The Champions Project: Mephisto #1
Page one, panel one: A young man in a sweatshirt points a revolver at the reader. He looks nervous. We can see him from the waist up. He’s standing on a stage, with the footlights covering his left half in light and sinking his right half into shadow.
A caption reads: “This man has paid three hundred dollars for the chance to kill Mephisto.”
Panel two: From the head-level of the theater-goers, we see the crowd staring up at the gunman, excitement evident on their faces. Standing next to the gunman is a beautiful woman in a rhinestone-bedazzled outfit. One of her arms is raised high, the other is parallel to the stage floor; she’s “gesturing magically.” We can tell by her navy blue skin and unusually smooth facial features that she’s a mutant.
The narrator goes on: “Stage magic is huge these days. In the last fifteen years, the fantastic shoved its way into people’s lives. Monsters. Robots. Aliens from outer space. We resent it. We want to reclaim the fantastic for ourselves. To see an ordinary man, like us, do the impossible. Even if it’s all phony.”
Panel three: A black and white panel showing a man in a turn-of-the-century Manchu robe lying prone on a stage. Black blood covers the chest of the robe, pouring from a hole in the center of the man’s chest.
The narrator continues: “Though it's not just that. Everyone here knows the bullet catch is a trick. Everyone here also knows that it’s gone wrong in the past and killed magicians. Everyone here relishes the possibility of it happening tonight, deep in the parts of themselves they’d rather not admit.”
Panel four: Close on the gunman. He’s sweating badly.
The narrator continues: “That man loaded the gun himself with six bullets of his choice. He fired a few shots into a block of gel to test it. Nobody touched him, the gun, or the bullets since he got onstage. He even scanned Mephisto with a mutant detector to prove he’s gene-normal. All possible avenues of cheating have been cut off.”
“Right now that man is thinking what everyone else in the crowd is thinking.”
“How will he escape? I've seen the act a dozen times, and I've got it figured out."
"What’s the trick?”
Pages two and three: Double-page splash. The picture is drawn from the foot of the stage, on the right-hand side, where the gunman and Tamara, the Lovely Assistant, stand. The gunman fires. Tamara looks freaked out. The crowd, visible on the fringe of the page, looks freaked out too. The magician, dressed in a red tuxedo, is falling backwards. He’s been shot in the face.
The one and only caption reads: “There isn’t one.”
The title of the issue runs across the top of both pages: ROBINSON, THE MAN OF MYSTERY!
(I’ll stop with the script style of writing now, or this thing will be ridiculously long.*)
After lying still for a moment, the magician lifts his arm, reaches into his mouth, and holds up the bullet. He then stands up and bows. The magician's name, according to the narrator, is Robinson Yeung, popularly known as Mephisto. We see he's a handsome Asian man of indeterminate age.
We jump ahead in time to see the narrator, an attractive woman in her late thirties, approach Mephisto and Tamara in a hotel restaurant. Yeung is wearing all white, sipping a drink. The narrator tells us that Mephisto is on the last leg of his national tour, “The Gentleman from Hell,” and that this is her one shot to get help.
She introduces herself to the duo as Fabiana Downs and apologizes for the interruption. Mephisto is friendly, Tamara less so. Fabiana mentions the beauty of the bullet catch. She adds, "I've figured out how you do it." Tamara's eyes widen; Mephisto remains calm and amused. Fabiana continues, "Other magicians can't figure you out. They say your tricks are impossible. Background checks on you can't find anything beyond seven years ago."
Fabiana leans in close to Mephisto and whispers, a wry smile upon her lips, “You really are the devil, aren't you.”
Mephisto and Tamara laugh. “Of course,” he says.
Fabiana asks, "Can I buy Your Infernal Majesty a drink?"
Fabiana explains to the magicians what she's after. Two years ago, her husband George staked the future of his mattress store on a new product, the King Vibro Sleep-o-Tron. The product failed to catch on, and worse, the local chain stores were taking away his business. In desperation, he tried a dozen silly schemes, all failures.
George went so far as to try sorcery. “The crazy thing was,” Fabiana explains, “the sorcery worked.” Competing stores suffered from mysterious mechanical failures and flu outbreaks among their staffs. Then there was an inexplicable shift in taste among the locals, and the King Vibro Sleep-o-Tron was the bed everybody wanted. All of the sudden, Downs Beds was booming. “It was great,” she explains.
Tamara asks, "So?"
Fabiana looks away. "The magic became too much. George's lost his mind. He wants to use his magic in all sorts of awful ways, and he's threatened me. I think he wants to kill me."
Tamara responds, "Why should we care?"
Mephisto ignores his assistant and leans forward on the table, his eyes fixed on Fabiana. "We can't have that."
Tamara looks at Mephisto as though he's lost his mind, though she says nothing.
The scene shifts to a McMansion in St. Petersburg. It’s nestled in a community of McMansions, next to a golf course. An alligator swims in a water hazard. Fabiana's narration explains that she and George bought it a year ago, just as their success began.
Mephisto and Fabiana head into the backyard, where a tired-looking man in his late forties sits by a pool. He's wearing a salmon-colored golf shirt and chinos, both of which strain at the seams to contain the man's corpulence. "George?" Mephisto asks. He holds out a deck of cards, a large smile on his face. "Pick one."
George ignores the magician and instead addresses Fabiana. "Who is this?"
Fabiana ignores her husband and speaks to Mephisto, her eyes wild. "Take him! He's been holding out on you! Take him and let me go!"
George struggles to his feet, sweating and yelling. "What are you talking about, Fabiana? Who is this guy?"
Fabiana shoves Mephisto in the back, towards her husband. "Take him! He's evil and deserves what you can do!" She then points towards George. "This is Mephisto! He's come here to take your diseased soul to hell, where it belongs!"
"My preference is for slight-of-hand," Mephisto states. "Would you care for tickets to a show?"
Fabiana loses her grip. "You...fraud! George, get him!" George tells her to do it herself. In a rage, she reaches into her purse, pulls out a small revolver, and points it at the stage magician.
The gun flies out of Fabiana's hand and hangs in the air. It then disassembles into its component pieces and falls to the patio cement.
For a moment, no one speaks or moves. Then Fabiana clutches her husband's arm and yells for Mephisto to take George, not her, as George was the one who stole lives, and she was forced to help. George yells back that it was all her idea, and that she lured people to their traps.
She calls him a liar. He retaliates by using a hint of magic to hurl her onto the grass, akin to a hard shove. With this exertion of mystic power, George glows a little and loses some of his ample body fat. George then faces the magician. With a grunt, he grips Mephisto with solidified magical power and forces the stage magician into the pool.
George glows and slims as he uses his power to throw various objects into the pool on top of Yeung: a gas barbeque grill, lawn furniture, and so forth. The now-thin George yells to Mephisto that drowning is a horrible way to die, and that it should take a long time.
Fabiana rejoins her husband, speaking to him as though he were a child throwing a fit. She cajoles him to calm him down, sounding terribly phony. They bicker as Mephisto drowns. We see that George is not insane, but he's close. Determining who's the dominant member of the couple is far from clear.
The water from the pool explodes upward! The grill, the lawn furniture, the table rocket from the water. Following them is a levitating Mephisto. He looks pissed.
The couple flee and head into their house. They reach a room bare of furniture or ornamentation. Instead it contains arcane markings spray-painted upon the walls, a smattering of tools, and two dozen earthenware jars, each one the size of a child, scattered around the floor. "I'll get the hammer!" Fabiana cries. She grabs a sledgehammer from the wall as George positions himself in the middle of the room.
Mephisto walks through the house, taking his sweet time.
Fabiana smashes open a jar. Out of it comes a disembodied soul. George pulls it towards him and absorbs it, growing fatter. In a panic, she smashes more and more jars. George inflates and crackles with mystic energy. As Fabiana raises the hammer to smash another jar, George lets out a howl. He cannot contain the huge influx of mystic energy.
An arc of power courses off of him and strikes a jar, then another, and another. Every jar shatters.
The room is lost to a whirlwind of angry souls and mystic energies. George inflates more and more.
Mephisto reaches the door of the room.
And George explodes.
A brief time later, Fabiana awakes. She can feel the life leaving her body. She grows cold and sees that most of the house is gone.
From out of the rubble, Mephisto approaches. His face and body show several long cuts. The various cuts bleed in different colors: red, black, green, and gold. The many hues run in streaks down his white clothing.
Mephisto kneels beside her.
Fear fills her eyes as she whispers her last words: "You...the devil..."
Emotionless, he replies, "You'll find out."
He stands up and leaves her. She dies amidst the debris.
To be continued soon in Mephisto #2: Fatima the Dancer
NOTE: The index to "The Champions Project" can be found here.
*All that text on page one shouldn’t be too much. According to an interview with Alan Moore I dug up, Mort Weisinger, the legendary editor of DC Comics in the fifties, had a strict rule of no more than 210 words on a page. More than that, he insisted, would overwhelm the pictures. Page one of Mephisto #1 has 204 words. So it’s yappy but not over the limit.