Is anybody up for a game? The winner gets $100 million, while the losers – well, let’s just say the losers won’t be playing any games ever again. The Marvel villain Arcade is back with a reimagined version of his deadly Murderworld. Murderworld: Avengers #1 (written by Jim Zub and Ray Fawkes, with pencils by Jethro Morales) is the beginning of a new mini-series that puts a Squid Game twist on Arcade’s deadly house of horror.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Murderworld: Avengers #1
Who is Arcade and what is Murderworld?
Think of Arcade like a murderous gameshow host, and Murderworld as his playground. His real name is unknown, but if his monologues are to be believed, Arcade grew up in a privileged household. Some versions of the story state that he murdered his father because he cut off his allowance, while others say that it was retaliation for parental mistreatment. Whatever the reason, the murder of his father allowed Arcade to inherit his family fortune.
Arcade has operated as an assassin for hire, but eventually uses his family fortune to spice things up. Thanks to his wealth, Arcade is able to build Murderworld, which added a sense of fun to his killings. The first Murderworld was an abandoned carnival that Arcade remodeled to include a series of elaborate deathtraps. There have been multiple Murderworlds over the years, with most versions containing killer robots, traps, and an overall carnival or video game theme.
Arcade usually taunts his victims on a closed-circuit video or audio system. All of his death traps are beatable, because Arcade thinks it’s more thrilling if his victims have a chance at survival, even if it’s a small one. Arcade has no superpowers, but his proficiency in technology allows him to go toe-to-toe with many of Marvel’s superheroes.
Arcade first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #65-66 (1977), a two-part story in which he traps Spider-Man and Captain Britain in Murderworld. Arcade challenges the X-Men for the first time in Uncanny X-Men #122-124 (1979). Although Arcade has sparred with a variety of Marvel’s heroes, he’s mostly known for his clashes with the X-Men.
What happens in Murderworld: Avengers #1?
Murderworld: Avengers #1 is narrated by a teenage influencer named Paul Pastor. At first glance, it seems like Pastor has the makings of a classic Marvel protagonist. He’s young, he has mutant powers that he hasn’t discovered yet (more on that later), and he has an alliterative name that would make Stan Lee smile. But don’t get too attached to Pastor, because this isn’t that type of Marvel Comic.
Pastor is a video streamer who likes to investigate and debunk the strange and unusual. When Pastor does a video series investigating Murderworld, he catches the attention of Arcade. The eccentric villain sends a video message to Pastor, inviting him to stream the next Murderworld contest. The prospect excites Pastor, who accepts the invitation without hesitation.
This version of Murderworld seems like a fusion between battle royale competitions like Hunger Games and Squid Game. Arcade has gathered a group of 200 players and promised $100 million to the winner. The challenges are creative and deadly, and by the end of the issue 90 of the players are eliminated, including Pastor.
It turns out that Arcade’s invitation to stream the contest was a ruse, and Pastor is thrown into the game. The teen panics, but is able to survive the first challenge, which involves escaping a room with exploding backpacks and a collapsing floor. The second challenge consists of getting to the other side of an obstacle course that looks like it came straight from Squid Game, while fighting off Avenger robots.
Remember those mutant powers I mentioned? This is where they kick in. Pastor is able to fight off a killer Captain America robot when a blast of energy erupts from his body. Pastor is surprised to discover that he’s a mutant, and his fear briefly turns into confidence. After all, if he has powers, maybe he’ll survive this experience and win the contest. Those are Pastor’s final thoughts. Arcade’s associate Miss Locke shoots Pastor in the head, as the closed-circuit audio system explains that mutants are disqualified from being in the contest.
Because none of these players are established Marvel characters, anyone can die. According to writers Jim Zub and Ray Fawkes, that was a deliberate choice. The creative duo elaborated on this in an editorial letter published at the end of the book. “Arcade and his cartoonish contest of cruelty has threatened Marvel heroes for decades, but rarely gets to leave a lasting mark on them because in the end we know the characters on the cover aren’t going to be permanently put in the ground,” Zub and Fawkes write.
Zub and Fawkes wrote that this was a pitch they had been holding onto for a long time. “Creating a scenario where we could really make the game live up to its name opened up all sorts of narrative possibilities, and we can’t wait to hear what you think as each chapter unfolds.”
What’s next for Arcade and Murderworld?
There are still 110 players left in the Murderworld contest, and it looks like they’ll have their work cut out for them. Murderworld: Spider-Man #1 is the next chapter of the storyline, and it goes on sale December 28th. The story will then continue in Murderworld: Wolverine and Murderworld: Moon Knight before concluding in Murderworld: Game Over. Since this issue featured Avengers robots, it seems likely that the subsequent issues will also feature robots and challenges modeled after the characters listed in the title. In other words, I would expect some Spider-Man themed challenges in Murderworld: Spider-Man #1.
According to a teaser at the end of the issue, Black Widow will be showing up in Murderworld: Spider-Man #1 attempting to stop Arcade before his contest gets too far. Since Natasha doesn’t have superpowers, she won’t be disqualified the way Pastor was. It’s safe to say Black Widow might survive Murderworld, but what about the other 110 remaining players? The game has only just begun, and when you’re playing in Murderworld, you play for keeps.
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