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Crossover Celebration Part 4: Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe

November 11th, 2012 by | Tags: , , , ,

Ever since Marvel and Capcom released X-Men vs. Street Fighter, nearly everyone said that there needed to be a fighting game that pit Mortal Kombat against the DC characters. Many were joking, but a couple were dead serious. Some of the laughs were directed at how ill-fitting it would be, despite being the natural follow-up to the Marvel vs. Capcom stuff. Marvel and Capcom at least felt right together. Marvel feels more down-to-earth and many of its more popular characters are more street-level, making such matchups as Wolverine vs. Ryu seem natural. Mortal Kombat has a stigma of blood and guts while the public sees DC as the more squeaky-clean of the big comic companies.

The night prior to the 2008 New York Comic Con, this image was released to the public.

And I didn’t get any sleep because oh my God. They were really going to make this?! Really?!

The more I thought about it and the closer the game came to release, I started to come around to the idea of these two worlds mixing it up. DC has gotten far darker and bloodier over the years and Mortal Kombat – despite its many problems – is still home to a pretty strong sense of mythological identity. There have been bad games, bad movies, bad comics, bad TV shows and more, but there’s still an allure to the franchise outside of the blood and guts. When they make it work, it really goes the full mile. Like the latest game, for instance.

It’s noticeable how the two sides don’t exactly match up so well head-to-head. Sub-Zero and Batman aren’t really all that alike. There are only a few pairings that truly work in that aspect. Like even though Deathstroke and Baraka are rivals in the game, Deathstroke has more in common with Kano as a one-eyed, top-notch assassin. Then there’s the perfect pairing of Johnny Cage and Booster Gold, making it a huge shame that neither shows up in the game at all.

The other big pairing that works perfectly is Mortal Kombat’s Shao Kahn and DC’s Darkseid. As far as I’m concerned, the two share the same level of threat, badass and stature. They each hold onto their own realm as feared tyrants and wish to extend their grasp, blocked only by easily-twistable rules. Darkseid has his truce with the people of New Genesis while Shao Kahn must fulfill the rights of Mortal Kombat in order to move forward. It was only natural that they’d make these guys the main villains of the crossover.

Still, there were questions. How would these two sides clash? Why would they fight when the rosters are mostly good guys? How can you have Kano beat up Superman and act like it’s a thing that makes sense? Hell, forget about the Mortal Kombat guys! How is Joker vs. Superman supposed to make sense?!

Luckily, Midway put the how and why in some good hands with DC writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. The team known for breathing life into Jonah Hex and Power Girl would write the game’s Story Mode. Meanwhile, the collector’s edition of the game would feature a piece of cover art by big-time comic artist Alex Ross.

Seeing Scorpion and the gang in Alex Ross style is still so surreal.

Speaking of art, what about the Mortal Kombat side? What do they have to offer? The collector’s edition would also feature a 16-page comic drawn by John Tobias, one of Mortal Kombat’s co-creators who had broken away from the franchise years ago. The comic wasn’t anything special, but the idea of Tobias showing up to lend a hand after all this time seemed pretty cool to me.

The game itself is kind of average. There have been better Mortal Kombat games; there have been worse Mortal Kombat games. There have been better Batman games; there have been worse Superman games. The new additions to the gameplay were mostly just window dressing. To make the marriage of properties complete, the game needed to be neutered in terms of violence. Blood was there, but not excessively. Fatalities were so tame that I got SNES Mortal Kombat 1 flashbacks. DC heroes were given Heroic Brutalities to make up for how they wouldn’t really KILL a dude, except they’d be doing moves that would really just KILL a dude. If Superman downward punched you in the head so hard that you burrowed underground, you would fucking die. We got impaling and clean skeletons, but no dismemberments. Joker and Deathstroke had moves that involved shooting their enemy point-blank in the head and both had to be done off-screen.

So you have your Versus Mode for fighting with friends, Arcade Mode for fighting a bunch of matches until reaching the boss and Story Mode. Story Mode lacks replay value, but for the first time through, it’s a complete blast. The way it’s done definitely impressed me. You pick your side between the two properties and play through a scenario of cutscenes that follow the pattern of going through four fights with the same character before moving to the next chapter. Then towards the end, you finally get the big boss finale.

What makes this awesome is that both sides of Story Mode are half of the same story! It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that you only really get through playing through both versions. When you play the Mortal Kombat side, you’ll see Wonder Woman leading Sub-Zero around in handcuffs out of nowhere. In the DC Universe side, we see Wonder Woman and Sub-Zero meet up and throw down. In the DC Universe side, Lex Luthor and Catwoman show up working together, citing an easily-escapable prison. In the Mortal Kombat version of the story, you play as Sonya and Jax as they knock out the two invaders before locking them up. Cool shit.

Gray and Palmiotti make some impressive lemonade out of some challenging lemons. The gauntlet laid down is that they have to write a story and dialogue based on this:

- Two sets of eight chapters, each made up of four fights with the same character winning (Kano, Baraka, Deathstroke, Catwoman and the boss characters are at no time playable during this).
- They can only use the 23 characters in the game, Quan Chi and just a couple extras to move the story forward.
- You know how superheroes always fight each other in the beginning due to misunderstandings? That has to take up 98% of the story. There needs to be a reason why certain characters don’t just calm down and talk it out.
- Due to the game’s stages, all the scenes in Story Mode must take place somewhere within a choice of a dozen or so locations.
- Superman and Captain Marvel must be allowed to be beaten up by guys whose powers are being super good at martial arts.
- “THE RAGE!” much be said at least 200 times.

Plus I’m sure they insisted on having at least one shot of Scorpion riding in the Batmobile.

The beginnings show two extremely similar scenarios. In one world, the Justice League just defeated Darkseid and his army from Apokalips. Darkseid tries to escape through a Boom Tube and Superman fries him with his heat vision. This causes some kind of crazy cosmic reaction and Darkseid vanishes, screaming. Superman grabs Luthor and flies him to prison for allying himself with Darkseid during the invasion. In the other world, the heroes of Mortal Kombat have warded off Shao Kahn’s horde from Outworld. Kahn tries to sneak off through one of his portals, Raiden zaps him and we get another crazy cosmic reaction. Then Raiden grabs Kahn’s ally Quan Chi and sends him off to be punished by the Elder Gods. As it turns out, both of these events were at the exact same time and the Boom Tube and portal incidents connected and started a huge chain reaction.

I should note that much like the DC world, the Mortal Kombat stuff is pretty non-canon as well. It doesn’t fit in with the games’ chronology, playing it up more like it’s centered around Mortal Kombat 2, but more Saturday morning status quo. Like as if this is the third time in the last month that Shao Kahn’s tried to take over the world and got shut down.

The Mortal Kombat krew notice that people have gone missing. Liu Kang and Kitana figure that since Shao Kahn just got taken out, it’s not him. So maybe it’s Sub-Zero’s ninja clan the Lin Kuei or Kano’s criminal organization of the Black Dragon? They split up and find that their enemies are having the same problems. In the DC Universe, the heroes are too busy cleaning up Darkseid’s mess to even notice that people are vanishing. Soon the craziness picks up. The Flash and Scorpion inexplicably switch places. Catwoman accidentally runs into a portal to the Mortal Kombat world. Shang Tsung’s island begins to share the same time and space as Paradise Island, only with a glowing, yellow line going down the middle.

In each world, the warriors come to the same conclusion: they’re being invaded.

Things get muddied when THE RAGE kicks in. Every now and then, heroes, villains and kombatants would start ranting and raving about how pissed off they are and their eyes would start glowing. After getting their asses handed to them, they’d go back to normal. The magical properties of this also causes chaos in the power structure of the DC Universe and its characters. Energy is in flux, meaning that Superman is weakened and the Joker is more powerful. Like so.

Halfway into each story, we discover that Kitana’s hunt for answers caused her to discover the true enemy: Dark Kahn. An amalgam of Darkseid and Shao Kahn created from the dual portal zappings, the hybrid villain mixes Darkseid’s stone body with Shao Kahn’s skull appearance.

What I find interesting is how he’s essentially the opposite of both overlords. Darkseid and Kahn, when you get down to it, are linked by their thirst for order. Darkseid wants to bend everything to his will with the Anti-Life Equation while Kahn wants to merge all existing realms into one world that he rules with an iron fist. When merged together, they form a force that thirsts for nothing but chaos. The two Earths are being merged together, driving everyone mad. If nothing is done, both worlds will explode.

A lot happens throughout the stories, but here are the eight more notable things before the finale:

1) Where the Monks At?

After trashing the Flash because he thinks he’s just Shang Tsung in a weird disguise, Liu Kang brings him back to the Shaolin Temple. I hope the snowy cemetery where he hunted Sub-Zero is only a few miles away from that because if not, Liu has quite a journey to take care of. Once he gets there, he looks around the empty fighting game stage and wonders where all the masters have gone. It would be easy to write it off by saying that, well, maybe they vanished into the other world.

Instead, Shang Tsung comes by to say, “Them? I killed them all. Off-screen. And I cleaned up the bodies and blood too. That’s why there’s zero sign of them. Anyway, let’s fight.”

I smile at how blatant that plot device is.

2) The Sub-Zero/Wonder Woman Conversation

Wonder Woman kicks the crap out of Sub-Zero after finding that he broke into the Fortress of Solitude and took out Superman. She handcuffs him and brings him to the League’s headquarters, where a RAGE-fueled Captain Marvel is going ballistic and attacks Green Lantern. Wonder Woman subdues him and Captain Marvel, restrained, rambles about how he reaches out to the gods but doesn’t even recognize them and other weirdness. He dramatically begs her to help him and then passes out.

Off to the side, Sub-Zero stands there and wonders aloud why she didn’t just kill him. Wonder Woman, the most killingest of the DC heroes in this game, shows outright disgust for whatever kind of world Sub-Zero must come from. I thought it was a nice show of property contrast.

3) Scorpion Meets the Joker

Scorpion is sent by Quan Chi to find Kitana. Traveling to the DC world, he comes across the Joker. Joker acts larger than life and laughs it up and all that, but Scorpion is a demon fueled by revenge and is on a mission. He cannot care less about the hijinks of a random clown. Once he realizes Joker knows nothing about Kitana, he turns away and walks off. Joker is not accustomed to having someone not react to his goofery, so he prods him a bit.

With a boxing glove on a spring.

That certainly gets a rise out of him.

4) Deathstroke the Joke

You know what’s annoying? Deathstroke being so damn unbeatable in the comics. Ever since Geoff Johns brought him back to pure villainy, Deathstroke has gone from being an enjoyable badass threat to an overplayed threat that they insist is badass. He’s like “Batman has everything planned out” and “Dr. Doom is infallible and all his losses are really victories” had a terrible baby. Look no further than Identity Crisis, which paved the way for how Slade Wilson is somehow ten steps above everybody because of stuff.

He isn’t playable in Story Mode for this game, meaning all he does is get his ass kicked. Again and again. His only moments of competence include killing a random guy on the street because he owes him money (the decapitation is shown via shadows, which is the only real gore in this game) and fighting Kano to a standstill while claiming, “You’re good, but you lack discipline.” It’s cathartic to see the most badass badass to ever badass a badass come off as nothing more than a jobber.

5) Joker Finds Out About Our Villain

I’ll let this speak for itself.

6) Sub-Zero Meets Batman

Sub-Zero hunts down Scorpion and the trail leads him into the Batcave. Batman is none-too-pleased that Sub-Zero inadvertently invaded his home and takes a swing at him. Sub-Zero doesn’t have time for this bullshit.

Like a frozen boss.

Batman gets his back by tossing a series of batarangs into Sub-Zero’s back, Sub-Zero rolls with it and Batman starts ranting about what Sub-Zero’s kind are doing to his world. His eyes glow yellow, so THE RAGE is affecting his judgment. The two fight it out and Sub-Zero wins.

What I like about this part is how only Sub-Zero is allowed to look good against Batman. Sure, he’s shown having defeated Superman at one point, but they explain that away with the energy flux plot device. You can’t use that to explain away a guy who doesn’t have any powers to begin with. Batman does lose against others in Story Mode, but usually he gets right back up and tasers them from behind, showing that he didn’t really lose after all. Even when Superman beats him up, Batman gets right back up anyway.

In the end, it actually makes Sub-Zero seem special despite not being the marquee hero of the games.

7) MAGIC!

This part I’ve always liked since the original trailers.

Scorpion’s cruising around Metropolis and Superman gets in his way. Scorpion kicks him in the chest and sends him flying back into a car. Superman looks down at the flaming footprint on his chest and says, “MAGIC!” There’s something hilarious about his delivery that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the blatant exposition. Maybe it’s how Superman sort of sounds like a bad Kirk Douglas impression. All I know is that I’d want it as my text message ringtone if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d be missing out on his dramatic and intense facial expression.

8) The Villains Pull Their Weight

It’s a common trope. There’s a threat coming that’s so huge that the good guys and bad guys need to team up against it. Happens all the time in comics, cartoons and video games. Thing is, it’s usually instigated by the good guys. Most of the time, they’re the ones smart enough to say, “Listen. If that thing wins, we’re all dead. We need to put our difference aside.” The bad guys fall into line because they have no choice.

Different story here. Quan Chi and Shang Tsung are both the champions of the idea of teaming up. Raiden, despite his supposed wisdom, is completely against any kind of team-up. He even gets on Sub-Zero’s case for trying to help out because the Lin Kuei are no good. Quan Chi goes as far as to depower himself so as to put himself at Raiden’s mercy just to illustrate how serious he is about the importance of what they’re up against. Shang Tsung, on the other hand, shows his worth by going out of his way to both save Liu Kang from the enemy and not kill him when directly attacked.

On the other side, Lex Luthor gets to shine a little, portraying himself as a man who plays it down the middle and gets punished for living in a world of black and white. During the Darkseid invasion from the prologue, Luthor sided with Darkseid, an act that Superman blamed on Luthor only being in it for himself. After the fact, Luthor explains it to Superman and later Catwoman that he wasn’t just doing it for himself, but to hedge the bets on Earth’s survival. The Justice League wins? The worst they can do to him is throw him in jail. Darkseid wins? The Earth is screwed. If Luthor gets on Darkseid’s good side, there’s at least the chance that he can help get Earth spared somehow.

There’s a telling moment when Sub-Zero freezes Catwoman’s legs and Luthor flies at her with his fist out. She braces, but then he slams his fist down into the ice and frees her.

“Thanks. For a second, I didn’t know what side you were on.”

“Story of my life…”

The final chapter of both stories show the two factions teleporting to their big bad’s usual home. The Mortal Kombat guys take a trip to Outworld and the DC guys go to Apokalips. As they discover, the two realms have been merged together and are now reduced to rubble floating around in space. Sharing a large asteroid that for some reason still has oxygen and gravity, Superman and Raiden briefly parlay and warn each other to back off. This doesn’t go well, especially after Dark Kahn shows himself and increases the RAGE factor, driving everyone mad. They all decide to use THE RAGE against the opposing sides and a big battle breaks out. One shown through a series of stills because it would have blown the animation budget for sure.

With the roster whittled down, a series of similar events happen on both sides. Raiden’s distrust of Shang Tsung grows thanks to THE RAGE and he beats him down. Liu Kang comes to Shang’s rescue and gets the same treatment. Raiden sees what he’s done as Shang Tsung confusedly asks, “…Fatality?” Despite Shang’s argument that they need to be a team, Raiden figures that his only chance is to fight Dark Kahn alone so that THE RAGE won’t get him sidetracked. Off he flies to Dark Kahn’s fortress.

Superman has a similar tussle with Luthor. Batman tries to calm him down and it doesn’t do so well. After taking his lumps, Batman goes into pure comic book, “Remember who you are,” mode and tells him what’s at stake and not to give up while referring to him as Clark. Probably not the smartest thing to do when Lex Luthor is two feet away, unconscious as he appears to be. Superman powers through THE RAGE and clears his head. At this point, he’s back to full power and is ready to fight Dark Kahn himself. Batman warns him that Dark Kahn is too powerful, but Superman merely thanks him and flies off. Batman calls him an impulsive fool, then quietly wishes him good luck.

Naturally, Raiden and Superman cross paths and duke it out. They fight to a standstill as Dark Kahn laughs at them. Superman makes a go at him and gets blasted back. Raiden notices that this doesn’t add up with his idea that Superman is in league with Dark Kahn and with a great little, “Here goes nothing…” shrug, throws a ball of lightning at Dark Kahn. Kahn blasts him down as well, causing the two leaders to come to terms that they’re really on the same side. Dark Kahn turns THE RAGE to 11 and both Raiden and Superman focus it against him. Together, they destroy Dark Kahn and immediately, the worlds return to normal.

…well, almost.

The Mortal Kombat characters stand in Shao Kahn’s throne room as Raiden wonders aloud where Superman is. They survey their surroundings and come across Darkseid, who ended up in the wrong world. He prepares his Omega Beams, but then they fizzle out. He’s powerless. Raiden grabs him and says that he’s ripe for some Elder God judgment. The last thing we see before the credits is Darkseid chained up in the Netherrealm (Hell), screaming in anguish.

Elsewhere, Superman calls for Raiden after the explosion and only finds his allies and enemies standing with him in Darkseid’s throne room. They find Shao Kahn waiting for them, whose green energy blasts fade to nothing. Superman and Luthor glare down at him and the next we see is Shao Kahn floating through space as the newest prisoner of the Phantom Zone.

Story Mode is over, but the story itself is not. There’s still Arcade Mode, where you work your way up a ladder of opponents, fight either Darkseid or Shao Kahn, follow with a final battle against Dark Kahn and then see your specific character’s ending. If you do this before completing Story Mode (which I’m sure nearly everyone did), it feels kind of off and random. As it turns out, the Arcade Mode endings are all epilogues based on the events of Story Mode and what became of each character afterwards. There’s not too much keeping them from interfering, so it could be assumed that if there had been a sequel, all of these would be canon in some form.

Most of them are based on the idea of one character becoming a lot like someone from the other franchise. Fittingly, a handful of them are based off of developments and minor character moments that occur in Story Mode.

Mortal Kombat Endings

- Baraka: All that RAGE energy finds its home in the Tarkatan race. Baraka leads his horde to become like locusts, destroying everything in their path.

- Jax: Jax was injured during the final battle and decides that having metal arms isn’t enough. He undergoes more surgery and turns himself into a full-on cyborg. More specifically, he pretty much just becomes Cyborg.

- Kano: After the worlds return to normal, Kano goes full-blown insane and starts attacking both allies and enemies. He paints himself up to look like the Joker and is obsessed with killing Shang Tsung.

- Kitana: Kitana stations her all-female Edenian resistance warriors on Shang Tsung’s abandoned island. Essentially, it becomes her version of Paradise Island to the point that Raiden even shields it from man’s view.

- Liu Kang: Raiden creates his own version of the Rock of Eternity and turns Liu Kang into his own Captain Marvel. By shouting, “MORTAL KOMBAT!” Liu Kang gains the powers of Raiden, Fujin and the other gods.

- Raiden: After things go back to normal, Raiden gains the inverse of Superman’s biology. Sunlight turns him weak and the strange, glowing, green rock that Quan Chi has rejuvenates him. Quan Chi will give him the rock in exchange for his services and Raiden isn’t sure what to do.

- Scorpion: The Dark Kahn energies take over Scorpion’s body. It’ll make him super powerful if the transformation doesn’t kill him.

- Shang Tsung: With a torn piece of Captain Marvel’s cape, Shang Tsung creates a Tarkatan clone of him, much like how Mileena is to Kitana.

- Shao Kahn: For some reason, the Phantom Zone causes Shao Kahn to regain his magical powers and allows him to shatter the prison. He frees both himself and all the other Phantom Zone criminals. They show allegiance to their new leader.

- Sonya Blade: During the crossover, a Green Lantern died and the ring sought Sonya out due to her willpower. She holds onto the ring, but has no way to recharge it, meaning she’ll have to use its power wisely.

- Sub-Zero: The events of the story have caused him to realize that the Lin Kuei weren’t right for him and he didn’t like the distrust of the other Earthrealm heroes. Wearing a cape, he’d fight evil from the shadows, alone. Though his league of assassins aren’t so happy with him going AWOL.

DC Universe Endings

- Batman: Batman becomes paranoid about the possibility of there being more inter-dimensional invasions, so he builds a satellite to watch over Earth called the Outerworld Monitor and Auto-Containment, otherwise known as OMAC. He’s also created an army of giant robot Batmen like in Kingdom Come.

- Captain Marvel: Captain Marvel finally understands that during the crossover, he was tapping into the gods of the Mortal Kombat world. He hasn’t lost that connection and is now beginning to learn his brand new abilities.

- Catwoman: Her experiences in the Mortal Kombat world have allowed her the ability to transform herself into a jungle cat. In other words, she’s figured out the Animality.

- Darkseid: With Darkseid bound in the Netherrealm, Shang Tsung makes a go at his soul. Things screw up and Darkseid ends up absorbing Shang’s powers into himself, freeing him from the restraints and rendering Shang into an old man. Shang suddenly swears his allegiance to his new master. Fittingly, the image shown heavily resembles the intro from Mortal Kombat 2.

- Deathstroke: Having witnessed the Lin Kuei and Black Dragon, Deathstroke gets a little antsy over his status as top assassin and comes up with the idea of creating the Deathstroke Clan, a guild of assassins trained by him, all wearing the same outfit.

- The Flash: Back in Story Mode, Liu Kang tried to attune to Flash’s chi or some such and tapped into the Speed Force. I guess. Whatever it is, the two now have a mental bond and Liu is able to warn Flash that Quan Chi has infiltrated the DC Universe. Flash goes into action and whips his ass.

- Green Lantern: The battle with the Sinestro Corps is interrupted when the pyramid from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon shows up out of nowhere. Both sides go to war over the mysterious and godlike power housed by the pyramid.

- The Joker: Joker retains his strength from the crossover and is able to make Gotham his chaotic playground. He holds a tournament where people fight to the death to his amusement and the winner gets a shot at him.

- Lex Luthor: Luthor uses the schematics he copied from the Special Forces’ portal technology to make his own. Then he brings Quan Chi to his world to become the new Deadly Alliance.

- Superman: Sick of jobbing out to magic all the time, Superman and Captain Marvel put their heads together and make a special belt out of Kryptonian tech that makes him immune to magical attacks.

- Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman returns back to her home island to discover random artifacts from the Mortal Kombat world scattered around. Now she fights with Ashrah’s demon-killing sword, the Dragon Shield (logo for Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance) and Shinnok’s amulet.

There never would be any follow-up, despite the game’s strong sales. Even though Quan Chi and Harley Quinn were both set for release as downloadable content, Midway went under and for a time, the Mortal Kombat franchise was kaput. Technically, it’s possible to see a sequel since Warner Brothers now own both properties, but Mortal Kombat grand poobah Ed Boon is against ever doing another teen-rated Mortal Kombat game. With the new Mortal Kombat game bringing it back to darkness and gore, one of Shang Tsung’s Fatalities had him turn into a nightmarish clown so he could do Joker’s Fatality without the censorship crop.

Netherrealm is currently working on a fighting game that’s specifically about the DC Universe called InJustice. Considering the last Mortal Kombat was incredibly solid, here’s hoping they can work the same magic this time around.

Next time on Crossover Celebration: “This handsome son of a bitch belongs in a museum!”

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One comment to “Crossover Celebration Part 4: Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe”

  1. I had never seen that Alex Ross image before.