Issue Date: February 2013
Story Title: Worse
Staff: Dennis Hopeless (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank Martin (colorist), VCs Joe Caramagna (letterer), Dave Johnson (cover artist), Mike Perkins & Andy Troy (variant cover artists, Skottie Young (baby variant cover artist), Jon Moisan (assistant editor), Bill Rosemann (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
It's Day 29 and Hazmat is being hunted by X-23. She blasts Laura but, despite being in flames, Hazmat admits that she won't live through this attack. On Day 1, Hazmat is in bed with Mettle and enjoying his company. Moments later, she finds herself alongside him, Reptil and several other young heroes in a circle at an unknown location, hovering several meters above the ground. Their captor, the insane villain Arcade, explains that he has cooked this idea up after reading a couple of kidsí books. He explains that his intention is that after thirty days only one of them will leave alive. They won't be rescued by anyone as no one knows where they are. He tells them they can find food, water and medicine but they'll have to fight for it. The kids instinctively attack but Arcade proves too powerful for them. Hazmat also attacks but he somehow projects her a quarter mile away with a flick of the wrist. Chase and Darkhawk try working together and blast him from either side but they too are dismissed with ease, as is Juston Seyfert's giant Sentinel. Anachronism asks why he thinks they'll start murdering each other, but Arcade replies that they barely know each other and, besides, he never actually said he'd make them kill each other. What he wants to see is who they really are deep down. Some of them are cowards and liars but there may be one real hero among them. To make things easier, he says he will kill the first one and asks them to nominate the weakest link. Not far away, Mettle goes to find Hazmat, who is fuming. They can hear every word Arcade says over loudspeakers and she is determined to go finish him off. Ken offers calm advice, saying that they should play along for now. The guy's got the upper hand. Jenny, however, decides not to do that and she returns to the group and blasts Arcade. He survives her attack and chooses her to be the weakest link, unless anyone else comes forward. Mettle, not wishing her to die for a cause as stupid as this, puts himself forward. With barely a word, Arcade kills him on the spot with the snap of his fingers, leaving the others quite clear on what lies ahead.
Hazmat is running through the jungle. Her containment suit is damaged and leaking radioactive fumes. As she approaches a fire in a clearing, she thinks about how she's always been a hater. About a year ago, they sealed her in her awful yellow suit to make sure nobody gets cancer from her radioactive body. She reckons that people probably think that's what put the chip on her shoulder, but she's been like this since she was little. She was always quick to point out the worst song, the ugliest shoes or the stupidest movie. She doesn't really know why. She guesses that complaining about stuff always made her feel better.
She looks up to see X-23 leaping at her with her claws extended. She snarls at Hazmat, who responds by blasting her in the face, which immediately burns off and continues to sear her flesh and bones. Hazmat thinks that maybe she's growing out of all that now, because she's hurt pretty bad. She tries to stay standing and not to puke at the smell X-23's skin makes when it burns. There's no way she survives this fight. No way. Lauraís gonna gut her. X-23 lunges at her and plunges her claws into Jennyís shoulders, pinning her to the ground. All she can think is that maybe dying wouldn't be so bad. There are worse things.
(Day 1, Avengers Academy campus)
All is quiet on campus. A cleaner mops the hallways, Juston does some repairs to his Sentinel and X-23 plays table tennis with Reptil. He seems impressed with her prowess at the table. Hazmat and Mettle are in her quarters, arms around each other in bed. Jenny tells him that she guesses she just felt like a normal girl for ten seconds. He made her feel like a normal girl. He replies that, if that's what it takes, he's happy to make her feel normal any time she likes. She laughs and hits him with the pillow before settling back down again. She thanks him for waiting for her. She knows it was frustrating. It just took her so long to get ready. Ken tells her she has to stop with that. It was never a problem. They are good. Very good. Yeah, she replies as she moves in for a kiss. As their lips touch, they disappear from the academy and reappear in a mysterious location, hovering several meters above the ground in a circle. With them are fourteen other young heroes, all asleep and surrounding a weird floating contraption.
Arcade, the creator of Murder World, looks at a massive screen which shows a map of their location and the faces of the sixteen youngsters he has transported there. A small robot pops in with his espresso and he says, "Ahem wake up." The heroes open their eyes and quickly try and take in their surroundings. Arcade advises them not to bother trying to move or talk. He explains that they've been sleeping while he got them cleaned and prepped; dressed in some cases. He tells them that he doesn't pass judgment. After all, he was young once. He laughs at himself as Hazmat realizes it was probably her he was talking about.
Arcade tells them he envies them dangling up there, completely terrified. He'd like to think there would be screaming right now if he allowed it. But itís better that they can't. He rises through the lava that bubbles beneath them, protected by some kind of forcefield and asks them who this badass bogeyman is with the volcano elevator. He's got a crisp hundred dollar bill for anybody who guessed Arcade!
As he seemingly stands unaffected on the molten lava, he explains what it is they're doing there. He says he likes to watch people die. Heís a little sick in the head, but what're you gonna do? He used to build elaborate super hero death traps. They've probably heard about the X-Men and the giant pinball machine. That was one of his. But, he's been doing this a lot of years and his death-trap-to-dead-super hero ratio is embarrassingly low. So, this time they're going to try something a little different. He tells them there are sixteen of them right now. They are completely cut off. Nobody is coming to get them. They can trust him when he says that they wouldnít know where to look.
He continues to inform them that if they want food or water or medicine then it's all here, but they will have to fight for it. One way or another, in thirty days only one of them will walk out alive. He got the idea from a couple of kidsí books he read in the pen. Teenage super hero death match, kill or be killed. It'll be great!
With a snap of his fingers, the lava disperses and the heroes drop to the ground. Anachronism says he's taking Arcades head off. Bloodstone replies that he'd like to see that. Everyone has pretty much the same idea. The chivalrous Kid Briton tells Cammi, ladies first, but she lets Nara go before her. As Hazmat, Mettle and Reptil in his velociraptor form approach, Arcade figures he'll have to deal with them. He extends his hand which glows and blasts Reptil away from him. He tells them that he understands their Pavlovian response; beat up the villain and make him stop, but sometimes they've got to think about these things. They should pay attention to their situation.
Hazmat ignores him and pours on the power but he remains unaffected by it. He asks if there is any reason to believe they would stand a chance against the guy who had complete control over their motor skills six seconds ago. He places his hands at either side of Hazmat's helmet. I hung you from my ceiling, he says, before firing her into the distance, much to Mettle's horror.
Chase Stein then goes on the attack using his Fistigons to envelop Arcade in a fireball. On Arcade's opposite side, Darkhawk uses his own energies to blast him. Chase remarks that the dude is tougher than he looks but Darkhawk asks him to keep at him. Arcade's forcefield holds fast and he tells them he's starting to look like a bully. He asks them to look around at the smart kids, hanging back. They get it. He raises both arms and blasts them both away from him. As Juston and his Sentinel charge at him, he informs everyone that thereís a reason he doesn't wear a mask. He isn't the villain here. He unleashes concentric circles of energy which knocks everyone off their feet. "I am the God!"
He turns and walks towards a makeshift throne and says that now that's out of the way they can talk turkey. He presumes some of them are thinking, Why me? He says he can't answer that. Fate... Wolverine's school has a better security system... it doesn't matter. What matters is how they play the game. Juston tells him to quit talking about his game. They're not playing it. Arcade replies that life's a game. You're either playing it or losing it.
Anachronism tells Arcade that he doesn't know what Arcade thinks might happen next. He's proved he's a big strong man by knocking them around and calling himself a god. It doesn't mean anyone's gonna haul off and start murdering just cause he says so. "You sure about that?" asks Arcade. He asks him to look around. How many of these people does he actually know? How many would he trust with his life? He didn't say he'd make them kill each other. He can't make them do anything. It wouldn't be as much fun if he could. However, this is a game that will crack them open and let the 'real you' out. The 'you' that they keep crammed down deep where nobody else can see. Bloodstone asks if deep down they're all cold-blooded killers. Arcade smiles and replies that it's not all of them. Some of them are cowards and some are liars. There might even be one real hero. But, does he think that there's at least one natural born bone and gristle killer among them? He does.
Meanwhile, Mettle goes to find Hazmat and he locates her in a snow-covered clearing. She tells him she's okay. He holds her and tells her they'll keep her that way.
Back at the meeting point, Arcade says that he's bored with all the talking. They should kill somebody. The game starts now. He states that there are sixteen players and one of them is the weakest. He'll make it easy. He will do the first killing. He asks them to go ahead and pick the weak link. He isn't messing around either. They must choose somebody or he will.
Back in the clearing, Hazmat complains that, because of the loudspeakers, they can't get away from the idiot's voice. She complains that he's trying to make them choose who he murders first. She feels they have to get back there and put a dent in his skull. Ken replies that they don't. Hazmat turns back to him and snaps, "What? Yeah we do." Ken tells her that they have to take this guy seriously. He just punched her, like, a quarter mile and took a dozen of them out without even trying. He might not look much but the dudes for real. It might be time to play along.
Jenny can't believe he's saying this. The guy is about to start killing people. Ken replies that he doesn't care. Jenny tells him not to be stupid. Of course he does. Ken says that, as long as it's not her, he doesn't care. Over the loudspeakers, they hear Arcade inform them that he's not waiting around all day. They must pick a weak link. They have ten seconds. As he counts down, Hazmat and Mettle return to the group. When she gets there, Hazmat wastes no time in blasting him again with her radioactive energies. "Oh my God. Shut up," she cries. "You are the worst bad guy ever!" Her assault actually appears to hurt him, but his forcefield remains intact. Jenny tells him that they're not likely to line up for his idiot death match. They're teenage super heroes. They get beat up all the time!
Arcade gets to his feet and tells the others that it seems they have a winner. He uses some kind of power to levitate her and stretch her out. Jenny groans as she loses control of her body once again. Arcade says that he doesn't know if she's the weakest link, but she does seem to struggle with the rules of the game. He asks if there are any other voters. They can always pick somebody else and save her life. The kids remain silent and Arcade smiles. Now they understand the game.
Mettle then approaches him. Arcade thanks Hazmat for playing, but before he can do anything, Ken asks him to stop. "Itís me." Tears pour from Jenny's eyes as she tells him not to do this. Ken looks at her, helpless. "I'm the weakest link," he says. Arcade releases his grip on Hazmat who falls to the ground. "Whatever you say kid," replies Arcade. He snaps his fingers and Ken explodes, killing him instantly. Jenny, splattered with her boyfriend's blood, looks up at Arcade who begins to walk away. "Oh, I always forget," he adds. "Welcome to Murder World."
Anachronism, Apex, Bloodstone, Cammi, Darkhawk, Hazmat, Kid Briton, Mettle, Nico Minoru, Nara, Red Raven, Reptil, Ryker, Juston Seyfert, Chase Stein, X-23
(in the future, day 29)
Hazmat and X-23
Nico and Chase are members of the Runaways. Hazmat, Mettle, Reptil and Juston Seyfert are former members of Avengers Academy. Cammi first appeared in Drax the Destroyer #1 back in 2005. Darkhawk is a former member of the New Warriors and The Loners.
This Red Raven is named Dania and is possibly the daughter of the original Red Raven.
Anachronism, Apex, Bloodstone, Kid Briton and Nara are brand new characters and this is their first appearance.
Juston's appears to be doing minor repairs to his Sentinel at the academy. His damaged Sentinel was fixed by Quicksilver in Avengers Academy #33.
The X-Men were put through the ringer in Arcade's giant pinball machine way back in X-Men (1st series) #123 - 124.
The books which Arcade read in jail seem to be The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. Both these books have been made into movies. The cover is an homage to the Battle Royale movie poster.
Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist. The Pavlovian response that Arcade mentions refers to his experiments with dogs at the start of the twentieth century.
Cullen Bloodstone's first name was revealed in the letters page of this issue.
On panel, we can see a health bar which for each of them currently stands at six bars, except for Mettle's whose death pushed him to nought.
Issue Summary written by: Fantomex