An exclusive estate. Strobe light fills the air. Guests are arriving. What compels these jaunty cretins to attend his birthday party? Arcade wonders aloud. They eat his food, quaff his drink, do their dirty business down in his playrooms. But they didn’t come all this way for hors d’oeuvres and goodie bags, no. They come for the gossip. Super villains love talking &%$/! But as the host, he has to work the room, make the rounds. It’s his party and he always misses out on the juiciest juice. But this year, Miss Coriander, he tells his lovely assistant and laughs, this year they are wired for sound! He’ll hear everything.
The work done, the woman behind him grabs a machete and tries to cleave him. Arcade simply steps aside and the attack misses him. Was that okay? Miss Coriander asks nervously. Arcade assures her that was perfect. She remarks he pays her an awful lot and obviously she doesn’t have much of a conscience, but…Why would he want her to try and kill him on his birthday?
Nostalgia, he tells her. It reminds him of an old friend. Beautiful girl. Hated him something fierce! Doesn’t matter. He urges her to keep it up. The night is still young. Now crack that curtain for him, it’s showtime!
Amidst booming noise and flashing light, Arcade strides among his guests and asks if they are ready to party. Are they ready for that boom boom boom? Are they ready for the no holds barred, down and dirty illegal in all fifty states celebration of this, his 29th year on the planet?
Batroc mutters he knew Arcade was a fool… but good God. Grin and bear it, Taskmaster tells him. The crab cakes are choice! Constrictor can’t believe they talked him into this.
Arcade begins to stammer when he hears some of the vicious remarks about him and begins to realize that his fellow despise him. When he turns in one direction, he hears some of the villains moan not to make eye contact.
Thunderball incredulously asks the rest of the Wrecking Crew if they come to this every year. He’s been here ten minutes and already wants to smack this fool. The others tell him to wait till he gets a load of the geek’s basement.
Taskmaster applauds the tiny quiches, while Constrictor muses whether it wouldn’t be almost as much fun set the place on fire. Batroc agrees laughing. Constrictor suggests they could roast the dweeb on a spit.
Arcade has had enough and smashes a bottle against Constrictor’s head. He immediately hits back, snarling he was joking. But now that he has an excuse, he wants to give him his present. Before he can attack, robot guards put him in a stasis sphere and take him out.
Arcade apologizes about the little kerfuffle, but thanks to the bugs hears the villains bitching about him not even having any superpowers, just a big ol’ trust fund in a bow tie.
He follows the sound of laughter and finds more villains in a home cinema, laughing about a film showing Captain America dressed as Santa, giving chase to Arcade with a candy cane . One of the villains laughs all the videos are like this. He gets punked over and over! Another agrees. He doesn’t think he’s beaten anyone.
Arcade interrupts that the value of a great game is not in the winning. It’s the playing! The journey! No disrespect, the second villain claims. They all get popped in the mouth by supes now and then. It’s just funny to watch, the first agrees.
Morons! Arcade mutters, as he leaves, missing the entire point. He hears them calling him a weird little dude. Hah, Murder World. S’like nobody ever taught him the definition of murder.
On the stairs, Arcade angrily swears that they don’t respect him. Holding a flame thrower, Miss Coriander is waiting for him upstairs and fires at an unprepared Arcade. Happy Birthday!
Days later in a hospital room:
Arcade tells Miss Coriander not to apologize. It was his idea. She is still regretful. She didn’t want to hurt him. She asked him why before. He told her about his old friend, Miss Locke. She used to try to kill him on her birthday. But that was his idea too. He’s a crazy person. He obsesses over things. He’s obsessed with death and birthdays. Probably because he murdered his father on the day of his 21st. He called Arcade worthless. He was. His father said he didn’t deserve his inheritance. He didn’t. He knew he was right so he killed him and took everything away. He cheated. Maybe he asks the girls to kill him, so they can settle that score for his dad. Even things up. But he’ll never let that happen. He’s a coward and a cheat.
No way! Miss Coriander protests. He’s a bad man, sure. Evil even. But he plays fair. That’s totally the thing. He’s always fair.
Was it fair when he killed Miss Locke? he asks and remembers. The one time she came a little too close. Normally, he’d have off’ed Miss Coriander for the flamethrower. For doing exactly what he asked. He’s spent his whole adult life playing games. He talks about raising the stakes. About the purity of competition. Or gamesmanship. What a joke! He’s the sorest loser she’ll meet. Faced with the humiliation of losing, he either cheats or tries to justify it away with some nonsense like “winning isn’t the point.” Winning is everything. And fair? His games aren’t fair. Murder World isn’t fair. It’s always rigged in his favor. Every time! He’s just a chump. A big-mouthed ineffectual clown, routinely beaten with his own stacked deck. A superhero assassin who couldn’t kill a sidekick!
He wants to kill a sidekick? she asks and hands him another birthday present since the first one didn’t turn out so hot. It’s the one about the kids on the island. And it’s a first edition. She remembers him saying how much he liked reading that one when he was locked up.
She’s fired, he tells her. It’s not the book. He loves the book. He’s just done. No more Murder World. No more beautiful assistants. She’ll be fine. Take his island near Barbados as severance. Take the green helicopter, too. But what about him? she asks.
Central Bagalia, The Hole, Arcade’s bar, little more than a closed trash heap where he sits at the counter drinking, when Constrictor comes breaking in. Arcade doesn’t care about being robbed and tells him to help himself.
Angrily, Constrictor begins to strangle him, telling him he doesn’t get to be a smug little worm tonight. No disrespect tonight! Coughing, Arcade tells him he gets it. The party. He humiliated Constrictor.
Constrictor beats him down. He thinks he could humiliate him?! he shouts. He’s taking what is his, because he can. Because he wants to. And they both know Arcade couldn’t stop him if he tried. Aracde agrees. Do whatever he wants to.
Hitting him again, Constrictor asks if it sounds like he is asking permission! He could snap his pencil neck right now. Who would care? Arcade agrees. Constrictor kicks him, asking why he is so pathetic. It’s not even fun! Just show him where he is hiding Constrictor’s new money, so he can leave.
Arcade moans there’s a safe in the… downstairs, he corrects himself. Downstairs in the cellar. He shows him the trap door with the hidden switch. He really sucked all the fun out of this, Constrictor tells him. Sometimes fun will sneak up on you when you are not even looking, Arcade replies.
Constrictor presses the button and is smashed by a giant hammer Amused, Arcade remarks he didn’t even remember the old hammer was there… until now. He was in a dark place that night. The darkest. But Constrictor just knew how to show him the light. He laughs. If he weren’t all gooey and dying, he’d give him a big old hug.
Coriander Island (formerly Murder Island):
Still not quite healed, Arcade visits Miss Coriander, who is lazing at the beach, remarking paradise agrees with her. She looks stunning. What happened to him? she exclaims. Rock bottom happened. He grins. Ain’t it grand? She thanks him for the island while raffling through her bag and she gets out a big gun. She warns him to back off a bit so she doesn’t have to kill him. No offense. None taken, Arcade laughs. Good call, actually, but he didn’t come here to kill her. He was reading the books she gave him and had a new idea, Thought maybe he could convince an old friend to make it happen….
Months later, Antarctica:
Arcade shows her the new base. She gets to work.
What does he think? Miss Coriander asks the floating Arcade some time later. Love! he exclaims and asks how she did this. The hardest part was syncing up the security systems he designed. Took a minute, but as of yesterday they are online and totally untraceable. Not that. This! he demands. He gestures and a water fountain goes up. Well, he said he wanted super powers this time, so she got out cybernetics, magic stuff, gamma radiation, even got a line on some black market Stark tech. But then she got to thinking. He doesn’t care about power. Not like that. Murder World’s never been about beating up on super heroes. It’s about manipulations. Tricking people into playing his game. Turning him into Iron Man won’t help with that. Instead, she gave him more control. The place is built to his specs. It’s a mix of different things. Hard light projection, force fields, nanite-rich oxygen. The trick is it all runs directly though him. His suit. He has control of the environment and everything in it. So long as the battery is charged up, he could give Thor a run for his money. Down here he’s the superest of all super villains. But up top, he is still himself.
She’s really outdone herself, he admits. Hell, she’s outdone him. They did it together, she insists. He didn’t see it before, Arcade continues. How he let her all the way in. How he showed her the real him. He’s sorry, he announces and blasts energy at her.
It turns out she knows him a little too well. The attack has no effect. Yeah, she probably does. The computer is already searching available systems for his kids. She even rigged a secure teleporter setup to snatch them whenever he is ready. It’s a great idea. Sick and twisted in all the best ways. Gonna be a real gut punch to the supes. He might even win this time. But don’t fool himself. She is still out of his league. She teleports away. Good game, Arcade admits.