Writer: Shawn Kittelsen
Artist: Dexter Soy
Release Date: January 14, 2015
Adaptations of the massively popular fighting series Mortal Kombat have rarely elicted more than mixed success. Sure, the original Paul Anderson film brims with “so bad it’s good” charm, but nothing else memorable grew from the violent gaming property save this almost-decent action flick. Hopefully DC’s new series has better luck with Mortal Kombat X, a comic prequel to the forthcoming 2015 game of the same name.
Because MK’s convoluted history has accumulated through so many iterations and years, writer Shawn Kittelsen is tasked with walking two distinct lines. One approach requires an accessibility to grab the average reader, someone who maybe played Mortal Kombat as a kid and wants to relive that Super Nintendo nostalgia. The second approach embraces the wink-wink-nudge-nudge fan service that only hardcore Kombat gamers will know and love, diving into the most esoteric of references and relationships. Throughout this issue, Kittelsen plays to this latter audience, leaving anyone but the Kombat-obsessed frequently scratching their heads and wondering what’s going on. But this first issue still provides enough little moments of engaging action that dabblers will still enjoy this debut.
Mortal Kombat X #1 begins in media res with former series big baddie Daegon sending henchmen after Kenshi, a psychokinetic swordsman who originally appeared in Deadly Alliance, and his young ward, Takeda. As Kenshi gets the shit beat out of him, he whispers through blood-coated lips that he wasn’t running at all, just trespassing. Instantly, Scorpion, the skeletal ghost ninja who’s also MK’s greatest “hero,” rips apart the goon squad before he hurtles his fist through a guy’s face. Scorpion? Check. Fatalities? Check. This is a Mortal Kombat comic book with the gratuity and style to earn that honor. The beaten duo quickly flees to the Shirai Ryu temple where Kenshi relates the tragic history of his young apprentice, who’s also his estranged son. Kenshi leaves his spawn under the care of Scorpion, who, again, just punched a hole through a dude’s face. The decision wouldn’t win him Dad of the Year, but whatever.
Sub-Zero, Scorpion’s sworn nemesis who looks identical to him save the fact he’s blue and freezes stuff, and Kano, a powerful thug for the Black Dragon cartel, have a very brief 2-page run-in. This altercation makes allusions to some of the current allegiances in the MK universe, and ultimately leaves Kano turning a cursed dagger against Sub-Zero. At this point, readers have traveled 12 pages in and are probably experiencing some narrative whiplash from the jackrabbit start of this series. The plot has already jumped from a fight scene to Scorpion to a flashback to training to Sub-Zero, who’s inclusion feels shoehorned. The pace is relentless, but so too is the fighting game itself, so this Autobahn tempo isn’t unexpected. The rest of the issue introduces magical thunder god Raiden, demonic possession, some face severing and an ominous “blood code.”
Mortal Kombat X doesn’t pursue deep character development; to comprehensively understand the nuances in this story, a reader would need to be well-versed in this universe, or at the very least, have an MK wiki handy. The factions and characters can seem unwieldy to anyone who hasn’t interacted with their digital adventures, and maybe this comic was written explicitly for veteran gamers. Kittelsen understands that Mortal Kombat is action, violence, and fatalities, and Soy’s pencils fulfill that requirement in crisp, bloody detail.
For that reason, this debut fails to balance the two camps — the hardcore gamers who’ve mastered the controller acrobatics of every fatality and the nostalgic ‘90s gamers who want to take another dip into the Netherrealm — that would be most interested in this book. Because of the lack of context for many of these characters, casual fans will drown amid the face-cutting and the face-punching and the dagger-slicing violence. But the MK devoted will love it completely, as evidenced by tons of forums already dissecting the narrative and trying to piece together what it means for the upcoming title.
In other words, Mortal Kombat X #1 isn’t a flawless victory, but it will appeal to the diehard devotees.
Darren Orf is a comics contributor with Paste. You can find his ramblings on technology over at Gizmodo. Preview images courtesy Hero Complex.