X-Men Vignettes #30 (1989)
“Play With Me”
Writer – Ann Nocenti
Art – John Bolton
Letters – Jim Novak
Colors – Glynis Oliver
Edits – Edelman, Harras, DeFalco
From: Classic X-Men #30 (February, 1989)
Hey! Anybody interested in finding out why Arcade is the way he is?
No? Well, me neither… but, it looks like we don’t have much choice in the matter…
So let’s make like we’re reading a Rogues-focused issue of Geoff Johns era Flash, and… ya know, add a bunch of childhood trauma to a lunatic’s backstory so we all feel sorry for him!
We open with Arcade being aroused from some wonderfully pleasant dreams… where he’s being stalked by a bunch of demonic toys. He cries out that he doesn’t wanna play with them, before introducing himself… to himself? He literally springs up in bed and says “I’m Arcade”. Maybe Ann didn’t realize this story was going to be the back-half of another Arcade-focused ditty… maybe it was art-direction to Bolton that accidentally made its way into the script? Maybe this is just the way Arcade speaks, and I’ve never realized it until now? Maybe I’m wasting way too much time on one oddly-dialogued panel. Anyway, it’s storming and spooky out… and, before getting back to sleep, our man hears a familiar BLIPpin’ of the Murderworld Computer System. He heads down to the console to see what’s up… and who might’ve activated it.
He finds out quick that not only has the console been accessed… it’s somehow locked him out from accessing it. Arcade realizes that, while he can’t get into the system — he can still enter Murderworld itself to see what he might be able to find. What follows is around four pages of our man hustlin’ his way through, avoiding attacks from some oversized power-tools… and dodging fire from a shooting gallery, wherein his own childhood stuffed animals are attempting to pick him off. He manages to maneuver his way “backstage”, where he overhears what sounds like a child playing with toys. All good, right? Well… no, ya see — this child is playing with HIS toys… and so, Arcade’s gotta regulate. Now… any guesses as to who this kid might be? Oh, c’mon, this ain’t your first comic book story. Of course, the child is… Arcade himself.
Adult-Child Arcade picks up a clown doll and pats Child-Child Arcade on the head. Child-Child Arcade plucks the nose off’a the clown doll… which really ticks off Adult-Child Arcade… and so, he proceeds to pummel the bejeezus out of the boy… with the toy! Wow, why is Arcade reacting so violently? Could it be some… childhood trauma he’s flashing back to? Again, this ain’t yer first comic book story.
Suddenly, in mid-swing, Adult-Child Arcade seems to realize that this redheaded toy-breaker is actually… him. I mean, he’s just now figuring that out? Maybe this is the first comic story he’s ever read? Anyway, he stops himself from pummeling the punk into paste… and not a moment later, an angry, balding fella enters the room. Could this be — Arcade’s abusive father? Well, I mean… yeah. Duh.
Daddy grabs the kid by his arm and starts laying into him… verbally. Worth noting, Daddy doesn’t get much of an opportunity to become physically violent — because, before he can, Adult-Child Arcade picks up a toy train and clubbers his father with it — killing him!
This takes us to our endgame… Adult-Child Arcade embraces Child-Child Arcade. Suddenly, there’s a loud THUNK, which I’m assuming signals the end of this Murderworld Program, as it’s followed by li’l Arcade literally falling to pieces — he’s just a robot, ya see? We know Arcade’s kinda got a “thing” for robots, so it’s probably good that this particular one fell apart.
We close out with Arcade heading back to the Murderworld console to find out what sick mind might’ve written this program. Uh, any guesses? Hey-HEY, turns out, Arcade did it himself… in his sleep.
Now, I know it probably seems like I was a little dismissive of this story — which, isn’t entirely fair. It’s a fine story… perhaps, in the opinion of the a-hole whose words you’re reading right now, an unnecessary story… but, a fine one all the same.
Sometimes it’s difficult to go back and look at story types which may have been considered novel back in the long ago… that have been rendered into nothing more than the lazy tropes of current-year. Back in 1989, or whenever this was actually written, the deconstruction of the hero/villain was still somewhat “new”, right? Topics like childhood trauma or parental abuse to x-plain away baddie-behavior weren’t quite so over-done. With that in mind, this story probably opened some eyes — the idea that this Adult-Child (or, in current-year parlance: Manbaby), who is stuck in this odd arrested development, where his death traps are literal oversized toys, may’ve been abused by his father — it sorta-kinda tracks, right?
Of course, it’s hard to do anything other than roll your eyes when we’re reading this today… as, “childhood trauma” has become the go-to for super-villain origin stories. Recently over on X-Lapsed, we discussed some of the fillery final issues of Gerry Duggan’s Marauders. In them [spoiler alert], it was revealed that Wilhelmina Kensington of the Hellfire Tots/Homines Verendi, acted like an even less-stable Harley Quinn because was sexually abused by her father. The online reaction to this bit of business (on my airwaves and elsewhere), wasn’t anger, sadness, or anxiety… it was… disinterest. If there was any actual emotion involved, it was more disappointment directed toward Duggan for taking the route-most-traveled.
This certainly isn’t to say softening (or humanizing) a villain is something I consider as being off-limits — it’s just been done to the point where it doesn’t even elicit an emotion. Maybe the industry is just over-exposed at this point? Maybe the current crop of talent lack the subtlety of the old guard? Maybe, the fact that continuity doesn’t even really exist anymore makes retcons like these carry even less “oomph” or weight? I dunno.
There’s also the argument to be made for the fact that — sometimes people are just jerks. Some folks are born with a chip on their shoulder, and it doesn’t matter how good or bad of an upbringing they had — they’re going to grow up to be bad guys/gals. I mean, that’s how it is in real-life, right? Nature vs. Nurture is certainly a thing — but, there are people who are just plain evil. Gun to my head, I’m not sure I could name one such character in mainstream comics. To the “over-exposure” point, every villain has been fleshed out to the point where, it’s hard to completely root against them. We see their point of view, and sympathize with them — or, “understand” why they are the way that they are. Heck, maybe I’m just reading the wrong comics?
With all that said — I know it’s unfair of me to be all “Chris” and hold the sins of the sons against the father (or mother, I suppose), but it’s difficult for me to look at a story like this, with my “2022” vision — and do anything other than shrug-n-sigh. It’s unfortunate that this sort of story has been overused to the point where we can guess literally every single beat of it… and can sum up our thoughts on it by simply saying “Oh, it’s one of those.”
Overall, it was pretty to look at — and, likely very novel (enlightening, even) back in the long ago — but, if you’re just as tired of this trope as yer idiot host, you probably won’t get much out of this.