Armagideon Time

Nobody’s Favorite: Cut rate

August 22nd, 2016

I’ve never cared much for Arcade, Marvel’s deathtrap-loving assassin who dresses like he just got off a shift as a greeter at Shakey’s Pizza.

He is the quintessential “Marvel Team-Up villain,” a mixture of high concept absurdity and on-the-nose disposability, possessing just enough adversarial substance and visual flair to float a done-in-one story.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing superheroes contend with giant killer pinball machines and exploding amusement park rides as much as any fan of dumb four-color fun does, but anything beyond twenty-two pages of the stuff, however, starts to raise doubts about the validity of the premise.

How does he manage the upkeep for Murderworld, his high-tech midway of death? How does he keep such huge facilities concealed? What about labor costs? Even with the high rates Arcade charges for his services, his expenses must drag deeply on his profit margin while reducing the ability to make up for that in volume.

Besides, if you kill a dude in a secret booby-trapped hall of mirrors and no one is around to witness it, what’s the point? You could just as easily off someone with a silenced pistol in a hidden bunker, claim that your Evil Robot Clowns did it, and still bill your unsuspecting client for the full amount. Sure, style matters, but style don’t pay for giant electrified pinball flippers.

None of this would’ve been an issue if Arcade had gone the way of the Basilisk or the Ringer — characters who fulfilled their immediate purpose before getting whisked off the stage (and then gakked by Scourge a decade later). Yet Arcade was a Chris Claremont creation, one the creator happened to take an inexplicable shine towards and thus felt compelled to shoehorn him into X-Men continuity and a prominence beyond the footnote status the character justly deserved.

“Wait, Andrew! A lot of folks really like Arcade as a villain! How can be a Nobody’s Favorite even by the arbitrary and loose standards you’ve set for this feature?”

The answer to that anticipated questions is “he isn’t.” That dubious honor goes to a luckless loser who occupies an even lower rung on the hierarchy of disposable Bronze Age bad guys…

''Blast! I still had twenty more pounds of accessories to add to my costume!''

…the contemptible Cutthroat!

The up-and-coming assassin made his debut in Marvel Team-Up #89 (January 1980) as the man tasked with offing Spider-Man during a sell-out circus performance. Y’see, the Evil Circus Owner thought that exploding the Wall-Crawler’s skull over the center ring would be just the thing to boost ticket sales.

Granted the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, in light of it being a non-repeatable event that would likely cause a prolonged shutdown and official investigation. Also, staging a public act of murder in a crowded venue seems like it would lead to all sorts of personal liability suits caused the audience’s assumed stampeded toward the exits, as well as the likelihood of inducing a heart attack or three.

Then again, this is the Marvel Universe, a place where an MBA in Evil Circus Management is offered by several respected colleges.

In any case, Cutthroat is given the gig after the Evil Circus Owner balks at Arcade’s asking price and decides to farm the job out to a less expensive murder-vendor. The dispute is overheard by Nightcrawler, the acrobatic X-Man who — in an utterly Claremontean turn of events — had been consigned to the Evil Circus Owner’s freak-show during his pre-superhero days.

Motivated by concern for Spider-Man’s well-being and that long-standing grudge, Nightcrawler decides use his superficial resemblance to the wall-crawler in order to draw the assassin out.

Cutthroat — proving that you get what you pay for — takes the bait but is foiled by the arrival of the real Spider-Man, who shoves Nightcrawler out of the way of the villain’s explosive sniper round. The two heroes then get up close and personal with the rather plaintive gun-for-hire, who opts to let the circus’s panicked menagerie fight his battles for him.

Although Cutthroat’s skills as an assassin may have been lacking, he did demonstrate a pretty strong grasp of the superheroic narrative’s meta game. His gambit may not have been particularly inspired, but it did acknowledge that “superheroes fighting oddly drawn animals” was a more compelling use of page space than “superheroes smack around an some schmoe who got his ensemble from the clearance rack at Mike Grell’s Fashion Warehouse.”

Still, all festivities must come to a close eventually. If you happen to be a dude whose big gimmick is a pistol-sized rocket launcher, there’s only one way a fight with Spider-Man is going to end…

…with the web-clogged sidearm exploding in its wielder’s hand, knocking him flat on his ass and out of the fight.

After that, it was a simple matter for Nightcrawler and Spidey to bring the Evil Circus Owner and his thugs to heel, with a told-not-shown assist from Arcade. Because “closure,” I guess.

Years later, it was revealed that Cutthroat was the brother of Diamondback, a semi-reformed supervillain with a mad crush on Captain America, and served as the Red Skull’s right-hand z-lister for a while. He schemed with Mother Night and eventually got his throat cut by Crossbones.

I read and loved those issues as they came out, yet had completely forgotten that Cutthroat was in them until I started doing research for this post. In fact, I am flipping through them right now and wondering how a character who had that prominent (okay, “prominent”) a role could’ve slipped through the cracks of my memory so thoroughly. If that’s not the stuff of Nobody’s Favorites, I don’t know what is.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorite: Bored and sorcery
  2. Nobody’s Favorite: Real trouble
  3. Nobody’s Favorite: By name and nature

6 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorite: Cut rate”

  1. athodyd

    Marvel’s planning a more realistic reboot of Arcade as skeevy but mysteriously rich guy who owns a “barcade” consisting of two beer taps, 800 flavors of vape juice, a DDR knockoff, and a Neo-Geo multicade cabinet he’s been promising to get fixed for four solid years. Will Captain America be able to prove the whole place is a front for moving oxycontin, or will he be drawn into yet another fruitless argument about false-flag shootings with the crusty guy who claims to be a Papa John’s delivery driver but always seems to at the bar nursing a pint of Old Style?

  2. Freeman Williams

    “Then again, this is the Marvel Universe, a place where an MBA in Evil Circus Management is offered by several respected colleges.”

    I am pretty certain that is the best thing I will read all month.

  3. Elijah Fly

    Arcade is always gonna get some affection, from just being in one of my first xmen comics. (The halcyon days of who is that guy with the stupid hair? The claws are cool I guess….)

    I always assumed he’d eventually start broadcasting these events on the dark web: a supervillain pay per view where he suckers the rubes out of the money while getting them lined up to watch Spider-Man die next time…

  4. DensityDuck

    Fly: not a bad hook! I could see Ellis doing a riff on it, a meditation about modern internet culture wanting to be part of the in crowd…

  5. Chris Wuchte

    I was curious as to what they were doing with Arcade these days, and a quick Wikipedia search tells me that, unsurprisingly, he was last seen hosting some sort of Hunger Games/Battle Royale style competition, which reminds me of how little I pay attention to the bulk of comics published these days.

    I never understood Byrne’s design choice for that character. I guess he was going more for carnival barker, more penny arcade than video arcade, but for my friends and I in the ’80s, we never got why he wasn’t more of a psycho computer nerd as opposed to a puffy-haired guy with an over-sized bowtie. Either version is pretty much dated as soon as they appear, but the other version might be a little less of a joke. The weird thing is how long they kept that look, though.

  6. bitterandrew

    He’s the one dude in your circa 1990 geek circles who refuses to stop taking fashion cues from Paradise Theater era Dennis De Young and always carries around a custom-made yo-yo in a leather briefcase.

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