Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Art of War (Malibu/Midway)
Where: Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder #3 When: December 1994 Why: Charles Marshall How: Patrick Rolo

Quick Fix...
Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost!
Today we'll be talking about the island tournament of Mortal Kombat, and while that might not have anything to do with the season finale of the ABC sci-fi/drama, I really wanted to take advantage of that fat Lost web-traffic...

With useless gratuity out of the way, I now officially welcome you all to the latest instalment of our running reviews and discussions of Mortal Kombat.

Reflecting on a month where reviews have been tough to come by, I'm almost a little disappointed we've dedicated so much time to the video game franchise. Apologies to those of you who've been coming by hoping for more iron in your diet in the proclaimed Invincible Iron Month. Hopefully our back catalogue specials will have at least contributed to whetting our apetite.

I don't want to be too apologetic.
Over the past month I've been very conscious of the split audience I've been talking to, and as much as the loyalties of this website are to comics, I feel I should be doing more to champion the Mortal Kombat cause.
Since the announcement of November's Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, I've done plenty to document the cultural insignificance of this once mainstream phenomena, and the accompanying disinterest of comics fans. What I haven't done terribly well is describe what's great about the franchise that has kept my interests since the first game, released in 1993.

I suppose full disclosure is in order. I like to consider myself a pretty savvy individual, with well grounded criticisms and opinions, but I'm not without my predelictions. As is self-evident, I have a special penchant for combat, and I take absolutely no issue with the simplicity of a narrative dependent on the interactions of two (or more) opposing forces. I like the art of fighting.

Fortunately, Mortal Kombat manages to deliver substantially more in the story department than would otherwise be associated with it's under achieving, two-axis gameplay. Important, given the few admirers the series has earned within the hardcore gaming community, even with recent advancements.

Though far more technically sound; rival narratives, like the more successful Japanese Street Fighter, can be typified by the underdeveloped method of communicating ideas through individual characters. Contrary to this genre-established tradition; Mortal Kombat takes far more ownership of it's concepts and story, delivering serialized epics comparable to the checkpoint storytelling of major comic book events, like Infinite Crisis or Civil War.

Within the larger themes of interdimensional world domination are the personal struggles that develop the characters and embue the sense of verisimilitude within these fantastic situations. These details have inevitably propelled the Mortal Kombat franchise forward into it's most involved incarnations. Spin-off stories tackle everything from; the origins of Scorpion's predicament as a tortured soul; to the law enforcement duties of the Jax, Sonya, and the Special Forces; the manipulations of the eventually resurrected Dragon King; and more.

These finer details that have really made the MK story a valid piece of fictional history are the product of cumulative effects. The departure of creative co-creator, John Tobias, though often connected to the downfall of the series, arguably allowed the franchise to blossom under new creative direction.
Though crucial to laying the groundwork, it's fair to say the natural state of circumstances worked against Tobias and the makers of the first games. Though definitive in the MK canon, the specifics of many important details derived from the early games were retrofitted, and certainly not elaborated upon in detail accessible to the everyman playing at the time.

It's here I think we find the disconnect between MK's once mainstream fandom, and today's smaller, dedicated fanbase. Though not everyone's vice, the story remains one of the most important pieces of the MK puzzle, evidenced brutally by responsive outcry for the announcement of Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, perceived by many fans as a frivilous, post-Armageddon interruption.

I can't help but wonder what difference might have been made had the details of the Mortal Kombat epic been more accessible to mainstream audiences.
This rather conveniently segues into our review of the comic books, which, though a quaint opportunity to see the characters moving in a narrative environment, offers examples of what not to do when translating the MK story.

Running terminally late; I want to get on to the review/play-by-play portions of this meandering and garbled entry, but consider this a conversation to be resumed at a later point. Sometime in the countdown to the November release of MKvsDC we may revisit these points in relation to the influence and involvement of the Threshold films.

- SIANG versus GORO
Alright. Things have been a bit hectic here on the Infinite Wars, so I've got to stretch it out a little before resuming. Crick, crack, creeak. That just about does it, but I should offer a stern health warning to all of you! Before continuing on to the [mis]adventures of the character Siang, everyone should indulge in some thorough stretching.

It would be fair to say 1994 had it's share of gems!
Real 2 Real released I Like to Move It; Pulp Fiction made Tarantino an undisputed name in film history; we finally found out what would happen if Venom fought Iron Man; and the beat 'em up video game genre enjoyed some it's highest heights with titles like Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II permeating throughout the pop culture landscape to reach heights unparalleled.

Comics were teetering between the repercussive harmony of post-grim and gritty superheroics, and the Image-funded shitfest of over developed anatomy and splash pages. At some point all the companies were guilty of selling out to a movement now much maligned, but only Malibu managed to bring together the very worst qualities of mid-nineties comic books, and the video game franchises we know and love.

So foul were their efforts that Capcom ordered the cancellation of a Street Fighter series, infamously identified by scenes of Ken Masters' scalping at the hands of Sagat and the villains of the series. Violence familiar to MK proved to be little more than flash and style - if you can call it that - over substance.

Enter Sing and Sang: vengeful twin martial artists chosen to represent the forces of Shaolin in Mortal Kombat. As individuals they were great fighters, but together they could fuse into one super-powered green-mohawked fighter called Siang!

You can probably start to see that aformentioned disconnect...
Series star and in-game five-time champion, Liu Kang, finds himself little more than an accepted tag-along for what amounts to a repetitive distraction. Think, though you might, with modern consideration, that Siang would surely be put in such a position to somehow elevate the importance of the central cast, or present some sort of dilemma by which Liu Kang could be baptized.

Alas, no.

Fans of the series surely sigh a breath of relief as Siang, much like Lt. Lance before him, is unceremoniously removed from Malibu's stable in his first fight.
They'd be wrong to get too comfortable, though, as this is not only a comic, but also a Mortal Kombat licensed property, which means Siang is down, out, but sure to return...

By six degrees of seperation you might connect previous issues to Street Fighter Alpha, if only for the fact that the sinister tournament master intends to gather fighters for nefarious purposes underground. You might remember fighters were disappearing in previous entries [Blood & Thunder #1, #2].

By this, the third issue, any assemblance of an actual tournament goes out the window when the characters are gathered in Goro's dungeons. Scorpion's full-page arrival at the end of #2 proves to be little more than tedious filler, the vengeful spectre opting to free his blood enemy, rather than fight him...

This eventually leads to an impromptu fusion dance as the Kombat warriors wander the labyrinthine halls beneath Shang Tsung's island. The mini-mixxed duo launch a fly kick assault on the four-armed Goro, who welcomes the opportunity to secure the rare feat of two corpses for the price of one.

Given that Kung Lao is the last direct descendant of Earth's last champion, it's always seemed a little insulting that Liu Kang was chosen over him to represent Earth in it's most crucial entry. Imagine then, how Kung Lao must feel, after this green and gold mook was chosen!

I do not know what Charles Marshall and Malibu were thinking when they devised such a prominent inclusion to the series, but if you weren't a Goro fan before, hopefully you are now...

The Fix: 3 Winner: Goro (Fatality!... Sort of...)

- RAIDEN versus GORO
Shang Tsung's treachery, part of a distracting plot introduced by Malibu revolving around a magic book of riddles, does not go unnoticed by Earth's protector god, the phonetically challenged, Raiden.

Since he's an all-seeing god, you've got to assume he didn't care much for Sing and Sang (aka; Siang), either, because it's not until they've been mortally ripped apart that the thunder god shows himself!

A lightning bolt precedes the god's entry, which prompts a macho exchange between the thunder god and Shokan champion. Goro absorbs a lightning blast and mocks Raiden's powers, lumbering at him with evil intent. The barbaric assault proves ineffective in battle with a god who can teleport himself.

Challenged as a coward, Raiden finds himself joined by the mortal warriors of Earthrealm. Not a terribly constructive gesture for proving one's bravery, nor a conclusive end to the battle between god and champion!

The Fix: 3 Winner: Draw

Having thrown in with Raiden; Liu Kang and Sonya Blade are the first to step up to the champion. Somewhat suitable, given that Liu Kang is supposed to be the champion of the series, and the one to defeat Goro. Of course, depending on what you pluck from the game series, Kang actually becomes champion after beating Shang Tsung... Which has a shakey logic, because Goro's champ...

Never the less, the pseudo-tournament continues in the bowels of Shang Tsung's dungeons. Kang connects with a flying kick that leaves Goro open to an ice blast from Sub-Zero. Mirroring elements from the game, Goro blasts free from his icey pause, providing the heroes no time to score a free hit.

Enraged, the Mortal Kombat champion begins a rampage against the insolent warriors, beginning with a devestating swat that sends Cage, Sub-Zero, and Raiden sprawling! Then, with Sonya clutched in a vice-like grip with one hand, Goro uses the other to slap one of the Lin Kuei warriors around a little.

Just as Shang Tsung arrives to enjoy his warrior's dominance the four-armed warrior begins to disappear! Neither the sorceror, nor Raiden, are able to explain the phenomena, but it buys the necessary time to abandon the underground courtesy of an escape blasted by the thunder god!

Mohawks, chains, flames, dodgy art, foil variant covers, bad writing; as the ultimate in shameful nineties experiences, you should be able to guess Goro's fate. Yes, that's right. The first in a small collection of crossover mini-series and one-shots, padding out the Mortal Kombat story with more brilliant Malibu-originals, and a few new colours to add to the ninja tally. Awesome!

The Fix: 3 Winner: Draw

The Hammer...
At this point Blood & Thunder has featured a sum of two official fights in the Mortal Kombat tournament. Given the implied importance of the rules, one would imagine that would be some measure of problem. That's nto the only qualm to be derived from these early issues though, and since I'm supposed to be offering positive remarks about the franchise, I should probably mention some of the assumed details from the official game canon.

John Tobias certainly seems content to support much of the pre-tournament scenes as depicted by Malibu. In fact, in an official collector's edition comic for the first game, scenes are almost identical, including the scuffle between Cage, Kang, and Kano [Mortal Kombat: Blood & Thunder #1].

To Malibu's credit, even today details of the first game's events are sketchy, and with the addition of highly debated additions; like 2005's Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks; very little has been streamlined through recent revisions.

It's generally accepted that post-tournament catastrophe sees the island crumble, taking with it Kano, Sonya, and Goro, who were engaged in mortal combat, along with Johnny Cage. Cage survived to be picked up by Jax and his Special Forces rescue team, in scenes bridging the gap between the first and second games. These events also ultimately connect to in-game backgrounds revealing the unplayable Kano and Sonya in bondage.

We also know Scorpion caught up with his mortal nemesis at the tournament, and indeed successfully returned the favour of his death with a fatality of his own. This beat was revealed in the second game with the introduction of the dead Sub-Zero's younger brother, a more heroic successor to the family mantle of the legendary cryomancer. More recent additions, discussed previously, led to the reveal that the elusive all-black secret character, Noob Saibot, was actually the dead Sub-Zero reborn as a mysterious wraith with the Brotherhood of Shadow. An ironic end for the character whose rivalry with Scorpion was galvanized whilst served Brotherhood patriarch, Quan Chi.

Scorpion's continued presence is likewise elaborated upon through the interference of the necromancer, Quan Chi. As per the original description of Scorpion's curse, it was not only his own death, but the extermination of his family and clan that keeps him bound to unrest, the latter being the responsibility of Quan Chi, and not Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei as originally thought.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is Liu Kang's victory in the tournament.
Details of whether the Shaolin Monk battled anyone, let alone defending champion, Goro, are unclear, but we do know he was successful in both defeating Shang Tsung, and securing an official tournament victory. A victory that prevented the lawful invasion of Outworld's forces, but began a plot of deception to lure the Earthrealm warriors to an Outworld tournament - Mortal Kombat II.

These are but some of the intricately layered details that have made up fifteen years of Mortal Kombat history. I don't expect to convert the unimpressed with this checklist of confirmed events, but I hope it can at least provide a gateway to a story that seems to have been mistranslated, and ultimately lost to mainstream audiences. In the lead-up to Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, I can at least hope to appeal to the sensibilities of those already invested in indulgences of this nature.

Fix Average: 3 The Issue: 2.5

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