Friday, February 20, 2009

Street Fighter IV #1 When: February 2009
Why: Ken Siu-Chong How: Joe Ng

The Story So Far...
With his past shrouded in a fog of uncertainty, the French mixed martial artist cum mercenary called Abel relies on a single certainty to give him purpose. Having been found in his amnesiac state in a Shadaloo cell, and rescued from the demolition of the facility by the USAF Lieutenant Charlie Nash; Abel seeks answers and retribution by launching a one-man assault on the international criminal empire responsible for Charlie's death!

Following a lead to London; Abel finds the pro-wrestler turned small time crook, Birdie, running a bungled weapons smuggling operation for Shadaloo's arms dealing branch, S.I.N! Things turn from bad, to worse, as the French fighter seeks information from the hoods about this organization rising from the ashes of Bison's apparent defeat, but Birdie is no slouch in the fighting department!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Birdie 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Abel 3 (Straight-A)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Draw 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Abel 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Birdie 2 (Projectile)

- With his past shrouded in mystery, Abel made for himself a new life as a mixed martial arts mecenary hailing from France. Abel was discovered by US Air Force Lieutenant, Charlie Nash, whilst scouting a Shadaloo SIN weapons facility before it's destruction. It was Charlie who placed the scarred and confused fighter in the care of the mercenary he came to know as his father.

Devestating in his proficiency with the fighting style learnt from his adpotive father, Abel is a capable grappler and striker. He uses these skills in his pursuit of any vestige of Shadaloo's operations he is able to track.

- Hailing from England, the former pro-wrestler turned punk rocker, Birdie, is an undisciplined fighter with aspirations of joining the international crime syndicate, Shadaloo. In an effort to get noticed, this wannabe thug partakes in petty crime on the streets, while using his trademark chain as a weapon in street fights.

Birdie eventually used his reputation to reach the ranks of Shadaloo, but when the temptation of power leads Birdie to devise a plan to use M. Bison's psycho-drive as a means of overthrowing him, a subsequent team-up with Balrog leads to Birdie's undoing, and the alleged collapse of Shadaloo.

Math: Abel Ranking: Birdie (#299)

What Went Down...
Just as Birdie berates his gang for confusing shipments of dolls containing armor-piercing ammunition, the French dynamo enters to learn more about the weapons specialist division of Shadaloo called S.I.N!

Abel puts Birdie's goons out quick with a palm strike and toss, but leaves himself open to the Brit's deadly chain. It wraps up around his neck from behind, but the Frenchman shows incredible strength, using the length to drag Birdie into his clutches for a punk-shaped hammer toss that levels the rest of the gang, before dumping their leader on his head!

Birdie shows considerably more resilience than his gang buddies, laughing at Abel's confidence as he launches into his own unique attack, a rising headbutt the Frenchman didn't see coming!

With unlikely agility for a man so large, Birdie springs to his feet, whipping his chains in trademark style in the same motion. Abel dives beneath the stinging stream of metal, getting into close quarters that return to him the advantage.

Like a raging bull, the grappler charges with Birdie in his unbreakable clutches!
The Brit becomes a human battering ram as his giant frame smashes through wooden crates before colliding with the back wall of their warehouse!

Abel unloads with a three-string combination of punches, before launching into a flipping throw that vaults Birdie's enormous frame overhead to provide a landing pad for the leaping Frenchman! The blow puts an end to Birdie's rebellion, leaving him helpless against the wall once more, with no choice but to divulge the secrets Abel seeks to continue his battle with Shadaloo and his past.

The Hammer...
Let us welcome Abel into the annals of Street Fighter and Infinite Wars history as we declare him the undisputed winner! Yay!

Flash back to the end of February and there's every possibility you were a part of a movement that spread across home consoles worldwide -- Street Fighter IV for PS3 and Xbox 360!

Those who've splashed out to pick up the obscenely priced collector's edition will have already familiarized themselves with the peripheral source of story for the game, which relegates depth of narrative to an hour long animé feature on DVD.
In this respect, the coindiciding release of UDON's most recent expansion of the Capcom/Street Fighter license agreement plays a role as part of a cross medium promotion. To the initial benefit of the work, the series hasn't really been marketted as that kind of a tie-in, but it certainly seems to fit quite nicely!

While the animé provides context for the clash between the heroes of Street Fighter and the looming threat of SIN, the comic dives a little further back, elaborating on the backstory of Crimson Viper and Seth, while also turning attentions to fellow new inclusion, Abel, and overlooked old favourite, Birdie.

Top 25 Game Fighters
#1 Ryu (Capcom)
#2 Shang Tsung (Midway)
#3 Shao Kahn (Midway)
#4 Goro (Midway)
#5 Sonya Blade (Midway)
#6 Dhalsim (Capcom)
#7 Ken Masters (Capcom)
#8 Johnny Cage (Midway)
#9 Noob Saibot (Midway)
#10 Sheeva (Midway)
#11 Raiden (Midway)
#12 Guile (Capcom)
#13 R. Mika (Capcom)
#14 Stryker (Midway)
#15 Sagat (Capcom)
#16 Kano (Midway)
#17 Fei Long (Capcom)
#18 Kintaro (Midway)
#19 Akuma (Capcom)
#20 Hotaru (Midway)
#21 Sakura (Capcom)
#22 T.Hawk (Capcom)
#23 Jin Kazama (Namco)
#24 Rose (Capcom)
#25 Dragon King (Midway)
The British punk rocker from the original game, (later revamped for the Alpha series), seems to be a favourite for writer Ken Siu-Chong, who appears slightly less out of his depth in this latest incarnation of the comic. While not entirely out of the ordinary, the character's appearance does have the negative sting of a series of repetitions that have plagued UDON's releases. If their comics are anything to go by, you certainly don't want to spend time in any kind of restaurant in the land of World Warriors!

Street Fighter IV recovers slightly from a steady decline in quality that culminated in the latest of UDON's sequentially relevant series, Street Fighter II Turbo.
One can't help but wonder if the writer is the sole person to blame, given that the issues really do read very much like something coming from an art studio. The writing, in a traditional sense, is at fault, but I wonder how much of these issues are a collaborative effort, spreading the blame as evenly for the bad, as the good, such as the regular use of visual cues familiar to gamers.

Joe Ng's art style returns to the comics a visual flair more familiar to the Capcom properties than the radically different departure by Turbo's Jeffrey Cruz. Most notable is the difference in pacing, which returns to an evocative flow reminiscent of Alvin Lee's glory days on earlier issues of the license.

One gets the sense that Capcom's presence was more felt on Street Fighter IV, giving it the direction the other series have lacked. This first issue delivers a sense of purpose that seems potentially fitted between the cracks of the animé and game. It has a sense of contributing deliberately to the larger picture, which rarely, if ever, was as present during previous series, Turbo included. Minor discrepencys leave doubt over whether or not it will fit seemlessly into the saga of SFIV, but only time can confirm or deny that.

The team could never be accused of dishonoring the spirit of the property.
The inclusion of Birdie, who was sorely missed from the cast of characters included in the game, highlight this. Afterall, even if his inclusion is a way of avoiding to committing to characters without interrupting their predestined paths, at least they chose to utilize one of the beloved B-listers of the universe!

Walking a precarious line between the classic mould of mixed martial arts and nationalism, Abel might be my favourite of the new inclusions. I can't say I'm especially fond of his amnesia plot line, which appears unresolved in his game conclusion, and has a nervous twitch of Cammy about it, but I like him.

As a sense of story unfolds, I've ever found myself looking upon Crimson Viper with a more positive light. She certainly shines in the feature, but looks set to accept a greater sense of humanity than the role of antagonist allows during her animated pursuit of Ken, and Ryu. Seth too will hopefully grow beyond the boss role expressed in the animé, without losing the associated presence.

As you can no doubt tell, I continually find myself looking upon the sole writer with scepticism. At only four issues, one would hope SFIV can maintain the course suggested by a fairly solid first issue. UDON are certainly tapped into the culture of these characters, who so often suffer interpretations that do not do them the service of their twenty year history. Such strong and vibrant characters deserve a story that can reflect their adventures and story to the fullest, in all of it's philosophical, political, and action-packed glory.

And hey, for those with the issue, I'm sure little nods like the Mortal Kombat hybrid ninja (baring the colours of Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile), doesn't go too far, either. Like I said; these guys really are steeped in the culture. I just wish they could more consistently use that knowledge for more involving ends.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 4.5

Street Fighter IV hit PS3 and 360 this week, and it's the collector's edition you'll have to grab to get a hold of all the extra goodies, including the explosive animated adventure that brings Chun-Li, Guile, Cammy, Ken, Ryu, and Sakura together again to fight the forces of evil! You can pick that up, or any of the UDON collections featuring previously reviewed issues, via Amazon links provided in posts, and the Gift Shoppe! By doing so, you help sponsor future entries of the Infinite Wars! You can also stay up to date on the monthly release of Street Fighter IV from UDON!

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