By Jason Hall
Art by Cliff Chiang
I have an affinity for The Creeper which dates back to Steve Niles' brief run. Niles' 30 Days of Night series was one of the books that got me into comics. So given that, and the fabulous cover to the graphic novel, the chances of me not liking this book were close to zero. No need to worry though, my bias cannot be blamed for this one, as this has to be the definitive Creeper story ever told. Hall's convinced me that Creeper is a character that belongs in 1925 Paris and that will color all interpretations that I read going forward.
It's interesting that this is the case, because about half way through the book it became apparent to me that Jason Hall really just wanted to write about the surrealism and the bohemian movement in France during the early 20th century. I'm rather glad that he found the excuse because with the few short acts of Beware the Creeper he was able to craft together a world that really feels lived in. That he managed to throw in a classic DC villain into the mix without making it feel the slightest bit ridiculous is commendable. In fact I wonder if this book was concepted around The Creeper or if The Creeper was only selected after Hall had decided that he wanted to do a book about French surrealism.
Structurally the book is not breaking any new territory. In the first act we are introduced to the characters, ending in Judith Benoir's rape and (seemingly) transformation into The Creeper. Act two is the escalation and what happens to Paris as a result of The Creeper coming on to the scene. At first they openly embrace him/her as she/he seems to represent the surrealist rejection of the ordinary. By the end of the second act, however, the feeling is that The Creeper has gone too far (having been accused of a couple of murders) and so we see that despite their embellishments the people of Paris have some, frankly, normal values as well. Act three is where we find out that things are not what they seem; I'll not spoil that particular reveal but instead just say that the hints are all over the book and not something you'll have trouble putting together yourself.
I always question trickery of the sort in a non-detective book. The questions I ask is if the twist is necessary and if it detracts from the themes of the book. Examining this I have to wonder what it is that the twist is supposed to reveal. Something about Paris or about the characters? For it's many strengths, Beware the Creeper is not particularly a character piece. Aside from that of the Creeper's secret identity, the rest are fairly ordinary characters who could have been plucked from any other story written in a similar structure. The characters are not the focal point and that's why I think it works. The Creeper is not a product of events that occurred as much as he/she is a product of surrealism itself. That someone can go inside is nothing novel; that they go insane and turn into... this, well that can only happen in the setting in which this lives.
Ultimately that's why this book is so successful. Hall has recreated Paris 1925 in a way that we all feel we are there ourselves. The story is merely an excuse to visit this world for an hour (or so). Here's hoping Hall allows us to revisit this world some day.