In the last article, I covered Malibu’s horrific attempt to do a comic based on the hit fighting game Street Fighter 2. As some of you might know, that wasn’t Malibu’s only attempt at a fighting game comic. Along with their forgotten attempt to make Virtua Fighter’s story look appealing (cancelled after the first issue), Malibu tried some of their magic on the Mortal Kombat series. As a series of mini-series and one-shots, the Malibu Mortal Kombat run went on for 26 issues in total. All-in-all, that’s nothing to laugh at.
But there is stuff to laugh about. Oh, believe me. There is plenty of stuff to laugh about.
This series isn’t to be confused with Midway’s promotional one-shots that came out as prologues for their respective games. Series co-creator John Tobias wrote and did the art for comics based on the events prior to Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat 2 and Mortal Kombat 4. You might remember seeing advertisements for these during the demo mode on old MK and MK2 arcade machines (ah, nostalgia), while the harder-to-find MK4 comic came with a pre-ordered copy of the PC version of MK4. These three comics were all decent enough and succeeded in what they were trying to do.
The MK2 one also had a fantastic depiction of the second Sub-Zero, who was shown as being less of a mysterious assassin and more of a tech-savvy businessman with a heart of gold.
Malibu’s series came out at the end of 1994, when they only had MK1 and MK2 to work with at the time. It was easily the height of Mortal Kombat’s popularity, as it was pounding down the Street Fighter franchise. It’s insane to think of that these days, with the MK series being regarded as a hollow moneymaker to Street Fighter’s renowned quality. Granted, these days Midway both makes new MK games AND actually advertises them. Capcom made various Street Fighter 3 games for the ill-fated Dreamcast and kept this news to themselves, only to wonder why nobody bought it.
Back to the 90’s, Mortal Kombat was coming out with true sequels while Street Fighter was just labeling revisions as new games. Sadly, Capcom continues that trend to this day, while Midway adopted the same process shortly after MK3 came out.
The first comic was Mortal Kombat #0, a series of prologues to the rest of the series. There is no main story here, but a bunch of random scenes of characters thinking about why they are entering the tournament. The most notable story involves Raiden (called Rayden in the comics, but whatever) appearing before Goro with one last plea to join him in opposing the forces of Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn. Goro tells him to go fuck off and then attacks him. Raiden vanishes, claiming that Goro has lost his final chance to fight for good. Their confrontation, as he puts it, is just the calm before the storm.
It’s nothing special, but it’s still head and shoulders above the Street Fighter series. I did notice the beginning of a really annoying trend, though. Most issues begin the same exact way: A close-up is shown of a random character and the narration boxes try to make up for the lack of background story on the character. They try to use whatever information the game provides and make some kind of specific intro. Some examples:
“While he lived, he was a ninja… yet his true name and origin were never known by anyone. He was killed in battle, yet his spirit lives on, seeking vengeance. Call him Scorpion! And as with his arachnid namesake, you should always be careful when near him. Careful of the Scorpion’s sting.”
“He is just what he appears to be: a 2,000 year-old half human dragon. Over eight feet of muscle and power and destruction, he has remained undefeated in battle for over 500 years. He won the title of grand master by defeating Kung Lao, a fighting monk from the ancient Order of Light. Those are the facts, but there is one more thing to know about Shang Tsung’s monstrous servant: to know him is to fear him.”
They do this over and over again at the beginning of every issue and sometimes in the middles and ends of issues. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single issue that doesn’t do this. Hell, they even reuse the same descriptions over and over again. They really, really want me to know that Goro is eight feet tall.
Moving on, we continue with the six-part series Blood and Thunder. The first issue shares plenty of similarities with the official MK1 comic by Tobias. Six of the seven playable characters (Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Kano) each make their way onto Shang Tsung’s ship. Sub-Zero gets in a confrontation with Scorpion while Liu Kang and Johnny Cage meet via teaming up against Kano. There are two main changes, though. One, Raiden doesn’t appear to be taking part of the big Mortal Kombat fighting tournament. Interestingly enough, this is the first instance of this idea, which would be used again during the MK movie and the retconned story in the game Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.
The other difference is that the first issue of Blood and Thunder introduces us to three tagalong characters. You see, unlike Street Fighter, MK is all about killing and the like. Most of the characters are meant to live throughout the entire story, so you can’t exactly have Sub-Zero tearing out someone’s spine without either offing a major character or having it mean absolutely nothing. Hence, Malibu gave us three companion characters. Let’s take a look at them:
Here is Hydro, a member of the Lin Kuei ninja clan alongside Sub-Zero. He too joined the tournament. Even though he lasted the longest of the three tagalongs, he did absolutely nothing other than get killed by Scorpion. Not that it’s a big surprise. After all, his power is the ability to THROW WATER. Give me a bucket and I can do the same thing. Sure, he’s handy to have around to wake you up from a deep sleep or keep you cool on a summer day, but what exactly is he expecting to do to Scorpion? Ruin his books? Make his socks uncomfortable? Give him a coughing fit by making him swallow down the wrong pipe?
I don’t know what’s more embarrassing: the idea of Hydro’s powers or the fact that he and Sub-Zero went to the party wearing the exact same outfit.
This guy’s name is Sparky. God, he’s just asking to die, isn’t he?
Now that I think of it, Sparky may have been in the MK1 comic. Either way, he’s got a metal arm, which is probably the inspiration for Jax’s appearance in MK3. He tags along with Sonya in an attempt to bring Kano to justice. In the second issue of Blood and Thunder, he fights Kano one-on-one in the tournament. He gets his heart torn out to absolutely nobody’s surprise.
Sing and Sang are two Shaolin Monk brothers sent by the Order of Light to win Mortal Kombat and save Earth. Their power is to merge together to become Siang, a warrior with the strength, speed and endurance of two men! In other words… he has the power to cheat.
Siang is sent as the representative of the Shaolin Monks, while Liu Kang convinces them that there is absolutely no drawback to having him tag along. Siang ends up fighting Goro outside of the tournament in Blood and Thunder #3. Despite the build-up about how great he is (they are?), Siang is killed in a fight that doesn’t last more than two pages.
But we’ll see more from him later.
Blood and Thunder #2 shows the beginnings of the MK tournament. Or at least, two exhibitions that are the only tournament-based fights in the entire Malibu run. They are the Sparky vs. Kano match mentioned earlier and Sub-Zero fighting Grum, a six-armed, Goro-like creature with nunchakus!
Can’t argue with that. Sadly, he lost after merely being frozen and being kicked in the head. In the fighting game world, we call that “Akuma damage”.
The main characters of the story all end up being prisoners in Shang Tsung’s dungeon. Scorpion pops in to release Sub-Zero, merely because he wants to fight and kill him man-to-man later on. Also, Scorpion is at risk of non-existence if he loses to Sub-Zero a second time, so he claims. It’s worth noting that in the comic, Scorpion doesn’t actually have a spear, but a spiked ball at the end of a rope. This scene also cheaply reuses the art from MK #0.
As Scorpion disappears, Goro steps in to challenge everyone. He smacks around all the heroes (and Kano) until mysteriously vanishing into thin air. Everyone escapes through some portal, though looking back, I have no idea why. I’m thinking Raiden opened it up as a means of escape, but even that doesn’t make too much sense.
Now before the dungeon tomfoolery, Kano stole some special book from Shang Tsung called the Tao Te Zhan. The book gives the wielder immeasurable power, which Tsung intends to use to challenge his master Shao Kahn. But first, the seven riddles must be answered.
The various MK characters are separated in the wastelands of the Outworld dimension, looking around for others. Hydro ends up meeting Scorpion alone, who, obviously, murders him. Raiden and Sub-Zero hang around together. Liu Kang fends for survival with Kano. Johnny Cage ends up alone, until finding Sonya…
Or at least, what appears to be Sonya. In a true “what the fuck?” scene, Cage comes across a weird tribe of purple people, led by a queen who looks and fights exactly like Sonya, but isn’t her. There is absolutely no explanation for it, but this is the kind of shit I should have expected when I first started reading this garbage, so it’s more my fault than the writers’. I guess this was their attempt to make sense out of MK1’s “mirror match” fight, as the real Sonya arrives and saves Johnny.
Sub-Zero and Scorpion end up getting in a fight, which was really just Sub-Zero freezing Scorpion and then shattering him. Scorpion’s spirit form flies away, saying that he will return to kill him. This is, of course, after Scorpion beat it into the ground that dying again would cause him an eternity of oblivion or whatever the hell he was going on about. In fact, I think he even talked about it in that particular issue.
The Tao Te Zhan keeps getting bounced around from character to character, with each one figuring out one of the riddles. Meanwhile, Shang Tsung has the MK tournament delayed, considering Goro’s disappearance. To cover, he morphs himself into Goro to keep everyone quiet.
Let’s just shift gears for a second. Long ago, being a fan of DC Elseworld stories and comics that involve Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, I came across Justice League International Annual #5, a shitty X-Men-ripoff story penciled by someone by the name of Kiki Chansamone. Now, people rag on Liefeld a lot, but the truth is, he isn’t the worst artist out there. We only hate him because he’s both successful and disruptive. After all, his artwork has caused the EXXTREME era, caused Heroes Reborn and caused a hiccup in Geoff Johns’ usually readable Teen Titans run (note: Remember, I wrote this article a year ago. A lot changes, eh?). But he really isn’t the worst artist out there.
Kiki Chansamone, on the other hand, is the WORST comic artist I have EVER SEEN.
And he did the art for Blood and Thunder #5. I wept.
Back to the story, to nobody’s surprise, Kano turns on Liu Kang and stabs him in the back. The mysterious Kung Lao shows up to rescue Liu and nurse him back to health with some magical medicine. Kung Lao, as he reveals, is the sole descendant of the Shaolin champion who died at Goro’s hands centuries ago. With Siang dead, Kung Lao claims Liu Kang is the temple’s only hope.
After a decent fight scene, Johnny Cage steals the magic book from Sub-Zero’s hands and answers the sixth riddle. He’s about to go for the final one, when Raiden appears. At first Johnny wants to keep the book for himself, but Raiden convinces him otherwise. After all, Johnny entered Mortal Kombat to show everybody his true skill and that he wasn’t a fraud. If the book gave him all this power, he would indeed by a fraud.
While Johnny gives Raiden the book back, Shang Tsung asks Kahn to return Goro and the others to his island. Kahn uses his great power to teleport just about everyone from Outworld to Shang Tsung’s throne room. But there are a handful of other guys in there, such as Baraka, Kitana and Jax. What are they doing there?
That answer comes from the next story, Goro: Prince of Pain. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to stop here. Prince of Pain is only three issues, but that doesn’t make it easier to read than Blood and Thunder. I’m going to need some time to mentally prepare myself to write about Prince of Pain just like you’re going to need to mentally prepare yourself to read about it.
I’ll just give you a two-word teaser: Goro Robot.