Death is pretty meaningless in fighting games, even more so than comic books. I don’t mean the whole, “I just tore Scorpion’s heart out, then we had a rematch,” way, but in the actual storyline. Like all martial arts stories, death is a regular thing and at the very least is a catalyst for revenge and moving the story forward. Street Fighter has had plenty of those.
Charlie is the biggest and best example. A character defined for being dead and now he’s a centerpiece in the hype for Street Fighter V. Ryu is Ryu, Chun-Li is Chun-Li, and M. Bison is presumably M. Bison. Everyone is familiar and static. Charlie, though? He’s alive, he’s bloodthirsty, and his flesh is stitched together.
Charlie (known as Nash in Japan, leading someone to later say, “Why not just say Charlie Nash is his full name?”) is pretty unique, even if his fighting style is similar to Guile’s. Charlie made his first official Street Fighter appearance in Street Fighter Alpha in 1995, but he had already been an important name in the franchise for four years. Charlie was the reason why Guile thirsted for revenge. The reason why Guile left his family and entered Street Fighter II’s World Warrior tournament to take out M. Bison once and for all. As explained in Guile’s ending, Bison murdered Charlie.
No details were really explained. Just Guile telling him, “Hey Bison, remember me? Me and Charlie? Remember Cambodia?”
We were left with a name that meant nothing but a reason for revenge. Capcom didn’t show us what Charlie looked like or the details of how Bison killed him. They didn’t need to. He was already an important gear to the series’ larval mythos.
In the 1994 movie Street Fighter, the filmmakers decided to merge Charlie and Blanka into one character, Carlos “Charlie” Blanka. M. Bison captured Charlie and had him turned into a vicious super soldier. It’s so off-model that it’s easy to roll your eyes, but I’ve grown to accept it because it’s better than the alternative. I mean really, what is Blanka’s deal anyway? He’s a green monster because he survived a plane crash and was lost in the jungle? How do you even begin to explain that in a way that makes sense? Merging him with Charlie and making him a science experiment is silly, as is most of the movie, but I understand.
A year later, Capcom released Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams. Rather than just call their new game Street Fighter III, Capcom chose an unexpected route. While the first Street Fighter had zero plot and Street Fighter II had a flimsy plot but a cast of characters overflowing with personality and a decent amount of individual backstory, Street Fighter Alpha dove headfirst into building up the franchise’s lore. It was a prequel, taking place between the prior two games. Ryu had defeated Sagat, but Sagat had yet to join up with M. Bison. Stuff like that.
To play up this game, they finally introduced Charlie. An Air Force pilot looking like Egon Spengler with the world’s most ridiculous spitcurl, Charlie was bent on taking down M. Bison and Shadaloo after realizing that Bison’s corruption reached into the United States military. His fighting style was based on Guile’s, but a little different. He could do the Sonic Boom with one arm, and his Flash Kick was more of a standing split than just a crouching backflip.
Unfortunately, the art of prequel storytelling worked against Charlie. Alpha took place before Street Fighter II, making M. Bison untouchable. Even in their endings, Chun-Li, Rose, and Guy were unable to truly defeat Bison. The endings for Dan and Adon had Bison threaten them with death, and since they weren’t around for Street Fighter II, that spoke volumes at the time. I mean, sure, they showed up in sequels later, but we didn’t count on that back then. With Adon and Bison about to have a fight to the death, we knew who to put the money down on.
Charlie didn’t do much better. After all, he exists for the sake of Guile’s rage. In his ending, Charlie had Bison taken down and called base to report. Bison got back up, pounced on him from behind, and killed him off-screen. Bison then talked to one of his men about how Charlie’s bosses work for him, so there would be no repercussions.
Therein started a funny little pattern. Charlie HAS to die because his entire existence is based on that. Yet they would continue to make more updates to Street Fighter Alpha. There was no way of knowing for sure whether the next version would get the green light, so every single game had to have some kind of “Charlie dies” scenario.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 hit a bit later and while the endings are different, it’s supposed to be a refresh of Alpha’s storyline. This time, Charlie fought Bison on a cliff, overseeing several waterfalls. Charlie took Bison down and questioned him about the military corruption. In the middle of this interrogation, a US helicopter appeared and opened fire on Charlie, causing him to fall off the cliff and to his death. Bison smirked and called off any attempts to find the body. Even if Charlie survived, he would realize that opposing Shadaloo would be futile.
During all of this, there was a Street Fighter cartoon that acted as a loose sequel to the movie, mainly focusing on Guile, Blanka, and Chun-Li. With the Alpha games starting to pick up steam, they did an episode where Blanka was transformed back into a human. While he had black hair like in the movie, Carlos was drawn to look like a re-colored version of Charlie from the games.
Around this time, Capcom started up their beloved and long-lasting Marvel vs. Capcom series with X-Men vs. Street Fighter. In this tag-team game, Charlie was again doomed in his victory. Despite defeating Apocalypse, Charlie was kidnapped by Shadaloo and viciously tortured in some kind of horrible experiment. It then cut to Guile holding his dog tags, swearing vengeance. For some reason, despite being so obviously Guile, the game instead referred to him as “Charlie’s friend.” Strangely, in-between the Street Fighter II games and Street Fighter Alpha 3, Capcom decided to never outright mention Guile in a specific capacity. Like there’s a piece of official art with the two of them back-to-back, but we don’t get a clear look at Guile’s face. It’s weird.
The Marvel vs. Capcom games aren’t part of Street Fighter continuity, so they went in a different direction than straight-up killing the guy. In the follow-up, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Charlie returned in the form of Shadow, a secret character who was just Charlie with a glowing eye, a darker sprite and…that’s pretty much it. He didn’t have an ending, and his win quotes were normal things Charlie would say, but the suggestion was that Shadow was a super soldier weapon created by Shadaloo. Basically, he’s what Bison presumably wanted to do to the cast of Street Fighter II as part of his plans for world domination. In Bison’s ending, he defeated Cyber Akuma and stole Apocalypse’s technology to turn Charlie into a full-on cyborg with machine gun fingers. He kept the hair, though. Odd.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes didn’t feature Shadow as a playable character, but it did feature him as a hidden assist, where he’d step in to hit a Flash Kick whenever you wanted. He appeared in Chun-Li’s ending, which showed the young Interpol officer defeated by Bison. Before Bison could transform her into one of his soldiers, Shadow appeared – no longer under Bison’s control – and warded Bison off with a Flash Kick. Chun-Li woke up and wondered what the hell that was about.
Yet the game also featured the secret character Shadow Lady, based on Bison succeeding in turning Chun-Li into his shadowed-out minion. She played like Chun-Li with some noticeable differences, like having a drill hand, the ability to shoot giant lasers from her hands, and the power to shoot missiles out of her ass. Not even joking about that last one. In her ending, Bison beat down Jin Saotome and left him for dead. Shadow and Shadow Lady came to his rescue and decided that the only way to keep him alive would be to make him a shadowy cyborg.
There was never any follow-up to this since Marvel vs. Capcom 2 had nothing resembling a story, and they just had Charlie be his classic self. Still, that wouldn’t be the end of Shadow’s legacy.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released as the final iteration of the Alpha series with more characters than any other Street Fighter game by that point. Naturally, Charlie was still be alive. His ending for once had everything turn out all right. After beating up M. Bison, he got in a jet and bombed Shadaloo’s underground base. Bison appeared from the flames, but Charlie simply gunned him down (which is cathartic given the events of Street Fighter Alpha 2) until he exploded. Yay, happy ending!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t canon. The console version of the game included Guile, whose story was that his commanding officers sent him to bring in Charlie against his will. Guile chose to team up with his good buddy instead and blow up Bison’s base. Bison attempted to kill them, but Charlie tackled him and told Guile to get the hell out of there. The resulting explosion destroyed Bison’s power source (the Psycho Drive) and allowed Ryu to temporarily kill him a bit later, but it came at the cost of Charlie’s life.
I guess this means Shadaloo’s base was located in Cambodia. Finally, we had our explanation.
Charlie appeared in Cannon Spike, a lesser-known Dreamcast game where various Capcom characters would team up and basically shoot a bunch of bad guys. Considering it featured characters from Mega Man, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, and Darkstalkers, it wasn’t canon. Charlie’s ending saw him fight a goth’d out Vega, but the enemy base blew up before anything could happen, and all that was left was Charlie’s cracked glasses. On the other hand, all of his team endings (every combination of characters has a unique ending) had him make it out alive. Usually, he’d tell the other to escape, the place would blow up, but he’d make it to a helicopter just in time.
In the mid-00’s, UDON started its Street Fighter comic series. Street Fighter #1 by Ken Siu-Chong and Arnold Tsang immediately got everything out of the way by opening up with a shot of Bison holding a bloody Charlie by the throat while Balrog, Vega, and Sagat looked on. Bison smiled, zapped him to death with his Psycho Power, and Charlie’s dog tags fell to the ground. Then Guile was shown holding the dog tags and seething about revenge.
Charlie, as it turned out, wasn’t so much dead. Because of the comics’ huge cast, they pretty much burned through the story as fast as possible. In the third issue, Guile and Chun-Li came across Charlie, now with gray skin, a computerized voice, and the name Agent Shadow. By the fourth issue, Guile was able to make him remember who he was, and he broke through Bison’s programming. By the fifth issue, Charlie had sacrificed himself to stop Bison, temporary as it was.
The fourth issue also featured a nice backup story by Andre Greenidge and Kaare Andrews that detailed Charlie and Guile’s first meeting. Guile was captured behind enemy lines, and the military couldn’t outright do anything due to a treaty, so they covered it up. Charlie, disgusted, went to go save him anyway, and a friendship was born.
Speaking of comics, the batshit insane SNK vs. Capcom comic series from Hong Kong had an interesting take on the Charlie/Guile relationship. Charlie, having some barber skills and knowing a thing or two about ridiculous hair, gave Guile his trademark flat-top. Then he went off on a mission to stop Bison and died. That’s why Guile never changed his silly hair style. It was a weird way of honoring his fallen friend.
The UDON comics brought Charlie back into the fold, at least via flashback, in Street Fighter IV, which ran concurrently with Street Fighter II Turbo during the events of Bison’s tournament. Main character Abel was liberated by Charlie and then handed off to some French mercenaries. This would come up in Street Fighter IV in which Abel saw Guile do a Sonic Boom and noted that he had seen that attack before.
Capcom changed the nature of Guile’s obsession with Charlie over time. After Street Fighter II, Guile no longer appeared to be all about revenge, since he realized how self-destructive that was. Instead, as shown through the anime movies and Street Fighter IV, Guile felt that Charlie wasn’t truly dead. This allowed him to leave his family yet again, only not seem quite as scummy.
And now I have to talk about Charlie’s worst-and-yet-maybe-best moment: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. A terrible movie that defies description, it starred none other than Chris Klein as Charlie Nash, an Interpol agent out to track down Bison and put an end to his reign of terror. When I saw the movie (in theaters, may the gods forgive me), I was first struck by how I totally forgot Chris Klein existed. I only saw him in American Pie, and I always felt that he would have hit it big. Sure, he wasn’t going to be taken seriously unless he developed some real chops, but he had a leading man look and that would carry him far enough. I sat and wondered, “Why didn’t his career take off?”
I watched the movie and I knew exactly why. Folks, if you haven’t seen Legend of Chun-Li, you really need to do so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s horrendous in just about every way, but Klein’s acting as Charlie is something man was never meant to experience, and you need to see it to believe it. It’s the worst performance. The acting is so hammy and over-the-top that you hate your life whenever he’s on screen, but the moment they cut to something else, you suddenly wish Charlie was around again. Even Nicholas Cage would feel like Klein needs to tone it down.
Coincidentally, Charlie did not die here. The movie perished at the box office if that counts, but otherwise, Charlie lived to fight another day and make out with Crimson Viper.
With the announcement of Street Fighter V, Capcom finally decided to let the other shoe drop. Yes, Charlie did survive after all. The dude simply will not die! His body is stitched up like a Frankenstein monster with a mysterious jewel in his forehead. He appears to be under Shadaloo control, so it seems that after all this time, the Shadow concept is finally being used in the actual Street Fighter series.
That means we’re one step closer to Chun-Li canonically being able to shoot missiles out of her rectum.
Gavin Jasper will always have Cambodia. Here’s looking at you, kid. Follow him on Twitter.