Sunday, November 25, 2007

Where: Street Fighter Legends #1 When: August 2006 Why: Double KO & Ken Siu-Chong How: Omar Dogan

Quick Fix...
Every day at least one new reader finds their way to the Infinite Wars be it by accident, or design. The over-arching scheme of this site is to be a friendly and depthy resource for readers new and old, but it you aren't inclined to quickly hook into what we do, then you're probably out in the cold.

With the exciting announcement of Street Fighter IV [set for release in 2008] there's a contingent of fans finding their way via that particular niche. For most it probably isn't a huge obstruction, but it might be nice to know that, at our centre, we are a comics review/discussion site with a penchant for combat. Not a movie review site, as may have been apparent given the slew of film and television reviews.

There were a lot of Street Fighting battles that hovered around for this weekend, but ultimately I thought it would be nice to quickly check in with the comics again. Sadly, as regular readers will know, I'm more than six months behind on purchases, and a barrage of UDON products are right up there on the wishlist!
A little bit more about those in later, but first, an opportunity to revisit one of the most eagerly anticipated returning characters for SF4: Sakura Kusanago!

Traditionally there seems to a be an obscure divide between average American comics readers, and the trappings of the far East. As a youngster who milled around arcade magazines and machines for a glimpse of the SF characters, I was well primed to be in the thick of things come the animé resurgence of the late nineties.

With that rivetting backstory, I like to think I at least have the credibility to lodge the fact that; despite being quite comfortable with the conventions of animé culture; I am not particularly interested in the shojo, young girls scene.
That said, like any ridiculously dedicated fan, I'm pretty willing to forego that disinterest if there's some sort of pay-off in the form of broader character appearances, which is where Legends: Sakura earns its grace.
[Although, given how bad I'm dragging my heels right now, maybe that grace extends to reading it more than reviewing it... - Malcontent Mike]

If you caught our last Sakura feature [Street Fighter Legends #2], you'll already know the mysteriously popular Hibiki clocks an appearance, along with guest-spots by Honda, Zangief, R. Mika, Karin, and a roster of cameos by characters from Rival Schools. Also making an appearance is Sakura's reluctant sensei, Ryu, who prompts her quest to examine other fighting skills as part of her training. This rather conveniently shoe-horns the wrestlers into the picture, while also creating a logical deviation from the core series. Not a bad line-up for a character largely segregated to a world of sailor suits, homework, and hotdogs!

During one of those rare moments of positivity for the works of Brian "I prefer the square peg*" Bendis [Daredevil #75], we mentioned a predilection for drawing inspiration from real world sources. It's a process I like to read, and indulge in as a writer myself, and if it was somehow lost on you, I also like sports, structured violence, and statistically based leagues and competitions.
It's this recipe - inherent to professional wrestling - that slides effortlessly into Sakura's pop driven fancy, and leads her to a local main event between Alpha stalwarts; Rainbow Mika and Zangief.

The canonical relationship between Mika and Zangief is put aside, presumably by design of both the lighter nature of this reading material, and the similarity between Mika and Sakura's roles as smitten young fighters, characterized by their adoration for longer standing icons of the series.

Here, Zangief and Mika engage in rope hitting action, while Sakura and her friends share cutesy modified versions of iconic WWE isms popularized by Steve Austin, the Rock, and Hulk Hogan. As one comes to expect from any entry level references to wrestling, the parallels here between the SF universe and reality are none too subtle, but enough to sell the world to a casual reader.

Grafting game specials into a world of trademark moves, Mika hits the infamous flying peach butt pump, before going to work on Zangief with a chair, presumably of a steel persuasion. The attack proves sufficient for R. Mika to overcome her burly adversary, scoring her a knock-out win before the capacity crowd.

When Zangief comes to some time later, he furiously calls Mika out for an impromptu rematch. The scene is played for laughs, but highlights the clash of worlds as Zangief personifies Street Fighter logic confronting a realworld performance based perception, held by Mika.

As mentioned earlier, you can find Zangief's disgruntled rampage in a previous Infinite Wars entry [Street Fighter Legends #2], as he carries the fight to the signing table, blissfully unaware of the scripted nature of professional wrestling.

As the importance of so-called realism is pushed further in popular fiction, we sometimes find fiction compromised by it's awkward marriage of the real and imagined. I think in the past I've made my fondness for the internal conceits of the Street Fighter world quite clear, and it certainly relevant to this quick fix.

As much as I like the idea of Street Fighter drawing upon real world reference, the success of the series has always been built on a fiction.
The enduring characters from the first sequel epitomize this formulaic, caricature-based representation of styles, and nation's traditions, that make the Street Fighter fiction work so well. UDON have done reasonably well here to bring the two logics together, without compromising the overall asthetic.

That said, Legends: Sakura notes writing that is particularly light-on.
There's a B-throughline of Dan Hibiki's pursuit of Sakura, but for the most part the series reads as a disjointed collection of cartoony moments. It's probably this kind of storytelling, which lacks any skeletal strength, which is going to befuddle and turn away American readers not already interested in the branding and kitsch of the series.

While I have a great affection for the universe in question, I really regret UDON's decision not to make a more independent move with the franchise. Sakura has enjoyed solo success through the manga, Sakura Ganbaru! ["Hang in there, Sakura!", currently being translated by UDON], and leaves UDON's decision making feeling a little rote.

Of the core series, the most noted concern has probably been similar questions of depth, and if we review the UDON/SF output as a whole, Sakura ultimately drags it down. It might be an unfair assessment, but direction and writing like this inevitably feels like a classic case of a penciller trying to be a writer.
There's a lack of attention that sufficiently facilitates a visual comic book story, but fails to lend any weight to the pages within. Whether or not this is a personal stigma due to UDON's artistic history, I cannot say, but the content of this four-issue mini is what it is, regardless of inflection.

The Fix: 3 The Issue: 4
Winner: Rainbow Mika

This Christmas Sakura's probably strictly for the SF die hards, and maybe wide-eyed young readers.

UDON have expressed interest in pursuing other Legends series, with Chun-Li tossed around as a character to star. While much of UDON's strength has come from strong representation and derivative mythology, I'd rather see them blaze a trail with characters less touched upon. While the core series hovers around the popular icons from the games, anime, and manga, it might be nice to see a Legends series use a character as vehicle to touch upon a theme.
Pursuing similar fiction that touches real world concepts, like the Muay Thai or Boxing characters, might be a fun bit of history to explore.

Battle 01: Shad (Tokuma)
Where: Street Fighter II #1 When: July 1994
Why: Masaomi Kanzaki How: Masaomi Kanzaki

Quick Fix...
If you're a regular War Monger, you'll notice occasional references to When Fangirls Attack, the 'hive vagina' for so-called comics feminists around the internet.

Despite having pretentions on neither side of the debate, I do find myself with a passing interest in that particular corner of opinion and neurosis. For the most part, it deals with the goings on of American superhero comics, but occassionally a manga post will pop up, as far as I'm aware, usually for the positive.

Top 25 Female Characters
#1 Invisible Woman (Marvel)
#2 Storm (Marvel)
#3 Catwoman (DC)
#4 Wasp (Marvel)
#5 Zatanna (DC)
#6 Elektra (Marvel)
#7 Kitty Pryde (Marvel)
#8 Rogue (Marvel)
#9 Hellcat (Marvel)
#10 R. Mika (Capcom)
#11 Phoenix (Marvel)
#12 Black Cat (Marvel)
#13 Wonder Woman (DC)
#14 Black Widow (Marvel)
#15 Lyja (Marvel)
#16 Tabitha Stevens (Marvel)
#17 Hawkwoman (DC)
#18 She-Thing (Marvel)
#19 Sakura Kusanago (Capcom)
#20 Harley Quinn (DC)
#21 Spider-Woman (Marvel)
#22 Firebird (Marvel)
#23 Cheetah (DC)
#24 Powergirl (DC)
#25 Spitfire (Marvel)
Manga has been a phenomena in the comics market that has positioned itself as a perceived threat to traditional American enterprise. Despite well known sub-genres of rabid mysogyny and tentacle invasions, the Japanese have endeared themselves to a market of women and children with parallelled cultures built around a variety of female and feminine archetypes.

This previously reviewed single issue [Street Fighter II #1] exists as a movie-time item of curio in my collection. If subsequent issues were made available at the supermarket I bought it, then I never saw them, but it's a moot point anyway. Fortunately UDON has collected a newer series of translations, which feature artwork unchanged from it's original black and white form.

I refer back to this issue because, it's a bit of fun, and also because the female stars of Street Fighter have been grossly under represented during our weekend romps. Sure, we kinda know that in sponsoring a top five contender, Ryu and Ken are the most likely success stories, but that says absolutely nothing of powerful female leads like Chun-Li, or Cammy White!

Wacky happenstance sees many of the new UDON issues that I've missed containing much of the Chun-Li/Cammy portions of the series, so here we are, arriving at a quick fix feature with Chun-Li and the innocuous dockside sailor, Billy.

Similar to the film, this series depicts a segregated rogue city, this time shortened to just Shad [as opposed to Shadaloo, used in the film, but canonically the name of Bison's criminal organization - Manhattan Mike].
This man-made island has a strong fight culture and a strong criminal element simmering in the bowels of it's seedy underbelly.

On the docks; the wondering fighter Ryu stops to take in the sights, as gambling yobs toss their cash against the prospects of a danty, blue-qipao garbed fighter called Chun-Li. With a win-streak of fifteen bouts, Billy takes the hot odds, but Ryu informs one vocal punter that he's made a greivous financial error.

Behaving like, well, a sailor, "Billy" makes a skeevy attempt to hit on his opponent asking for a date after the fight. As if to foreshadow the events yet to come, Chun-Li shoots him down with a devestating witty retort that makes insinuations about his cognitive functions!

Billy explodes in a rage over Chun-Li's quip, only to run head-long into a barrage of boot blow! The Chinese fighter unleashes the full force of her Hyakuretsu Kyaku attack, setting him up for the finishing blow, a brutal face-shove that leaves Billy's skull to "krunch!" against the street!

As the Interpol agent looking for her father's killer; Chun-Li represents a none too subtle archetype of the genre, but with visuals as strong (yet vulnerable) as her character, she's set herself apart from even folks like Guile; who represents the US Air Force male equivalent of the same role.

Before closing, I do have to lodge the fact that I much prefer Chun-Li's revised outfit of the Alpha series. Apart from being infinitely more believable and practical, it's a great looking suit. I do not, however, weigh in on it's use for crotch shots in the anime, versus the butt shots of the manga.

The Fix: 4 The Issue: 4
Winner: Chun-Li

As mentioned earlier, the Tokuma series of Street Fighter manga by writer/artist Masaomi Kanzaki are now available in newly translated and un-edited form thanks to UDON! An obscure item even amongst some groups of fans, it's the ultimate gift this Christmas for Street Fighter fans across the globe! And in issue two, Chun-Li fights Blanka! Primo!

*Not an actual nickname for Brian Bendis.

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