The Long Project: The Champion #1
The Champion #1
Page one: John Massaro, a middle-aged man, looks into a grove of pine trees, his back to the reader. Serenity and beauty radiate from the page. He narrates, “A beautiful stretch of land.” We move in and come around to his front to see that his flannel shirt is half-open. He has a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder. In the last panel we see that he’s wearing a superhero suit underneath his shirt. He sets his jaw and thinks, “Twenty-one years ago today, on this very spot, I destroyed the world.”
Pages two and three are a double-splash page of Massaro in a super-suit matching what we saw under his shirt. The suit is shiny, showy, and very super-heroic. Despite his wearing a mask, we can see that here he’s a young man. He’s throwing a punch that shatters a funky-looking robot in the foreground. Very dynamic scene. In the background are aliens, robots, a giant metal sphere embedded in a grove of pine trees, and assorted super-hero sci-fi folderol. Everybody’s fighting everyone else. The scene is silent: no narration, no dialogue, no captions.
Then Massaro recounts the story, which we see in flashbacks. Twenty-four years ago, at that wooded spot, a mammoth metal sphere fell from the sky and crashed into the ground. A man named Charles Warshaw heard the noise and ran out the site. Warshaw, an angry and bitter failure, found the sphere. As he approached, a door in its side opened. He looked inside and saw a riot of machines made from a combination of metals, plastics, plant matter, and animal tissues.
The sphere spoke to his mind and directed him towards a collection of weaponry in its center. It invited him to take them. Warshaw took as much as he could carry and decided to have some fun, to "hurt the way he's been hurt." Charlie flew away and blew up his place of work with a laugh. He then killed anyone who he remembered as pissing him off. He struck quickly, leaving no one to describe the attacks.
Warshaw returned to the sphere, which offered him a device called a "time window." It shows the past and the future. Warshaw sees that the past and future of humanity is nothing but conflict and violence. As he always assumed, such horrors were all that life is. The arsenal, he realizes, is his chance to win that conflict, be the top dog. And so, goddammit, he will be. Warshaw arms himself further, then disappears into the countryside to plan his conquests.
Three months later, another resident of the small town, John Massero, finds the sphere. While hunting, he ran into an invisible wall—the sphere, camouflaging itself. Massero poked and prodded at it until he heard a voice telling him to stop before he was killed. From behind the trees came three bizarro-looking aliens, made up of rocks, twigs, and shards of metal.
The aliens greet Massero and explain that none of them are physically present. Rather, they are proxy bodies made from earth materials assembled around wee robot brain-cores. The three wee robot brain-cores have been chasing this sphere, an arsenal of unknown origin, around the galaxy for a long time.
One of the three aliens produces a small time window to illustrate the story: the arsenal has crash-landed onto a half-dozen worlds and tried to overwhelm each of them. The time window shows that given time, the arsenal would expand out onto its target world and render it one giant arsenal, destroying all that was already there.
To keep such a disaster from happening, three beings sent mind-recordings of themselves in wee robots to pursue the sphere. When the arsenal crashes down on an alien world, the wee robots form bodies and fit a native of the afflicted world with the means to stop the arsenal. As the time window shows, their plan has successfully stopped it six times. John, due to dumb luck, has been elected to be their seventh weapon.
He becomes the Isial Lu, which translates from the aliens' language as “Champion.” John, needless to say, digs his newfangled superpowers. (They’re the Superman-esque package of strength, flight, toughness, etc. Or something cooler, if I think of it later.)
We then jump forward to see the Champion and his alien buds fighting Charlie, who’s dubbed himself the Mighty Destroyer. As they rampage through downtown Chicago, we hear some exposition from the aliens. The key to stopping the arsenal is to defeat the sphere’s human partner. The arsenal imprints on a member of its target world, and once it has sufficiently merged with its partner, it will explode outward and remake the entire planet in its own image. Attacking the sphere directly was futile--it was too well-protected and capable of rendering itself out-of-phase with the timestream, where it could never be reached. Only by killing the partner could the plan be thwarted and the planet be saved.
As the exposition concludes, the Champion whallops the Destroyer into Lake Michigan, but the villain escapes. John looks worried until the aliens tell him that he has years before the merge is complete, so he’ll have more chances.
Massero becomes a superhero, fighting the menaces of his day: Korilla, the Beast Bomb! The Eyeless Legions! The Man with the Atomic Brain! The Champion also allies himself with the super-team of the era, the First Line, and joins with the Black Fox and Flatiron against the menace of the Withering Death! (The Fantastic Four and the Marvel Age proper won't begin for several more years.)
But most of all, he clashes with the Mighty Destroyer. They fight time and again, with the Champion always foiling the Destroyer but never managing to end his threat.
After three years, the aliens warn him that the Destroyer and the Arsenal are ready to fully merge, and that the time has come to stop Warshaw or die trying.
The Champion, his alien buddies, and two superhero allies, the Vagabond and the Laughing Mask, all join together in the final fight against the Destroyer. By this time, Warshaw had fused completely with the alien weaponry he wore, and was more powerful than all of his foes combined. Worse, the sphere was active in the fight, having activated its own internal weaponry and spat out robots to fight on its behalf.
Before long, two of the three aliens were destroyed, as was the Laughing Mask. The Champion tangled with the Destroyer and, in a moment of great valor, sends him sprawling. For a moment the Champion is in the clear...and in that moment he sees the Vagabond vaporized by a killer robot.
Just then we jump back to the present and see John Massaro remember the scene, regret heavy upon his form.
The Champion could not contain his rage. Ignoring the downed Destroyer, the Champion hurled himself at the robot and smashes it exactly like we saw on the splash pages.
Unfortunately, that momentary break was all the time the Destroyer needed to join with the arsenal.
After smashing the robot that vaporized his friend, the Champion wheeled around to finish off the Destroyer. Instead Warshaw is nowhere to be seen and the arsenal is now sealed up. The last surviving alien lets out a wail. The alien produces the time window, looks into it, and cannot speak. The Champion flies at the sphere, but passes through it. The sphere has desynchronized itself from the timestream and vanishes.
Horror filling his eyes, the Champion grabs the time window away from the last alien and stares into it himself. First he sees in it a vision of thousands of alien-robot creatures bursting from the arsenal. Then he sees a few moments beyond that, and finds the world dominated by the arsenal’s expansion.
The final alien tells Massero that the fully fused arsenal and Destroyer will reemerge from a time-fold in 21 years and 122 days. The world will be completely conquered by it sixteen minutes later.
We see modern-day Massero back in the woods.
He relates to us how he spent the next few years trying to reach the arsenal and destroy it, but it was gone. No science could find it in the timestream.
Also, Massero's powers faded. They were designed to last for as long as they were needed, and the time had passed. He became weaker and slower, until he was a normal man again.
Worst of all, three years after the arsenal fiasco, his friends and allies in the First Line die in action, protecting the world against an alien invasion. He would have died with them, at least partially redeemed, but his powerlessness left him useless and trapped on Earth.
For the last twenty-one years, he tells us, he’s dealt with his failure. He spent a decade trying to find the Destroyer and atone for the mistake. He tried to undo the error by chasing after time-travel schemes. Once he even managed to bring in Reed Richards to investigate the spot. Nothing worked.
He then spent the next decade fiercely ignoring it and pretending it never happened.
On most anniversaries of his giant screwup, he visits his hometown and stands at the spot where it all went to hell.
Every night for twenty-one years, he tells us, he has dreamt of what he saw in the time window. We then get to see it, too: a giant splash page of nightmarish beasts lunging towards the readers.
Now we’re back to middle-aged Massero. He closes his eyes. When he does, we see the vision of the lunging beasts again. For the last ten years, he explains, he’s been working for a company that catalogues superhumans and produces books and informational whatnots about ‘em for the government and the public at large. He’s an editor/researcher. He's studied and when he can muster the will, looks for solutions.
As the date for the arsenal’s hatching closed in, he grew more and more depressed. He did not know what to do anymore.
He tried to make it not happen, and he couldn’t. He tried to fix it, and he couldn't. He tried to ignore it, and he couldn’t.
When the twenty-first and final anniversary of the great hose-up arrived, he decided to make a big show of himself. He donned his super-suit, though not the mask, put on his clothes over it, and went to the spot of the Great Failure.
This brings us to the present. We see John now holding his hunting rifle, his shirt fully open to reveal his Champion costume.
He notices that the hair on the back of his arms stands up a little now. There’s a pungency in the air that was never there before. The arsenal is coming back.
Then the air in front of Massero buckles, solidifies in part, and forms a large face: the Mighty Destroyer. It gloats without making a sound.
Massero speaks to it. "I've seen the future. In four months you're comin' out. And I can't stop you." The floating face smiles. Massero continues, "I'm as good as dead. The whole world's doomed. No hope at all." The face smiles wider.
Massero tips his head back and laughs. The floating face grows confused. Massero pulls his mask on.
"So what the hell."
The Champion raises his rifle and smashes its butt into the floating face. The face shatters, though it does not fall.
The Champion walks away, determined.
To be continued in:
The Black Knight
The Comet Woman
and concluded in The Champions #1
(I haven't decided if I'll do it one mini at a time or groups of individual issues at a time. Regardless, the next post will be next Friday.)
Phew, that's a lot of typing. And phew, I need to revise the crap out of this. But I said "Friday the 17th," so here it is. Done is beautiful, yo.