Sunday, September 23, 2007

KEN versus RYU
Stage 01 (UDON/Image)
Where: Street Fighter #1 When: September 2003
Why: Ken Siu-Chong How: Alvin Lee

Quick Fix...
Y'know, in it's own way, UDON and their Capcom books are a really interesting look at "independent" comic books.

I do this blog thing for many reasons, one of the important ones being the enjoyment I get from taking a little time to discuss, review, and observe these pieces of entertainment that I find so joyous. Of course, as much as I'd like to derive world dominating noteriety from this blog, I'm not so sure there's a long future for me in comics review.

What I do feel very strongly about is writing and creating comic books.
Sure, that's not an unusual aspiration. Most fans and their silly photographed cats want to write comics, but I like to think there's something inevitable about comics and I. I'm not one to believe in destiny, but I think if you plucked anyone who's known me through my lifetime, none would be shocked to learn I had found fate in a creative field. It's just one of those cosmic things.

That said, it's not like capability, flair and know-how instantly get you the job.
As submission processes become less common, and technology becomes more readily available, the intrepid fan pursues the dream of self-publishing to a quality unparalleled in the previous two decades of small press.

Of course, that only solves part of the problem. As one of the thousands of wannabes who are rightly or wrongly convinced of their birthright, self-publishing methods provide you but the uterine goal for your up-stream battle.

What I like about UDON is their initiative to take full advantage of their power as a studio of pencillers, inkers, colourists, and digital artists.

They did the work-for-hire thing generating work for top companies (like the superb, unutilized, costume revamp for Taskmaster), they co-opted with the pseudo self-publishing process provided by Image Comics, and then finally stepped firmly out on their own as UDON Entertainment, producing a fine line of self-published comics. Bravo!

See, the difficult thing for a would-be comics writer, no matter how brilliant he is, is that comics are a visual medium. A writer who cannot pencil finds himself staring down the barrel of nothingness if he can't secure a penciller to work with him, and as many writers would testify to, often that involves surrendering your conceptual brilliance, and/or making a multitude of compromises.

Like it or not, even in this industry that has so thoroughly promoted the conceptual idea and the written word, the "artist" has the controlling stock.

Perhaps, then, the only thing more bitter than struggling to get along in this publishing jungle, is when the penciller makes no effort to capitalize on his natural, controlling gifts. Sure, pencillers often write like pencillers, but with the ruling power in the equation, they have the luxury of producing as little, or as much, as they like.

UDON manage to write a little better than that underhanded remark implies.
In this issue we're privvy to accurate characterization drawn from both the video games and other sources from the Street Fighter mythos, and while it sometimes isn't the most brilliant script, you can never doubt their visual efforts.

Ken and Ryu represent the hallmark, mascot characters for the series.
Though the best of friends, various outlets story their fierce but friendly rivalry as martial artists of comparitable skill and determination. For Ken Masters, heir to a wealthy fortune, the joy of the fight is playful and exciting, involving martial arts competitions and many victories across the world.
For Ryu, a nomad who has only known the martial arts, it is meditative and spiritual crusade that takes him across the world, and deep into himself.

Having received an invitation to Ken's San Francisco mansion, Ryu travels across the globe to visit his old time friend. Barking dogs meet him at the edge of the compound, but as he soon discovers, it's not just the canines that are waiting for him.

Ken attempts to surprise his best friend with a flying kick, but finds himself swiftly blocked by his martial arts equal. The sparring session continues, Ryu confidently blocking and dodging through Ken's aggressive assault.

Ken playfully challenges his buddy to make an offensive, leading with his own, but Ryu's block is the final in their session. The fighters conclude their battle with the arrival of Ken's girlfriend, allow Ryu a pause to deliver grim news: Their master, Gouken, is dead -- murdered by the fallen warrior, Akuma.

Street Fighter doesn't lay out a canvas that immediately speaks to Eisner-award winning story telling, and I sometimes wonder about the quality of script, largely given the benefit of the doubt by my sheer love of the characters and brand, but I like to think even these two panels alone are proof. UDON are masters at what they do, and it's fantastic that they're doing it on their own terms.

Though not particularly important in the scheme of the American comics market, I struggle to think of any collective of artists who have made such a bold move since the formation of Image. So, while I bide my time as a writer-in-waiting, hopefully inching closer to the goal through works of enthusiasm, like this blog, and works of craft and experimentation, The Kirby Martin Inquest, let the pencillers and artists be active!

The Fix: 4 The Issue: 6
Winner: Draw

[UDON wrapped up their first "volume" with Image Comics as the numberless "Street Fighter" with fifteen issues, before reassessing their efforts with the self-published and re-titled "Street Fighter II."
UDON continue their relationship with Capcom, developing work for a revamped video game, and translated Manga from Japan.

KEN versus RYU
Akuma: The Dark Master
(Group TAC/Capcom/Manga Entertainment)

Where: Street Fighter Alpha When: 1999
Why: Shigeyasu Yamauchi, Joe Romersa, Reiko Yoshida, & Kirk Thornton How: Kane Kosugi/Matthew Austin & Kane Kosugi/Steven Jay Blum

Quick Fix...
Sometimes you can be so close to the stats and information, recall of what you actually want can be a little interrupted. Especially when you're writing at 2:27am, but even so, I struggle to think of an American superhero comics equivalent to the rivalry shared between Ken Masters and his martial arts buddy, Ryu.

They really represent the penultimate friendly rivalry, but it isn't all sunshine, lollipops, and romps through shutdown ruined parts of cities overrun by ninja and mobsters, no sir. There's an underlying darkness to these two that makes a constant theme through the Alpha series of games, manga and movie.

The basic philosophy of good and evil runs common between these two.

The Street Fighter universe is littered with fighters who have found their way to a sinister end. We've seen already Sagat; the Muay Thai champion who fell from grace when he was defeated by Ryu, in the employ of the villainous Bison. A fighter who showed great nobility in a later confrontation with Ryu in the pages of the second UDON series [Street Fighter II #2].

The SFIIV [television] series highlights their struggle as both moral and primal. The yoga master Dhalsim refers to them as fighting monsters, and guides them on internal journies to stem their violent tendencies. In Alpha the philisophical struggle takes a turn for the literal, manifesting in the potential corruption of the Hadou ki energies fighters of Ken and Ryu's styles harness.

For Ryu, an orphan who was raised and trained by the master Gouken, the threat is the more prevelant, logically so. Branching from the Evil Ryu game token, Ryu's lifelong association with the martial arts makes him especially susceptible to the sinister temptation of the murderous intent of the Dark Hadou.

Among the students of the unnamed Ansatsuken art, Gouken's brother and rival, Akuma, is most legendary for succumbing to the temptation of the Dark Hadou.
It was he who murdered Gouken [see above] and continues to live in seclusion, honing his fighting art and accepting only the challenges of worthy opponents.

Concerned about his shrouded past and potential predisposition to give in to the Dark Hadou, Ryu travels to the mountains to confront Akuma, accompanied by Chun-Li. With ambiguous results, Ryu returns to his life disillusioned.

Chun-Li probes Ryu for answer he does not know, standing on the beach with no true understanding of what it is the Dark Hadou represents.
Knowing his best friend well, Ken emerges on the beach, knowing Ryu would have travelled to see Akuma about his current predicament.

Ken, concerned about his friend's plight borne of the fight, strips down to join him in ponderous combat. Chun-Li finds herself confused by their method of bonding, seeing the catalytic nature of combat for immersion in the Dark Hadou, but can only stand and watch as the martial arts legends collide and spar.

Ryu swiftly ducks and dodges Ken's aggressive combat, in much the same way he did in the first half of this entry, before throwing his own punches. The two batter each other across the beach, Ken charging for a gravity defying kick barely blocked by Ryu.

While those that care about them ponder their reasons for fighting, Ken and Ryu break and pose. They indulge in acrobatic swirls and flips, flying into the air to throw kicks that finish each other off. They fall to the sand with a thud.

Taking faith in his friend's skill, determination and spirit, Ken enthusiastically speculates Ryu's ability to overcome the Dark Hadou. More solemn about his predicament, Ryu makes plans for the future, asking of his friend a promise to finish him off should he lose the struggle, and appear to be manifesting.

Rising from the ground with a stagger, Ken remains grimmly silent in response.

Before we wrap up a customary thanks to When Fangirls Attack, who included the dubious discussion about Catwoman from our last entry in one of their reference lists. The enthusiasm and interest of that readership is always enjoyed and welcomed, and maybe one of these days we'll talk about something interesting.

No doubt there'll be more Dark Hadou discussion in the coming Sundays as we continue to sponsor the Street Fighters in 2007. Now I'd better get to work on catching up on our Monday Marvel Ultimate Alliance post!

The Fix: 6 The Movie: 5.5
Winner: Draw

[Draws all over the shop today and yesterday! Ken and Ryu remain the two most likely fighters to be sponsored into the top five rankings through our weekend initiative. Still plenty more to come from the Street Fighter Alpha movie, including individual battles!]

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