The Strange History of Tekken Comics

Despite its fun characters and over-the-top story, Tekken's attempts at comic books seem to fall apart before they can truly begin.

Fighting game storylines lend themselves well to comic books. It’s the nature of the stories, which feature tons of characters, some ready-made conflicts, and excuses for fights to happen. Different games have led to different tie-ins. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat each have a long history of comics of differing quality. Games like Darkstalkers, Killer Instinct, Primal Rage, Eternal Champions, and Virtua Fighter have had a couple minor releases here and there.

But what of Tekken? In terms of U.S. mainstream popularity, Tekken is up there with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. The game’s story would surely lend itself well to a comic book adaptation. And yes, it did get a handful of attempts. It’s just that…well, there’s a reason why nobody talks about them.

Like I said, the basic concept of Tekken’s storyline works. There’s an evil, power-hungry criminal mastermind who holds a corporate and military chokehold on the world. He holds a fighting tournament for his amusement, and of all the combatants, only one man is able to stand up to him. Unfortunately, this man – his son – is just as corrupt as his father. As decades pass, their bloodline’s reach expands and threatens to engulf the planet itself.

We begin in late 1997. By this point, Tekken 3 had already released in arcades across the world and was only months away from taking the PlayStation by storm, becoming the second-best-selling fighting game in history. (#1 is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, so if you’re one of those guys who’s all, “Smash isn’t a REAL fighting game!” then fine, Tekken 3 was the best-selling fighter of all time.)

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Comic company Knightstone released The Tekken Saga #1, written by John Kim with art by Walter McDaniel. Coincidentally, it’s not the only fighting game comic incident involving Walter McDaniel. He would go on to draw the infamous comic moment where Deadpool asked Kitty Pryde about Street Fighter before hitting her with a Shoryuken. Then years later, Deadpool was doing Shoryukens in an actual Capcom video game based purely on that gag.

Tekken Saga is easy to laugh at, but looking at it again years later, I’ll admit it’s more of a mixed bag. It tells the story leading up to the first Tekken game and does a pretty good job setting everything up without simply making it nothing but Heihachi vs. Kazuya. The opening scene shows Heihachi Mishima talking to his three top underlings, who just happen to be the fathers of Michelle Chang, Eddy Gordo, and King. It’s on-the-nose as hell, but at least it’s setting up a ton of stuff in its own way.

Instead of introducing the Devil Gene, the comic talks up the Toshin Stones, which Heihachi wants in order to power himself up and rule the world. Bernard Chang secretly has two of the three and opposes him (WITHOUT the Stones, the dunce), getting himself killed for his efforts. Kazuya ends up getting powered by one, which is supposed to explain the jewel-like third eye that comes from his Devil form.

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Now, McDaniel’s art is mostly fine on its own. He even does a snazzy drawn recreation of a rendered promo image from Tekken 2, which is used as a pin-up at the end. If anything, it’s the overall design that makes this thing harsh to look at. The word bubbles look like Hell and the text is clown shoes to the third degree.

Look at this sequence, where Heihachi spars with Kazuya. It’s pretty much THE Tekken origin scene and well…yeah. Look at it.

Where does one start? The thought bubble coming out of Heihachi’s fist? The MS Paint word bubbles? The cavalcade of fonts? The narration gradients? “AH$HITTT!!”?

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Of course not. The first thing you talk about is “RIPSPLISTS!!!”

Kazuya, pissed that his father horribly scarred him in a training session for the hell of it, then misses a jump kick and falls to his supposed death.

While the issue plays up Kazuya’s rebirth thanks to Michelle Chang finding him and healing him with the Toshin Stone (which Kazuya then steals), it also builds up other subplots. King prays for forgiveness for using the King of Iron Fist tournament as a means to raise money to save an orphanage. Exhausted waiter Marshall Law gets in a fight with Paul Phoenix, befriends him, and then quits his job so he can enter the tournament. Nina and Anna Williams are sent by the U.S. government to take part in it as well. There’s also a scene of Lei Wulong discussing the Mishima Zaibatsu with Jun Kazama, which also briefly includes a pre-cyber-zombie Bryan Fury. The cliffhanger is a scene where Kazuya runs afoul of Yoshimitsu’s Manji ninja clan, but they’re forced to team up when Kunimitsu and Prototype Jack show up out of nowhere.

Despite being an eyesore, it’s not the worst thing I’ve read. Better than most of Malibu’s Mortal Kombat comics at least. Unfortunately, the next issue wouldn’t hit stands for a while. About a year, to be precise.

Although it’s a direct follow-up to The Tekken Saga #1, the next issue is called Tekken 2 #1. This issue came with two different covers: Photo Edition and Manga Edition.

Other than Kazuya working his way out of that cliffhanger while Yoshimitsu gets his hand chopped off, we get a scene of Paul Phoenix going into a nightclub and getting in a scrap/meet-cute with an undercover Nina Williams. I guess they’re the closest thing Tekken has to Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade so…sure, ship away, John Kim.

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The preliminaries of King of Iron Fist show the fighters beating up off-brand Street Fighter characters as well as not-Sub-Zero and not-Terry Bogard. Fake Terry even has to yell for help from “Joseph” and “Andrew” to really make it more obvious.

Once we’re down to the named characters, some of the matches get clean endings while others are swerves. Anna Williams forfeits so she can do spy stuff, King drinks drugged Jack Daniels before a match with Lee Choalan, and when Paul is about to defeat Lee, he gets a poison dart in the arm that causes them to both lose.

The finals give us Kazuya vs. Michelle, and although Kazuya overpowers her, he almost transforms into his Devil form. It’s Jun’s presence in the audience that suppresses it. Regardless, he wins and the comic rushes through his fight with Heihachi. After all, they’re going through an entire tournament in one issue.

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In the end, Kazuya throws Heihachi off a cliff and boasts about how he’ll take over the world. Nothing says “Tekken 2 comic” more than retelling the story of the first game. You could argue that obviously the next issue would be about Tekken 2, but despite the promise of an issue focused on Anna vs. Nina, Knightstone never would release that second (er, third?) issue.

Three years passed before the arrival of another Tekken comic. This time it was released by Image, a far more well-known publisher than Knightstone. Late 2001 gave us Tekken Forever #1 by the creative team of Dave Chi and Paco Diaz. Even though Tekken 4 was in the arcades at the time, Tekken Forever’s story is based on Tekken Tag Tournament.

This would prove to be the comic’s downfall.

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Tekken Forever has better art and better (though still incredibly flawed) lettering and design. That’s for damn certain. The fight scenes flow way better and the battle between Paul and Kazuya is pretty rad.

On a storytelling level, it’s a complete mess. Back with the Knightstone stuff, they at least decided to build it up from the beginning and did an okay job with it. They laid the foundation for the first game’s story before completing it and building towards the next two games. Ugly as it was, it was a story you could easily follow.

Tekken Tag Tournament is a non-canon game that merges characters from the first two Tekken games with Tekken 3, which takes place nearly 20 years later. There’s stuff in there that’s never meant to be explained because it’s nothing more than a dream match showcase. So you have to introduce someone to the plot of Tekken, the next generation of Tekken, and the inexplicable batshit stuff surrounding a werewolf-possessed woman dressed only in sludge, all while telling a four-issue story.

So how do you begin this epic arc? Just throw us in the middle of it with no explanation, I suppose.

In case you’re wondering, he’s telling Bruce to knock off singing, “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by Drowning Pool (I swear I’m not kidding). Bruce sings it with five exclamation points, which is way too loud no matter how much you enjoy that song.

But yeah, the comic starts off right after Kazuya Mishima beats up more than half the roster by himself, including Heihachi and Unknown. It honestly feels like it could have been a follow-up to the Knightstone comics if the reader missed out on ten issues in-between. It’s so jarring and never gets around to feeling coherent.

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There’s even an interlude involving Lei Wulong and Yoshimitsu vs. Bryan Fury that doesn’t feel connected to anything.

The comic then ends just as it begins. Kazuya beats everyone up and we get a cliffhanger where he’s planning on killing Ling Xiaoyu so he can absorb all of Jin’s Devil powers. It doesn’t matter as for the third time in a row, a Tekken comic doesn’t move past its first goddamn issue!

There are some unfinished and unlettered pages from the second issue online, which seemingly would have provided more backstory on what was going on. Alas, it was not to be.

There have been a couple examples of Tekken manga out there, but for this article, I’m only focusing on stuff that was readily available in the U.S. That would bring us to Tekken Comic in 2009 to 2010.

Appearing online on Ultra Jump’s website for a time, Rui Takato’s 11-chapter series is a pretty fun time. The opening depicts an amusing tournament battle between Paul Phoenix and Craig Marduk, but the manga then focuses on Asuka Kazama. Tying into Tekken 6, Asuka discovers that her cousin Jin has started a world war and chooses to take him down herself.

She ends up meeting Lili for the first time and we get to see their oddball rivalry play out. Though it does go really hard into the fanservice at times. More than you’d expect for an official work like this. Like the skirt-wearing Lili is introduced by parachuting crotch first into Asuka’s face, which we see from Asuka’s POV. Then they bathe together later on because of course they do.

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The Tekken 6 newcomers are introduced here and there, such as Alisa, Lars, Zafina, Leo, and my favorites, Bob and Miguel. There’s a subplot where Jin – concerned about Miguel coming to punch his face into newspaper – hires bounty hunter Bob to get in his way. Miguel and Bob cross paths on an airplane, brawl out of the plane, land on the ground, and then keep fighting for miles and miles until there’s finally a winner.

Another part I loved is how towards the end, Nina Williams gets taken down by one of the heroes and mopes through the fourth wall about how she was in the very first Tekken game yet was relegated to a lesser role. She deserves better, damn it.

Ah, well. At least she got to be in a comic that ended.

When Street Fighter X Tekken launched in 2012, the collector’s edition came with a comic. It’s very short and there’s really not much to talk about. Ryu and Chun-Li fight Kazuya and Nina in Antarctica while succumbing to the influence of Pandora’s Box. The only part of note is the reveal that Pandora, the mysterious thing everyone in the game is fighting over, was created by forgettable Street Fighter character and cosmic force Ingrid.

As of this writing, we’re in the middle of yet another attempt at a Tekken comic. This time it’s Titan Comics’ Tekken by Cavan Scott and Andie Tong. The four-issue miniseries takes place after Tekken 6 with Jin Kazama putting a team together to find a maguffin before Heihachi or Kazuya can. Jin’s team includes Nina, Paul, Xiaoyu, Panda, Yoshimitsu, and King.

It’s a solid beginning so far, but kind of falls into the same trap as Tekken Forever. It’s a tie-in to Tekken 7 and with so many installments of the series to draw upon, there’s a lot to take in. Scott does a good enough job setting things up and he writes a good Paul Phoenix.

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“THWAM?” Well, it’s no “RIPSPLISTS” but I’ll take it.

Gavin Jasper needs more comics about Bob’s wacky adventures. Follow Gavin on Twitter!