The Primal Rage Comic: It’s On Like Blizzard!

March 27th, 2011 by | Tags: , , , , ,

To go with the upcoming Mortal Kombat game, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the more popular clones. There were a lot of derivatives of the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games throughout the 90’s, back when they were cheaper and easier to do than now. Many are long forgotten, whether they deserve to be or not (you’re still awesome, Kizuna Encounter!). Yet with the blood-based fighters, there were some who didn’t fall into obscurity without a fight.

Killer Instinct, Primal Rage and Eternal Champions are all interesting in how they almost became big deals. People remember them, but they’re all series that tried to last longer and collapsed before they could for various reasons. You don’t see any modern-day incarnations of those three non-Kombat games despite the way someone my age might light up and say, “Fulgore was the shit!” when the game is namedropped. They all had just enough play in the 90’s to receive their own comic books.

I’ve covered the Killer Instinct comic series before and Eternal Champions will be covered in due time. Today, I’m going to discuss Sirius Comics’ Primal Rage.

Primal Rage is based on the vicious Atari-released fighter from the mid-90’s. The basic premise of the game is King Kong vs. Godzilla as a fighting game. Giant dinosaurs and gorillas created with stop-motion animation duel over their domains. I’ve never been a big fan of the game and despite the excellent animation, you can see why it never truly took off. The game only had seven characters (using five character models and changing the palette on two of them) and no end boss. It seemed a bit barebones.

The story, I’ve discovered, is incredibly metal. A giant meteor crashed into earth, causing a major cataclysm. Tidal waves washed over the Earth. Cities were destroyed. Continents shifted back into one major mass of land. The people who survived lived on in caves, allowing civilization to degrade and turn itself into a series of violent tribes. The cataclysm also caused dormant beasts to awaken and battle, with humans worshipping them. Each one is considered a god of some sort. The God of Good, the God of Evil, the God of Life, the God of Decay, the God of Hunger, the God of Survival and the Goddess of Madness. They would all battle for supremacy until one was left standing.

The miniseries goes for four issues and is written by Christopher Knowles. The first issue, released in 1996, has art by Kevin Rasel. It’s a good-looking comic that’s refreshing in how straightforward it is. Unlike all the other fighting game comics, it actually holds itself down as a fighting game story without losing track of what it’s supposed to be. It starts off in an icy mountain where the side resembles that of a gorilla’s skull. Inside, we see Blizzard, a blue gorilla and God of Good, sitting on a throne in front of his gathered followers and a couple gorillas.

Blizzard’s chief follower Taze tells the children of the story of how the planet (“Urth”) came to its current state. It’s his belief that this was God’s judgment, much like with the story of Noah. The meteor was God’s punishment for what mankind had become and since they continued to bring war after the cataclysm, God awakened the creatures to bring order and keep them in line with the threat of being eaten.

Chaos, the one pictured in the bottom right corner, is described in the game as a witch doctor who tried to steal the power of the gods and became the God of Decay for his hubris, cursed to wallow in his own filth until he can destroy the other creatures. He’ll show up later in the comic and I have to say, the take on him is pretty ingenious.

Taze says that there’s going to be a big war any day now and both he and Blizzard can feel the storm brewing. It’s up to his followers to wage war with opposing tribes while their gods duke it out. He assures the children that everything will be fine, but has them hidden away for the time being to protect them from the war. Once they’re gone, he converses with the silent Blizzard and checks his all-seeing Eye of the World to get some vision action.

He sees the underground home of Armadon, the triceratops-looking God of Life. He lives deep within the surface of the Earth so that his followers can smith out the tools necessary to rebuild society. Modron, the leader of Armadon’s followers, talks to the dinosaur about how strong their tools will be thanks to his ability to purify their metal. Before things can get too hopeful, fire fills the foundry and people begin to panic.

There’s kind of a medieval Pokemon feel with all this.

As you can probably guess, Diablo is the God of Evil. Diablo’s #1 guy Helicon lays down the law: either Armadon’s people submit themselves as Diablo’s food or… they will be Diablo’s food. Kind of a lose-lose situation, so Modron sees nothing wrong with walking over and hocking a loogie in Helicon’s face. Armadon vs. Diablo. It’s on.

From the beginning, things are looking promising for the good guys. Armadon is kicking Diablo’s reptilian ass and his followers are better equipped to take care of Diablo’s people. Taze watches on, giving the reader the over-dramatic commentary. Unfortunately, things take a big turn for the worse when Armadon goes for a killing blow and Diablo teleports by turning into a big ball of flame. He appears behind Armadon and lets loose flames from his mouth. Armadon tries to stand up to it, but Diablo keeps pouring it on until he’s done for. Diablo proceeds to devour Armadon’s followers, giving his own followers the ability to win their battle.

Modron uses a special spell to teleport himself, some other followers and Armadon’s carcass out of the foundry. Helicon is pissed and makes a declaration.

Later, Taze speaks to Blizzard about how through magic and dreams and all that, he’s been able to play telephone. He knows where Modron is keeping Armadon so he can heal. He’s also been able to warn the followers of Talon, God of Survival. Obviously, Diablo isn’t going to stop now that he’s taken out Armadon. He’s making a power play. Through the Eye of the World, Taze sees that Diablo is going to the Roman ruins where Sauron resides. Taze figures Diablo wants Sauron to be his lackey, but he knows Sauron would never agree.

That’s the end of the first issue, though the last couple pages show sketches of characters from Primal Rage II. This in itself is interesting as it shows the overzealous nature of Atari and their weird handling of the Primal Rage series. After the game came out a couple years earlier, they tried to push the trademark through board games, music CDs and eventually action figures. They felt that they had something truly special on their hands to the point that several Primal Rage endings said that there were other creatures living on a previously unknown island and they’d be showing themselves soon enough. Even the first Mortal Kombat didn’t have the balls to say, “Yeah, there’ll be a sequel,” in any of its endings.

An issue of Gamepro revealed the silhouette of what was supposed to be the final boss in an upgraded version of Primal Rage in the form of a dragon skeleton. They later decided to nix that idea and make him the boss of Primal Rage II. That game’s concept took a turn for the strange as you don’t really play as the well-animated stop-motion monsters the series was founded on. Instead, you played as “Avatars”, certain followers done up CG style who had the ability to momentarily transform into their gods’ form. Atari ended up nixing the game completely and any momentum the Primal Rage name had going for it died in conjunction.

But there’s still a comic! I can’t tell when Sirius released these issues by the month, since there’s no sign of that information in the copyright blurb. What I can definitely tell is that there had to have been some crazy-ass delays because issue #1 is 1996, #2 is 1997 and #3 and 4 are 1998. Wow. It’s like how Marvel continued to release Rom: Spaceknight comics years after the toy was no longer in production, only people actually read that series and desire to see that property brought back.

Let’s move forward with issue #2. When I read through the first issue, I was genuinely surprised by how much I was getting into it. It had a handle on the source material in a way that made me enjoy it more than I thought I would and the art was really impressive. Unfortunately, Primal Rage would take a major quality hit in its second issue. Kevin Rasel is out and Tom Artis is in.

Oof. The pencils aren’t bad, but the sudden, complete loss of coloring hurts this comic a lot. Especially for the second issue. Another art problem that plagues this comic is the inconsistent scale. They can’t keep it straight on how big the gods are supposed to be. Sometimes they’ll be about 12-feet-tall. Sometimes they’ll be 50-feet.

A lookout at the cove of Sauron sees the advancing army and Diablo himself, so he rushes to warn his leader Tothus. Sauron’s followers have a Spartan warrior style to them and while it’s never outright stated, there are a ton of insinuations that they’re all gay. Sauron’s going to have a hard time finding his next generation of followers.

Helicon challenges Sauron, God of Hunger, in the name of Diablo. Tothus laughs at this and summons his master to take out Diablo. The battle begins and while Sauron stands up to Diablo’s power in a way that makes them evenly matched, his elite warrior followers absolutely annihilate Helicon’s army.

This is where the change in art starts to chafe. In the game, Diablo and Sauron are the same stop-motion model. That means the main way to tell who is who is by their color schemes. What this means is that we have a big fight between two vicious t-rexes who look identical. That’s not the only problem with this sequence. There’s a panel where one of Sauron’s warriors is saying in a word bubble what is meant to be Taze saying through narration. Then there’s a weird redundancy as the last panel on one page has Taze say, “By the all-maker! Is there no defense against Diablo’s eldritch flame? Perhaps he shall carry the day yet!” and then the first panel of the next page has him say, “I begin to fear there is no defense against Diablo’s flame.”

Diablo handily takes down Sauron, but his people are all dead and dying.

Helicon says that they’ll all be killed by Diablo unless they switch sides. Tothus decides to take him up on the offer in exchange for Helicon kissing his feet, which he reluctantly does. Diablo’s won the battle and has traded his group of followers for a deadlier set.

Meanwhile, Taze finds where Armadon’s people are hiding out. With all the barbaric bloodshed and all in this story, it’s nice to see that the God of Good’s people and the God of Life’s people are totally chill with each other.

Modron tells Taze about how Diablo’s people have taken over their home and Armadon’s still recovering. It’s agreed that they’ll go and take it back. It’s a pretty easy mission, all things considered, since Diablo’s soldiers are all drunk as hell in their celebration, where they appear to be making the female followers of Armadon dance for them. It’s a righteous slaughter that leaves few survivors from Diablo’s camp. Armadon steps in, sits back down on his throne, hears the cheers of his followers and then proceeds to feed on the remaining bad guys.

The Blizzard/Armadon alliance is a go. The foundry has been rebuilt and they’re making new weapons for Blizzard’s warriors. But not all is going so well…

Helicon and Tothus march Diablo up to the doorstep of Vertigo, the Goddess of Madness. Vertigo’s representative is Hexia, a sorceress with a cobra headpiece and a skirt where the front side doesn’t seem to even touch the back. She messes with Helicon for a bit, especially when he gives the warnings of what will happen if she doesn’t bow before Diablo. She starts coming onto him, which gets him all riled up and makes him yell, “By the witch’s teat, woman! Have you no shame?”

Which is weird, since a witch is shoving her teat into his face when he says that.

Hexia puts on her game face and shows off her sorceress powers. She summons Vertigo and lays it down as to why Diablo and company can’t touch them. Her magic makes her more powerful than any army and Diablo is weakened from battle. Even if Diablo wants to risk it and wins, it won’t do him much good, since Blizzard and Armadon are out there working in collaboration against him. Vertigo will work with Diablo, but not for him. Helicon is too scared to respond and Tothus is too frustrated. But it’s agreed that for now, Diablo and Vertigo are partners.

Watching this go down, Taze tells Armadon’s top guy Modron that they might be in deep shit.

To take a step away from the story for a second, I was fully prepared to do this review a long time ago. I legitimately thought the series was canceled by #2. After all, the new game had been canned, the art quality fell to the floor and there was literally nothing about the other two issues online. I could find comic selling sites that had #3 and 4 listed, but with no cover images or anything. I was in the middle of writing the first page of an early incarnation of this article when I somehow stumbled upon one site that actually had thumbnail images of the covers.

Yes, somehow Primal Rage did finish. The thing is, it was nearly impossible to find. Why wouldn’t it be? Who would have such a thing? An indy comic company sporadically releases a series based on a has-been videogame series that had long lost its relevance and was B-list at best in its heyday. Miraculously, someone finally put them up for sale and I got to put an end to my search for the Holy Grail.

It was also fortunate because I’m genuinely digging this comic and want to see it to the end.

The first half of the third issue is narrated by a follower of Talon. Talon and his people are hunters, though the people are vegetarians. They only hunt to feed Talon, else he might get hungry and feed on them. They’re having a fruitful day of hunting and gathering when all of the sudden, a vortex opens up in the sky and everyone can feel the evil ruminating the area. Vertigo, Hexia and a bunch of magic-enhanced warriors appear to face Talon.

The fighting among followers is mostly even as Vertigo’s warriors are almost like zombies, able to come back from nearly any killing blow, yet Talon’s hunters find ways to take them out for good. Unlike the other battles, Vertigo vs. Talon isn’t even close.

Our narrator Oaxca runs for it and escapes into the forest where he sees Diablo. Diablo watches over Vertigo’s slaughter and then vanishes. Oaxca explains that he traveled many miles to find Taze and Modron, even though he can’t understand how he knew where they were. Taze handwaves it by saying it was Blizzard’s will and that he was using some magic that even Taze himself doesn’t quite understand. But now they have to go fight Chaos.

The second half of the issue is dedicated to Blizzard vs. Chaos and it only seems to exist for the sake of introducing Chaos into the story and having Blizzard actually fight someone for once. All he’s done so far is sit back and watch. It’s weird how much of an afterthought Chaos is in all of this, since he’s the one everybody remembers. One of the main reasons people even paid attention to Primal Rage in the first place was that there’s a giant gorilla who farts, vomits and burns his enemies with acid urine.

The reason given for their siege on Chaos’ land is that Chaos and his people have been practicing the evil black magic that had once brought God’s vengeance on the world and they need to be punished. As I said earlier, in the game, the explanation is that Chaos was a witch doctor amongst the post-apocalyptic cavemen. The comic’s take is more inspired: Chaos’ people are a “tribe” of mad scientists, meaning that Chaos himself is a mad scientist who got his powers via an experiment that went awry. The fact that generations later, the more primitive citizens of Urth would see it as taboo magic is a fantastic little twist.

Blizzard sees Chaos for the first time and gets seriously pissed. Mainly because Chaos is his palette-swap clone and therefore his existence is like an insult. Normally, this would be another problem in a comic with no color, but Chaos looks a bit more gorilla-like while Blizzard has long, luxurious Fabio hair.

“I can’t believe it’s not Blizzard!”

Chaos doesn’t even get a single offensive move in. Blizzard beats him easily. He then presumably feasts on a bunch of the scientists and shares with Armadon to help bring up his strength. A couple of the more comedic scientists try to fry Blizzard with a death ray, but it isn’t charged up right and they get tossed into the distance.

Taze is taken aback to see that in his defeat, the unconscious Chaos takes the form of a naked dude. They decide to let him be, since his arm is already beginning to swell up and mutate back into a giant gorilla paw. His reversion is only momentary. I wonder if Chaos here is in any way a reference to George from the Rampage games.

Our named good guy representative characters look into the Eye of the World to see that Diablo has reached what is to be the final battleground. Naturally, it’s the same area as the final stage of the game where there are fires all around and dinosaur bones propped up like a primitive museum. There’s something magic about that area that makes Diablo stronger and having Vertigo backing him up will only make that magic more powerful.

Back in his jungle home, Talon’s people try to heal him up but it’s apparent that he’ll need to devour flesh and blood to survive. Several of his followers bravely volunteer to be sacrificed, driving their leader to tears. Later, when Talon’s regained his health, they use magic to teleport him to the site of the Blizzard vs. Diablo battleground. Elsewhere, Chaos returns to his full gorilla form.

The last issue begins with Taze telling children about Blizzard’s behavior. It’s true that he doesn’t speak and doesn’t show any emotion, but it’s his actions that speak for him. As he puts it, “Many men would die to protect the freedom of their people, but would a god?” Then Taze admits that when in battle, Blizzard is able to show one emotion: his primal rage. Trademark. 1994. Atari Games. All rights reserved.

With the final battle coming up, there’s a ritual feel to it. It’s something where all the gods feel summoned to bear witness. Armadon and Talon, being virtuous monsters, will sit back and empower Blizzard spiritually with their good vibes so that he can counter Diablo’s dark mojo. Chaos is sedated by his scientist followers and is flown to the site to watch in his brain-dead state.

Sauron, as it turns out, survived his defeat at Diablo’s claw through sheer force of will and has left to watch the big fight. He’s followed by those loyal soldiers who didn’t join up with Diablo earlier on. It’s worth noting that there’s a moment during Sauron’s travels that we get a cameo appearance by Slashfang, a saber-toothed tiger-based creature who was set to be in Primal Rage II as the yet-unseen eighth god. He snares one of Sauron’s soldiers and devours him.

Blizzard, Armadon and Talon are considered to be the good guys while Diablo, Vertigo and Chaos (drugged as he is) are considered the bad guys. Sauron is a wild card with nobody knowing what he’s going to do. Talon stares him down upon arrival, expecting to have to fight him.

Here we are, the way it’s meant to be. The God of Good vs. the God of Evil. Gorilla fists crack dinosaur bones and dinosaur claws slice apart gorilla flesh. They fight back and forth. Armadon and Talon sit quietly and lend their strength. Chaos is in a comatose state. Sauron finally acts.

Hungry and betrayed, he starts to feed on those soldiers who left him for Diablo. All hell breaks loose and the followers start battling it out as the main event continues.

Blizzard gets clawed in the face and is blinded by his own blood. That sets him up for Diablo’s unbeatable fire breath. He goes down with Diablo seemingly having it in the bag. Taze is calm, holding faith in his god. It pays off as when Diablo lunges for the killing blow, Blizzard turns over and blasts him back with ice beams from his hands.

Blizzard never did that in the game, but okay. Maybe he was keeping it a secret all this time. Blizzard tackles Diablo and crushes him with mounted punches.

“Diablo staggers back, reeling, trying to gather his senses… but to no avail! Blizzard has struck once with fury… twice with rancor… and thrice with vengeance for the souls extinguished by Diablo’s arcane bloodlust!”

Vertigo knows to go when the getting’s good. She and her followers vanish. Sauron continues to no-sell the many spears sticking out of him and fills his mouth with chunks of Spartan warriors. Then he and the rest stop to watch the final blow of the fight.

“Racer Blizzard! Are you my brother? Are you my brother Rex Racer—OOF!”

The virtuous ones are victorious and everyone leaves the site. Chaos’ scientists fly him back home and Vertigo and Hexia are seen plotting in the shadows. The final page has Blizzard back on his throne with Taze relating the story to some children. A little girl asks about why such villains as Diablo exist and Taze admits that not even the wisest man can answer such a question. He then sends the children on their way with the promise that no matter where evil lies, they will always have noble Blizzard watching over them for the rest of their days.

Well, I liked it. It took a slightly promising source premise and made some delicious lemonade with it. After seeing how the Mortal Kombat comic series dropped the fighting game concept early on so the characters could go play capture the flag or whatever, it’s cool to see that this unnoticed miniseries was written as a – gasp – fighting game in comic book form.

I will say that Armadon did a big pile of nothing. Guy gets his ass handed to him in the first issue, then spends the rest of the book mooching off of Blizzard.

That would be the last nail in the Primal Rage franchise, though there was one other release that caught my eye. In 1997 a novel was released called Primal Rage: The Avatars. See, even though Primal Rage II was canceled, someone thought that the story NEEDED to be told. Hence, they wrapped up the legend of Urth in mass market paperback form. It’s a little pricey online, but maybe one day I’ll feel the need to give it a look.

Speaking of that ill-fated sequel, here are the sketches of the various planned characters as shown in the first issue’s preview.

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6 comments to “The Primal Rage Comic: It’s On Like Blizzard!”

  1. Please tell me there was a Clay Fighter comic too. I’m pretty sure there was a Killer Instinct one.

  2. @super nintendo chalmers: whoops that’s what I get for skipping the beginning!

  3. All I really remember about Primal Rage was that there were some pretty sweet action figures. I had one of Blizzard and one of the t-rexes.

  4. I also seem to recall the toys each came with a little solid orange plastic worshiper dude, in the staring-straight-ahead-one-fist-in-the-air pose of fighting game background spectators everywhere.

  5. When you say the Eternal Champions comic, do you mean the one that ran here in the UK for the Sonic the Comic magazine?

  6. @Keith: The very same.