In my Elektra opus posted back in May, I touched on a story titled “Paper Chase,” from Daredevil #178, cover dated January 1982, but probably on sale closer to September or October of ’81. It was only recently that I realized there was another cool story published earlier this same year with this same title. In fact, it not only had the same title BUT THE SAME ISSUE NUMBER.
The story took place in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #178 (Sept. 1981), featuring Batman and the Creeper teaming up to tackle a menace that was quite unusual, even for a superhero comic.
…Alright, so the story title here is stylized as one word, “Paperchase,” but close enough!
Written by Alan Brennert and featuring art by Mr. Brave and the Bold himself, Jim Aparo, its September cover date suggests I probably bought this in June sometime. I definitely recall this one being a summertime read and a very good one at that.
The cover gives it away, but yeah, in case you couldn’t tell, the antagonist of this tale is a creature composed of paper. Come to think of it, didn’t Wonder Woman once fight a guy made of paper?
“Perils of the Paper-Man!” from Wonder Woman #165 (Oct. 1966). As I recall, Paper-Man meets his doom when he falls into a printing press. How do I remember this? Apparently the concept of beings composed of paper fascinates me. And there are likely other factors at work here that are tied to my early childhood.
Now it’s not as if I lacked toys to play with as a child—I had plenty of toys. What I didn’t have were family members my own age, nor any friends (at least not in the earliest years of my childhood). So for all the toys I may have had, there was never going to be enough of them to truly fill my days. This is when I had to turn to my imagination. “Imagination” was a big word that I picked up on early, thanks to my Havin’ Fun with Ernie & Bert record.
So it was that when I got tired of pitting my Mego Spider-Man against my Mego Green Goblin, I would get a pair of scissors and have Spidey fight Scissor-Man, the villain with the power to turn himself into a giant pair of scissors. There were many other mundane household objects that I used for like purposes in those days, I’m sure, but the only other one I can specifically remember at the moment was this pair of pliers I had as part of a toy tool set. They were like rubber and I could twist the handles above the jaws to turn them into a winged-type of creature; while in its natural shape, the pliers were the fearsome jaws of a great beast.
Anyway, even though I don’t remember it, it’s quite possible that at some point in my childhood flights of fancy I had one of my superheroes battle a “Paper Man” or something similar. And in any case, I appreciate the creativity involved in the attempt to give us such an off-beat menace.
Then there’s another aspect of “Paperchase” that makes it compelling, particularly so in a more modern context, as the true agent behind this murderous paper monster is a right-wing nut and television talking head named Clayton Wetley, who happens to broadcast on the station WHAM, where Jack Ryder (the Creeper) works. Now there’s certainly no shortage of right-wing-nut talking heads on T.V. today, but how did Brennert come up with this in 1981? Were these nuts around back then? If they were, I don’t remember them.
As for the monster itself, it had a unique design that made it quite impressive (as if being made of paper wasn’t memorable enough already). While I don’t mean to disparage the efforts of Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano, who really did give us a great-looking cover, it’s the work of Jim Aparo on the interior pages that really make the look of the monster work.
The thing is virtually two-dimensional, no density, but Aparo still makes it feel like a true threat. Maybe it’s as simple as that creepy face he put on him. On the next page, it attacks our heroes in some very creative ways.
It feels like we’ve got limitless possibilities here. And to top it all off, it appears the creature can’t be killed, not even by decapitation.
Once more, kudos to Aparo as he manages to give this creature made of paper sinister features and makes him feel scary. Even creepier (no pun intended) is the way he casually picks up his head and calmly walks away after this.
Eventually, Batman snags a sample of the creature’s form and has it analyzed, which reveals it’s composed of “washi,” a special type of paper used for origami. Turns out Clayton Wetley is a collector of origami. When Batman and the Creeper confront him, however, Wetley denies everything. So they decide to bait him and the creature (now being referred to in the text as the “Origami Man”) by having Jack Ryder take to the air and give an editorial opposing Wetley’s views. This has the desired effect, and also leads to a very memorable line of dialogue for yours truly:
It’s a favorite joke from the childhood years of most of us Gen Xers: “Oh no, Mr. Bill–!” Mr. Bill was a Saturday Night Live staple and much beloved by us kids that were able to stay awake that late to see him.
Now it’s what you might call a “Play it again, Sam” line, because much as Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick never says those exact words in Casablanca, Mr. Bill never actually said, “Oh no, Mr. Bill!” (When you think about it, why would he say his own name in such a context?) He did say “oh no” a lot—every time he suffered torturous abuse from Mr. Hand and/or Sluggo (which would happen multiple times every episode), he would say it.
Again, he would never invoke his own name, yet this is what everyone invariably said whenever they imitated the character. I can only guess people wanted to make sure you knew who they were imitating, just in case their Mr. Bill voice was so terrible it was unlikely to be recognized by the “oh no” alone.
Getting back to the resolution of this one: Batman forces Wetley to witness the Origami Man battle the Creeper, at which point he realizes he’s somehow responsible for it, even hinting that he once displayed psychokinetic powers as a child. Batman tells him that he’s just the “conduit” for the hatred of his viewers and followers and, with this realization on Wetley’s part, the Origami Man goes up in flames.
We end things on a somber philosophical note, as the Creeper doesn’t agree with Batman’s assessment that it’s “over” now. “Whitley was only the focus!” he observes. “The real murderers are still out there! All they need is another focus! Somehow Bats… I don’t think it is over!”
Thirty-nine years later, we can confirm that, sadly enough, the Creeper was right.
A Few Words from Alan Brennert
I had the good fortune to get in touch with Alan Brennert and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about this story:
First, a more general question: How were team-up stories like this assigned? Did they assign the Creeper to you as Batman’s partner for this story or was that your choice?
Entirely my choice. Dick Giordano, who had just taken over B&B, asked me if I’d like to write some stories for him and I jumped at the chance. And because I’d been a big fan of Dick’s editing at Charlton and DC in the late 1960s, I chose Creeper (and then Hawk & Dove) first.
Where did the idea for the Origami Man come from? Did you contribute to the design of the Origami Man or was that all Aparo?
The inspiration for the Origami Man came, visually, from the last issue of BLUE BEETLE (#6) that Steve Ditko produced for Charlton. It was never published as a regular comic book but ultimately the story appeared in Charlton Spotlight, a fanzine. The cover villain was the Specter, a crook who could turn himself invisible except for bands of white strips wrapping around his body, giving him a spooky, ghostlike look. I liked that and decided to do something similar with the Japanese art of origami. But my description of it in the script was only a general one; the actual visual look was all Jim Aparo’s work, and he did a fine job. Oh, and looking at my script I see that I sent along photo reference of origami, which Jim worked from.
I don’t recall right-wing nuts on TV back then. I don’t think the Morton Downey show came along until ’88 or ’89, and Fox News was a couple years after that, so where did the idea for Clayton Wetley come from?
Actually, rightwing commentators on TV have a longer history than that; in the 1960s-70s there was William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, The Joe Pyne Show, and The Alan Burke Show, all syndicated talk shows. And during the Reagan era there were plenty of rightwing pundits, like George Will, on network news shows. I didn’t create Clayton Wetley, he appeared in the very first Creeper story in SHOWCASE #73 by Steve Ditko and Don Segall. In that story he was a Fredric Wertham-like anti-violence crusader; I updated him for the 80s by having him embrace the views of the so-called Moral Majority, as it was then called.
In the current political environment, this story feels more relevant than ever. Do you have any other thoughts you’d care to share about it?
My goal was to make Jack Ryder/The Creeper more like Ditko’s The Question by putting Jack back on the air and unafraid to take a stand in both of his identities. Alas, continuity is an impossible beast to control and other creators soon undid this. That’s life in the funnybooks!
…Thanks again to Alan Brennert for answering my questions! Given the current landscape of both U. S. politics and the news media, I’m thinking it would be a great time for Clayton Wetley to make his return to the comic pages (and perhaps even bring back the Origami Man with him).