Friday, January 16, 2009

Warrior Eternal (Threshold Entertainment)
Mortal Kombat: Conquest Ep.1 When: October 1998 Why: Juan Carlos Coto & Oley Sassone How: Paolo Montalban & Bruce Locke

The Story So Far...
For centuries there has existed a tournament held each generation between warriors from two domains. Pitted against the dark denizens of the realm of Outworld; Earth's greatest champions protect the world through the sanctity of the martial arts competition, protected from the invasion of Emperor Shao Kahn's invading armies by law of the Elder Gods.

To be allowed to cross the threshold unopposed, Shao Kahn's fighters must retain victory over ten total tournaments. To steer the forces of Earth in their mission is the protectoral god of thunder - Raiden - who is sworn never to involve himself directly in the affairs of the tournament, acting only as a mentor and cryptic advisor.

Dedicated to providing warriors for the tournament is the Temple of the Order of Light, a faction of martial arts fighting Shaolin monks responsible for training a chosen warrior each generation. Among their greatest disciples was a man named Kung Lao, whose skills took him to the final battle of the tournament hundreds of years ago, where he would face a powerful sorcerer called; Shang Tsung! Fight!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Kung Lao 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Shang Tsung 5 (Professor)
Speed: Kung Lao 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Shang Tsung 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Kung Lao 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Kung Lao 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Shang Tsung 5 (Lasers)

- Raised to be a great champion under the teachings of the Shaolin monestery; Kung Lao emerged to become one of the Mortal Kombat tournament's greatest victors.

Possessing both amazing fighting skills as a martial artist, and incredible compassion as a human being, he reigned without killing his opponents. This ethic was eventually his undoing as the forces of Outworld conspired against him, eventually unleashing the force of the Shokan Prince, Goro, who defeated and murdered Kung Lao.
It was then the Prince's turn to reign supreme for five hundred years, before being confronted and defeated by Lao's distant descendent, Liu Kang. Joining Liu Kang in his continued struggles with Outworld is another warrior named Kung Lao -- the last direct descendent of Earthrealm's legendary protector.

- Said to have been taught the mystic arts by the Emperor himself; Shang Tsung has maintained his existence and youth for hundreds of years through the regular consumption of souls. This greedy pursuit has brought the sorcerer into conflict with many warriors, such as the expert swordsman, Kenshi, whom he fooled into unlocking a family crypt within which held the souls of many powerful fighters.

As Shao Kahn's servant in Earthrealm, Shang Tsung oversaw the tournament during Outworld's most promising age. Observing the victory over then-champion, Kung Lao, by the Shokan warrior-prince, Goro; Tsung was responsible for bringing Outworld to the very brink of victory over five hundred years of fighting.

When Liu Kang defeated the champion in the vital tenth tournament of Outworld's tally, he ensured the safety of Earthrealm for at least another ten generations, by law of the Elder Gods. The treacherous sorcerer would not be so gracious in defeat, however, and retreated to Outworld where he and the Emperor began a manipulation to lure Earth's warriors to their dark realm, while plotting an invasion free from the rules of the tournament.

Math: Shang Tsung Ranking: Shang Tsung (#19)

What Went Down...
Under the watchful eyes of the emperor, Shao Kahn, and tje bloodlusting cheers of a crowd of two worlds, the tournament finalists come face to face; Shang Tsung, Kahn's protege in dark arts, and Kung Lao, Earthrealm's last hope.

With his godly fingers crossed, Raiden, nestled within the crowd, witnesses his warrior suffer the opening blow as Shang Tsung leaps into action with an acrobatic cartwheel kick! He follows it with threatening kicks, quickly met with a stalemate sweep kick offensive from the fallen Kung Lao.

Kung Lao sneaks a jab in-between a flourish of arms and legs, scoring a rising uppercut sufficient enough to shake Shang Tsung, but not topple him. The move proves a motivator for the fighting sorcerer, who returns fire with another diving kick, evaded, leading to a string of blows, each blocked.

The pair again face-off in a stalemate of strikes, broken by a connecting roundhouse kick that sends Shang Tsung on an airborne path to his backside!

Enraged, Tsung returns to his feet, launching through the air with a fly kick!
The move gives him the advantage as the fight returns to a fast-paced exchange of close quarters punches and shifting blocks. This time it is Shang Tsung who scores a well placed jab through the forest of strikes.

The advantage is punctuated with another diving kick from the sorcerer, knocking Kung Lao to his hands and knees on the stone arena floor. With the fighter down, Tsung delivers spinning roundhouse kick to knock him onto his back, leaping into the air for another knockout landing. Kung Lao struggles toward a vertical base, but the unrelenting sorcerer mercilessly sinks his boot into Lao's ribs, only to deliver a finishing elbow to his back.

Shao Kahn's demand for a finish inspires Shang Tsung to call upon his mastery of mysticism to attempt to pull the very life essence - Kung Lao's soul - from his body!

On the verge of defeat, perhaps even death, Kung Lao has a vision of his beloved, Geneviere. It is the fire of his passion, and the faith of her love, that grants him the strength to resist the sapping will of Shang Tsung!

He fends the sorcerer off with a defensive whirl of his legs, leaping to his feet again with renewed vigor. Taken by surprise, the mocking sorcerer suffers a jump spinning kick from the recovering monk. Kung Lao fends off Shang's strikes with ease, fighting liking a man with purpose, able now to deliver fist after fist!

An arm wrench flips Shang Tsung to the ground, who leaps back up straight into the path of a jump spinning heel! Unstoppable, Kung Lao unleashes a flurry of tights punches to the gut and face, setting the stage for a finishing uppercut!

Shao Kahn and the crowd alike compel Kung Lao to deliver a final killing blow to his clearly defeated opponent, but though tempted, the monk pauses to reconsider.

In this tournament of life earned through death, he refuses to spill the blood of his enemy. It is a decision he will have to live the rest of his immortal life with, knowing that although he is protected from attack and age as champion, Shang Tsung will forever be there to threaten the lives of those he holds dear.

The Hammer...
Kung Lao wins! Mercy!

If you were with us last year, you'll know all about Mortal Kombat by now, thanks to the slavish attention granted to the series in the lead-up to their video game crossover, versus DC Universe!

During our time discussing the various possibilities of that game, as well as the history behind the series, we covered a lot of topics surrounding the characters and adaptations from the franchise. One that we didn't get to - a key piece of the mid-nineties MK empire - was the theatrical release of two films.

As you might've already guessed, today's feature fight isn't from one of them.
Rather, I thought it more interesting to draw from the less obvious source of Mortal Kombat: Conquest -- the ill fated live-action TV series spin-off!

Despite being rooted firmly in the modern age, Mortal Kombat's premise draws heavily upon details from conventional mythology, combining them with it's own unique backstory. Among the most famous figures in this barely explored facet is Kung Lao -- a character survived by his distant descendents, Liu Kang, and the playable character of the same name, who debuted in MKII.

Kung Lao is the first significant character in Earthrealm's history of defense against the onset of invasion from Shao Kahn and the army of Outworld. We know very little else of Earth's early champions, to say nothing of the less successful warriors who competed to defeat in other tournaments. Not that defeat is omitted from a warrior's tale, quite the contrary. Many fans know of "The Great" Kung Lao through the mythos of first-game boss, Goro, whose claim to fame was becoming champion by defeating (and killing) the former.

All of this loaded particular weight upon the Threshold television venture, because, of course, this meant establishing brand new elements within the cast of heroes and villains venturing out alongside Kung Lao and Shang Tsung.

For a show of it's type, Conquest garnered a reasonable amount of positive attention. Quite rightly, too, if you can make it past the showy impracticality of various fight scenes, gratuitous display of Playboy talent, and generally cheesy fantasy setting. While many of these lesser qualities have come to define the show, like ill-fated fanboy favourite, The Flash, it was niche programming that found it's footing in decent writing and a well honored brand.

As the show developed, so too did the characters, who gradually fragmented in a classically Mortal Kombat fashion to represent a multitude of factions competing in a single arena. Shao Kahn - barred from interfering with Earthrealm until the next tournament - is forced to employ a variety of factions to do his bidding, all the while other elements, like an "imprisoned" Shang Tsung, pursue their own goals. The method allowed the show to pepper episodes with iconic incarnations of characters like; Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, and of special note, Quan Chi.

Top 25 Kombatants
#1 Shang Tsung
#2 Shao Kahn
#3 Goro
#4 Sonya Blade
#5 Johnny Cage
#6 Noob Saibot
#7 Sheeva
#8 Raiden
#9 Stryker
#10 Kano
#11 Kintaro
#12 Hotaru
#13 Dragon King
#14 Kitana
#15 Quan Chi
#16 Kenshi
#17 Bo' Rai Cho
#18 Sub-Zero
#19 Scorpion
#20 Kung Lao
#21 Baraka
#22 Reptile
#23 Smoke
#24 Jade
#25 Liu Kang
The show really does deserve much more than credit for simple fan service. As we've seen first-hand through the Malibu comic series, [ahem, Hydro...] the invention of original characters within a licensed world can lead to utter embrassment. While every bit-player isn't brilliant, Conquest creates it's fair share of memorable figures, many of whom have been requested for transition to the games by a large portion of the fanbase!

In developing these characters, the show did something comics fans could be particularly appreciative of. While it's a standard convention of fiction, despite being very character and concept driven, MK simply doesn't take time to explore it's history.
When tasked about the possibility of looking backward recently, I had to reflect upon my own reticence.

Conquest's exploration into the ancient past is surprisingly subtle. Obvious connectors to the past, like Kitana, find themselves in a bit of a loop of Lucas-grade repetition, reprising roles familiar to anyone who watched Liu Kang's romancing in the films, or canon of the games.
It's the bigger picture that really benefits from this licensed look backward, allowing greater exploration of the politics that lies behind the delicate balance between realms, and the laws of the Elder Gods. A major villain to the final episodes of the show, Kreeya, contributes connective tissue between basic new stories, and this embellished examination of the MK universe.

Unfortunately, if we can abruptly shift the stream of consciousness to the episode spotlighted, things didn't start fantastic.
I can't honestly remember if I've managed to sit through the entire movie-length combination of the first two-parter. Despite beginning with a bang, jumping quickly into the Kung Lao/Shang Tsung fight featured, the subsequent introduction of supporting characters grinds the energy to a halt.

Starting the series with a tournament was a very novel approach, almost reminiscent of Grant Morrison's topical storytelling techniques in Final Crisis, in terms of jumping straight to the important bits. Slightly cheesy montage clips help establish Kung Lao (and Raiden) quite effectively for their immediacy, but the glorious reprisal of Jeffrey Meek as both Raiden and Kahn is a rare glimmer of promise. It's an unfortunate situation that tarnishes what would otherwise be a glowing review of the series.

We're running very late and bordering on incoherrence, so I'll wrap it up here.
January dated posts continue as we endeavour to feature the 2008 year-end top rated heroes, before jumping in to some contemporary reviews for February!

As always, stay tuned, true believers!

The Fight: 4 The Episode: 3

Unfortunately, "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" has been limited in it's release on DVD. Region 2 offers compilation discs, while Region 4 is where you'll have to look to find the entire series (collected across two three-disc sets). You can, however, catch-up on the series future-history through affordable twin-packs of the two films. Or, why not try your hand at Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe? You'll find these things, as well as collected editions of most reviewed issues, in the Infinite Wars Gift Shoppe. Every purchase helps sponsor the protection of our Secret Earthrealm!

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