Column: Retronomicon: Creepy: The Limited Series

By J. Keith Haney

David, Peter; et al. Creepy: The Limited Series. Harris Comics/Dark Horse Comics, 1992.

When asked for a job description, Peter David calls himself a “Writer of Stuff”. That is a more-than-mild understatement. If you’re a regular reader of Star Trek novels (including David’s special novel series, “New Frontier”), comics (Star Trek comics, yes, but also longstanding runs on Marvel Comics’ Incredible Hulk, DC Comics’ Aquaman and Supergirl, and creator-owned series Sachss and Violens and Spyboy), or just quirky novels (the Knight Life trilogy), chances are excellent that you have some idea of the man’s prodigious output. Of course, any writer with this many credits is going to have a few that slip under the radar. Today, I’m going to highlight one such underappreciated landmark, the 1992 miniseries, Creepy.

Any true student of comics history may well recognize the name as that of the legendary horror anthology comic of the 1960s, hosted by Uncle Creepy, a dusty, skeletal man with a perpetual grin, dusty clothes and bad jokes. This miniseries, on the other hand, is a complete story that tips its hat respectfully to its predecessor while going its own way. As the cliché goes, it is a dark and stormy night at the remote Gaunt House, a 400-year-old relic that has an unusual number of accidental visitors tonight. Our story opens with the very last “official” visitors arriving in a BMW: corporate raider Nathan Evanston and his pregnant wife Deeana. After smashing their BMW into a large, carnivorous wolf and watching their car disappear after they get out of it, they meet their other fellow lost travelers inside: washed-up football-player-turned-TV-actor Chase Taggert, strong-but-silent Mr. Crawford, high-priced call girl Carlotta Busch, vapid TV producer Randall Starr, disgraced televangelist Roland Roderick, and eager-to-please teenager Jackie Daniels (who, as he puts it, has heard every possible joke about the name). Oh, and then there’s their host, Uncle Creepy himself, and his plump, dimwitted assistant Cousin Eerie.

With the exception of Uncle and Eerie (who are as much a part of Gaunt House as the dust-covered furniture), everybody came here through an incredible string of bad luck, wrong turns and unfortunate travel decisions. Then there’s Coincidence #2. Every one of them has a ring with them that’s been passed through their respective families for many generations–exactly the same ring. This is the start of a pattern that leads back to a witches’ coven, a devil’s bargain and a few unwitting sacrifices that will never live to see the dawn.

Heard this one before? So have the unfortunates stuck in this house. David has a lot of self-aware fun with the usual clichés of this type of story. Maybe because he is a B-level TV actor, Taggert definitely gets the best lines of all the characters. When a female bounty hunter crashes the party and wonders where the hell her car has disappeared to, Taggert retorts, “It’s in Hell, all right. And that place there is Hell’s guest house.” After hearing a scream echo through the house, Taggert observes, “Now, why am I not surprised to hear that?” The frequent screams in the Gaunt House are due mostly to David’s most inventive conceit for the story. At certain intervals, one of the guests makes yet another bad decision. They go up to one of the rooms to lie down or just get away from a bad scene. Instead of giving them rest, the house throws the guests each into their worst nightmare, based on their specific issues, personal hang-ups and fears. It is a maze constructed by their own psyches. Much like the Saw movies, there is a way out, but getting there will require facing up to certain truths they’ve spent a lifetime ducking.

All the above sounds a bit heavy, doesn’t it? But these episodes, in keeping with the anthology aspect of the original series, run the gamut in tone. There is a certain whimsy to the Evanstons winding up in a world where everyone but they are vampires (ably illustrated by legendary Tomb of Dracula artist, Gene Colan) or Taggert being brought face-to-face with his alcoholism in the form of “The I Dream of Jeanie From Hell” (with the renowned artist behind the Silver Age Flash, Carmine Infantino, doing art honours). There is more than a touch of the ridiculous to Roland Roderick preaching to a church full of demons (with underground artist Stan Shaw giving the segment a surreal feel that matches David’s campy Book of Creepy quotes) and our bounty hunter wandering through what can only be described as an acid trip designed by Walt Disney, in an attempt to bring her face-to-face with why she turned her back on her feminine side (Jim Mooney’s pencils could have come straight from classic Disney animated films, appropriate for a comic artist whose career began in the 1940s with funny animals). But, true to the story’s horror roots, there are also the absolute nightmares that some of the guests face: Crawford’s visiting an amusement park where his hidden sins finally catch up to him (in a segment written by Jo Duffy), Randall revisiting the pivotal events of his life via a sleigh ride where he is chased by a hungry wolf pack (Kurt Busiek, approximately one year from his breakout success with Marvels, crafts this tale with the able pencils of X-Men artist Dave Cockrum backing him up), and Jackie Daniels’ horrific recollections of an abusive life with his cousin Locke that have–or need–very little of the house’s usual metaphors to get under the skin.

While Peter David deserves the lion’s share of the credit on making this miniseries work, it is truly a group project in every sense of the word. I’ve only mentioned a small sampling of the artists involved in the artwork (the main story sections alone are illustrated by four separate artists), which include back cover artists. The one constant on the art is the front covers by Dan Brereton, whose angular, shadowy paintings hint at some of the scenes awaiting inside, with just the right macabre touch. The cover of issue #1 in particular is striking, with Uncle Creepy opening the door and waving a hand inside to a cavalcade of monsters waiting just past him in the hallway.

One of the joys of writing this column is the opportunity to both find and report about buried treasures. “Creepy” qualifies as just that in spades.

Several issues of Creepy (one, two and four) are available through Amazon.com