Saturday, April 19, 2008

For months rumors circulated of an unlikely meeting between a certain American video game dynasty, and another prominent comics company. Despite being one of the worst kept secrets in gaming, the announcement yesterday of Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe came to the shock of many fans, myself included.

It was largely DC's noteriety for being zealously protective of it's icons that kept me sceptical, not to mention the creative distance between the inimitable style of Mortal Kombat, and the superhero world of the DC heroes.

Series co-creator and custodian, Ed Boon, was quick to admit the unliklihood of fans rallying to the licensed crossover. It comes as no suprise to hear immediate confirmation of a tamed T rating and the corresponding loss of MK's trademark gore and murderous finishers -- just one of the factors sure to cause serious doubt in the purses of longterm fans everywhere.

Given Mortal Kombat's infamy in most circles, it's hard to really gauge what DC gets out of the meeting. A history of sub-par video games seems unlikely to change with the always unusual cramming of these adventuring characters into the stop-start storytelling of the beat 'em up video game. Even with mid-tier writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray on board, this overdue employment of writers seems like just one of many advantages to the MK side.

With only the most obvious characters confirmed; Batman, Sub-Zero, Superman, and Scorpion; no doubt we'll be spending a lot of time speculating and discussing more to do with the game. Though incredibly sceptical about the content, I'm a fan of both brands, so a degree of [critical] interest in inevitable. Street Fighter might have the market share of the site when it comes to video games, but we're no stranger to Mortal Kombat. To kick things off, we take a look back at those infamous features, as well as some of the DC content that might interest MK fans!

Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder #4 (October 1994)

MK vs DC has fans of the games asking a lot of concerned questions, but this isn't the first time a marriage of gaming and comics has been cause for alarm. Flash back to 1994; just a year after the release of the highly respected sequel, Mortal Kombat II.

Comics were just on the cusp of the final downfall associated with the end of a collector's market that sponsored million dollar sales through the late eighties and early nineties. With strong conceptual overtones from the comics that influenced MK co-creator John Tobias, it seemed perfectly logical to expect MK to enter print. Alas, these literal four-colour characters struggled under the transition from interactive fist-fighting, to the over-the-top artistic directions of the decade. In this issue, Scorpion and Sub-Zero come to blows, but the much anticipated rivalry fails to impress under mediocre writing, and erratic pencils.

Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder #5 (November 1994)
"Tao" Marshall/Chansomone

Despite the promise of a Sub-Zero/Scorpion rematch on this graphically thrilling cover, the characters spend very little time in proximity. Having suffered a fatality in the last issue; the ninja spectre Scorpion returns to continue is pursuit of the tao te zhan, a mystic book of riddles that promises the beholder limitless power.

While the series takes it's cues from the cultural phenomenon of the early games, they lack the measure that came to be associated with the dense storytelling in the MK universe. Revelations, such as the death of the original Sub-Zero in the first game, is lost in this story that slips somewhere in the cracks of the gaming canon. Raiden, long before his ethereal makeover, appears in mortal guise to engage in less than mortal combat. Though fun to see these characters in action, one always wonders what might have been, and what might yet emerge from the alliance between Midway and DC comics.

Steel #20 (October 1995)
"Lethal Tendencies" Diaz/Flores

Through television and cinema the DC pantheon has engendered the goodwill of many casual fans. The Mortal Kombat fanbase is no exception, with the comic booky references and overtones of the games preparing fans for the transition to comic books. Granted, many of the inspirations of the MK characters come from Marvel comics, but that's not to say there isn't a middle ground.

I myself am a true sceptic about the creative value of the upcoming game, but I thought it would be nice to pick out some of the Infinite Wars features that might present a compromise to outraged MK fans. Like this peculiar '95 issue of Steel, which pairs the armored hero with one-time-only character Lethal against the demonic dealings of would-be restauranteur, Felipe DeClaude. If you think French pretentions are frightening enough, just wait until you see what's on his menu, and how the heroes pick up the cheque!

Batman #621 (January 2004)
"Broken City" Azzarello/Risso

Since we already know Batman will feature prominently in the game, it seemed logical to focus in on the dark knight. Having defined the grim and gritty asthetic of the eighties, it was very tempting to hone in on Frank Miller's Dark Knight issues, but if you aren't already familiar with those, you can probably track down plenty of coverage of the hard-hitting adventures of a distopian Batman.

Both Azzarello and Risso take cues from Miller's work in Broken City; the story that suffered harsh criticism from fans in the wake of the Hush series that spanned a top-selling year in the Batman schedule. Though not typical of many Batman stories, this mature noir romp through Gotham City has fast become one of my all-time favourite Batman stories. This review doesn't necessarily show it to it's fullest extent, but the jaw-breaking violence of this story, suffered particularly by Killer Croc, should make a lot of sense to MK fans.

Superman/Batman #15 (February 2005)
"What Price is Freedom...?" Loeb/Pacheco

To finish things off the character that's caused the most stir - Superman. So often misrepresented as a worthless alien too strong for his own good, Superman gets a chance to show off another dimension in this tale of another universe where Batman and Superman have become Earth's dictatoral protectors.

Wonder Woman, another shoe-in for the MK/DC video game, gets a great showing as the Amazonian warrior she deserves to be in the modern age. This one will endure to the violent sensibilities of the MK fanbase, who should delight in the lethal swordplay that endures, as well as the brutally honest retribution dealt by a Superman no longer restrained by an impossible code of conduct. It might not bridge the distanced nature of both franchises, but I'd be surprised if this doesn't provide at least some sort of cause for discussion.


Anonymous said...

This is a paradox. Superman can't be in a game that involves the option of him murdering someone, but Scorpion without Fatalities isn't Mortal Kombat. Result? T-rated MK game. Reaction? Lame....

Mike Haseloff said...

@anonymous: It's hard to argue!
They've definitely set themselves up for a no-win situation with the fans. [Ed] Boon's been pretty upfron with their expectations of negative backlash, too. Although, after the last few games, that isn't exactly the prediction of the century...

I think the fundamentals of their desire to push the series forward into the next gen are undermined by the crossover, too.
Although, if you were to step back from the franchise, and think about it from a developer's point-of-view, it makes sense to introduce the character on next gen consoles with something that can potentially bring new fans in.

Any way to disguise history seems to be the best way to go these days...