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Beware the Creeper #4

Posted: Monday, August 4, 2003
By: Shawn Hill



"Act IV"

Writer: Jason Hall
Artist: Cliff Chiang

Publisher: DC/Vertigo

Plot:
Things are heating up in this scandalous year in Paris. Didi, unaware the cops are in league with the vicious aristocratic Arbogasts, pursues her goal of defending her fellow prostitutes from attacks from young lunatic Mathieu Arbogast. Artist Judith has gone missing, while her twin Maddy toils quietly on her plays. The Creeper, however, has been escalating her embarrassing attacks on the multitudinous arms of the Arbogast family, and the Parisian avant-garde has embraced her just as the cops put the pressure on for her capture. Detective Ric is surprised by a nude Judith in his bed; like everyone else, he thinks she's the Creeper, and that she's spiraling out of control. Even she begins to realize it when she endangers homeless waif Colette.

Comments:
Whew!! I knew there was a reason I had to re-read all the issues up to this point to get a real handle on what's going on. This is a complicated book, standard stuff as far as mysteries go but unusual in injecting so much period history and aesthetic focus into a comic book. It's exactly the sort of thing Vertigo should be doing.

The Paris between the wars was an intense time of cultural and political foment, and Hall seems to revel in the challenging ideas and perspectives that were being bandied about. His dialogue captures well a world of people almost too innocent to be making all the shocking choices they make, a world precariously on the brink of never being so innocent again.

The motivation for the Creeper's attacks (if she really is Judith) is fairly clear and standard (she was attacked, and is seeking revenge), but the world her performance unfolds in is not. We have Officer Ric, in love with Judith and heartsick after the war. Sister Madeline, seemingly the repressed and quieter one of the two, longing for Ric's love in return. Little Colette, enamored of the charismatic Judith but surviving as a waif orphaned by the war and depending on the kindness of the street. And, above it all, the vicious Arbogasts, the latest aristocracy to exploit everyone else in the volatile city.

The Arbogasts are so vile, in fact, as to be the most cartoonish element of the series. Mama Arbogast might as well be Joan Collins, huffing and puffing her way through her ickily sensual scenes with her son. Chiang modulates the caricature however, by being attentive to period style and preserving a sense of grubby urgency in his heavy, dark and effective inks especially. Praise also must go to colorist Dave Stewart, who in this issue contrasts a shadowy world of compromise with blazing explosions of light.

Another pleasure in this title has been the many cameos from the past; so far we've seen Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Hemingway. This issue we get Josephine Baker, who, like much of frivolous Paris, has gotten caught up enough in Creeper mania to don her attire. I'm not sure if anyone else would have thought of merging Ditko's mad character with French Surrealism, but it turns out to have been a great idea.



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