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Feb 3

Hellions #9 annotations

Posted on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 by Paul in Annotations, x-axis

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

“Funny Games: Level 1”
by Zeb Wells, Stephen Segovia & David Curiel

COVER / PAGE 1: Mastermind holds up a “missing” poster of Mister Sinister, who is holding up a “missing” post of Mastermind, who is holding… you get the picture. This layers-within-layers stuff doesn’t really appear in the issue, but maybe it’ll feature into the bigger picture.

PAGES 2-4. Mastermind drugs Mr Sinister.

Mastermind. Psychic illusionist Jason Wyngarde was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants back in the Silver Age. He also had a major role in the Dark Phoenix Saga, when his manipulations of Jean/Phoenix set her on the path to becoming Dark Phoenix. He drifted off the radar over the course of the 1980s, and he was finally killed off via the Legacy Virus in Uncanny X-Men Annual #17 (1993). We already knew that he had been resurrected on Krakoa, since he showed up as one of the army of mutant psychics in Empyre: X-Men, but this is the first thing he’s done of any significance.

Precisely what Mastermind is up to in this issue is left deliberately unclear. He’s clearly been in discussions with Mister Sinister about some sort of scheme. He says that participating is very risky for him; Sinister says he has no choice, but we really don’t know why yet. He seems to betray Sinister and hand him over to another villain entirely, but the cover suggests there’s more to it than that. Well, that and the fact that it’s Mastermind, so we can’t entirely trust anything that we see. On the other hand, Sinister says Mastermind has turned him down before, which would fit with Mastermind using that offer as an opportunity to get close to Sinister and capture him.

Da Hong Pao. It is indeed a staggeringly expensive Chinese tea. Mastermind is exaggerating when he says it’s worth a hundred times its weight in gold, but not by that much – it does indeed sell for more than thirty times its weight in gold.

It’s a little surprising that Sinister – who used to be an A-list threat capable of taking on the entire X-Men team on his own – is apparently susceptible to something as basic as poisoning. Perhaps Mastermind is helping the process along. But note also that Sinister’s response to being poisoned seems to suggest that he thinks Mastermind will help him. Which is a bit odd, but, well, Sinister is a bit odd.

Sinister’s cape apparently hasn’t recovered from the beating it took in Otherworld during “X of Swords’, but he refuses to be parted from it long enough to get it washed.

PAGE 5. Recap and credits.

The title, “Funny Games”, fits with the villain revealed at the end of the issue. Given the nature of Hellions, it’s likely also a reference to the 1997 Michael Haneke film, remade in the US in 2007, in which a family are held hostage and tortured with sadistic games. I’ve never seen it, and don’t particularly want to.

PAGES 6-8. Peter gets his new armour.

Orphan-Maker is never actually called by that name in this issue, though he’s still listed under it in the recap page. He died in Arakko in issue #6, and so, like Nanny and Wild Child, he’s returned changed. In their case, they were harder and more focussed. Peter appears to be both physically and mentally older – he still treats Nanny as a parent figure, but in a more adolescent way.

As Nanny has repeatedly hinted, and Professor X confirmed in issue #7, Orphan-Maker’s powers are apparently insanely dangerous and must never be allowed to activate. Presumably if they had had the choice, the Five would have brought him back at a younger age, but the nature of an Arakko resurrection took the decision out of their hands.

It was previously unclear whether Peter was a child in adult-sized armour, or an adult whose powers had been arrested by the armour. This scene seems to confirm that he was an actual child, which makes you wonder what on earth Professor X was thinking, handing him over to Mr Sinister to play with.

Nanny. Unfortunately for Peter, Nanny also seems to have moved on in response to his personality change, and is now focussed on the Smiley AI that she retrieved in the previous issue. She’s clearly treating it as a baby, and channelling her maternal instincts to it instead of to Peter.

This scene also seems to confirm that, at least after her resurrection, Nanny can in fact remove her egg-shaped costume. She still has the shell she was wearing before. Nanny’s established origin had her being trapped in the cyborg shell by the Right, but evidently that no longer applies.

PAGES 9-11. The Hellions train.

Empath offers to release Havok’s “fun you” persona, by which he presumably means the violent one we saw in issue #1 that got Havok stuck on this team in the first place. It remains somewhat unclear whether that actually is an alternative personality of Havok’s, or something else entirely.

Wild Child still sees Kwannon as the alpha female and is looking for a mate to start his “pack” with. He is well aware that Kwannon isn’t remotely interested – nor indeed is any other woman – but seems clueless as to why. Despite the fact that a romantic triangle of sorts is clearly being set up, Greycrow offers Wild Child relatively sensible advice about why people might be finding him a little off putting.

PAGES 12-13. Sage despatches the Hellions to rescue Mr Sinister.

Clearly, Sage has been manipulated by Mastermind. She believes that there used to be footage of Sinister being captured in New York and that it’s somehow been erased. She also believes that Professor X has insisted on sending the Hellions. But she at least registers that this doesn’t make sense, and warns Psylocke to be careful – which suggests that this scene isn’t, in itself, an illusion.

Quite understandably, the Hellions couldn’t care less about Sinister’s disappearance.

PAGE 14. Data page. Apparently a forged memo sent by “Sage” to Professor X to justify the Hellions going on the mission, despite the fact it has nothing to do with their usual “smash things up as a outlet” remit. The memo insists that the Hellions are showing progress in rehabilitation, as proved by their determination to rescue a teammate. It’s possible that Sage actually did write this, and has her own reasons for sending the Hellions and covering it up, but it’s much more likely that Mastermind is just telling the truth.

It’s obviously heavily ironic for the memo to push Greycrow’s supposed loyalty to Sinister as evidence “that even the most antisocial mutant may change.” We’ve seen throughout this series that Greycrow isn’t particularly antisocial at all; he’s always been a good team player, subject only to his refusal to tolerate Empath.

PAGES 15-16. The Hellions arrive in New York and are met with Mastermind.

Note that Peter apparently knows that Nanny has got a new ward, and Nanny tells him to shut up before he tells everyone.

Nanny has changed back to her previous costume (the one with the lips).

Havok refers to Mastermind as a “Hellfire guy” because he was a provisional member of the Hellfire Club during the Dark Phoenix Saga.

PAGES 17-20. Mastermind toys with the Hellions.

He implies to them that he might have been manipulating them as far back as issue #1, and generally messes with their minds until they all fall unconscious.

PAGES 21-22. Arcade emerges as the villain.

Arcade is the X-Men’s long-time comic relief villain, who builds ridiculously elaborate theme park styled deathtraps and then captures superheroes just to test them. In theory he’s an assassin for hire, but even the Official Handbook has felt constrained to point out that his schemes are so ludicrously and pointlessly expensive that he can’t possibly be covering his costs at whatever he’s charging. He was last seen working with Kraven the Hunter in Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man. 

Arcade’s main interest is in absurdist sadistic torture games, though he’ll also work as a hired gun for any other villains who don’t mind their instructions being fulfilled in an absurdist fashion. While he has been known to cross paths with A-list villains like Doctor Doom, he’s not a character of any grand ambitions, and it’s far from obvious why he would be interested in picking a fight with a still-just-about-an-A-lister like Mister Sinister.

Arcade’s unnamed assistant is presumably his regular current sidekick Miss Coriander.

PAGE 23. Data page with the usual quotation from Nightcrawler. Mastermind has generally been in the category of authoring his own demise – for a character with very powerful (if highly specific) psychic abilities, he’s really achieved very little over the years.

PAGE 24. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: ARCADE GAMES.


Bring on the comments

  1. CitizenBane says:

    What provisions does Krakoan law have to deal with something like this? Mastermind is clearly committing something akin to treason, a serious offense against the state that demands punishment to deter others from following in his path. This is another one of those situation where Krakoa isn’t really fleshed out as a society; there doesn’t appear to be any set of behavioral norms or law enforcement to police those norms. They just made up three laws and threw Sabretooth into a torture pit for retroactively breaking one of those laws.

    It’s really irksome because the whole Krakoa endeavor has been undergirded by this smug superiority about “mutant society” and “mutant culture” versus their human counterparts, even though they haven’t yet figured out basic things humans put together circa Hammurabi.

  2. Chris V says:

    Maybe they let Apocalypse create any laws outside of Moira’s goals.
    He believes that mutants should be able to defend that selves, or they deserve what they get, and it’s up to the victim mutant to mete out their own type of justice in revenge if they choose.
    Hence, Shaw killed Kate, and now Frost and Kate are involved in a revenge scheme against Shaw.

    I always thought Arcade was an interesting villain. The elaborate and absurd death traps work fine, but they just make the traps so large and complicated that it’s impossible to believe.
    If they toned it down, he could be a threatening psychopathic villain for someone like Moon Knight to fight.
    I like that Arcade was based on A Clockwork Orange; even though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of Anthony Burgess’ fiction.

  3. Si says:

    I thought Arcade’s deal was he was so good at assassination that he got stinking rich, and bored, so he reinvented his work as a part-time hobby. Hobbyists do indeed become ridiculously elaborate and spend far more money than they’ll ever get back. But that was possibly retconned in Avengers Arena, a series that was way better than it had any right to be, but it sure wasn’t kind to Arcade as a viable character.

    As for Orphan Maker, there was one armour design that I only saw in one place, and that was in the Marvel role playing game. It looked a bit Simonson-y but I don’t really know. Anyway, it was the same armour, obviously huge, but with a child’s physical dimensions, and huge boots and stuff. It had that same goofy aesthetic as Nanny, but then you notice his huge gun and remember he murders innocent people. I always like that dissonance effect.

  4. Chris V says:

    Si, I’m pretty sure you are correct, but I have never read Avengers Arena.
    The fact that there would be so much black market supervillain tech floating around the Marvel Universe does make it more believable.

    The only problem with Arcade is that he has to be shown as successful a majority of the time to make his back-story work.
    Instead, he is defeated in every story. It makes his Murderworld modus operandi seem to be an eccentric mistake.

    Although, if he is based on Alex from A Clockwork Orange, it may simply be enough to enjoy the randomness and the violence for the sake of violence with his actions, whether he ultimately succeeds or not.
    It may be an angle that is needed to be modified.

  5. Scott B says:

    Arcade has appeared since Amazing Spider-Man. He’s one of the villains in Kelly Thompson’s Black Widow.

  6. Luis Dantas says:

    I stand surprised that somehow Arcade is still being used after Avengers Arena. For all its many faults (and it was one of the very worst series that I ever read), it seemed to accomplish at least some sense of finality for Arcade.

  7. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    This issue didn’t work for me, maybe because I don’t care for Mastermind or Arcade much.

  8. Thom H. says:

    I’m pretty ‘meh’ about Arcade, although I like the idea of pitting him against Nanny and the Orphan Maker. That’s just bizarre and fun.

    Mastermind, on the other hand, is such a great villain. The way he skulks around in that brown overcoat, scheming against anyone and everyone, all because…he’s not that good looking and no one likes him? He’s the ultimate socially awkward high school student. It’ll be interesting to see him fight Empath.

  9. Si says:

    I think the key to Arcade is he’s not locking people in giant pinball machines to make money, he’s doing it for the thrill. It’s almost irrelevant to him if the target escapes. Obviously he’s often not written this way, but to me that’s the core of the character that makes him interesting/fun.

    But that said, I recall the X-Men story where Nightcrawler got nabbed with some random woman, who was the actual target. She turned out to be a princess or something, but the fact is she wasn’t a superhero. I bet there’s all sorts of people without a page in OHOTMU who go into Murderworld and don’t come out again. We just don’t see their stories. Superheroes would surely be the exception for Arcade, not the primary target.

  10. Col_Fury says:

    For some reason when I saw this issue’s cover, my initial hope was that Mastermind was going to team up with his two daughters, also Masterminds (well, one’s Lady Mastermind, but whatever). Oh well.

  11. Peter Singer says:

    Si: “I think the key to Arcade is he’s not locking people in giant pinball machines to make money, he’s doing it for the thrill. It’s almost irrelevant to him if the target escapes.”

    I think that’s a viable take on Arcade, even though I really liked Avengers Arena.

    I’m reminded of Claremont’s Arcade in Excalibur: “Admit it to yourselves, if not to me — Wasn’t this fun?!”

  12. Brian McCormick says:

    Arcade has turned up in the current Black Widow series which is worth a look on Marvel Unlimited – it’s very good!

  13. neutrino says:

    The Official Handbook had him inheriting vast wealth after killing his father when he threatened to cut him off. He decided he liked killing and became an assassin, with the game more important than actually winning.

  14. Luis Dantas says:

    That is certainly how he told his own origin to Coleen Wing in his second appearance.

  15. Taibak says:

    Peter: Wasn’t that Gail Simeone’s take on Arcade too?

  16. Drew says:

    I think some stories have nodded to the idea that Arcade does a lot of regular, run-of-the-mill political and business assassinations to fund his big superhero traps.

    Personally, I like the idea of Spider-Man casually trashing some robot carnival barker that a dozen philandering CEOs died to finance. Jeff Bezos doesn’t exist in the Marvel Universe because Arcade killed him years ago.

  17. Luis Dantas says:

    Funny as that is, it would be a very significant deviation from our world.

    But now I want to read the “Roxxon vs Arcade” limited series.

  18. Paul says:

    Arcade’s origin story is unusual in that the Official Handbook specifically tags it as untrustworthy. There’s no obvious reason to disbelieve it except for the bare fact that it’s Arcade’s own account – but the Handbook seemed to treat him as such an unreliable source that that was enough.

  19. Luis Dantas says:

    It is indeed enough. However, haven’t we had some further insight into his origins in the last few issues of Avengers Arena?

  20. Peter Singer says:

    Taibak: I have been meaning to reread Simone’s Deadpool and Agent X.

    I remember Arcade was a fan of old amusement parks in one of her stories…

  21. MasterMahan says:

    I can believe Arcade makes enough money elsewhere to fund his deathtrap hobby. He may have a 0% death rate for killing heroes (except Mettle), but he has a 100% success rate for capturing them. The man is the MU’s greatest kidnapper, able to abduct superhumans at will. I’m surprised SHIELD has never tried to recruit him.

  22. JCG says:

    If he did not have 100% success rate for kidnapping heroes, then there would be be no story.

    At least not a Murderworld story.

    So it’s just your standard plot-armor favoring the villain for once.

  23. Luis Dantas says:

    Could make a nice scene for a Damage Control, Squirel girl or Deadpool series or something similar.

    Arcade turns up, captures (say) the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel easily, she escapes two minutes later effortlessly. Arcade has to deal with the just-freed hero, his insurance company, Damage Control _and_ his employers all at once.

  24. Bryant says:

    Funny games; a movie that doesn’t seem that fun and then tries to make you feel guilty for watching it.

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