Out of the Vault – Comics Greatest World: Arcadia

In 1993, Dark Horse Comics gave birth to what was perhaps the most unnecessary shared superhero universe ever, grandiosely titled “Comics’ Greatest World.” It was introduced in an elaborate four-month rollout that saw a different title published each week, centered on four cities– Arcadia, Golden City, Steel Harbor and the Vortex–with four titles each for a total of 16 weeks.

The first month was devoted to Arcadia, a grim’n’gritty city that played host to X, the Pit Bulls, Ghost, and Monster. All four issues were scripted by Jerry Prosser.

The series started with X, a mysterious cross between Batman and Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. His issue featured a cover by fan favorite Frank Miller, with interior art by Chris Warner, who had been a Dark Horse regular. X is a mysterious figure who is killing corrupt city officials and crime bosses connected to the waterfront. Oh, and he dresses like a professional wrestler.

Looks like it would be hard to stand up when you’re squatting on your cape like that. Note that in addition to the big X on his forehead, the laces on his boots and gloves and girdle all form numerous tiny red x‘s as well. Symbol overkill.

As X is fleeing from the police after offing another victim, he is observed by two mysterious, invisible aliens hunting a mysterious heretic.
They apparently have some connection to a UFO that buried itself in the Nevada desert in the 40’s, as told in a one-page prologue to each issue. The story is minimal, understandable given the demands of the weekly release format and the low $1.00 price, but still, it felt more like one of those promotional inserts you would occasionally find in established comics, pitching a new series, and less like a standalone title worth paying money for.

Still, since I liked much of what Dark Horse did (and since they were just about the only U.S. publisher left whose comics I still read–I was mostly reading manga, with a few DC titles in the mix), I stuck with Comics’ Greatest World to the end of the introductory series.

Week 2 brought the Pit Bulls, a lame story illustrated by Joe Phillips and John Dell that features an odd group of mercenaries or a special cop tactical team or something. In fact, we never find out exactly what they are supposed to be within the context of the story. We only know that they are trained fighters with savage aspects to their personalities, which the narration continually and pedantically compares to the pack instincts of dogs..

Boring costumes, boring characters. No hook. As you can see, they fight X as he’s fleeing the cops from last issue.

Week 3 brought Ghost, the most successful and longest-running of the CGW characters, even to the point of having crossover adventures with Hellboy and Batgirl.

The reasons why she was the most successful are not hard to figure out. She was the most cheesecakey of the CGW characters in a time when cheescake was forming its own sub-genre, and the art on her books was provided by fan fave Adam Hughes (who also did that cover to Chassis #1 that prompted me to buy the book as discussed last week). Oh yeah, and her character is actually provided with a hook: she’s trying to solve her own murder.

As in the previous book, X is still on the run, but it appears he is also running at something, rather than simply away from the cops. He goes after a thug named Bradstreet, who is also being observed by a mysterious phantom woman in a white hood.

When X bursts through a window to kill the man, the Ghost intervenes.

The observing alien is shocked to discover that, not only can Ghost see him, but she can also hurt him. Unfortunately, she can’t stop X from killing the man she wanted to question.

As the cops close in, X flees from this issue into the final Arcadia title, Monster. The Monster is something like a cross between Marvel’s Hulk and Man-Thing. We don’t learn anything of his origins or nature in the brief story illustrated in pedestrian fashion by Derek Thompson and Ande Parks. He’s a huge, nearly mindless red brute covered with wicked-looking spikes. He lives in a sewer, because light hurts his eyes and people are scared of him (naturally). He is lonely and seeking companionship, but at the same time, he’s super-strong and easily angered.

So when someone like X reacts to the Monster’s sudden approach in the way that people normally would, they get the expected negative result.

When the cops arrive, the Monster retreats into a darkened building and the cops pursue him in. Unfortunately, the building happens to have been booby-trapped with tons of explosives by X, who blows up the building.

And you’re probably noticing a theme by now. Arcadia appears to be the horror-themed corner of the CGW superhero world. X is an unstoppable serial killer, and Ghost and Monster are self-explanatory. Which leaves open the question of what niche the Pit Bulls were supposed to fill. I mean, from their dog-like natures, are they supposed to be like werewolves or what?

Whatever. In the B plot, the alien wounded by Ghost dies, leading the remaining one to teleport away with his comrade’s body to resume the search elsewhere later, which leads into the next four-issue arc: Golden City.

Next week.

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One Response to Out of the Vault – Comics Greatest World: Arcadia

  1. feud666 says:

    thanks for this …I thought I was the only one that gave a shit about Dark horse Heros…
    I agree with your review but I can’t help feeling that I’d like to see these guys again,someday…I loved the concept of X….I could see X in a Netflix series….

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