The Champions Project: The Black Knight #2
Splash page. James Gates, dressed in the armor he wore at the end of last issue except for the helmet, points the Ebony Blade at the reader. We're in his disheveled apartment. We can see walls bare of anything except a movie poster and an odd stain. He yells "I AM NOT THE BLACK KNIGHT!"
The next page shows at whom he is yelling. The old man in the green leisure suit stands beside the ghost of the first Black Knight. The ghost replies, "The blade, the curse, and the title be thine, my son."
Gates yells back, "Keep them! I don't need a curse right now!"
The ghost points to the sword. "The blade's power came with a price, lad. Each life you claim with it enlarges the thirst in your soul for more."
"So I'll become a psycho-killer if I use this thing? Forget it! I'm the wrong man!"
The ghost replies, "Thou'rt indeed of my line and a bold warrior!"
James, who is both a black man and a mighty nerd, points to his own face. "Your son?"*
"Aye, thou'rt a descendant of Sir Percy of Scandia."
James lowers the sword. "Huh. You must have thousands of descendants."
The old man in the leisure suit says, "Yes, but we needed you."
James places the sword back in its scabbard. "Why? What about the real Black Knight? That guy who's in the Avengers. He knows what he's doing. Get him."
The man in the leisure suit sets his jaw. "He died."
We jump to the next day, where James is in a discussion with a member of the Caltech faculty, Doctor David Austin. Austin, a stooped over man with a snow-white combover, sits amidst a pile of papers, books, and computer parts. "Jimmy!" the professor says. "Glad to see you made it out of Boomtown okay! Did you save any research projects?" Before long, Austin's disdain for James becomes obvious. Gates has a passive nature, and we see how he shrinks before authority figures.
As he treats James like dirt, we see Austin tinkering with a small mechanical doodad on his desk. His left hand wears a black glove. The professor ends his rude speech by telling Gates that he'll be needed at the wreckage of Deep 13 the next day. "The morons removing debris have no idea what they're touching. They'll destroy everything valuable if we aren't careful." James says he'll be there.
"Good," says Dr. Austin. "That'll do just fine."
Gates leaves, and we see David Austin's right hand emerge from below the desk. It too wears a black glove. But the right glove has six fingers.
We next see Gates talking to Jivraj Mehta in a campus eatery. Jivraj tells James that both Horst Bausch and Hugh McKittrick were badly injured in the collapse of the lab, and that the entire lab area has been sealed off by SHIELD. Horst died in the night, Mehta says. "And I'm not sure, but I don't think Hugh's going to make it either." Anger grows in Gates's eyes until it explodes. The scrawny Gates lifts up a nearby chair and throws it nowhere in particular.
Mehta looks at Gates as though Jimmy's lost his mind. Two students who were nearly hit by the thrown chair approach, angry. Though they are twice Gates's size, the pipecleaner-thin professor not only stands his ground against them, he acts as though he craves a fight. Confused by the disconnect between Gates's appearance and his behavior, and keeping in mind the dictum "never get into a fight with a lunatic," they step back and leave.
Gates returns to Mehta. "Deep 13 is still a danger, isn't it. Half a dozen experiments in there could still be live, couldn't they." He's not asking these as questions. Jivraj can't answer, as Gates's behavior scares him.
Night falls. We see an armored figure slip into the wreckage of the labs. Gates takes a collection of weaponry and tools. Among his swag includes a photonic shield projector, a small rocket-dart grapnel rig, a handful of prototype crowd control gas grenades, and sundry other goodies.
The knight, angry and bound to destroy whatever dangers lie in Deep 13, uses the leaping power of the armor and the grapnel rig to ascend the mountain of rubble. Upon reaching the summit, he finds something he did not suspect. A small transdimensional portal is in operation. At the nearby controls is Dr. Austin.
Rage fills the Knight. He leaps and draws the Ebony Blade.
And stops cold in midair.
We see that Dr. Austin has raised up his ungloved right hand. The hand is made of clear crystal, with strange colors refracting from its many facets. "Right on time," he laughs. "James, I never thought you had it in you. I'll restart time around you and let you drop, but if you try anything, I'll simply freeze you again."
The Black Knight finishes his drop. He does not move to attack. Instead he waits.
Dr. Austin smiles. "Good, good. You killed Samael, who would have saved us all. But I suppose if you were stronger than him, then you're more suited for the job." Then the Great Villain Monologue begins...
We see that Dr. Austin was a key member of the Deep 13 research team. An impossible glitch in the dimensional portal technology sent him hurtling into it himself. "I have no idea how," he admitted. "Did it reach out and grab me? Did I simply trip and fall? It doesn't matter." In this alternate dimension, the Steve Ditko-esque strangescapes and illogical perspectives drove him to near-madness.
"Then I saw it. A floating sphere of liquid." Drifting towards the disoriented professor was a sphere of undulating liquid. The troughs and peaks of its surface waves caught his eyes. "Can you believe it, Gates? Liquid time! To even say the words sounds stupid, and yet I knew it as well as I knew my own name, the instant I saw the sphere!" Dr. Austin watched as the sphere passed by him in space. It lurched towards him, and he threw up his right hand in defense.
"When I withdrew my hand, it was this!" He holds up the crystalline hand. "I became inextricably bound with time itself, and the end of time." How he returned to Earth he is not sure. He woke in his own bed, with only the crystalline hand of six fingers as proof of his nightmare.
"I spent days studying it, Gates. Days. The different facets showed me different pieces of time. Can you imagine? All of history, all of the future, all mine to see!" His face darkens. "But there is no future, Gates. We are at doomsday.
"On my palm I can see the the entire past of the human race. From ape-men to astronauts, primitives to poets. On the back of my hand? Horrors. Nothing but horrors.
"The end of the world is here. Doomsday is only a few months away."
He explains that he pulled Samael the Blind God from an alternate dimension to fight the coming menace. "He would have protected me," Austin says. "But now you can."
The Black Knight says, "What about stopping this doomsday? If a big snake can fight it--"
"It can't be stopped! But you can protect me!"
The Knight raises his sword. "I think I'll destroy that portal instead. Keep any fresh monsters from coming through. That'll help."
Dr. Austin freaks out. His crystalline hand glows and strange creatures from Earth's past materialize around the Knight. A dinosaur or two, lions, monsters, the works. The Knight turns on his photonic shield and hurls himself at the beasts.
Three things happen during the fight:
- The Black Knight handles the creatures easily, relying on the Ebony Blade and the super-strength from the powered armor. He slices them apart.
- With each beast slain, his bloodlust grows stronger. His speech grows more and more clipped, until he only grunts.
- Throughout the fight, the professor's age shifts wildly. He becomes young, then old, then young, then old, faster and faster.
The Black Knight removes his helmet. His eyes are bloodshot and open very wide. He raises the Ebony Blade above his head to strike the professor.
Before he can bring down the sword, another ghost appears to James. It's Dane Whitman, his predecessor as the Black Knight.
"James...no...you've only killed beasts...if you kill a human, the curse can never be lifted..."
After a moment of hesitation, James Gates brings down the sword and kills the Six Fingered Man, who had just become a teenage boy.
The Black Knight then falls to his knees. His hands shake and tears streak down his face. He can feel the dark liquor of murderous rage infuse his very soul. And he is afraid.
To be continued this Friday in The Black Knight #3: "Hell Goes Round and Round"
NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.
*Yes, James Gates is a black man. I meant to mention it in issue #1, but when you're posting nothing but first drafts, stuff slips through the cracks. Dang it. I also meant to make a point of Gates's nerd-itude. These are the risks of writing real quickly.
Making a black man into the new Black Knight could be the product of cluelessness, a bad case of overblown irony, or both. For what it's worth, I do have a reason for it; it's not just a thrown-off irony spiral. The issue of the name will come back later on, and there will be a definite resolution to the issue. It will not be a running gag. I have a plan. Hopefully a good one.