Mortal Kombat: The History of Scorpion

Mortal Kombat's yellow-clad mascot might not be the stealthiest ninja, but he's definitely one of the most versatile.

While Scorpion is the face of Mortal Kombat, it’s always been a curious choice. Street Fighter has Ryu, King of Fighters has Kyo, and Guilty Gear has Sol Badguy. They’re not only the central characters of their respective series, but they’re also the heroes (although things get a little gray in terms of Kyo post-KOF98). Scorpion is more like Mitsurugi from SoulCalibur, who happens to be on most of the box covers despite being little more than a supporting character.

Not that Scorpion isn’t one of the best characters on the roster and isn’t a total badass, but he’s neither the main hero nor the main villain. He’s just the wildcard, smoldering in hellfire on the sidelines while reality hangs in the balance. He’s like if Marvel decided to make Venom its mascot. Popular character with a great design, but he’s not the guy you see leading everyone into battle against Galactus.

Normally when I do these character retrospectives, I like to combine the in-game stuff with the tie-in stuff and talk about it in chronological order. This time, I’m going to talk about Scorpion strictly in the games and then go to his media appearances afterward because, while I find them both interesting, they’re for two very different stories.

Scorpion made his first appearance as one of the original characters of Mortal Kombat back in 1992, played by actor Daniel Pesina, who lent his likeness to the digitized sprite. Due to limited resources at the time, the developers at Midway were forced to create three ninja characters that were identical except for their color palette: Reptile (green), Sub-Zero (blue), and Scorpion (yellow). The result was three of the most popular characters in the franchise.

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Another reason Scorpion is still popular today is his spear attack. Or harpoon or kunai, if that’s your preference. Far more memorable than his teleport punch, Scorpion would toss his roped spear at his opponent and reel them in for a free hit, all while yelling either, “GET OVER HERE!” or “COME HERE!” This voice work was done by co-creator Ed Boon and basically made this rogue ninja an overnight sensation at arcades.

further reading: Mortal Kombat X: The Strange History of Reptile

The bios for Sub-Zero and Scorpion in the first game didn’t tell us all that much about them. Sub-Zero was part of the Lin Kuei ninja clan and Scorpion hated him for some reason. That was all we had to go on. I mean, unless you read the promotional comic where Scorpion straight-up grabs Sub-Zero by the lapels and says, “You killed me two years ago and now I have a flaming skull head!” They put that panel in the instruction booklet and everything.

Regardless, Scorpion’s identity was explored through his Fatality and ending. His classic Fatality had him remove his mask to reveal a skull as he spat fire on his hapless victim. The ending practically described Spawn (who also made his first appearance at almost the same time, so it was pure coincidence), with Scorpion victorious but broken by his failure to find his wife and child. That’s all right, though. Later games would retcon this so that they were dead too!

Scorpion succeeded in killing Sub-Zero in the first Mortal Kombat game. That brings us to 1993’s Mortal Kombat II. Scorpion and the other ninjas received much nicer, quilted outfits. Female ninjas Mileena and Kitana were also introduced! They just weren’t allowed to have pointy shoulder pads or pants. Scorpion returned alongside Reptile as well as new ninjas Smoke and Noob Saibot, both of whom stole Scorpion’s spear attack. Surprisingly, Midway also resurrected Sub-Zero.

The mystery was quickly solved by the promotional comic, though. The new Sub-Zero explained that he was the younger brother of the original blue ice ninja. Eventually, the series would name the older/dead Sub-Zero Bi-Han and the younger one Kuai Liang.

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further reading: The History of Mortal Kombat Comics

In the game, Scorpion realized Kuai Liang wasn’t the Sub-Zero after Liang spared an opponent. Scorpion decided to become the new Sub-Zero’s protector. Years later, it would be revealed that super-secret character Noob Saibot was, in fact, an undead Bi-Han.

Mortal Kombat 3 was an odd one because not only did it not feature Scorpion, but it didn’t feature ANY male ninja characters who weren’t robots. Sub-Zero turned into Henry Rollins with giant, blue suspenders and Noob Saibot was just a palette swap of Kano. Even though Kabal was a thematic replacement for Scorpion, the closest thing to the yellow ninja in the game was the new cyborg version of Smoke, who shot a harpoon out from his torso.

In late 1995, a new version of the game, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, was released with eight new characters based on just two actors. Becky Gable played Kitana, Mileena, and Jade while John Turk played Scorpion, Reptile, Classic Sub-Zero, Human Smoke, and Ermac. Midway also hyped a purple ninja named Rain in the attract mode, but he wasn’t actually in the game and was merely an excuse to get people excited about the game, which is still lame as hell.

Scorpion played as expected besides the axe that he’d pull out of nowhere during a match. Mortal Kombat 3 introduced Animalities, where the winning character would transform into an animal and slaughter the loser. Unfortunately, Sheeva was given the ability to turn into a giant scorpion, so by the time Scorpion was playable again, he was stuck turning into a penguin who laid explosive eggs.

Of course.

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Scorpion’s storyline in the game began with Shao Kahn accidentally releasing him from Hell and recruiting him for his team. The ninja joined the Outworld invasion until he discovered that Sub-Zero was one of the heroes. Then he turned on Kahn and went back to traversing the Netherrealm.

further reading: Mortal Kombat: Ranking All the Characters

Three non-fighter Mortal Kombat games have been released after Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. One was very good, one was extremely bad, and one was mediocre. 1997’s Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero was the mediocre one — while hated for its awkward controls, it’s actually not that bad once you get used to it. 

This prequel game finally gave Scorpion a name, Hanzo Hasashi, and a name for his ninja clan, the Shirai Ryu. We also finally got to see Scorpion’s origins. The sorcerer Quan Chi needed someone to go through impossible odds to secure a magical amulet for him. Wanting to hedge his bets, he hired representatives from the Lin Kuei and Shirai Ryu to each hunt down a map. Whoever got it would be his agent.

Scorpion acted as the boss of the first level and upon beating him, you had the option of killing him with a spine rip or sparing him. The canon outcome was that Scorpion died. Quan Chi repaid the Lin Kuei by personally wiping out the Shirai Ryu’s ranks, as well as Scorpion’s family, leaving nothing but a pile of charred bones. Quan Chi then groomed the undead soul of Scorpion to be his henchman by convincing him that Sub-Zero was totally behind the deaths of his loved ones.

After all, who was Scorpion going to believe?

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Scorpion reappeared later in the game when Sub-Zero was imprisoned in the Netherrealm. Sub-Zero didn’t really have much of an explanation for why he killed Scorpion and he swore that he had nothing to do with the deaths of Scorpion’s wife and child. The blue ninja fought off his undead nemesis and eventually stopped Quan Chi and Shinnok’s plans.

The game ended with Sub-Zero learning that he was doomed to go to Hell when he died. Raiden admitted that it was possible for him to escape that fate if he turned his back on the Lin Kuei. Sub-Zero chose loyalty instead, which was rewarded with a new assignment: take part in Shang Tsung’s Mortal Kombat tournament.

Where Scorpion killed him.

Yes, well said, Kuni.

Later that year, Mortal Kombat went 3D with Mortal Kombat 4. Scorpion was playable and got a cool unmasked costume out of the deal. He also had a Fatality that allowed him to turn into a giant scorpion, making up for that penguin incident.

The game had to do with Shinnok and Quan Chi invading Earthrealm. Quan Chi convinced Scorpion to join their side by saying, “Oh, that younger Sub-Zero? He had a big hand in killing your clan and family. I probably should have brought that up earlier.” Once Scorpion beat down Sub-Zero, Quan Chi stepped in like an idiot and spilled the beans on everything. His final plan here was to banish Scorpion back to the Netherrealm, but Scorpion managed to drag him along with him.

In 2002, Midway released Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. With a new graphical style and engine, the game featured a more detailed Scorpion to separate him from Sub-Zero and the other ninjas. Deadly Alliance was one of the darker chapters in the game’s overarching storyline, kind of like its The Empire Strikes Back. This was especially true for Scorpion.

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Picking up where Mortal Kombat 4 left off, Quan Chi escaped Scorpion and got his ass out of the Netherrealm in order to go scheme with Shang Tsung. Part of their scheme involved creating a “soulnado” that reached into the heavens. Scorpion tried to sneak into their stronghold to kill Quan Chi but was intercepted by his demonic muscle, Moloch and Drahmin. The two overpowered Scorpion and shoved him into the soulnado, where he was completely torn to pieces.

2004’s Mortal Kombat: Deception followed up on this with one of the most unfortunate bait-and-switches. In the lead-up, Midway revealed that Scorpion was going to be the new hero of the game. Finally, the franchise’s most popular character was going to take center stage.

That turned out to be bullshit. Sure, Scorpion’s story was about being rebuilt by the Elder Gods to be their new champion and go on a one-man mission to slay the Dragon King Onaga with a badass holy sword, but that was a smokescreen. The game was actually about Shujinko, the star of Konquest mode. Shujinko spent roughly 50-60 years on a quest “on behalf of the Elder Gods” without ever second-guessing any of it. He was eventually tricked into resurrecting Onaga. He eventually made things right by taking down the Dragon King.

Unsurprisingly, Shujinko is…not exactly beloved by the Mortal Kombat fan community. At least we got Scorpion’s non-canon ending where he got to dive through Onaga’s torso like a fucking boss.

In 2005, Midway released Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, a beat ‘em up side-game that was like a non-canon retelling of the end of the first Mortal Kombat and the entirety of Mortal Kombat II, only without all of the plot armor. In other words, Fatalities were all over the place. While Scorpion was unlockable in the New Game+, he was also a level boss. Practically a god when fighting in Hell, Scorpion was eventually dragged into a lava pit by a bunch of ghouls. Before being fully submerged, Scorpion gave fans the Terminator 2 thumbs up. Just because.

Also of note in that game was how Scorpion would sometimes yell, “GET THE FUCK OVER HERE” will using his spear attack. And that’s why you’re cursed to an eternity of torment, Hanzo. You have a potty mouth.

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Scorpion returned for Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, naturally, since the game brought back every single character who had ever appeared in the series. Scorpion was once again a bad guy. Apparently, the Elder Gods agreed to pay him back for his efforts by resurrecting his dead ninja clan…only they brought them back as soulless zombies. That was enough to get him to fight on the evil side with everyone from Kano to Shao Kahn.

In this timeline, Scorpion died for good after getting a frozen sword lodged into his back during a gigantic battle royal between every character in the series.

In 2008, we got the non-canon Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, a game presumably created in response to the popularity of the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Scorpion had only a minor role in the game’s story, acting as a henchman, ignoring Joker’s antics, and kicking Superman in the chest so hard that the Man of Steel had to let out a hammy line-reading of, “Magic!” Scorpion’s ending saw him fuse with Dark Kahn and become one of the 

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was the final installment developed by Midway, which went under shortly after. Warner Bros. absorbed the Chicago part of the studio and rebranded it as NetherRealm Studios and Scorpion went from main character to logo. Not bad.

NetherRealm’s first release was simply called Mortal Kombat, though it’s commonly referred to as “Mortal Kombat 9” by fans for simplicity’s sake. This 2011 release took place at the end of Armageddon and involved a time-travel plotline where Raiden attempted to alter the events of the first three games. That meant a Mortal Kombat that was mostly the same, a Mortal Kombat II that was relatively different, and a Mortal Kombat 3 that was completely off the rails.

Not too much changed with Scorpion. Raiden tried to convince him not to kill Bi-Han Sub-Zero, but then Quan Chi showed him a PowerPoint Presentation about how Sub-Zero killed his family and things played out accordingly. 

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Raiden’s reward for not killing Bi-Han would have been to petition the Elder Gods to bring back Scorpion’s family and clan and…well, we know how that would have turned out. Scorpion never made his temporary peace with Sub-Zero as he did in the original timeline.

Scorpion was featured in Injustice: Gods Among Us as a guest DLC character with a new design from legendary comic artist Jim Lee. Transported into a world where Superman ruled with an iron fist, Scorpion only really had notable interactions with the Man of Steel and Batman in their mid-match clash dialogues (“For truth and justice!” “There is no justice!”). In the end, Scorpion killed the demon Trigon and took over his army, intent on ruling over this alternate Earth.

In 2015, we got Mortal Kombat X and a prequel comic of the same name. Scorpion’s story took an interesting turn when he was inadvertently turned back into a mortal man during the new timeline’s version of Mortal Kombat 4’s events. He was befriended by the blind swordsman Kenshi, who helped convince him to move forward. Scorpion rebuilt the Shirai Ryu from the ground up, mainly bringing in those who lost loved ones to the war against Shinnok.

Kenshi discovered that he had a long-lost son and, as a way to protect him from his enemies, had Scorpion raise him. Takeda became Scorpion’s prized pupil and fashioned a fighting style out of Scorpion’s teachings and his father’s telekinetic powers.

More importantly, Scorpion laid to rest his rivalry with Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei. Kuai Liang Sub-Zero showed him proof that Quan Chi was the puppet master behind all of Scorpion’s pain. Distraught, Scorpion dedicated himself to hunting down and murdering the sorcerer.

He succeeded and, sweet Jesus, was it cathartic to watch. Unfortunately, Scorpion’s wrath threw a wrench in the other heroes’ plans. Not only did he ruin their chances of resurrecting all the undead good guys, but Quan Chi’s last words unleashed Shinnok back into the picture.

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Scorpion was once again shamed and dedicated himself to following Raiden as penance. The Shirai Ryu became Raiden’s army, but by the end of Mortal Kombat X, Raiden was a dark fascist bent on destroying Outworld, so once again Scorpion found himself on the wrong side of history.

That brings us to 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11, which saw two versions of Scorpion join the fight — the heroic one and his past self from Mortal Kombat II, brought to the present by the villainous Kronika to help her take over the realms. The modern Scorpion died from a poison attack at the hands of D’Vorah. The incident inspired his younger, demonic self to switch sides and join the heroes. Cetrion killed all of the other Elder Gods, choosing familial loyalty over morality.

further reading: Everything You Need to Know About Mortal Kombat 11

And that’s it for Scorpion in the games. Now, in other media, Scorpion’s been a bit all over the place as a character. For example, the spear is Scorpion’s most iconic piece of imagery, even more so than the skull and fire stuff, but it just…usually doesn’t work well outside of video games. Not only is it rather impractical in the narrative (getting a sharp piece of metal implanted into your neck or shoulder isn’t the kind of thing you just shrug off), but it’s a bit on the R-rated side.

It’s like how in the cartoons, Wolverine and Leonardo only chopped up robots, wires, and pieces of wood. You never got to see Wolverine shove one of his claws into Apocalypse’s eye socket. So how did Scorpion’s spear outside of the games?

In 1995, Jeff Rovin wrote a novelization of Mortal Kombat that was interesting, a prequel that depicted Scorpion as a guy named Yong Park, who’d left the Lin Kuei years earlier to start a family. Sub-Zero caught up to him years later and cut his guts out with a katana. Park’s soul then fused together with his son’s body to create Scorpion!

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It’s been over two decades since I read that thing, but I seem to recall Scorpion having a lasso instead of a spear.

Prior to the release of the first live-action movie, New Line Cinema released a VHS called Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins. It was an animated retelling of the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, but with more flashbacks and plenty of iffy animations. The present day stuff was 2D and hand-drawn while the flashbacks were all done in primitive 3D. Scorpion got to throw his spear once in each animation style. In 3D, when facing Sub-Zero, he straight-up missed. In 2D, when facing Sonya, he wrapped the rope around her and reeled her in, thereby making the spear part completely unnecessary.

The 1995 Mortal Kombat film featured Chris Casamassa as Scorpion. He and Sub-Zero were mute henchmen for Shang Tsung with a quick throwaway line about them being mental slaves to explain why they weren’t trying to kill each other. Scorpion’s spear was replaced with a tiny, CGI lizard thing and for some reason we didn’t second-guess it.

Anyway, Scorpion was defeated by Johnny Cage.

Scorpion returned in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, where he had a short fight, kidnapped Kitana, and then peaced out for the remainder of the movie. Casamassa also played Scorpion in the prequel series Mortal Kombat: Conquest. He too had a hand-lizard, but it was a far worse effect due to the cable TV budget.

Around this time, Malibu Comics released a series of Mortal Kombat comics, which were surprisingly not at all that violent. Scorpion did kill people, but with a spiked ball at the end of his rope and limited gore. He was also so evil in these comics that it was hard to sympathize with him as he tried to get revenge on Sub-Zero.

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further reading: Mortal Kombat Movies, TV Shows, and Other Weirdness

The animated series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm featured Scorpion in the first couple episodes, in which he commanded an army of skeleton warriors. He was voiced by Ron Perlman, whose, “GET OVER HERE!” sounded a lot like a New Yorker screaming, “I’M WALKIN’ HERE!” This time, his spear was a gold chain with a tiny lizard head at the end. It looked especially stupid, like a keychain. Liu Kang agreed and broke the chain, tossing the lizard head off-screen.

Speaking of cartoons, Scorpion made a cameo appearance on the Comedy Central adult cartoon Drawn Together. He offered to join the cast of the show and had a moment of rapport with gay Link archetype Xandir. When asked about his finishing move, Scorpion speared Xandir, reeled him over, and tore out his spine. Xandir regenerated and explained that his finishing move was “the reach-around.” Scorpion just let out an, “Oy vey…”

After a drought of Mortal Kombat media, 2010 gave us a bizarre little short film called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. What I can best describe as the Twisted Metal Black version of the series, Scorpion was a convict played by Ian Anthony Dale. Jackson Briggs tried to convince him to work undercover and infiltrate a series of underground fight clubs run by Shang Tsung. The short film was an attempt to ground the characters and concepts of the series and distance itself from the supernatural elements.

Rebirth mutated into Mortal Kombat: Legacy, a two-season web series that tried to retell the game’s story without the overly-grounded take. It had its moments and actually let us finally watch Scorpion use his weapon correctly in live-action. The gist of his story was the same, but the big difference was that he got to kill both incarnations of Sub-Zero.

There was no third season. In fact, there was supposed to be a prequel web series to Mortal Kombat X with the same actors. They even filmed the entire thing! It just never saw the light of day for whatever reason. That’s a shame. 

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So what’s next for Hanzo? It’s hard to say. He’s worn many hats as a demon ninja. He’s been a henchman, a punisher of evil, a gullible fool, a destroyer of worlds, a savior of the multiverse, a man fighting for vengeance, a man fighting out of shame, and a valiant leader. Maybe he’ll finally get to be the one true hero one of these days. Or he could go back to his cooking show.

Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and revisited the “Immortal” music video by Adema. It did NOT age well. Read more of Gavin’s articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L