Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Slow Boat to China (Malibu/Midway)
Where: Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder #1 When: October 1994 Why: Charles Marshall How: Patrick Rolo

Quick Fix...
The Infinite Wars have been running terminally late, so in an effort to respark the fires of combat I thought I'd turn to the subject that's been driving several features over the past month: Mortal Kombat!

Chances are there are still many of you unaware that this Fall the heroes of the DC Universe will come face-to-face with their counterparts from the Mortal Kombat world in an upcoming video game announced last month!

It's interesting to observe the contrasts between the two camps of fans. There's a sense of qualification required for Mortal Kombat when thrown up to diehard comics fans. It's fair to say the martial arts franchise has fallen considerably from it's days as a mainstream popculture icon in the mid-nineties. While the gaming franchise has languished into relative obscurity on home consoles; comics have been enjoying some of their best exposure through the success of artful and well regarded feature films.

It's easy to be a snob when it comes to Mortal Kombat.
All too often progress in the series suffers under the weight of questionable creative management; technological shortcuts; and pressures from vocal and fiercely nostalgic fanbase. Much of what defines the MK identity resembles qualities maligned in the comic fanbase. Gimmicks, questionable style over substance, and poor creative logics; all trademarks of some of the era's most popular, but creatively fragile, properties.

As a fan with feet firmly planted in both camps, it's easy to be critical both for perspective, and the harsh affection of a longtime fan. However, it cannot be denied that even after the shock withdrawl of iconic co-creator, John Tobias; the MK franchise has prospered under the creative direction of [Ed] Boon and replacement writers, like John Vogel. Sure, there have plenty of misses, but these do not at all discount some of the momentum built up in the writing of the franchises' most recent releases (2002-post).

We've dabbled in MK comics in the past [Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder #4, #5], but the tragic irony is that the despite the source material, Malibu's licensed comics feature an erratic degree of combat within the pages. Our usual format struggles to properly accomodate these series that very unfortunately speak MK's failings in a language familiar to disappointed comics fans.

Never the less, I really wanted to get a chance to canonize the characters on the Infinite Wars. It seems odd talking about Mortal Kombat so much when we only have three MK characters locked into the Super Stock Rankings!
In a perfect world it would be nice to rank the MK fighters against their Street Fighter counterparts by ploughing through the entire catalogue of twenty-nine Mortal Kombat comics. That might be a little too ambitious, but here's a start...

The Masked Guards are well known to fans of the very game that started the phenomenon. These elite warriors chosen by Shang Tsung guard the tournament grounds, but in the opening scenes of this story, they are the ones disciplined!

Majesty goes out the window as readers are granted this unceremonious introduction to the four-armed Mortal Kombat champion - Goro!

The Shokan warrior quickly dispatches of the trio of unworthy guards with a butting of heads, and a smouldering projectile that, even in the games, looked suspiciously like flinging steaming faeces. A kick across the page brings the fight to a second page, but for the most part it's a lot of flowery narration and clunky exposition. You can begin to appreciate how the series made it even difficult to anticipate the usual quick fix treatment...

The Fix: 1.5 Winner: Goro (Flawless Victory!)

Then again, to be fair to the last battle, it's not like it was a throwdown between two feature characters! Unlike this fight that breaks out shortly after Kano evades Sonya and her Special Forces partner in a game of chicken that sees the Black Dragon villain bunny hopping their van on a bike to make Shang Tsung's boat. You have to remember at this point, it was the nineties...

Liu Kang leaps aboard to find the movie star Johnny Cage under siege by Kano and his thugs. Now, given that he's wearing spiked wristbands underneath, you might say Johnny's expensive white suit was always going to end up ripped to shreds, but for the sake of the record it should note that it's Kano's roughery that strips the star of his garb.

A swanning Kano meets Liu Kang in an exchange of third-person boasts, only to find his face engulfed in the explosion effect of Johnny's rising kick!

Liu Kang aids in the dispatch of a mob of random crooks that have apparently rallied to Kano's cause in the mere minutes they spent on ship. They may or may not be cannon fodder for the tournament that has always been suspiciously under booked, but no matter. They serve their purpose, suffering the indignity of not only being punched in the crotch, but by being punched in the crotch by a guy in bikeshorts doing the splits.

Kano again makes boastful claims of his power, but ultimately suffers a third-page defeat on the losing end of a half-page jump kick. Liu Kang gets the assist for appearing to do something in one panel.

The Fix: 3 Winner: Johnny Cage

Also onboard the island bound boat are representatives of the Lin Kuei: Sub-Zero and Hydro. So begins the Malibu tradition of creating tragically stupid characters with even gaudier names than the officially licensed icons.

Despite the injury only being two years old; Subby grimaces over an old throat wound that gives him grief the same time every year. The wound supposedly forewarns the return of the ninja who granted the wound before being killed by Sub-Zero - Scorpion!

The entrance prompts a one-page flashback of the encounter that led to Scorpion's death. Narration clarifies that it only occured two years prior to the issue's contemporary setting, which is good, because the Sound of Music backdrop for the battle might have confused the exact timeline.

A spiked ball strikes Sub-Zero in the throat, just as the Lin Kuei warrior's ice blast freezes Scorpion's entire body. The free-hit gives him the time needed to kill his yellow clad counterpart in a way denoted by a splatter of blood from the off-panel kill. If you've read our other reviews, you know this is but the first of many deaths for Scorpion through the duration of the series.

The dubious balance between Malibu's original cast of cannon fodder and trademarks that can be killed inevitably makes an undead ninja (who constantly returns from the dead) a target of Wolverine-style proportions.
Those of you seething with yellow-tinted rage may take solace in the fact that Scorpion eventually does get his revenge in the official canon. In a fashion similar-but-different to Scorpion, Sub-Zero undergoes his own transformation in hell, becoming the shadowy wraith, Noob Saibot.

It's worth clarifying, for the unintiated, that Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei, much like their real life namsakes, are not ninja. Backstory spun the notion that Scorpion's Shirai-ryu clan of ninja were an off-shoot intent on wearing the same outfit, only yellow to mock Lin Kuei cowardice, doesn't really fly with me. Which is why I will forever express chagrin any time the rivals share couture from the same label.

The Fix: 2 Winner: Sub-Zero (Fatality!)

The Hammer...
That, friends, wraps up our tour through the first exciting issue of Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder. I do rather like the notion of using the comics to rank the MK cast in much the same fashion as we have the Street Fighters, but I doubt my ability to maintain that kind of commitment, so we'll leave it to chance for now. If you think you'd like to see more Mortal Kombat in the Infinite Wars, drop a comment.

I had hoped to talk more about the individual characters as they're introduced in the series, but these entries just aren't conducive to that thought process. So brief is each encounter that you really do wonder where the motivation was for producing these comic series. It's impossible not to think of the recent tournament fighting arc in Iron Fist as an example of what could have been.

Fix Average: 1.5 The Issue: 3.5

No comments: