lot to be desired, Didio generally knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting together a story and how it should unfold. His ideas in the early issues of The Phantom Stranger before he handed over full control to J.M. DeMatteis was great, and he’s clearly had ideas for the Creeper for a while, so it’s neat to finally see them come to fruition. Throw in the fact that Nocenti usually writes pretty good dialogue, and the idea of a book with Didio’s plot and Nocenti prose is a pretty good combination.
The plot itself starts in Japan in the 16th century, where the combination of a young boy losing his family to a tornado attack and there being no Setsubun Festival that year (an event in which Spring is welcomed and a ritual is performed to keep evil spirits from plaguing the land) allows the Creeper to take over the boy’s body. He spends the next twenty years causing mayhem wherever the boy goes, until a samurai uses the Soultaker sword to take the Oni away from the mortal plain.
Ultimately, we learn that the Creeper is a being of chaos, who despises order, but doesn’t really care for good or evil. He just likes causing mayhem and pain, but needs a human host to do it, so he resurrects Jack Ryder specifically for that purpose. The Creeper is a manipulator, taking over his host’s body at night and using chains to bind humans to his will and make them do whatever he pleases. Everywhere Ryder goes, the Creeper brings along pandemonium and makes good people do horrible things both to themselves and to others, and it’s a fascinating concept could make a really good horror story.
This scene in particular borders on material worthy of Hellblazer.
The book has three artists, but this actually isn’t to the detriment of the story. At least, not completely. (Disclaimer: I may get some facts wrong here, but as the book doesn’t say who does what scenes, I’m guessing the order of the art style changes corresponds to the order that the artists appear in as listed in the credits.) The early Japan scenes are penciled by Chris Cross, with Wayne Faucher doing the inks and Ulises Arreola on colors, and they have a really epic feel to them.
The scenes that take place in the present with Jack Ryder have two teams. First is Fabrizio Fiorentino on pencils, Andy Owns on inks, and Kyle Ritter on colors. Next is Tom Derenick on both pencils and inks, and Pete Pantazis on colors. These look more like what we’re used to seeing in modern comics, but the quality between the two teams varies. All in all, though, the book looks pretty good.
It would make sense for the book to have two art teams for the different time periods, but three art teams is just ridiculous. There’s not much of a visible difference, and I honestly can’t tell where the art style changes the second time around. Assuming that the Derenick/Pantazis team did the end of the book, I think they should’ve done the second part as well. More this:
This really doesn’t look that bad on its own either. But the dragon-like appearance of Creeper and the cartoon guard are vastly different from everything else in the book.
There’s one small thing I’d like to note as well. The little Japanese boy the Creeper possesses at the beginning of the book is named “Jakku”. I’ve been doing some research, and as far as I can tell, “Jakku” is not a real Japanese name. It’s just how the Japanese would say “Jack” if you wrote it out in Katakana.
I’m guessing this is an attempt to be clever, the idea being that the Oni currently possesses a man named “Jack” and originally possessed a boy named “Jakku”, but it just comes off as lazy and unintelligent.
Shifting art styles and made-up names aside, this is still the best issue of Katana, even if it’s not technically an issue of Katana. It’s nice that not all of the Villains Month one-shots are about Forever Evil, because this lets us see a wide variety of stories, including origins (this book and Justice League #23.1: Darkseid), issues important to the ongoing series they’re part of (Green Lantern #23.1: Relic), and fun one-shots that just feature villains doing whatever they do best (Batman #23.1: The Joker).
I couldn’t even begin to tell you where somebody like this new version of the Creeper would begin to fit in with the rest of Forever Evil, and it’s really nice that they didn’t even try to make it happen, and instead gave the readers of the book that the Creeper’s actually in the answers they’ve been wanting about the character.
Justice League Dark #23.1: The Creeper is available for $2.99 USD digitally and physically with the normal 2D cover, and $3.99 USD with the special 3D cover.