Saturday, July 05, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #6 - Arcade

Oh, if only I had gotten here a couple of months sooner, he'd still be alive to enjoy this honor.

Character: Arcade

Creators: John Byrne and Chris Claremont

First appearance: Marvel Team-Up #65

First encounter: I owned Marvel Tales #201, a reprint from Marvel Team-Up of Spidey and Captain Britain meeting/fighting, then being captured at the end, but I'm not sure Arcade actually shows up until the next issue, which I didn't get for many years. It's probably either X-Men Classic #50, which is a reprint of Uncanny X-Men #146, or it was that black-and-white reprint of his first run-in with the X-Men (from issues #122-124) I bought at the school book fair. You might have seen those, they don't reprint the story as it was, with the panel layouts and such. Rather they stagger three or four panels on each page, so there's no real flow, but you still get the story, at least.

Definitive writer: Chris Claremont

Definitive artist: Dave Cockrum.

Favorite moment or story: Almost any Arcade story is a good one, as long as there are deathtraps and he's having a good time. But I think my single favorite moment is from Uncanny X-Men #146. Arcade had been captured by Dr. Doom, and so Ms. Locke has abducted some of the X-Men's loved ones to force them to rescue him. They fail miserably. Even as the X-Men struggle to escape from the traps Doom's set them in to test them, and Arcade's chances of survival drop, he's unperturbed. So much so, he casually strikes a match off Doom's armor to light one of Doom's high-quality cigars. I just love the cheek it takes to do that.

Why I like him: 'Any fool can kill, ladies. I wanted to do it with style.'

That quote from Arcade always sticks with me. Normally I'm not a big fan of villains who just kill, your Carnages, your more recent Joker, whoever else. But with Arcade, it isn't about the body count, which is good, because he usually fails to kill his targets. It's the way he tries that's fun.  He's an opportunity for writers and artists to throw any crazy thing they can conceive of at the hero. Giant pinball machines, twisted funhouse mirror versions of the heroes, cartoon critters, whatever has a sense of twisted whimsy.

It's been noted in comics recently that Arcade does have a terrible track record of actually killing his targets, but I like that it rarely bothers him. Like he told the X-Men about his first run-in with Spidey and Captain Britain, they beat him on his home court, and he loved every minute of it. They made narrow escapes, had to rescue loved ones in peril, and ultimately survived. It was great fun, for Arcade and the reader. He's a carnival barker, in look and demeanor, and while that can mean the game is rigged in his favor, if you beat him, he'll simply tip his cap to you.

I said it once before, but I've always thought this approach put Arcade a step ahead of all the other bad guys. He's the bad guy who almost understands he's in a story. He doesn't have a persecution complex, isn't deluding himself that he's the good guy, and those darn heroes are the bad guys for stopping him from getting what he wants. He knows he's a bad guy, and the nature of the story is the bad guy loses, in theory in a manner entertaining to the audience. He doesn't care about wins and losses, the important thing to him is to be entertained, which in theory will also entertain the reader. I like heroes who enjoy being heroes, and I guess I enjoy bad guys who actually enjoy being the bad guy.

Which gives him an odd sense of sportsmanship. When he first fought the X-Men, Nightcrawler ultimately reached Arcade's command room and started wrecking it up before he was captured, which enabled the rest of the team to turn the tide. Arcade didn't kill him, rather he returned him to the team unharmed, albeit in a humiliating fashion. If Arcade goes after a hero a second time, it's not out of revenge per se, the way Norman Osborn would attack Spider-Man again, trying to kill him for past "insults". It's that they proved to be good competition, and Arcade would like to see if he can get them again. Like your friend challenging you to a rematch on a board game. I mean yes, Arcade is trying to kill them, but there's no heat or anger there.

Frankly, if people are worried about Arcade looking like an incompetent hitman, reconfigure it a bit. One thing Arcade has proven consistently excellent at is kidnapping heroes. He's aces when it comes to ambushing them to move them to Murderworld. You could hire Arcade to abduct the heroes, so they're out of the way while you pull some other job. If he manages to kill them, great. If he doesn't, well he kept them busy while you did whatever it is you had planned.

Because he really is very adept. Not just at capturing heroes, but putting them through the wringer. He turned Colossus around in no time flat, and he always seems to know the screws to turn. He finds loved ones to use, or he makes facsimiles of them to throw the heroes off their games. While the X-Men were trying to rescue Doom, Banshee, Havok, Polaris, and Iceman were trying to rescue the loved ones from Murderworld. That didn't go terribly well at first, and a robot of Illyana nearly distracted Polaris long enough for her to fall prey to a carousel. He and Nightmare were able to come up with some pretty nasty stuff to throw at Deadpool and Hercules in that issue of Deadpool Team-Up. For Herc it was all his dead kids, and for Wade, it was the voices in his head given a hulking, monstrous, resentful form. Nightmare's powers might have been helping it come to fruition, but I think it was Arcade that helped figure out what weaknesses to attack.

I'm not sure why he's so good at spotting those weaknesses and hammering them. I mean, using someone's sibling or love interest as a lever against them, OK, that's not hard to figure out. But the bit where he could play on Colossus' fears that he betrayed his people, that was pretty good. Maybe because he's kind of divorced from those sorts of relationships. He's observing the whole thing from the outside, so it's easy to see what people in the midst of it don't. He killed his father when Dad cut off his allowance. The person closest to him is his Girl Friday, whether it's Ms. Locke or the new lady, Ms. Coriander. But a major part of their job description is to try and kill him. Because he generally doesn't care whether he lives or not, but the making someone earn his death is a challenge, and that, he enjoys. I'm still not happy Avengers Arena decided Arcade actually cares about losing all the time (or that he cares that crapass villains like Constrictor shit-talk him), but Hopeless definitely got Arcade's ability to see the fault lines in people and trigger them.

When Mightygodking was doing his initial burst of "I should Write Dr. Strange" posts, he did one about Dracula, and a person named Patrick C. noted in the comments the great thing about Marvel Dracula was he could work as an antagonist for literally any hero, and it would be great. I think Arcade is the same way. Sure, you can have him go after Spider-Man or the X-Men again. It's especially easy with the X-Men, because there are so many, he could target a different bunch every time and keep busy for months.

But it doesn't have to be limited to that. Send Arcade after Captain America. Maybe beat down Cap with waves of nostalgia for childhood days spent on Coney Island with his mother. Then Cap gets up and shatters all the funhouse mirrors with one shield throw. Send him after the Hulk, let the Hulk tear Murderworld down around their ears. It's fine, he'll kill some normal schlubs (my theory is he can still make plenty of money killing normal people, because there are plenty of people out there who would hate a non-super-hero enough to want them killed in the horribly inventive manners Arcade employs), or occupy some other heroes' attentions for quick cash and just rebuild it. Have Arcade turn the Baxter Building into a Murderworld and pit the FF against it. Have him hire the Heroes for Hire and then test his new designs against them. There is almost no hero you can't have fun throwing Arcade at.

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