Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What's This Life For? (Image/Namco)
Where: Tekken Forever #1 When: December 2001
Why: Dave Chi How: Paco Diaz

Quick Fix...
Y'know, you've probably seen me whinging about a lack of energy, and I have to say that maintaining the action you've come to expect from the Infinite Wars has been rough. The passion that comics is known to inspire can't always work, but lucky for me, there's a feisty mistress waiting in the wings to soothe the mental ache.

Though tragically out of touch with today's market, it's no secret that I've got ties to the gaming crowd. I'm as stuck in the early nineties as anyone else, regularly featuring some of my favourite characters from both the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises right here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. Some of you probably find that a little frustrating, but you know what, the gaming crowd is doing a pretty good job of bringing the hits and links, so... You'll have to work harder for my attentions!

As a distant outsider, I observe today's home console market as a wasteland of uncertainty. The certainty of Sony's dominance is a thing of the past as the Playstation 3 lurches out of the gates with an uninspiring catalogue, and heavily promoted features like Sony's Blu-Ray DVD format, which to me, is little more than an inconsequential inconvenience allotted to product pricing.

That said, as uncertain as gaming prospects may be, PS3 is finally on the verge of touting one of the old favourites that helped make the PSX and PS2 household names around the planet. There'll always be SF and MK, but when they each found themselves swallowed by a new generation of gaming - Tekken was there!

I was a little late to the Tekken parade. Truth be told, while the first two releases for the PSX regularly featured near perfect magazine reviews and list topping status as a beat 'em up, I was something of the curmudgeon. Blocky polygons and slow paced gaming left me a little cold in a time where so-called "3D" gaming couldn't quite rival the refined and speedy gaming of the classics.
That said, by Tekken 3, which opened the franchise out to a whole new range of vibrant colours and improved designs, I was hooked!

With Street Fighter III squandering Capcom's goodwill with a hard reboot to it's cast, which replaced the classic martial artists formula with a collection of garrish freaks, and uninspiring character designs; Tekken became it's successor. Ironic, given that Tekken 3 also made harsh changes to it's established roster, introducing a generation of characters now iconic to the series.

Tekken Forever, the ill-fated US franchising, looked to capitalize on hype surrounding the release of Tekken 4: the first canonical release on the PS2!
With specifics scarce, the comic looked to build directly off the conclusion of T3, while utilizing improved character designs revealed in promotion for T4, which had already hit arcades by the comic's release.

I distinctly remember an entire line of Tekken comics planned by the now defunct Dark Design Works/TidalWave Studios. Much like UDON today, they launched a website dedicated to their line, and in hindsight I kinda wish I'd kept up with their message board a little better, because by the time I knew there was not going to be a second issue, they were long gone.

As already mentioned, the story appears to place itself at the conclusion of Tekken 3, layering additions made in the Tekken Tag Tournament game such as the mysterious goop covered boss, Unknown, widely speculated to be a relation of Jin Kazama. Even though it was only six years ago, I think you actually have to give the DDW guys some credit.
At this point there had been little to nothing resembling a promising beat 'em up comic adaptation [from the US], and this at least had the visual cues to raise comparable excitement to UDON's work on SF. Though the inclusion of Unknown may be tenuous in hindsight, the fate of the character was not yet known, with folks behind the book boasting their efforts to canonize the character's fate.

Things obviously didn't work out so well.

The issue boldly opens after the action has already happened. Standing triumphant over the majority of the cast is Kazuya Mishima, the anti-hero from the first two games, and estranged father of Tekken 3's protagonist, Jin Kazama.

Jin cradles the lifeless body of Unknown, with internal dialogue providing ham-fisted acknowledgment of her mystery, and Jin's desire to uncover her veiled past. Not that any of that is important in this, the first issue of what was intended to be a four issue mini-series.

Rather than fight his son himself, Kazuya sets his thugs on him instead. Those blessed with feature roles in the only American Tekken comic to date are Ganryu and Bruce Irvin; Sumo and suited Thai kickboxer-lite, respectively.

Kazama makes quick work on Ganryu, delivering a swift kick to the jaw, whilst dodging a diving knee from Irvin, which sets him up for a clean backhander that knocks the kickboxer down! When Irvin expresses jive-talking dismay, Kazuya casually gives him permission to kill his son, showing about as much interest in the fight as a good many readers.

A less than impressive knee puts an end to Ganryu, leaving Bruce Irvin to once again charge head-long into an attack that's easily ducked in a move reminiscent of the game. Jin turns the tables, denouncing any similarities between he and his father, as he mercilessly introduces Irvin's skull to the Aztec temple where they fight [a callback to the final stage of Tekken 3!].

It might shock you to know: this is not a good comic.
I openly admit that I'm pretty fair game for any half decent story starring my favourite fighting characters. This issue was actually given to me as an incredibly thoughtful gift, and it's for that, and just the fact that it's a Tekken comic, that I'm really glad to own it!... It just isn't good...

In reviewing UDON's output of Street Fighter comics, we've noted issues with writing that fails to hold up against the industry's best. Tekken Forever, not surprisingly, suffers in the same department, taking it to far more intrusive places than Ken Siu-Chong's vague, meandering story that services an otherwise fair representation of the licensed properties.

A poorly constructed first issue isn't helped by the fact that nothing followed.
An introduction that starts anywhere but the beginning probably would've had some sort of resonance given due course, but instead, it's the front side of an island girt by cliff faces. As much as Chi and Diaz respect the characters, Chi's characterization reads sophmoric, harmed further by some of the worst lettering I've ever seen. I don't want to turn this into a witch hunt, but I can't help but wonder if letterer, Roberto Miranda, wasn't just helping out a friend.
Font-sizes vary as letters are contorted in a variety of ways to accomodate sloppy word balloons placed unnecessarily cramped on the page.

I think it would've been nice to have seen where this went, even if only for the four issues of Tekken Forever. I don't doubt that this would've been a distraction from what could potentially make Tekken a great comic book franchise, and I can't help but wonder how less than qualified companies continue to obtain licensing to major video game properties. I can't help but think of the recent ill-fated Mortal Kombat series, which didn't even make it this far, from Atomeka.

The Atomeka project at least had the good sense to involve itself with current MK story director, John Vogel, who has had mixed successes with a new era of Mortal Kombat. In some curious synergy, the MK book was set to feature pencils by Walter McDaniel, who worked on issues of Deadpool, much the same as Tekken Forever penciller, Paco Diaz!

How ill-equipped folks continue to get involved in projects such as these is a two-pronged question.

One wonder how untried talent acquire such major licenses, but likewise, one also wonders what corporations like Namco are doing signing off on this stuff!
It's an enigma wrapped in a mystery, friends, but for a fan and writer such as myself, it always leaves that window of hope open, because, yes. I think I can balance the roll of fan and writer better than these folks, but then, maybe that's how all this starts, and lord knows I can't nail down reliable pencillers...

As Tekken rolls onto the newest generation of consoles, and into it's sixth central iteration, yet another question must be pondered upon. Who next shall tackle the task of the Tekken comic book, and will they be worthy?...

ARTWORK: UnknownThe Fight: 3 The Issue: 4
Winner: Jin Kazama

Tekken 6 is already in arcades in Asia, and no doubt as that excitement carries over to the West and onto home consoles, we'll be talking more about Tekken! As disappointing as "Tekken Forever" manages to be, it packs plenty of action, which means stats!

RYU versus ROSE
Round. 5 (UDON/Capcom/Shinseisha)
Where: Street Fighter Alpha Vol.1 When: 2007
Why: Masahiko Nakahira How: Masahiko Nakahira

Quick Fix...
You might have noticed a qualifier in the above portion of this article, that singled out the US market as failing to produce a beat 'em up adaptation of respectable worth.
Well, it's a book like this that engenders such a qualifier, because across the big pond there's a place not only inventing these characters, but also putting creative powers to work on servicing them in print form.

It was actually in February 1996 that the now bankrupt Shinseisha published Masahiko Nakahira's work on Street Fighter Zero [as it is known in Japan]. Even though I generally don't like featuring reprints on the site, I feel it would be misleading to report on the long forgotten original, when it's quite clearly UDON's translations that make this review possible [credits to: Mai Kusuyama, Jim Zubkavich & Terri Delgado for their work on translating the story to English].

This actually marks a milestone for the Infinite Wars as the first black and white comic featured, but contrary to what you might be thinking, it's not the first manga. Street Fighter fans will remember another series recently translated by UDON, but also released in full colour in the US, aptly called, Street Fighter II!

Masaomi Kanzaki's work [printed by Tokuma Shoten] differs from Nakahira's in that it differs more substantially from the source material. Nakahira, though clearly walking his own path, weaves well recognised plot points, characters, and characteristics taken from the game, including the winding impact of Street Fighter protaginst, Ryu's, encounter with the Muay Thai legend, Sagat.

1UP.com blogger, Noe Valladolid, recently featured the conclusion of that legendary feud, as detailed in Street Fighter III: Ryu Final. That series, chronologically falling after Alpha, though not necessarily directly related, is currently being released by UDON in English.

While Ryu Final details the as-yet conclusion of Ryu's career as a world warrior, Alpha is positioned closer to the beginning. Granted, flashbacks reveal the true beginning, as Ryu trains under the Master Gouken, along with a young Ken Masters; but the saga of Ryu arguably begins the moment he scars Sagat with the Shoryuken, a never seen, but iconic and unforgettable moment that defines the transition from the first Street Fighter game, to the better known SFII.

Distanced from what we imagine of the games, but built around a conceit of telling a story that blends the cast of the Alpha games with the SF universe; Street Fighter Alpha Volume. 1 opens on a barge ferrying drugs. Manned by Ryu and Birdie; it is an unlikely eventuality for the heroic series protagonist, but easily explained by the despondence that has gripped Ryu in the wake of his battle with Sagat, where he unleashed the power of the Shoryuken.

Nakahira places unlikely weight on the common in-game attack; revealing the dragon punch's origins as a manifestation of the killing intent associated with the mysterious martial art practiced by the series' stars. It's this regret that launches the story into the tale of Ryu's battle with the seduction of the Dark Hadou; a story Infinite Wars readers will remember as the central premise of the animated feature of the same name [Street Fighter Alpha].

We join Ryu having already experienced the maddening power of the dark hadou, as he travels with Chun-Li through the sewers to an underground fighting tournament. Ryu has agreed to join Interpol as bait in their investigation into the international crime-syndicate, Shadaloo, who have begun scouting fighters.

Ryu's own problems seem likely to interfere as his destined confrontation with the dark hadou arouses the interests of the mysterious fortune teller, Rose.
Having already sent a message through a mysterious tarot card, Rose appears to Ryu in the sewers when he falls from the path into the torrent of muck.

Rose tells Ryu of his future, and challenges him to rise to it. She is equally unimpressed by Ryu's brutish reception, as he is by her unexpected visit.
Uncertain about his surroundings, Ryu reacts with violence, firing off a hadouken directed at the fortune teller, rather than any of her astral decoys.

Much to Ryu's shock, the beautiful Rose not only defends against his ki attack, but deflects it back at him with devestating results! The fireball sends Ryu hurtling into the flowing gulf of the sewer water. It is an act of power that speaks clearly to the wandering warrior, and frees him of his prejudices enough to hear the fortune Rose has to tell.

She foretells a meeting of two men in red, who are like fire. Though Ryu does not yet know it, she speaks of the two men who will define him during his struggle with identity, and the presence of the killing intent in the dark hadou.

One of these men is Ryu's greatest ally, Ken Masters, while the other is the darkness that Rose opposes, and is destined to be one of Ryu's greatest challenges: M. Bison, master of Shadaloo!

Needless to say, I'm a big fan of this series, and along with a whole lot of other business, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Masahiko Nakahira's influence in Infinite Wars to come.

While I could never bring myself to fully acknowledge this work as the perfect canon for the Street Fighter universe, it is undeniably a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable account of the SFA period. In pondering how that measures up against UDON's efforts, I find myself with mixed feelings on the matter.

UDON's successes have come visually, providing a dynamic presence not often seen in the quantity-driven market of manga. With substantially fewer pages (per issue), Ken Siu-Chong and Alvin Lee service the franchise with visual precision, and character beats that are familiar and expected. That said, they do so without any definitive spine to their story, something SFA has in spades.
In a perfect world, I'd probably attempt to combine the two, because while it ventures in and out of established canon, UDON's series never quite deviates as specifically as Nakahira.

Then again, in isolation, looking at Nakahira's story through to Ryu Final, we really get a strong sense of what the Street Fighter series could have been.
Taking the series protagonist as the central throughline, Nakahira's work shows Ryu's formative years, adolescent struggles with his growing power, and eventually concludes with the graduation of Ryu to ultimate power.

It's suggested, during battle with Akuma, that Ryu even manages to supercede death in a conclusion that only draws further parallels between the practitioners of the hadou-ki, and Star Wars' Jedi Knights. While I can't necessarily subscribe to the specifics of that story, I tend to agree with notions proposed by Noe Valladolid, of a Ryu that becomes the new Street Fighter final boss.

It's a concept that works both in and outside of the canon, allowing the weight of a twenty-year legacy to justify with greater meaning the ascension to boss-hood. To the story of Street Fighter, it means a rare look at the rise of a boss character, something rarely seen in a beat 'em up franchise to that degree. A ground breaking honor that seems worth of Street Fighter, which arguably started it all.

ARTWORK: UnknownThe Fight: 3 The Issue: 6.5
Winner: Rose

UDON have translated the complete Street Fighter Alpha over two massive 200 page volumes of black and white English art! Artwork remains preserved in the Japanese format, which means to be really authentic, you should try re-reading this review from finish-to-start.
You can expect more Street Fighter Alpha in the future, but in the mean time, I'll probably try to get back to some of those American superheroes, eh? TRY...

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