The Champions Project: The Black Knight #1
Humanoid monsters shriek in terror and wave their crude weapons in the air as the Ebony Blade slices through their number. Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, carves his way through a crowd of the frightening creatures. As he swings the sword, we see knives and assorted weapons sticking out of his body, and he doesn’t care.
Narration explains that the wielder of the Ebony Blade can’t be harmed. Whitman, a longtime superhero and member of the Avengers, continues his never-ending battle for justice. He is now battling a coven of demi-men on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, protecting the nearby villages from further attacks of the marauding monsters.
Among the monsters stands an old man. The man is dressed in a lime green leisure suit and lacks a single hair on his gnarled head.
Leisure Suit Man moves towards the Black Knight, murder in his eyes. The Knight swings his sword at the strange man.
Splash page: the Ebony Blade shatters into three pieces against the old man’s palm.
Whitman collapses and dies without a sound.
“That’s impossible,” mutters a voice as we look at a jukebox-sized piece of techno-doodlery.
A caption explains that we’re now in Pasadena, California, at the California Institute of Technology. We pull back to see adjunct applied physics professor Dr. James Gates staring at the new Z-Machine that graduate student Jivraj Mehta has been using in his experiments for six months. “Four billion degrees Kelvin?”
Mehta rubs his head and whistles. “That’s two hundred and seventy times hotter than the core of the sun!”
Gates looks puzzled. “Jivraj, what did you do to this thing?”
The two men stare at the machine in silence. The silence is broken when a red sphere the size of a golf ball splats into a wad of goo against the back of Gates’s head. Howls of laughter follow. We see two other grad students on the other side of the lab holding ping-pong ball guns loaded with these spheres of goo, both men doubled over in laughter. One of them cries “HA! Dead fish stench for a week! Revenge is mine, Jimmy!”
Gates rushes to a nearby workbench and brings out an intricate catapult he made from stray lab supplies the night before. A small lab fight breaks out.
Another caption explains that we’re in the upper levels of the Caltech Advanced Applied Research Lab, which, due to its focus on military technologies, is known to its staff as Boomtown.
The combatants, and we, move to an outdoor restaurant. Jokes fly back and forth about the discoloration and rank smell of the back of Gates’s head created by the “Whiffy Ball.”
Hugh McKittrick says, “Jimmy, man, you’re lucky that I only used a level one stinko-shot.”
“How bad can it get?"
"Up to level ten. A number one smells like rotten fish. Number five is worse than a week-old moose corpse covered in fresh dung.”
“You don’t wanna know.”
Gates laughs. “You’re brilliant, or stupid, or both. And I will get my revenge.”
The graduate students chat about their projects. Gates is their favorite professor, as he is as not much older than they are, and just as poor, and he usually has keen insights into their research. At this lunch, Mehta, Gates, and McKittrick are swapping ideas with Horst Bausch, who is finishing a prototype of metal and plastic synthetic muscles for use powered armor. The work is based on the work of that loony prodigy and legend of Caltech, Stuart Clarke.
During a lull in conversation, the topic changes. “What about the project in Deep 13?” Mehta asks Gates. “Word has it that the stuff down there’d blow our minds.” Gates admits that he has no idea. It’s way more secret than anything they'd ever let him touch.
The readers, however, get to see Deep 13, a large cylindrical building made of reinforced concrete in heart of Boomtown. We see a team of scientists farting around with a transdimensional portal. It fizzes and pops! The power spikes! And nothing happens. Yet.
That night, Gates returns to his grubby apartment and sits down upon a mound of dirty laundry he's pressed into service as a chair. As his butt drops into the filthy mound of cotton, he feels something odd. Gates reaches inside the mound and finds a sword with a jet black blade that's been broken into three pieces.
Recognizing a prank when he sees one, he wracks his brain to figure out why anyone thought the gag was funny and who would have done it. “Horst? Eric? Hm.”
We see him a week and a half later in his wee cubby in Boomtown. Gates pulls out the sword from a duffel bag and examines it. It felt odd in his hand, and so he figured it was worth a closer look. He thinks how a week’s worth of scans with lab tools can’t place it, nor is he able to break off even a microscopic a piece for closer analysis with any tool in the lab. His mind sinks into the problem, fascinated. "It looks like the sword used by that guy in the Avengers...what was his name?"
As he ponders the “prank” sword, Deep 13’s scientists shriek in terror. Something is crossing through the portal. AAAH!
Boomtown’s central tower shatters, and out of it rises a monster. We can see it only in silhouette, the sun behind it overpowering our “eyes.” The beast has the body of a giant snake, with the head of a lion. And it is angry.
Gates’s section of Boomtown collapses, raining debris. In the chaos, he sees that the exit is blocked by huge slabs from the concrete ceiling and that many of his compatriots are injured.
His mind races and an idea hits him: Horst’s armor. He clambers over the debris and locates the unfinished prototype in the neighboring lab room.
Familiar with the design due to long talks with Horst, he dons the suit and turns it on. He finds it isn’t fully charged, and one of the arms isn’t functional. Hoping for the best, he uses the legs and one good arm of the suit to lift up a giant smashed pylon, opening the way out. The other scientists who can still move help one another shuffle down the hallway, taking with them as much research as they can carry. Gates leads the way.
The hallway roof shatters in front of them, and in comes the head of the monster: a lion’s head with milk-white eyes. Its giant head blocks the passageway. Gates can see that the creature is blind, and that it is sniffing the air to locate prey.
Gates grabs the Whiffy Ball gun from a shocked Hugh and fires a pair of level ten stink spheres into the creature’s giant nostrils. The beast retreats from the hole in the ceiling, howling and cursing in a strange language.
The graduate students emerge from the wreckage of their building and flee. Gates looks back and sees that a handful of the Boomtown scientists have broken out their research projects in an effort to stop the beast. Lasers, fireballs, Kirby Krackles, all strike the beast to no effect. It roars that it is Samael the Blind God, and it will destroy the unrighteous.
Gates stares in wonder, torn between wanting to help and wanting to run like hell.
Before he can decide, a vision appears to him. A ghostly knight, bucket-helmet and all, speaks to him. “The blade!” it says. “The forge!” The ghost-knight draws forth his phantom sword, which shatters into three pieces in mid-air.
For another moment, Gates stands stock-still, the word “guh” written across his face.
Then we see him running back through the ruined hallways and into Mehta’s lab, certain that (a) he’s losing his mind and (b) his idea might work. He finds the pieces of the sword and locks them into the magnetic containment field of the Z-Machine. One mighty blast of the hyper-heated plasma later, the sword is somehow, despite all logic to the contrary, once again whole and unscathed.
The scene moves to the exterior of the Boomtown complex. Samael is chewing a bus in half. From a nearby rooftop, Gates prepares himself. “Oh man,” he thinks. "Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea..."
He redirects all of his armor’s power to the legs, then leaps at the beast. He arcs thirty yards in the air, and as he reaches the beast, stabs down with the sword into the creature’s serpentine body. The blade slices through the monster's hide with little resistance. Gates slides down the creature’s length, the sword cutting open the beast as he goes. (Only a little bit of blue ooze spills out of the beast, so it’s not too disgusting.)
Gates reaches the ground as Samael the Blind God falls dead.
Gates is shaking from the excitement and fear, hoping that somebody, somewhere will buy him a drink.
A gnarled old man in a lime green leisure suit appears behind Gates and puts his hand on Gates’s shoulder. “Upon your head now hangs the curse of the Ebony Blade.”
Gates whirls. “The what?!”
To be continued next Friday in The Black Knight #2: The Fist of Six Fingers!
NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.