Today is Back Issue Ben's turn, and he picked Arcade! Here's Ben!
Great Pinball Machines and Irrational Love
by Ben Smith
Human beings do irrational things out of love. We can make mistakes, bad decisions, or act out of character. Emotions, feelings, they make us do dumb things (which is why I choose not to bother with them). It's no different for comic book fans. Everyone has that character that they love, even when they know that character is a little bit silly. Some of us can take that love too far, like collecting an entire run of Booster Gold (just kidding, Booster Gold fans!), but it all comes from a place of pure fandom, of joy. There's something indescribable about opening up a comic and seeing that little used character that you love, it instantly brings a smile to your face.
This time, I'm going to talk about one of those characters for me. He's skinny, with red hair, wears an all-white suit, and constructs giant pinball machines as deathtraps. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the villainous Arcade. Now, if you've been reading my insane rantings at all in the past, you know that I grew up as a Spider-Man and X-Men kid, and those are the two books Arcade appeared in first. I never had a chance.
So grab your quarters and let's see what's so great about Arcade.
Marvel Team-Up #65. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Dave Hunt; Editor: Archie Goodwin
Spider-Man is late for a meeting with the dean of students.
He arrives to find that the dean has decided to invoke a form every scholarship student fills out agreeing to house foreign student guests on behalf of the university. Peter will be sharing his place with Brian Braddock, a student from Thames University. Reluctant at first, Peter enthusiastically agrees when he finds out that payment is involved.
Meanwhile, some representative of the European branch of the Maggia hire a mysterious figure named Arcade to kill Brian Braddock for them, as he is one of a number of people suspected to be the superhero Captain Britain.
Brian wakes up after a night of partying with Peter and the crew. Peter is trying to sneak out the window as Spider-Man, and is caught in the act by Brian. Spider-Man swings off as fast as he can, prompting Brian to change into Captain Britain and follow him.
Cap thinks Spider-Man has done something to Peter, and so they spend the next several pages fighting.
Finally, Spider-Man convinces Captain Britain that he has a deal with Peter Parker when it comes to taking action photos of him for the Daily Bugle.
The police are out in full force tonight, looking for our heroes, presumably to warn them. Before Captain DeWolff can find them, a garbage truck extends a scoop that traps Spider-Man and Captain Britain. In the driver's seat is Arcade.
My brain thoughts: This marked the debut of both Captain Britain and Arcade in U.S. comics. This chapter is your standard heroes meet and fight under mistaken circumstances, with the obligatory team-up coming up in the next part. This is yet another Claremont and Byrne–produced comic. Can you tell I was a fan as a kid? (At this rate, I may end up having to change the name of my column to Back Issue Ben, featuring comics by Claremont and Byrne. Okay, that joke fell flat, but you get the point. I need to look at more Zeck comics…)
Marvel Team-Up #66. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Dave Hunt; Editor: Archie Goodwin
Spider-Man and Captain Britain come to, encased in separate giant globes.
A voice comes over a loudspeaker introducing himself as Arcade, and welcoming them to Murderworld.
The heroes are propelled into a giant replica of a pinball machine, only every time they hit a bumper, they are hit with an electrical charge.
Spider-Man is able to use his strength and determination to break free.
He then helps Captain Britain to break free, and they're temporarily distracted by a giant spiked ball, which winds up being a distraction leading them to two separate trap doors.
Captain Britain is dropped down by some murderous funhouse mirrors, with Arcade revealing the added incentive that Cap's lady friend Courtney Ross is his captive as well.
Spider-Man easily takes care of a robot cowboy, but then finds himself right in the middle of a warzone.
Spider-Man calms himself down, ignores his visual senses, and looks for the tunnel wall. He finds it, peels the panel back with his super strength, and crawls inside.
Captain Britain finds a giant treasure-scoop game, with Courtney as one of the prizes. He has to hurry though, as she's running out of air. Just to make things that much more difficult, Arcade starts flooding his chamber with water.
Spider-Man starts pulling and smashing panels and circuits in the tunnel.
He makes his way right to the outside of Arcade's control room. Arcade misdirects him to the submerged Captain Britain, who Spidey leaves to help.
He's able to pull Cap out, and then they both rush to free Courtney before it's too late. They reach her in time.
Spider-Man's earlier smashing starts to pay dividends, as Arcade's control panels start to explode.
Seizing their chance, Spider-Man pulls open another wall panel, and the three of them escape inside. Out of the sewer come our stalwart heroes. Captain DeWolff comes to pick them up and get them out of there.
Arcade's assistants tell him the men that hired him are dead, so he will not be getting paid. Arcade doesn't care about them, or Captain Britain anymore. No, with a big ole smile on his face, all Arcade cares about is a rematch with Spider-Man.
My brain thoughts: One of the things I love about the character of Arcade is that he always seems to be having fun. Even though he's apparently a world famous assassin, he's just so upbeat. No grim seriousness from this villain, he's having a good time. Murderworld is just a great idea. It offers the opportunity for so many cool visuals and neat death traps. It may not be practical in a real world sense, but I'm reading comics, what do I care about the real world?
Uncanny X-Men #123. Author: Chris Claremont; Artist: John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern
Spider-Man swings through the city, on his way to a date with Cissy Ironwood. He spots Colleen Wing and Scott Summers on a date and drops in to say hello. (Have I completely blanked this out, like some traumatic memory? When did they date? Oh man, my beautiful Colleen dating that complete tool Scott Summers. This is horrible news.)
Spider-Man swings away before a familiar-looking garbage truck pulls up.
In the words of Spider-Man, "Sflanng?! Where have I heard that bef—Arcade!!" Spider-Man is too late to rescue them though, and decides to warn the rest of the X-Men.
Nightcrawler and Colossus arrive at the Metropolitan Opera House, with their dates Betsy and Amanda, and all are promptly gassed by Arcade's right-hand woman Miss Locke. Wolverine leaves a date with Mariko, and on the street in the distance is the garbage truck.
Back at the mansion, Banshee is roused from a nap by the ring of the telephone, but he is zapped in the back before he can answer. Storm emerges from the shower and goes to answer the phone. She gets as far as picking it up before she is zapped from behind by Arcade as well.
Arcade takes the time to pick up the phone and taunt the caller, Spider-Man, who is not pleased.
The X-Men all wake up, dressed in costume, contained within Arcade's giant "pinballs."
The game is on, as he sends them rolling through the electrified bumpers, and off into separate areas of Murderworld. Cyclops makes a crash-landing in a room with three doors in it. Arcade warns him that only one door is the exit, while the other two lead to horrible deaths. The wall on the opposite side begins to close in on him, prompting him to make a decision quick. Colossus drops into a darkened room. A man enters the room, identifying himself as a member of the KGB, here to talk to him about being a traitor to his country. Wolverine drops in on the funhouse mirror room.
Nightcrawler finds himself in a bowl-shaped room, complete with buzzsaw equipped bumper car; Storm is trapped in some darkened tunnel, above a pool of water; and Banshee winds up in the war zone hologram.
Cyclops thinks outside the box and blasts the wall with his eyebeams, bringing him into the funhouse mirror room with Wolverine. The two are about to leave when Wolverine gets a metal fist to the face.
Colossus announces himself as The Proletarian, workers' hero of the Soviet Union. Arcade has himself a good laugh about it all.
My brain thoughts: Like I said before, Murderworld is the perfect vehicle to enable great visuals and interesting game-themed death traps. They're just fun to look at. This era represents Byrne at his artistic peak, no doubt aided by the inking skills of the legendary Terry Austin. I really don't think he ever looked better, before or since, than he did when he was working with Austin on the X-Men. My poor, poor Colleen. Just further proof that we all make irrational decisions sometimes.
The Uncanny X-Men #124. Author/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Chris Claremont and John Byrne; Inker: Terry Austin; Editor: Roger Stern
Arcade is having a grand old time. He's laughing so hard, it's bringing tears to his eyes. He takes a break to talk to the lovely ladies he captured with the X-Men, and lays a kiss on the lovely Colleen Wing.
|You keep your dirty hands off her you punk! Ahem…|
Arcade lets them in on his secret origin, and how he was planning a rematch against Spider-Man, when Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut hired him to take out the X-Men.
Wolverine and Cyclops battle the brainwashed Colossus with little success, as Colossus sends Wolverine flying into a separate room.
He tosses Cyclops away too, with Cyclops remarking to himself that he doesn't have unbreakable bones the way Wolverine does. (Is this the first hint at Wolverine's adamantium skeleton? I'm always so fuzzy on exactly when we learn what about Wolverine.) Storm is forced down into the water, and the water level quickly rises to ceiling level, and Cyclops slides in on Nightcrawler's bumper car death trap.Wolverine joins Banshee in the war zone hologram. He uses his senses and claws to find the wall panel just like Spider-Man did. Only this time, Arcade learned his lesson from last time, and has robot opposition waiting for them on the other side.
Storm does us all a favor and starts taking clothes off. She swims down to try and find an escape route.
Cyclops uses his eyebeams to destroy all the bumper cars in one spectacular shot.
They find a hole blown in the wall, and enter the back tunnels. Cyclops finds Wolverine and Banshee fighting the robot Hulk and Magneto. Nightcrawler finds the control room, and teleports in on Arcade. Miss Locke fires her weapon at him, so he teleports over and steals it from her. He starts shooting up the control panels.
Cyclops helps Wolverine finish off the robots, when suddenly water starts flooding into the room. In the middle of the room is an unconscious Storm. Cyclops performs CPR and saves her life. Colossus enters and starts laying the smackdown on all of them. He starts choking Cyclops and Storm. They are able to break through his brainwashing and he is himself again.
His last shot thwarted, Arcade calls it a wrap and expels the X-Men up and out of Murderworld.
He sets the ladies free as well, and leaves the X-Men a congratulatory note. Wolverine is angry and wants to go back after him, but Cyclops convinces them all to quit while they're ahead.
My brain thoughts: Arcade better keep his damn lips off of Colleen Wing. Cyclops too.
My final brain thoughts: Naked Storm, Colleen's bad taste, disco assassins, Cissy's iron wood, unbreakable bones, and heroic Brits.
Arcade isn't going to be one of those villains that prompts a deep exploration of the human condition. There's probably not going to be any heartfelt moments, or scenes with deep melodramatic emotion. These stories aren't going to make it onto any "best of all-time" lists, and that's okay. They're fun, action-filled romps filled with cool visuals and a silly villain that spends the whole time laughing his ass off. That may not put it up there with the Dark Phoenix Saga, but I think it's just as fun to read as anything else.
Arcade has popped up a few more times over the years, each time failing to actually kill anybody like he's supposed to. (I always just assume he's killing all his non-powered targets, or else why would people continue to hire him? He just has trouble with those super-powered types, and really, what villain doesn't?) All that might be about to change with the Avengers Arena title debuting in December, part of the Marvel Now initiative. Initial interviews promise that Arcade is finally going to live up to his reputation in this series, and actually succeed at killing some targets. I, for one, can't wait to check it out.