...reading comics from the year i was born!
Matt Champion #1 (Metro)
by Robert Loren Fleming, Ernie Colón, Elaine Lee
There’s a lot working against 'Matt Champion', the comic and the eponymous character. The book itself is the first of what was meant to be a four-issue mini-series, but as far as I can find online, nothing was ever published beyond this debut. I’m not sure if the title was canceled or Metro Comics closed shop or what, but whatever the external circumstances, this comic is trapped forever as an unfinished story. There’s not a lot of payoff or resolution, because the goal of this issue is to make introductions instead. With only the introductions to go on, though, analyzing the book becomes a bit trickier. I’m not entirely confident I know what 'Matt Champion' is about on a thematic level. I understand the plot---anyone could---but I don’t know what it wants to say or why it was created, because this opening chapter does not get that far. But does that make it a failure as a first issue? I don’t think so, but again, I’m not certain.
All of this is established almost immediately. Matt is told by Mr. Zucco on the first page to take the dive, feebly resists, and is reminded somewhat forcefully that it’s not his decision. Sad as it makes him, Matt has no choice but to agree to hand the championship over, and then the story slides into his childhood and offers a glimpse at how he became the naïve, insanely muscular man he is today. Young Matthew is very much the opposite, skinny and sickly and frail. Though the book never specifies what ailment(s) he suffers from (and I’m not positive he even has a real-world condition), what we do see is Matt’s scientist father trying desperately to cook up a cure. Mr. Chapin is on the verge of losing his home to the bank, and his wife has completely lost touch with reality, but his only concern seems to be fixing his sick child. He and Matt try a series of different injections until, we assume (but don’t actually see), they find the right combination of chemicals to make Matt grow big and strong. These shots continue today, and though the science of it is not explained, Matt’s strength has progressed over time to superhuman levels. However, the other side effect of his continued medical care under his father’s guidance is that Matt is still quite childish in his personality. He has not matured emotionally, even though physically he’s overgrown.
Mr. Zucco is none too pleased with the performance, but because Matt at least officially lost like he was supposed to, all is forgiven for now. Well, first Zucco gives Matt’s dad a solid hit to the face for good measure, but then all is forgiven. Except by Matt, the one character who cannot let it go. He washes up after the fight still feeling depressed and cheated, reminiscing about the days when he thought he’d be a boxer. For whatever reason, boxing holds a certain romantic appeal for Matt. It’s the sport he wishes he was good enough for, but his lack of natural skill led him to wrestling instead, which he now hates. However, determined to make the best of a bad situation, Matt decides to buck up and ask Mr. Zucco for a rematch against Beast. It’s not clear why he expects that to work, but in his childish ignorance of the world, he gives it a shot. It does not go well.
But that’s fine, I think, for what should have been only the first 25% of this narrative. Had the other three issues of 'Matt Champion' ever been published, there’s no doubt in my mind that Matt’s specific motives and goals would have been more concretely defined. I suspect there would also have been a lot more material about his history, like why his mom was so crazy or how she died. It’s just that without that background information or a definitive conclusion to the story available, the final message or lesson of this series is hard to identify.
However, I can also see the argument that creators Robert Loren Fleming and Ernie Colón saw Matt as a clear-cut good guy. Just because I personally don’t understand why he’s so deeply bothered by losing to Beast, that doesn't mean Fleming and Colón wanted me to feel that way. The possibility exists that, to their minds, Matt was the obvious hero of this story from the start, that everything done to him was wrong, and that the reader should feel all the outrage the character does. They just don’t make a glaringly clear case for either reading.