- John Gaines
Poor Arcade just can’t catch a break. The Marvel Comics villain, known more for his arrogance and his overly-contrived, easily-escapable “traps” has had enough of heroes thwarting his schemes and embarrassing him. In order to regain his prestige in the hierarchy of villains, he must successfully assassinate a superhero, but whom should he choose? He decides on the inexperienced yet powerful young superheroes of the Avengers Academy, a training camp for the next generation of Avengers. Arcade Death Game details his attempt to kill the young recruits of the group with his intricate traps and deadly machines. It is a tightly-paced thriller with appealing heroes and some well-drawn artwork.
At the beginning of the story, Arcade captures most of the Avengers Academy recruits in his traps while they are on a brief trip to New York City. Only Reptil, a young man who can turn his body into dinosaur forms, and Spider-Girl, a young woman with powers similar to Spider-Man’s, manage to escape and try to free the other superheroes from Arcade’s traps. Both are appealing characters, particularly Reptil, whose imaginative dinosaur transformations can fill the panels of the page with surprising and terrifying creatures. The heroes finally defeat Arcade using a clever trick that makes the villain outthink himself.
Arcade is a dangerous, threatening character throughout the story of Arcade Death Game…which makes it rather jarring to see a reprint of an old story involving him included in this graphic novel. That story, a reprint of an old Spider-Man issue, showcases the Arcade of the past…a bland, uninteresting bungler whose absurd Rube Goldberg schemes inevitably backfire. It’s a confusing story involving robotic duplicates of the UK-based Excalibur team and advanced alien technology that Arcade uses against Spidey in the stupidest way imaginable. Reading this reprinted issue, it’s easy to see why Arcade was mainly considered a C-list villain in the Marvel Universe.
To see how high quality a graphic novel can be without an A-List villain, try Arcade Death Game. The villain may be obscure, but he is clever—perhaps too clever for his own good—and dangerous. And the hero team has well-defined personalities and interesting powers. Just don’t expect the Spider-Man reprint included in the graphic novel to be one of Spidey’s classic adventures.