Monday, June 09, 2008

In the middle of April; Mortal Kombat co-creator, Ed Boon, was at the Midway Gamer's Day to lift the lid on the worst kept secret in gaming: Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe.

Since then the Infinite Wars has taken up the challenge to serve as a bridge between the two camps of fans now destined to rival!
In accordance, we've spent the past few weeks [one, two, three, four, five, six, seven!] dedicating our patented fantasy fights to speculating, measuring, and reporting what might come from the worlds of MK and DC. After eight weeks we'll have featured ninety-six characters that may or may not make it into the final line-up!

Knowing the enemy is only half the battle!
During the week when we should've been updating Midway released the latest in it's crop of materials; two design concepts for the Batcave and Gotham City. Artwork in both was certainly competent, but one can't help but feel bemusement for items even the uninitiated comic fan probably expected, and has already seen ad nauseum.
With a podcast on the way, we eagerly anticipate more from the Midway team than the recent tyre smoke derived from already confirmed characters; Batman, Sub-Zero, Superman & Scorpion. [Draw your own conclusions!]

To the credit of the MK team; artwork shows Gotham City as a suitably monolithic compromise between the bold art-deco lines of more stylized, gothic versions of the city, and some of the contemporary references familiar to audiences who enjoyed Chicago location referencing for Batman Begins.
Surely signs the gang are moving in the right direction, but as we creep slowly toward July's E3 convention, slowburn promotion is getting tedious.

[#169] :RANKING
[50%] :ODDS
Justice Society

ODDS: [75%]
Strength: Draw 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Shang Tsung 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Shang Tsung 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Dr. Fate 7 (Cosmic)

The Battle...
Everybody knows about the ninjas, and the four-armed monsters, and the bikini clad women, but amongst this martial arts menagerie it's worth remembering that mysticism and magic are key components to holding together the Mortal Kombat universe. Even the conceits of the major characters like Scorpion and Liu Kang rely on the philosophy of mystic elements be they infernal or universally spiritual in nature.

Shang Tsung, one half of the deadly alliance, is MK's earliest and most literal reference to magic and mysticism in the games. As the first final-boss of the series; Shang Tsung follows gaming conventions of performing feats far beyond (or including) those of the playable characters. His ability to morph into the rest of the cast somewhat distracted from conceits established explicitly later in the series, revolving around the sorcerer's ability to steal and absorb souls.

In the broader spectrum of mainstream superhero comics, magic has a way of being tucked into it's own isolated corner.
The now canonized misconception of Superman's "weakness" to magic stems from conceptual obstacles inherent to fiction that abides by strict logic. Superman's power comes from rules that say Superman is strong, and others are weak. It's magic's fundamental role to break rules that makes Superman vulnerable to magic by extention of the logics put into place. He is a character of pseudo-science, and where magic is concerned, it is defined by defying science.

Dr. Fate represents one of the most iconic representations of magic in the DC Universe. The instantly recognisable visage of the golden helmet of fate makes him exactly the kind of visually striking character you'd like to see in a game like Mortal Kombat. Granted, there's a tendency in the fanbase to turn the nose up at characters in blue and gold, but it's worth remembering that Mortal Kombat, as much as it references martial arts lore and the like, is intrinsicly related to the design sense of the superhero. It's bold, instantly recognisable qualities that often embody the spirit of these characters, yellow, blue and green being prime examples for the swapped sprites of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile.

As a sorcerer Shang Tsung presumably has a wide variety of abilities. Alas, as is the case with many MK characters, he isn't characterized beyond what's implicitly required by function. Dr. Fate isn't really any better off, but his illdefined capabilities encompass a far wider spectrum, and therefore makes it difficult to entertain Shang Tsung in the context of our Fantasy Fight winners.

Fate's broad magical skills really leave him open to some of the most interpretive movements within the game. If character defining special moves require a sense of originality, then Dr. Fate affords the opportunity to develop all other characters, before exploring what's left. Everything from teleportion techniques, to summonings, to basic energy blasts are within the mystic's capability. This really is an example of boundariess defined only by the limits of imagination.

The Math: Shang Tsung Our Winner: Dr. Fate

[#44] :RANKING
[60%] :ODDS
Justice League

ODDS: [70%]
Strength: Draw 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Quan Chi 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Quan Chi 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Quan Chi 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Zatanna 7 (Cosmic)

The Battle...
When it comes to iconography in the Mortal Kombat franchise; very few characters beyond those introduced in the 1993 sequel have infiltrated that exclusive group.

Continuing the theme of mystics, we turn to the second half of the deadly alliance - Quan Chi. This sorcerer from the Netherealm made his first game appearance in the 1997 Sub-Zero spin-off game, which revealed his involvement in the backstories of the first game's Sub-Zero, and more crucially, Scorpion, whom he was revealed to be partially responsible for creating.
Details such as these have helped integrate Quan Chi with such success that he would share the titular boss role of 2002's relaunch title, Deadly Alliance.

Zatanna might not be as vividly recognisable as Dr. Fate, but the backward talking magician returned to the A-list as one of the catalyst figures in 2004's, Identity Crisis. It was her prominent position as the magic representative of the Justice League that brought about this return to the spotlight.
As the daughter of the magician Zatara; Zatanna inherited her inherent connectiong to the world of mystics, with her abilities potentially limitless so long as she can verbalize magic commands spoken backward!

A large contingent of the MK fanbase seems to have settled on the thought that, though he lacks the ability to manipulate souls, Quan Chi is the more powerful sorcerer in the deadly alliance. It's his penchant for manipulation that leads me to believe that, despite her illdefined capabilities, Zatanna could still suffer the indignities of inexperience often associated with her character.

Despite sharing the magic corner of fiction with Chi and Tsung [who sound a lot like a sixties zen-pop duo], Zatanna has developed free of the functional restrictions that make the MK villains' abilities seem narrow. Like Dr. Fate, one could really imagine an infinite scope of possibilities for Zatanna, who would presumably upscale her fighting abilities beyond the occasionally referenced training had with the Justice League (and current flame, Batman).

To reflect the character of Zatanna's ability one almost imagines differentiating special moves that alter the state of an opponent, more than inflicting damage. MK standards such as rendering an opponent unable to connect with attacks, stun (freeze) moves, and other advantageous strategy based attacks would make sense. That and the most dangerous combo in her arsenal: bikini, fishnets, coattails, top hat. Ouch!

The Math: Quan Chi Our Winner: Quan Chi

[#39] :RANKING
[35%] :ODDS

RANKING: [#29]
ODDS: [50%]
of Shadow
Strength: Noob Saibot 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Red Hood 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Noob Saibot 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Red Hood 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Noob Saibot 4 (Arsenal)

The Battle...
Fans were outraged by announcements that MK vs DCU would sport a binding T rating, restricting the presence of gore, violence, and most significantly: fatality finisher gimmicks.

Comics tend to get a pretty bad rap for their open-door policy with the underworld, but don't let fatalities fool you. Mortal Kombat is just as frivilous, perhaps moreso, with their penchant for abrupt resurrections. Such is the theme of commonality that leads to this unlikely pairing.

Noob Saibot was once the Lin Kuei warrior called Sub-Zero, but when he murdered a Shirai-Ryu ninja called Scorpion, he signed his death warrant at the hands of an undead spectre. Scorpion found revenge during the first game's story, leaving the deceased warrior to be reborn in a similar manner as a wraith member of Quan Chi's Brotherhood of Shadow.

Jason Todd was trouble from the beginning. A homeless boy who stole the tyres off the Batmobile; Todd was taken in by the dark knight, and trained in the fighting arts so he could succeed Dick Grayson in the mantle of Robin, boy wonder. While Grayson graduated into his own hero; Todd's impetuousness ensured a much worse path. The rivalries gained as Robin eventually condemned him to death at the hands of a crowbar wielding Joker.
Cosmic events happening outside the known universe meant, in secret, Todd awoke inside his own grave. After digging his way out he was hospitalized in a coma, and eventually taken in by Talia al Ghul, who against her father's wishes, bathed the boy one of the mysterious Lazarus Pits to restore his memory, and leave him to wreak havoc on the Batman as Red Hood.

Both characters rose from the grave, and are the dark counterparts to the characters used in MKvsDC promotion; Batman and Sub-Zero.
FF house keeping isn't easy in this one. Since his return, Todd has been shown to have a similar infalability to his mentor, developing his Bat-training even further, with little regard for life. Even so, Todd still has the wash of brashness about him, and though an exceptionally competent fighter, I'm inclined to lump a bit of equalizing on him to grant the undead advantage to Noob. Sorry, folks.

Ultimately Jason Todd's only hook as an MK opponent would be his willingness to kill. Since that isn't an issue in this game, he's a pretty unattractive prospect, trumped by his better recognised predecessors. That's two sorrys owed to the Todd fans. Toasty!

The Math: Noob Saibot Our Winner: Noob Saibot

[#17] :RANKING
[65%] :ODDS

ODDS: [20%]
Strength: Nitara 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Draw 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Catwoman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Nitara 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Nitara 2 (Projectile)

The Battle...
Nitara; manipulative vampiress from the realm of Vaeternus, seeking to steal back a sacred orb hidden in the firey pits of the Dragon King's lair that grips her realm in the clutches of Outworld.
The similarly saucy Catwoman may have a similar hold over the wills of men, but is only all too pleased to do her own thieving, if only for the game of cat and mouse that follows!

Alright, they aren't exactly twins, but I think I've fulfilled my thematic obligations with this one. At the heart of this pick is simply the reasonable prospect of Catwoman appearing in a game built around martial arts.

Sure, you know the cat has claws thanks to performances by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Halle Berry, but you can forget all of those! Just like Batman Begins redefined the expectations of the Batman more in keeping with the gritty competence of the comics; so too should you adjust your opinions of Catwoman. Selina Kyle may not be the most refined of fighters, but in her repetoire of training is not only tours as an opponent (and lover) for Batman, but also a student of the wile old boxing hero, Wildcat!

Alas; given the scope of the game, but the limited allotment for playable characters, it seems unlikely either femme fatale will appear. Nitara represents the awkward deviations made in recent games, implying potential struggles for Earthrealm's future (with the vampire realm, Vaeternus); and given the scale these events occur on, there shouldn't be a high priority for Catwoman - no matter how fun claw slashes and bull whips might be.

The Math: Nitara Our Winner: Nitara

[25%] :ODDS
Justice League

ODDS: [45%]
Elder Gods
Strength: Red Tornado 5 (Superhuman)
Intelligence: Fujin 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Red Tornado 6 (Machspeed)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Fujin 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Draw 4 (Arsenal)

The Battle...
One's an elemental trapped in the humanoid body of an evil android body; the other's an elemental god possessing humanoid form. They mightn't seem especially alike, but there's a fundamental gameplay element tying these two characters together: wind.

Since his debut in MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Fujin's struggled to escape the long shadow cast by his protectoral god predecessor, Raiden. If the thundergod could just ascend to elder god status and be done with it, Fujin could be Earth's protector, but alas, he's seemingly destined to be a seemingly incompetent victim of circumstance -- the constant second-fiddle.

Red Tornado may have fewer literal rivals, but his stature as a charter member of the Justice League will be recognised by far fewer than those who know Zatanna. Despite loitering around the likes of "post-crisis" Swamp Thing, and clashing with Solomon Grundy in a recent storyarc written by acclaimed novelist, Brad Meltzer; Red Tornado can't even seem to by Vision-grade respect. Y'know, unless you consider a career as a decapitated modern art model a good career move for a superhero capable of rattling even the likes of Superman!

If versatility is a priority for the in-game function of these characters, Red Tornado represents a more specific version of the wind powers briefly explored with the wind god. Controlled tornadoes would offer a very visual opportunity to throw Red Tornado into dash attacks, conventional projectiles, and stun moves.

The Math: Red Tornado Our Winner: Fujin

[35%] :ODDS
Justice League

RANKING: [#48]
ODDS: [70%]
Strength: Booster Gold 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Draw 2 (Average)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Booster Gold 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Johnny Cage 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Johnny Cage 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Booster Gold 5 (Lasers)

The Battle...
Alright folks, it's time to wrap this up.
Granted, this is a total mismatch, but that's hardly surprising if you've been following along with our previous fantasy fight entries.

Appearances in our mugshots provide an unintentional mirror to these two characters sharing the theme of celebrity. Eyewear and good grooming aside; Cage and Booster Gold are both exceptionally competent contributors to their own heroic circles, but find themselves in a constant struggle for recognition.

Trumped by the headlining likes Liu Kang and Superman; both represent the lighter side of the worlds they operate within. The furor sparked over MKvsDC's T for Teen rating once again distracts from the precedent of humor well established by the series' iconic early instalments. This sense of humor has ultimately been segregated by creative necessity, pushed aside in favour of greater investment in taking the plot and characters seriously, but the laughs haven't been erased.

If you can't get past the thought of a self-absorbed Californian B-moviestar defending the world from interdimensional invaders; remember that Johnny Cage is actually a well travelled and exceptionally skilled fighter, schooled by some of the world's greatest masters. He might not stand a chance against the likes of Shao Kahn or Booster Gold, but training has to count for something.

While Cage probably has a decent shot at appearing in a game promoting the recognisable faces of Mortal Kombat; the time traveller from the future, Booster Gold, has far less broad name-recognition. Further harming his chances are a range of abilities already accounted for by more obvious icons such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Martian Manhunter.

The Math: Booster Gold Our Winner: Booster Gold


Stephen said...

johnny cage and booster is genius pairing

Anonymous said...

Cage over Gold any day. Besides the math portion, Fujin would destroy Tornado. Shang Tsung over Dr. Fate any day and Catwoman would beast Nitara.

Anonymous said...

I think Shang tsung could take out Dr Fate, but to be hoenst I dont know Dr Fate that well.

Zatanna could take out Quan Chi IMO. its fair to say her fighting skills arent all that great, but all she need do is say 'Pots ihC nauQ!' and she'd ahve won the match already, surely.

Glad to see Nitara got the win voer Catwoman also.

Mike Haseloff said...

@stephen: Cheers!

@anonymous#2: As alluded to/described in the entry, Shang Tsung is a powerful sorcerer in the MK universe, but represents a fairly singular style of magic.

Dr. Fate is an exceptionally expansive cosmic force in the DC Universe. His magics are ill defined and far reaching, making him almost certainly more than a match for Tsung.
It's safe to assume he's going to be safe where soul stealing is concerned, and most other offenses tend to loiter on the physical. Tsung's true power is a little bit of an unknown quantity, but after a decade and a half he's had plenty of opportunity to prove himself. ;-p

Something fans more familiar with comics will be ready to interpret is the conceptual restrictions that govern and influence the tangible measure of a character's power.m

Zatanna's magic is conceivably limitless in it's scope, but characters like this almost universally struggle to fullfil that ability, and more often than not, suffer for it.

Characterization of a strong moral fibre and a little bit of timidness impose boundaries on the way in which Zatanna uses her abilities -- and while it would be simple enough to reduce Quan Chi to a monkey in a diaper with but a phrase -- opponents like this do present an implied intimidation factor.

Zatanna has to be able to speak, and there are surely plenty of examples where she is prevented from doing so [ie; Identity Crisis #3, JLU #15].
A few green skull projectiles and a well placed jab to the throat are the pasty necromancer's keys to victory.