Since hitting the scene in 1992, Mortal Kombat has stretched its way into different forms of media, giving us two movies, a web series, a Saturday morning cartoon, a prose book, a campy techno album, a live tour, and, of course, comics.
I talked about Street Fighter’s history in the comics realm recently, so I might as well talk about its pop-culture rival. Mortal Kombat‘s comic history isn’t nearly as sporadic as Street Fighter‘s, mainly because Japan has never given a crap about it and therefore there’s no Mortal Kombat manga. Though I kind of wish there was purely out of curiosity. It would be weird as hell.
The first comics were probably the coolest in the sense of how they were available. Series co-creator John Tobias wrote and drew the prologue adaptations for the first two games. What made it so interesting was that these one-shots weren’t available at the comic shop. To get them, you had to send away to an address you got via the arcade games’ attract mode.
That’s pretty awesome for the first game. Tobias was confident enough in his supernatural Enter the Dragon knockoff storyline that he figured enough people would want to send him money to learn more, even before the game became a huge success. Good for him!
The comic explains the lead-up to the first game’s tournament: Mortal Kombat’s history, the defeat of the original Kung Lao at the hands of Goro, and how the seven playable characters find their way to Shang Tsung’s island. Liu Kang asks permission from the Shaolin elders to take part in the tournament. Johnny Cage’s agent begs him to reconsider. Kano escapes the Special Forces and ends up on the boat towards Shang Tsung’s island with Sonya and her men giving chase, only to be captured and forced to enter the fray.
In the game’s attract sequence, where they show the profiles of each character, they keep the relationship between Sub-Zero and Scorpion a secret. All they explain is that they’re likely from rival ninja clans. To get the real answers, you have to complete the game as Scorpion. In the comic, they’re a bit more forward.
Also, Raiden has yet to be written as the Zordon of Earthrealm and at this point is nothing more than a boastful god who cares little for the people he represents. Shang Tsung personally invites him to take part in the tournament because Shang Tsung is really stupid.
The Mortal Kombat II comic starts off with Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Kano fighting Goro on top of the Pit. According to Cage’s narration, Liu Kang defeated Goro and moved on to fighting Shang Tsung in the finals. Goro was super pissed upon waking up and fought those three in the meantime. With Shang Tsung being beaten up off-panel, the island falls apart with Sonya and Kano falling into a portal to Outworld and Johnny Cage being rescued by Raiden at the last second. Cage is later discovered by the Special Forces, who grill him over Sonya’s disappearance. Jax refuses to believe Cage because Sonya and Kano would never work together.
Once again, the prelude comic actually spoils the game when it comes to Scorpion and Sub-Zero. In their in-game profiles, it mentions that Sub-Zero is in the tournament despite being killed at Scorpion’s hands in the last one. Their endings reveal that this is that Sub-Zero’s younger brother. Here, they’re once again pretty on-the-sleeve about it.
Suit-wearing Sub-Zero is my favorite thing.
What catches my attention here is how he talks up modern technology. He even arrived on the scene in a sci-fi hovercraft. It’s easily foreshadowing for the “Cyber Initiative” that takes place in Mortal Kombat 3, but it’s hard to say if that was the intent at the time. Also, the game introduced Smoke, Jade, and Noob Saibot as hidden characters with zero storyline. They wouldn’t be defined as characters and given any story for several more years. Smoke appears in one panel of the comic, establishing that he is indeed a Lin Kuei warrior before the games would spell it out.
Later on, Scorpion comes to Sub-Zero’s aid and outright tells the story of his own in-game ending. He knows it’s not the real Sub-Zero, but he’s there to protect him out of guilt for wiping out his brother. Sub-Zero is completely confused over what to do because this guy’s on his side, yet he’s also the dude who murdered his brother.
Shang Tsung gets on Shao Kahn’s good side by coming up with a plot to hold a new tournament in Outworld. This all leads to a big fight on a Hollywood sound stage with Shang Tsung, Kintaro, Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, and Reptile on one side and Johnny Cage, Jax, Jax’s ill-fated partner Beran, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion on the other.
Raiden breaks things up and hears Shang Tsung’s proposition for an Outworld tournament. The offer is accepted because if they don’t, the plot just sits there. The good guys stand together and pose while Raiden yells for them to prepare themselves. Everyone looks all grim except for Jax, who is smiling despite the fact that Sonya is in mortal danger and Beran has literally been eaten alive by Mileena a minute earlier.
Apparently bullets don’t work on Outworld folk. Don’t tell Stryker.
I wish Tobias did more with the Mortal Kombat comic concept. His art still holds up and just plain feels iconic, even if it’s for a game depicted in live-action.
With Mortal Kombat II being the toast of the arcades, a guide called The Mortal Kombat Super Book was released. Not only did it have plenty of info on the two existing games, but it featured Mortal Kombat pogs and a 6-page exclusive comic made by Malibu. It is, essentially, the most 90’s thing ever. Hell, the story itself, “It’s Just a Game” by Mark Paniccia and Patrick Rolo is excessively 90’s with its story of a teenager who gets sucked into a Mortal Kombat II arcade machine and has to fight various characters himself.
That kid is in over his head and all, but he’s surprisingly jacked.
Yes, Malibu Comics, publishers of the Street Fighter series so bad that Capcom told them to cut it out, also had the rights to Mortal Kombat. That’s pretty impressive, momentarily having the two fighting game juggernauts under your roof. They even had a Virtua Fighter one-shot down the line too! The Malibu series was originally previewed within the pages of Bruce Lee #5. That’s right, there was a short-lived Bruce Lee comic for whatever reason. In fact, an Italian publisher released the two series together in a double-sized bundle called Mortal Kombat & Bruce Lee. Kind of waters down Liu Kang’s status when you put him in there with the guy he’s based on.
The Malibu Mortal Kombat comics were mostly written by Charles Marshall and drawn by Patrick Rolo. Over the course of 1994 and 1995, 27 issues were released and unfortunately, they chose not to go with the straightforward concept of making it an ongoing series. Instead, it was nothing but a confusing chain of miniseries and one-shots that intertwined. The main stories were Mortal Kombat: Blood and Thunder, which led into Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition, followed by Mortal Kombat: Battlewave, which led into Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition II. Throughout, we got miniseries for Goro, the Special Forces, and a Raiden/Kano team-up. One-shots dealt with Baraka, Kung Lao, and the history of Kitana and Mileena.
The Malibu stuff is problematic, mainly because it strays away from, “bunch of dudes fight in a tournament,” and becomes, “bunch of dudes search for maguffins.” Blood and Thunder starts off as an alternate take of the Mortal Kombat 1 promotional comic, but there are literally only two tournament fights in there. Sub-Zero kills a six-armed not-Goro with one kick and Kano kills a disposable Special Forces guy. From there, it becomes a search for a magic book, which is a pattern the rest of the series follows.
For instance, the final issue, Tournament Edition II, is about all the good guys and all the bad guys taking part in an Amazing Race to climb a mountain and retrieve a medallion for the fate of reality. It’s kind of weird in that Baraka is played off as bloodthirsty and unpredictable anti-hero on the side of good while Scorpion is shown to be pure evil. Scorpion also has a spiked ball at the end of his projectile rope instead of a spear. It’s kind of weird.
Considering Mortal Kombat is about dudes getting killed all the time, they pad out the cast by introducing a bunch of original characters for the sake of fodder. All in all, their designs aren’t that bad. You have Sonya’s friend Lance, who has a metal arm with electric powers. Sub-Zero is accompanied by fellow blue ninja Hydro, who has water-based abilities. There are two twin brothers from Liu Kang’s Shaolin temple named Sing and Sang. They’re able to merge into the more powerful Siang, but after Goro killed one of them, they’ve become Siang permanently with some serious mental damage. A pushover villain is introduced named Henge who is, naturally, made of stone. The only guy who comes out of things breathing is Bo, a big dude in a suit who acts as Johnny Cage’s personal bodyguard and goes off to protect Liu Kang under Cage’s orders.
While there’s a lot of bad in there (Goro holding a giant laser gun while yelling, “Let’s get CRAZY!” for instance), there are some high points. The Raiden and Kano miniseries has a decent hook, where Raiden brings in Kano and tries to drive him towards redemption by bringing up how he’s the descendant of a hero who had slain a previous dark lord of Outworld many centuries ago. The writing is good, at least. Sadly, most of the art is done by Kiki Chansamone, whose style is best described as taking Rob Liefeld and replacing all his muscles with lumps.
Even with the silly race for the medallion gimmick, the Tournament Edition II finale is readable and ends with the original Sub-Zero actually being heroic and a badass. Not only does he take out Goro singlehandedly, but he gets killed by Scorpion in a way that makes Scorpion look like the biggest weenie while Sub-Zero is a total boss. The comic ends with a quick look at the younger Sub-Zero in his Mortal Kombat 3 duds and…cancelled.
The thing that bugged me about that comic the most? Shao Kahn wore his badass skull mask once. The rest of the time he just had his gross, craggy face showing. Nobody wants to see that!
While there was no comic take on Mortal Kombat 3, there was one for Mortal Kombat 4 by Ted Adams and Ryan Benjamin. It came out as a bonus for those who bought the home version of the game. The home version brought back Goro with no in-game explanation, so the comic actually covered it instead. Goro remained in the shadows out of shame for his loss to Liu Kang in the first game, only to reappear in response to Shao Kahn’s death in hopes of helping bring peace to his race’s home of Edenia. Meanwhile, the sinister sorcerer Quan Chi acts as the herald to Shinnok and helps him take over Edenia and decimate Earthrealm’s Elder Gods. Raiden then leads Liu Kang, Fujin, Kai, Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero, and Sonya into Edenia to save the day.
Sub-Zero ties it into his dead brother’s adventures in the fresh-at-the-time side-scroller Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero.
Jax is in the game too, so they’re kind of a bunch of assholes for having him get there on his own.
Passing over Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, the next comic would be Mortal Kombat: Deception. The comic was announced near the release of the game itself and the site showcasing it did a good job making it look impressive. It had several preview pages of Walter McDaniel art with some shown in pencils and a couple partially colored. It looked far more impressive than any of the other comics with the Mortal Kombat name and I couldn’t wait for its release.
I guess the inker and colorist took too much time to get the job done because the comic was rushed out the door and released as a bonus for anyone who got the special Mortal Kombat: Deception game controller. While there are colored pinups by various artists (including Mark Texiera and Steve Pugh), the main story by Brian Hill and Walter McDaniel is entirely shown via pencils.
Like I said, rushed out the door.
The story shows Onaga the Dragon King sitting on his throne while watching over various warriors who will each have a role to play. He sees Baraka liberate Mileena, Sub-Zero save the life of Kenshi, Noob Saibot find what remains of Smoke, Shujinko destroy an Onaga statue out of anger, Scorpion being resurrected as the Champion of the Elder Gods, and so on. Not exactly gripping, but the unfinished pencil art shows potential for what could have been a rad tie-in comic.
The last Mortal Kombat comic came in the form of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, a tiny, little pamphlet that was only available if you got the game’s special edition. This one was indeed special as although current Mortal Kombat series scribe John Vogel wrote it, old school scribe and co-creator John Tobias returned to the franchise for one last time to draw it.
The narrative is a lot like in the Deception comic. A cosmic occurrence caused by Superman using his eye lasers on Darkseid during a teleportation escape at the same time as Raiden zapping Shao Kahn during another teleportation escape created Dark Kahn, a powerful amalgam of the two power-hungry emperors. Dark Kahn wants to merge the two worlds in his own image and does so while affecting the minds of the Mortal Kombat and DC heroes and villains.
Some end up in opposite worlds. Some are overwhelmed by a force that makes them want to attack anyone and everyone in the vicinity. Some are drained of their power. Others are given enhanced power. Also, we see that the likes of Johnny Cage, Goro, Robin, and Aquaman are removed from existence, explaining their absences from the story.
Which reminds me, it’s still utter bullshit that we never got any Johnny Cage/Booster Gold interaction from that crossover. I mean, come on! It writes itself!
Regardless, the coolest thing to come out of that game was the box cover for the special edition. It gave us Mortal Kombat characters as drawn by Alex Ross, which is just too strange to exist.
In March of 2015, Mortal Kombat finally returned to comics with Mortal Kombat X, released by DC. It made plenty of sense to do so. NetherRealm Studios’ Injustice: Gods Among Us lent itself to a prequel comic series and it was so popular that they’re STILL making it right now! Written by Shawn Kittelsen and drawn by a revolving door of artists, Mortal Kombat X is a prequel to the latest game, telling a story that takes place in-between the rebooted events of Mortal Kombat 4 and the huge 25-year time jump.
We get the origin story of Takeda while seeing young versions of Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs getting involved in a plot they’re not ready for. When the initial issues first came out, it was especially interesting to read because we had so few ideas on what the game was all about. Certain new characters and old characters would show up and fans had to speculate on who would be in the game. Sure, we’d eventually see the likes of Takeda and Reptile, but characters like Forest Fox and Reiko would act as fake-outs.
As of this updated writing, the first volume is finally coming to an end, as various factions from Earthrealm and Outworld have banded together to stop Havik. Coincidentally, this is supposed to explain the “Reiko Accords” event that the game’s story mode references a handful of times without going into. With the comic being a success, there’s already talks of it getting a follow-up down the line.
Though, um…looking at that above image, Hsu Hao won’t be making the trip any time soon. Damn.