The Strange History of Street Fighter Comics

With the release of Street Fighter V, it's time to look back at the comic books that have expanded the tales of our favorite warriors.

There’s no better time to look back at Street Fighter comics than the present. The latest installment of the fighting franchise, Street Fighter V, has finally arrived and there’s even a new comic book from UDON. And it’s definitely not the first. You could say that the series has as expansive a history in the comics as it does on consoles.

In various forms, Street Fighter has been released across the last two decades in different levels of quality. Ever since the popularity of Street Fighter II, the inclusion of it into any kind of adaptation has been a no-brainer. Not only was it one of the most popular games of the 90’s, but its world and characters are only half-defined and there’s creative freedom in that. You have a huge cast of names who are identified by just their appearances, gestures, a handful of quotes, several paragraphs of backstory, and an ending cutscene. Considering the video games are constantly redefining themselves (ie. how the Street Fighter Alpha games feel so different from the Street Fighter III games), there are always new characters to incorporate and old characters to revisit. 

I’m only going to touch on those comics that have come out in America in some fashion.

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In 1993, Malibu Comics jumped onto the bandwagon by giving us a three-issue run of Street Fighter II, written by Len Strazewski and Don Hillsman. It was plenty terrible, although for part of it I can cut them some slack because the game didn’t give them too much to work with. Well, except that the game is about a fighting tournament. The comic? Not about a fighting tournament. It’s more about M. Bison’s plan to take over the world, which appears to go as follows:

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1) Attack Ken and Chun-Li, Ryu’s closest friends.2) Goad Ryu into fighting Sagat again.3) Hope Sagat or one of the other Shadaloo henchmen wins.4) Take over the world with his three henchmen.

Other than the artist’s strange habit of drawing fireballs as being shot up into the air with the fighter’s two fists out, the action isn’t that bad and the first two issues are kind of readable. I’ve certainly read worse (*cough*Tekken*cough*). The second issue has Balrog and Sagat take down Ken and seemingly kill him, sending his bloody scalp to Ryu.

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So far, so… okay. Silly, but okay. Then in the third issue, we see the remaining characters react. Guile is super pissed because he feels Ken was taken out in an unfair fight. Dhalsim feels spiritually unbalanced from the injustice. Zangief snaps a bear’s neck while feeling cheated out of his great rematch against Ken. Blanka is emotionally shattered because Ken apparently taught him how to read. Yes, Blanka even has reading glasses on when seeing the newspaper headline.

The more memorable part of the issue is that the Street Fighter world actually crosses over with the Malibu Universe when E. Honda gets in a fight with the Ferret. The Ferret is a member of the Protectors and looks like an unholy mixture of Sabretooth, Aquaman, and Lobo. He loses the fight and accepts that, yep, them Street Fighters really are tough.

There’s a final scene showing Nida, an original character who has a major vendetta against Ryu. She’s also shown to be the caretaker to Ryu and Ken’s master, who is suffering from having his food poisoned by Shadaloo forces. Rather than Gouken, the master in question is referred to as Sheng Long, otherwise known as the infamous Electronics Gaming Monthly April Fools gag that so many people took at face value.

The real laughs come after, as the editor explains to the reader that Capcom wasn’t very happy with their comic adaptation and told them to stop. The company that allowed Legend of Chun-Li to happen told these guys to stop. Malibu shrugged it off and wrote up little profiles of where the stories would have gone had it continued. The biggest thing of note is how M. Bison would have revealed an army of evil Street Fighter clones, suggesting that Balrog, Sagat, and Vega are in fact evil clones and that there are good versions of them hidden away somewhere. Yeah, maybe it’s better that didn’t work out.

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Even though Malibu’s Street Fighter II was a bust, that didn’t stop them from rereleasing the issues a year later as Best of Street Fighter II. Oy. Around that time, Malibu started releasing Mortal Kombat comics, which were for the most part a step up and at least didn’t feature any crossovers.

In Japan, Masaomi Kanzaki created a Street Fighter II manga over the course of 1993 and 1994 that’s since been released in three volumes. The first two volumes are absolutely fantastic and I can’t recommend them enough. It takes liberties with the setup, but I feel that if any take on the lore would make a great basis for a movie, it’s this one. It has to do with a place called SHAD, a manmade island that lost funding in the middle of its creation due to a recession. M. Bison and Shadaloo have since taken it over and it’s a dystopian corner of the world where street fights regularly take place. Bison holds a fighting tournament annually, of which he is the reigning champion. That’s all well and good, but he’s also been developing an addictive and mind-controlling drug called “doll” that’s been making the rounds as part of his plans for world domination. That’s bad.

Ryu is the main character, wandering into SHAD for mysterious reasons. Guile and Chun-Li each want a piece of Bison, Ken Masters has been missing for years, E. Honda is looking for more challenging foes outside of sumo wrestling, Dhalsim uses his abilities to win fight money to send to his people, Zangief wants to rebuild the pride that he lost when the USSR fell, and Blanka is a member of Shadaloo who wants to replace Balrog as one of the top “bosses.” Balrog, interestingly enough, gets a more likeable and sympathetic depiction in the series, making him the respectable and once-proud warrior who’s lost himself by hitting rock bottom that Sagat developed into in the games.

Also interesting is that Masaomi Kanzaki’s series is the first time Gouken has ever been shown in any media. Since Akuma has yet to be created for the franchise, M. Bison is the one who gets credit for Gouken’s death.

Dude needs to just stop killing the loved ones of people who can kick his ass.

The first two volumes tell the story of the game’s fighting tournament, but the third volume follow-up leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the prevented Malibu story arc, it’s about the fighters taking on their evil clones. Chun-Li, Guile, and Ken are lured onto another island with Ryu just showing up because he’s Ryu. Then the four main Shadaloo guys appear there because Bison got a message from a man claiming to be the true Bison, demanding their presence. The eight world warriors fight evil versions of themselves, whose origins are never especially clear (Sagat wonders aloud how his clone has a scar on his chest). I guess, much like with Malibu, the idea came from the lack of expansion in the game’s story at that point and how the biggest thing going was how the SNES version of the game had a code that let you and your friend fight as the same character, albeit in a different color. Yes, back in the early 90’s, such a concept was a big deal! It’s like DVD packages that mention the ability to skip chapters as a feature.

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The fights are a pain here because it’s in black and white, so it’s hard to keep track of who’s good and who’s evil. Except for Shadaloo, since they’re mostly evil to begin with.

There’s also the pervy treatment of Chun-Li in the books that’s just a little off. During a fight, Honda buries his head into her breasts. When fighting Vega, Chun-Li’s shirt is cut open and she has to spend the rest of the fight covering her exposed boob, leaving her one-handed. Then there’s the part where she meets up with Ryu during the evil clone fiasco and he decides to figure out whether she’s the real Chun-Li or not by poking her breast.

While UDON has released the manga in the US fairly recently, back in the 90’s the first two volumes were initially released by Tokuma Comics. They were colored, albeit changed to read from left-to-right and very much abridged. It went for eight issues.

When the 90’s gave us the Jean Claude Van Damme movie, DC Comics released an adaptation called Street Fighter: The Battle for Shadaloo, written by Mike McAvennie and drawn by Nick Napolitano. It… wasn’t very good.

I say that as someone who considers the movie a guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, the charm of Van Damme and Raul Julia’s performances is lost here and instead we get Napolitano’s ugly art. Sometimes he’s able to make characters look enough like they’re supposed to be, but 60% of the time, everyone has Rob Liefeld rage faces and the occasional red eyes for no reason.

It’s based on an earlier version of the movie, so there are some differences and stuff that didn’t make it into the finished movie. Stuff like a subplot about Zangief befriending Ryu and Ken because they convinced him that years ago he stole their girlfriends at a party despite never having met before. Then there’s a truly atrocious line where Guile appears and Bison is shocked.

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“G—Guile?! How? I destroyed you… I s-saw it on TV–!”

“Maybe you should switch to cable.”

That doesn’t even make any sense! That wouldn’t change what he saw! Is he saying that one of the extra channels would show that he lived?

Speaking of movies, there was also a manga adaptation of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. I haven’t read it and there’s very little about it online, but I trust it’s better than Battle for Shadaloo.

When it comes to comic depictions of Street Fighter, the most important name is easily Masahiko Nakahira, who created four different manga stories across the 90’s. First was 1994’s Super Street Fighter II: Cammy (Cammy Gaiden in Japan), which I admittedly can’t say too much about. It hasn’t been available in the US for years as UDON hasn’t released it, but I recall flipping through it at a bookstore about 20 years ago. All I can remember is that it starred Cammy and her Delta Red squad with Guile and Vega tossed in there.

While that was one volume, Masahiko Nakahira’s other works were each two. Street Fighter Alpha came out in 1996, Street Fighter: Sakura Ganbaru in 1997, and Street Fighter III: Ryu Final in 1999. They each have far more of an ensemble cast than the Cammy manga, which I figure is one of the reasons UDON’s ignores it. Alpha is about Ryu’s struggle with his dark side, which manifested during his battle with Sagat in the first Street Fighter game. Sakura Ganbaru tells the story of Ryu’s number one fan and would-be student as she trains and travels the world to track down and fight her hero. Then Ryu Final is about Ryu going off to challenge Akuma while trying to understand the true meaning of his own identity. Is it his place to be the best martial artist in the world or is it something different?

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They’re all worth checking out, but Ryu Final especially. It’s dripping with badass. For instance, there’s a scene of Ryu as a boy, being attacked by a bear. He’s saved at the last second by a young Akuma, who IMPALES THE BEAR WITH HIS FIST and the fist stops a couple inches from Ryu’s face. Then there’s a flashback to Sagat dealing with his loss and scarring at the hands of Ryu, where he finds himself a hero by rescuing a couple children from an evil poacher who was using them as bait for tigers. Sagat takes a series of bullets at point-blank range and not only ignores them, but his bandages fall off and reveal that his chest has already healed itself.

Then there’s the final battle between Ryu and Akuma, which is absolutely perfect and really is the absolute best way to bring closure to their rivalry. There’s an amazing moment where Ryu strategically allows himself to get impaled by Akuma’s arm to not only protect him from an even worse attack, but to get himself a clean, defenseless shot at Akuma’s body. Akuma is so impressed with this move that he helps Ryu by placing Ryu’s hand against Akuma’s chest so that Ryu can blast a Hadoken straight through him! Oh my God!

So yeah, great action sprinkled with some fine character moments. If you’ve ever wanted to see Ryu and Akuma have a Batman/Joker Killing Joke moment, this is definitely for you.

As for why Masahiko Nakahira is so important, his various books introduced characters and concepts that actually found their way into Street Fighter games. Street Fighter Alpha gave us Evil Ryu, Sakura Ganbaru gave us Karin Kanzuki, and Ryu Final gave us Sagat’s adopted children.

In 1996, Mami Itou did a two-volume series of manga stories called Street Fighter Gaiden. Despite coming out around the release of Street Fighter Alpha 2, she felt the need to focus on the characters of Super Street Fighter II Turbo for nostalgia reasons. The manga has no main narrative, but instead tells a series of short stories about the world warriors and the lead-up to M. Bison’s tournament. Chun-Li hunts down lesser members of Shadaloo, Cammy meets Vega for the first time since losing her memory, Thunder Hawk protects a Native American elder from Balrog, and so on.

We see that many of the characters are acquaintances prior to Street Fighter II. Chun-Li crashes at Ken’s house when she’s visiting San Francisco. Ken buddies up with E. Honda when he goes to Japan. Chun-Li and Cammy are shown to have a very sister-like relationship. The best is that Mami Itou sheds some light on Guile and Ken, an extremely interesting relationship that none of the other forms of Street Fighter media ever really delve into.

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A lesser known piece of Street Fighter lore is that Guile’s wife Julia and Ken’s wife Eliza are sisters, effectively making them in-laws. While the differences between their personalities and the friction that comes from it is a given, Gaiden also shows that Ken is a martial arts contact to Guile. Although Ken isn’t a fan of Guile estranging himself from his own family to work his way towards revenge against Shadaloo, Ken is at least able to hook him up with street fighting opportunities when needed by getting his foot in the door.

Then there’s the batshit insane world of the SvC Chaos comic from across the 2000’s by Chi Wan Shum. Published by DGN Production Inc, the Hong Kong comic is based on the inter-company crossover game SNK vs. Capcom. This is more in the style of the official King of Fighters comics from Hong Kong, retaining a lot of its storytelling quirks, for better or worse. Thing is, SNK vs. Capcom didn’t really have much of a story in-game. Fighters wandered around, getting into random fights. There’s stuff in there about random time travel and trips to Heaven and Hell, but that’s really it.

The comic, which is eight trades long (and I own all of them, sad/proud to say), goes in a really strange direction. It begins with Ryu and King of Fighters‘ Kyo Kusanagi fighting it out, only for Akuma and Mr. Karate to show up and fight them. They kill Ryu and Kyo, which is really out of character for Mr. Karate. Akuma and Mr. Karate turn their attentions to each other and then do a fist bump so hard that they both explode.

All the dead warriors end up going into this weird ghost world where they’re given a second chance. There’s this big worldwide battle royal where everyone gets three lives before they’re snuffed out for good. Whoever’s the last man standing will be granted a wish. The top fighter is explained as being Zero from the Mega Man Zero series, which makes mega zero sense, man. Even if you accept the thing about a robot being in the afterlife, he’s also from the future. Why is he in the afterlife now?

Even still, Zero never shows up after being namedropped in the first volume. In the eighth volume, when Ryu is fighting Athena in the climactic finale, he yells, “Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Tessa, Dan, Zero, grant me your strength!” What? When did he cross paths with Zero, let alone become buds with him?

M. Bison has some plot where experimenting on Kyo’s rival Iori Yagami is super important. How important? When Iori finds out that Kyo is dead, Iori claws out his own throat just so he can go into the afterlife and re-kill Kyo. Bison’s so intent on getting his hands on a living Iori that he follows suit and commits suicide. How does he commit suicide? By blowing up the planet!

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The highlight is the art, which will occasionally lead into a sweet, painted splash image. Otherwise, the art is pretty good, with a couple flaws like Hugo always being shown as having a gigantic gut and the text on Terry Bogard’s hat being backwards because of them mirroring all the images as part of the translation.

Unfortunately, it has the same problem as the King of Fighters comics in that there’s some lopsided power struggles all over the place. Sure, you’ll see a cool, even fight here and there like Vega vs. Choi Bounge or Terry Bogard vs. Sagat, but then Geese Howard will show up out of nowhere and blow up a series of characters just by staring at them because he’s so overly powerful to the point of laziness. Need to write out Dhalsim and Mai Shiranui with little effort? Just have M. Bison appear and stomp really hard so that everyone explodes.

The series does include Akuma riding a t-rex, so it has that going for it.

Then we get to UDON’s Street Fighter series, which started back in 2003. The first few issues were published by Image, but then they branched off onto their own for whatever reason. The stories are for the most part written by Ken Siu-Chong and the art varies a lot, though sticking with the UDON house style that really feels like the in-game characters are coming alive.

The series has been far from prolific. Despite being around for thirteen years by this point, there are just over fifty total issues and three graphic novels released. Also, unless you’re reading them via trades (I suggest the nice, big Ultimate Edition volumes), it’s not the easiest to follow. You have Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II: Turbo, Street Fighter IV (which takes place during Turbo), Street Fighter Legends: Chun-Li, Street Fighter Legends: Sakura, and Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki.

The first three are the more important ones. Street Fighter and Street Fighter II mostly a take on the Alpha games, bridging the gap from Ryu’s win against Sagat in the first game to the dawn of M. Bison’s big tournament. Street Fighter II: Turbo is about retelling Street Fighter II‘s in-game story, though sprinkling it with the characters introduced in the Street Fighter Alpha games. For instance, guys like Adon and Cody attempt to get into Bison’s tournament, but simply fail to pass the preliminaries, losing to the characters who are actually in those games.

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Part of Turbo‘s ending is pretty annoying. The very first Street Fighter issue shows that Akuma brutally killed Gouken, building up Ryu’s path. By the time the game Street Fighter IV came out, Capcom decided that Gouken wasn’t dead after all, so his random appearance during the finale of Turbo is anticlimactic and tries too hard to be vague about whether he’s real when both Ryu and Akuma very plainly see that it’s him. It just reeks of story meddling.

Despite the problems, the series does the best job it can with juggling dozens upon dozens of Street Fighter characters. This part is usually helped by the backup stories done by guest artists and sometimes writers. There you can take a break from Chun-Li hunting down Shadaloo and instead watch as Zangief fights Rainbow Mika for the first time or see Balrog get his face smashed in by Dudley.

That’s from a great backup story by Chris Sims and Edwin Huang that appears in Super Street Fighter Volume 1: New Generation. New Generation is based on the Street Fighter III games and its storyline, which is interesting in itself as Street Fighter III didn’t have as thick a storyline as the other games and its returning cast is very, very scant. New Generation goes with a more liberal take on the whole story of the mad deity Gill and his Secret Society by dragging in characters from previous games to bulk it up a little. M. Bison is Gill’s lapdog, Sakura’s search for a kidnapped Ryu has led to her courting Akuma as a master, and the protagonist situation is pretty clever. While Alex is considered the main hero of Street Fighter III, he ends up in an alliance with Guile and Dan Hibiki. It’s an Alpha-based guy, Street Fighter II-based guy, and Street Fighter III-based guy working together. I thought it was a nice touch.

Chris Sarracini and Joe Ng collaborated on a graphic novel called Street Fighter Origins: Akuma, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s probably the best thing to come out of UDON’s Street Fighter run and may be second to Ryu Final as my favorite Street Fighter comic. It tells the story of Akuma’s training and his path from stoic, intense martial artist to hate-filled legend of the fighting world. While the Gouken parts are a bit dry, Akuma’s backstory is incredibly well-done with a great twist that makes you understand exactly why he is the way he is while in no way softening him up. Not only that, but it also makes strong hints at Ryu’s parentage (no, Akuma’s not his dad) and finds a way of adding a layer to the foil relationship between Ryu and Akuma.

After a dry spell, and years where the only comic release by UDON was the under-the-radar follow-up Super Street Fighter Volume 2: Hyper Fighting, they’ve finally gone back to doing an ongoing series. Street Fighter Unlimited is only three issues in as of this writing, but it’s certainly interesting for how outside the box they’re going. Like “Vega has an army of Vegas working for him” outside the box. They also released a one-shot called Street Fighter V: The Life and Death(s) of Charlie Nash, which explained how Charlie returned from the dead all stitched up, though it seems to be UDON’s take and doesn’t reflect the game’s canon. 

But if there’s anything Street Fighter lends itself to well, it’s the art of the crossover. In 2015, Archie released a big crossover called Worlds Unite by Ian Flynn, a sequel to Worlds Collide. While Worlds Collide was about the Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man comics meeting up for 12 issues, Worlds Unite featured Sonic, Sonic Boom, Mega Man, Mega Man X, and a huge collection of random Sega and Capcom properties. That included a handful of Street Fighter characters getting involved, including M. Bison joining forces with the good guys in order to stop Sigma from destroying their world.

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And it doesn’t stop there. This Wednesday, UDON and IDW are teaming up for Street Fighter X GI Joe #1 by Aubrey Sitterson and Emilio Laiso, which should good fun. Let’s just keep these weird comics going.

Gavin Jasper wonders if he should write about the Strange History of Virtua Fighter Comics. It would be a really quick article. Follow him on Twitter!