Marvel’s version of Hunger Games killed off many teen heroes, but Arcade’s reign of terror started with his deadly amusement park, Murderworld.
A hired assassin for the international Maggia crime syndicate, the mysterious Arcade found his calling in designing elaborate deathtraps and mind games for various superheroes, presenting each as a new iteration of his killer amusement park, aptly named “Murderworld.” But while Arcade started off creating bespoke deadly “rides” for his targets, little did Marvel fans know he was building up to something truly terrifying.
Avengers Arena by writer Dennis Hopeless (Spider-Woman, Jean Grey) and artist Kev Walker (Thunderbolts, New Avengers) saw regular X-Men and Spider-Man villain Arcade enact his most devious plot yet. Taking a page from The Hunger Games/Battle Royale playbook, the madman forced an assorted group of teenage superheroes to fight each other to the death on a secluded island. However, while Avengers Arena was the culmination of Arcade’s artistic vision, it still built on his earlier assassination amusement parks.
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While not operating as a secretive remote island, Arcade’s earlier Murderworlds were in every way an ideal precursor to the much grander Avengers Arena that would debut years later. Including everything from killer robots, go-karts equipped with buzz-saws, weaponized planes, trap doors, and faulty roller coasters, Murderworld was definitely no walk in the park. The first known superheroes to have the honor of entering Murderworld free of charge were the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and British crime fighter Captain Britain in Marvel Team-Up #66. Following his entrapment of victims Spidey and Captain Britain, Arcade would next be hired by the Unstoppable Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy to trap their most persistent foes the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #123- 124.
Ever since X-Men pioneer Chris Claremont (The New Mutants, Excalibur) and his artistic partner John Byrne (Fantastic Four, She Hulk) brought the park to life in 1978, Murderworld has taken many shapes and forms. The amusement park’s first appearance initially introduced the homicidal it as a giant pinball machine entrapping Spidey and Captain Britain. Marvel Team-Up and the park’s next appearance in Uncanny X-Men would further expand the “funfair” to include trap doors, revolving panels, a twisted hall of mirrors, holographic illusions, and robotic duplicates of the Hulk and Magneto. Apart from its creator Arcade, Murderworld has also had its fair share of wicked benefactors. Latverian dictator Doctor Doom relied on Murderworld as an asset to trap the X-Men in his own backyard of Latveria in Uncanny X-Men #145, and Arcade almost always works as an assassin for hire rather than a villain with larger goals.
But Murderworld’s deadliest incarnation was in the pages of Avengers Arena where – after kidnapping Marvel’s most prominent teen heroes – Arcade held a Hunger Games-style battle royale in a sealed environment, fabricating godlike power simply through his total control of the artificial island. While the heroes eventually broke loose, there were several casualties, and the story is one of the best illustrations of Arcade’s motivations as a spoiled brat fixated on slaughtering his apparent betters – exactly the kind of villain prone to designing huge death traps for his enemies, and sadly clever enough to make them effective. While Spider-Man and the X-Men routinely escaped from the early iterations of Murderworld, it became apparent that Arcade was able to learn from his mistakes, going from pinball machine to theme park to island as his ambitions and frustrations reached their deadly boiling point.
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