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MKK: Nightwolf

Gather round, my amiibos, it’s time for a white guy to talk about race.

Assuming Wikipedia isn’t lying to me, Mortal Kombat (1) was released in 1992. That would be a year after Street Fighter 2, and well into the massive popularity of fighting games. It’s also about two years after the initial release of the animated series Captain Planet. Why mention such a fact? Well, because, for my money, the release of Captain Planet marks a certain point in human history: that time we (or at least Ted Turner) thought we could save the world by giving something a TV show. Representation matters, and getting ideas out there, through generally any means available, is important. However, the 90’s was a time when, fairly distinctly, people seemed to believe they could “cure” a problem by acknowledging it, and then proceeded to dispense many a back-pat in response to a job well done.

This guy

So, again, Mortal Kombat 1 was released right in the middle of this type of thinking. And I (to be clear: this is entirely the opinion of the white, male, mostly straight author of this piece) think initial Mortal Kombat actually did pretty well in some regards. There is one female fighter, and she’s practically a blonde supermodel. That’s not great. Beyond that, however, the rest of the roster includes seven humans (we’ll just go ahead and ignore the race of the Claymation monster man). Kano and Johnny Cage are, technically, the only kanon white guys. From there, you have a Japanese god of thunder, Scorpion, aka Hanzo Hasashi, of a Japanese Ninja Clan, and Sub-Zero of a Chinese assassin’s guild. In Mortal Kombat 1, the Chinese Liu Kang is clearly the hero of the piece (and, with his “shadowless” fatality, the only kharacter distinctly reinforced as “good” in the gameplay), and the descendant of the previous, Chinese victor of the tournament (that wasn’t a Goro). And Shang Tsung is the grandmaster of Mortal Kombat, at this point more “human Chinese man” than an Outworlder. This means that, in the original Mortal Kombat, “white” was technically the minority.

Of course, I say “technically” for a reason. Mortal Kombat 1 used real motion capture actors, and the ethnically distinct Sub-Zero and Scorpion were played by the same white guy playing Johnny Cage. Raiden was played by a gentleman by the name of Carlos Pesina (and I don’t think I need to remind anyone who played him at least once on the big screen). Liu Kang and Shang Tsung are actually played by Chinese actors… well… technically the same actor, Ho Sung Pak. And, if we’re not giving MK any latitude, we should probably acknowledge that pretty much everything from the original Mortal Kombat is just a Chinese/Japanese/”kung fu” pastiche, with a big emphasis on films like Big Trouble in Little China or Enter the Dragon. Mortal Kombat 1 has a cast that is not white-dominant, but it also is chiefly drawing from a white version of “Asian”.

Not Asian
Asian
(The same guy)

And, overall, Mortal Kombat has struggled with those same issues throughout its various plots. Raiden is a Japanese God wearing a Vietnamese/Chinese hat often portrayed to sound and look Caucasian. Liu Kang continued to be the hero of the piece, right up until he was killed and replaced by Chinese guy named for the Japanese word for “protagonist”. When Liu Kang was killed (again) in Mortal Kombat 9, the new timeline predominantly followed the adventures of the pretty, blonde (Cage) family until Liu Kang decided to be alive again. And Sub-Zero was confirmed Chinese when wearing a mask, but wound up white as a country club by his unmasking in Mortal Kombat 3. He seems to have regained some Asian features in time for Mortal Kombat 11, but it’s been a bumpy road getting there.

What’s my point in all this? Well, it seems like Mortal Kombat tries to be inclusive… but it’s still helmed by a bunch of dudes (inevitably dudes) that see Japan and China as generically “The Far East”. Korean, Filipino, or Indian people might as well not exist, we’re just looking at the “Asians” that can throw mean roundhouses. Basically, this might be a franchise that features a Chinese world savior more often than not, but he’s also palling around with a white god with a Japanese(ish) name.

I mean, at least he isn’t just Thor again…

Chop!

But that white god wasn’t available for Mortal Kombat 3. The invasion of Shao Kahn shut Raiden out of Earthrealm, so we needed a whole new lightning guy. And who should answer the call but our new Native American friend, Nightwolf.

Nightwolf is one of the many Native American fighters to pop up in fighting games. This general era also birthed Thunder Hawk of Super Street Fighter 2, Chief Thunder of Killer Instinct, Wolf Hawkfield of Virtua Fighter, and the extremely confusing and not thunder/wolf themed Michelle Chang of Tekken. Basically, if you had a popular fighting game franchise, you were going to wind up with at least one Native American character. And, to this trend’s credit, none of these fighters were overtly offensive nonsense like Chief Scalpem. On the other hand, the majority of them were fairly generic in their histories and motivations. Usually, someone has been kidnapped or turned into a robot or something, and it’s up to Chief Big Dude to roll in and represent his proud tribe in a fighting tournament. Thunder and mystical birds are generally somehow involved, and, in the end, the tribe/land/person is saved or avenged or whatever. Pretty pat story.

At the very least, Nightwolf is about a thousand times more competent than his contemporaries. Shao Kahn invades the planet, and Nightwolf uses his mystical powers to enshrine his tribe and his people. When literally the whole world is metaphorically/temporarily killed by Shao Kahn, Nightwolf winds up leading the only functioning society on the planet. That’s pretty great! And, in expanded versions of Mortal Kombat 3 (basically, versions of the kanon where the whole invasion didn’t take like a few hours), Nightwolf becomes a sort of leader for the warriors of Earth, too, as Raiden is unavailable, the rest of the fighters aren’t exactly strategists, and Nightwolf is one of the few people that has any idea what is going on. In short, rather than being some simple “I fight for my people” Native American archetype, Nightwolf becomes instantly integral in his debut appearance.

…. And then he doesn’t appear again for years.

Goth!

Okay, so here is where things get really culturally dicey. It’s pretty clear that, in the wake of the “woke 90’s”, a lot of companies seemed… I would say ashamed of their various token characters. The whole “Native American Warrior” seemed to die down as a general “thing” that was happening, and these characters were generally dropped from future titles (or, in Killer Instinct’s case, there were no future titles). In the event they survived to see other releases, they were not really integrated into the greater plots, and were simply there to be “the strong guy” or “the one with the really complicated inputs”. Basically, T. Hawk was never going to be the next Ryu. Or even the next Blanka…

When Nightwolf finally returned in Mortal Kombat: Deception, he actually had a germane place in the plot. Once again, Raiden was out of commission (having just exploded), and now Liu Kang was pushing up daisies by being a reanimated, murderous corpse that generally did not care for flowers. Thus, the forces of good were kind of down to the B-Team, and Nightwolf was one of the few kharacters to be consistently good in the first place. So they had to make him bad! Kinda! Nightwolf decided he would become a “sin eater”, devour the maliciousness of his tribe, become goth, and use that power to bind the nefarious (and otherwise infinitely revivable) Dragon King to Hell. This was successful, and, while Nightwolf expected to be trapped in the Netherrealm with Onaga, he was guided back to Earth/life by his spirit animal, a wolf. Then, since Nightwolf was doing pretty good with his magic powers, he spent MK: Armageddon sewing Liu Kang’s rotting body and blessed soul back together. Way to go, Nightwolf!

Chop!

Except… well, this is all very similar to the “Far East” nonsense we see with some of the other characters from other cultures. For one thing, while the concept appears in many myths dating back to the Aztecs, the “Sin-Eater” as is described in Nightwolf’s tale (and the fact that it is literally called a “Sin-Eater”) is a predominantly Western Civilization invention that generally circles around medieval Christian practices (you can see the connection between Jesus Christ [The Walking Dead, Xenosaga] and the concept). And then Nightwolf using generically magical powers to manipulate souls and follow “spirit animals”… it’s not really something that belongs to any particular culture, it’s just identifying that Native Americans can be spiritual, and transforming that into “they’re wizards”. In short: good try on making Nightwolf relevant, Mortal Kombat, but you just made the poor guy an incredibly specific stereotype. Again.

Nightwolf returns in Mortal Kombat 9, where it is revealed that he participated in the first Mortal Kombat tournament for unknown reasons (not that there’s a mystery, simply no one cares to explain), and gets knocked out by Scorpion almost immediately. He regains consciousness just in time for Mortal Kombat 3 redux, and seems to, again, work as the driving force behind marshaling the forces of good during Shao Kahn’s invasion. He defeats and kills Noob Saibot (as much as you can kill an undead wraith that is going to come back in two games anyway), but is then murdered with the rest of the good guys during Sindel’s assault. Unlike his buddies, Nightwolf goes out pulling off the ol’ Raiden kamikaze attack, and is arguably responsible for the defeat of Sindel. The end result was that both fighters became Quan Chi’s all-purpose zombies and Mortal Kombat 11 DLC, which is not the best of fates.

And that’s about that for Nightwolf. He’s the only Native American with a name in the Mortal Kombat universe (there are literally more “last of their kind” lizard people on the roster), and he’s a good wizard. Native Americans are magic. Got it.

Next time: I promise to make the robots funny.

MKK: Kitana

It’s no secret that this whole silly project got kickstarted by yours truly playing through Mortal Kombat 11 and loving the hell out of its goofy story mode. But it’s not just about the goofy! This thread was inspired by playing MK 11, and having a genuine desire to go back and “review” some of these characters from their introduction, and see if the seeds that would eventually grow into extremely ludicrous trees were always there. And Kitana is a great kharacter to examine for this purpose.

I'm a big fan


Kitana was introduced in Mortal Kombat 2. She was the female ninja wearing blue, and the sister of the female ninja wearing purple. In case you ever get confused by these “twin” sisters, Kitana is the one named after a ninja turtle weapon, while Mileena is the one that wields a ninja turtle weapon. Kitana is also the one that is actually human (well, technically Edenian), and Mileena is the one that is a horrible clone monster that wants to literally rule the world.

Kitana was introduced as “merely” one of Shao Kahn’s top assassins that might have a secret, and that secret was revealed in her ending: she’s a princess! She’s Shao Kahn’s step-daughter, and the biological daughter of Queen Sindel and King Jerrod, the previous rulers of what would become Outworld. She’s also 10,000 years old, but she was starting to get wise to the fact that Shao Kahn might not have her best interests at heart when her marginally homicidal evil clone started hanging around. You know when they hire a new guy at the office, and he does the exact same job you do, and you’re starting to get worried about your job security? Well, it’s like that, except the new guy routinely eats people and spits out their bones. It causes concern.

Digging the fan

Concerned Kitana was apparently a double agent during Mortal Kombat 2 (and let’s not get into the fact that the pretty sister is inevitably the good one), and she straight up murdered her sister before the tournament was out (which, incidentally, marks the second time in as many games that one of the color swap ninja kanon murders their opposite number). This got Kitana on Shao Kahn’s s%&$ list, so he dispatched a healthy number of agents with the express purpose of revenge murdering Kitana. Well, kinda. Jade, Kitana’s former bodyguard and friend (and hidden kharacter of MK2), is tasked with capturing Kitana, while Reptile, Shang Tsung’s former bodyguard and lizard (and hidden kharacter of MK1), is allowed to use “any means necessary” to stop Kitana. Kitana, of course, survives the onslaught, re-befriends Jade, and even hooks up with and de-brainwashes her recently revived mother. Liu Kang wins Mortal Kombat 3 by being the official victor over Shao Kahn, but Kitana ultimately accomplished the most by reestablishing Edenia as a universal superpower separated from Shao Kahn’s rule.

And she gets, like, zero credit for that.

Mortal Kombat 4 doesn’t really “feature” Edenia/Outworld, as it primarily focuses on a rogue god wrecking up Earth(realm). Kitana didn’t even participate until Mortal Kombat (4) Gold, and her only real purpose is to be kidnapped, escape being kidnapped, and then be generally annoyed at the revival of Mileena while attempting to help the good guys. By the end of Mortal Kombat Gold, Kitana is basically in the same place as the finale of Mortal Kombat 3: Edenia is rebuilding, and Kitana is either completely or technically in charge of the place (Queen Sindel’s status as an active monarch is always confusing).

Not enough MK4...

The general Mortal Kombat plot really ramps up around Deadly Alliance, so Kitana’s role in matters is technically expanded. Shao Kahn was not killed at the end of Mortal Kombat 3 (apparently), but he was simply humbled and beaten back to Outworld. Kitana, Sindel, and their allies definitely separated from Shao Kahn, though, so Outworld/Edenia was up for grabs. As such, a land war was declared between the two realms, and Kitana was a mighty general. Kitana led many different forces, including Goro and his Shokan, as Kitana was also an accomplished diplomat, and she actually became fast friends with Prince Goro. When Goro was killed in battle, she was devastated, but still led the combined forces in an effort to liberate her home dimension. Around this time, Shao Kahn was killed by Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, and, while the king was dead, there were still armies that needed to be defeated. Kitana continued to be an accomplished general, and only took a break when she was summoned by Raiden to attack the Deadly Alliance head-on. Kitana, now saddened by the apparent death of her internet boyfriend Liu Kang (they had been exchanging messages on AOL Instant Messenger since Mortal Kombat 2), left her army for a more surgical strike. She had been trained as an assassin, after all, she could avenge one cute boy, and be back in time to literally save her world.

Of course, everything in the previous paragraph happens in the backstory of the actual playable game. In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance: For Realsies Edition, Kitana shows up to fight Quan Chi, loses, and is left for dead on the steps of a temple. The opening of the sequel, Mortal Kombat: Deception, kicks off with a pan of her lifeless corpse.

Dammit.

Kitana did wind up participating in Mortal Kombat: Deception (because it was easy to repurpose Jade’s model for the PSP “enhanced” edition) first as an undead servant of the Dragon King, and then as a revived alive person. Unlike Jax, Kitana straight up only gets a bonus from being a zombie, and recognizes Dragon King Onaga’s weaknesses from her time in his service. She doesn’t actually do anything with this knowledge, but it’s good to know she had a plan in case the actual protagonist of the story decided to take a nap or something. She then returned for Mortal Kombat Armageddon, and did absolutely nothing to impact anything. And she died again. But this time, the entire kast died, so that can be forgiven.

Not enough MK9...

Reboot time! Kitana gets a lot more screen time in Mortal Kombat 9… but it still doesn’t amount to much. She gets to participate in (new) Mortal Kombat 1 as an agent of Shao Kahn, and we actually get to participate in the exact moment when her brain snaps in (new) Mortal Kombat 2 when she discovers her monster clone sister. She has a much more active role in her own defection… but also a lot less success. In the original plot, she was able to escape Shao Kahn after learning the truth. This time, she confronts Shao Kahn directly, he says “Yeah, I killed your dad. So what? It was Tuesday,” and Kitana is immediately tossed in a dungeon, necessitating more rescuing than in the last timeline. Liu Kang rescues our favorite assassin princess, and Shao Kahn is defeated. Shao Kahn is back in business about thirty seconds later, though, revives Queen Sindel with a bit of a power-boost this time, and Incredible Hulk Queen Sindel eventually attacks the heroes. She actively disowns Kitana before draining most of her soul, and, while Sindel is defeated (by other kombatants), Kitana is left to die. She lives just long enough to explain to Liu Kang that she is on the pill, and was totally DTF for like days at a time, but she’s dead now, barf, and this is very sad for you, Liu. She is then conscripted in Quan Chi’s skeleton army, having not even gotten around to killing her sister this go around.

Mortal Kombat X features Kitana as an angry revenant damned to the employ of Quan Chi. When Quan Chi gets his goth ass murdered by Scorpion, Kitana and (also dead) Liu Kang ascend to King and Queen of the Netherrealm. Better to rule in Hell than serve under Shao Kahn? Probably. Unfortunately, the policy decisions one actually makes as a monarch of the dead are never explored, and all we really learn about Kitana herself at this point is that she is super angry at just about everything.

She's dead here

And, thus, finally, do we reach Mortal Kombat 11. In this title, Kitana is still dead and just bumming around Hell as Liu Kang’s queen. In fact, she barely even pulls that off, as she is nearly immediately recruited by the story’s latest big bad, and she’s little more than a rotting henchman for a final boss that is inevitably going to homicidally betray her later. But! We’ve got two Kitanas this time, and a younger, significantly healthier (as in she actually has health) princess pops out of a timehole to assist the heroes of the present. And she certainly assists! While most of the kast is upset over dead moms or dead other selves, Kitana immediately gets her act together, and takes a whirlwind tour of “future” Outworld. She negotiates with Sheeva, current Queen of the Shokan, and recruits Goro’s entire race to her side. Then she manages to get Baraka and his horde to agree to play nice with Kotal Kahn, the guy who literally committed genocide against Baraka’s people (they got better). Then she marches her newly formed army against (time displaced) Shao Kahn, and absolutely kicks his ass. She decides to blind her former father, not kill him, and then takes the throne as Kitana Kahn. And she pulls off this coup in the span of a couple of days. She conquered an entire dimension in the time it takes for you to wait for your Amazon order, and the people (or what passes for people in that dimension) seem completely content with her rule. When Kitana eventually ascends to godhood thanks to Liu Kang choosing his goddess bride, it seems like Kitana earned it a lot more than Liu Kang, who only beat a god or two in mortal kombat. Like, seriously, dude, anybody could do that. Stryker could do that. Kitana became a beloved global queen inside of a long weekend.

And, yes, it technically wasn’t the first time she did such a thing. In the “old” timeline, she also led an army, united different clans, and conquered (unconquered?) Edenia, but this time she actually actively did it on screen. This time she accomplished something in a manner other than a bio paragraph or two, and it actively displayed why Kitana actually kicks some ass. So, hey, good job, Mortal Kombat 11. You finally made plot Kitana match her overpowered Mortal Kombat 2 form. Please don’t nerf her in the next timeline!

Next time: The other sister

MKK: Kung Lao

What you have to understand about Kung Lao is that there are essentially three Kung Laos… though not in a literal sense, as with Sub-Zero. Though there is a second Kung Lao, The Great Kung Lao, the Kung Lao that defeated Shang Tsung centuries ago, but was then murdered by Goro. That Kung Lao has nothing to do with these Kung Laos, and… oh my, this is getting to be a bit much…

Lookin' Sharp

Kung Lao is our first (introduced initially in) Mortal Kombat 2 kharacter in this rundown. What you have to remember about Mortal Kombat 2 is that, apparently, all creative juices had been spent in creating such luminaries as pants guy and ice dude in Mortal Kombat 1, so the new additions of MK2 wound up starting out as weapons delivery systems. You’ve got sword-arms, metal fans, missile sais, and even Jax was originally supposed to have his signature metal arms in his first appearance, but technology wasn’t quite there yet (even though Capcom’s Mega Man proved you could design a character with metal arms in 1987). Kung Lao appeared with this crop wearing his signature weapon: a metal, apparently lethal hat. According to interviews, Kung Lao’s headwear was inspired by the James Bond villain and Goldeneye walking cheat code Oddjob. And, yes, a regenerating, deadly hat does work well in a 2-D fighter.

Except it has nothing to do with Kung Lao.

As far as I know, Kung Lao’s hat has never been particularly explained in the Mortal Kombat kanon. There’s no it was the weapon of the ancestor. There is no secret sect of warriors dedicated to hat-fu. There is no ending where you find out Kung Lao was lost in a plane crash as a baby, and that hat is the only thing that is going to alert his mom to the fact that he’s still alive in Brazil. Nothing. Kung Lao just has a lethal Frisbee for a hat, and we all have to live with that.

Completely separate from Kung Lao: Hat Guy is Kung Lao: Peaceful Monk.

Lookin' Sharp

As you may be aware from these essays, Mortal Kombat 1 went poorly for Shang Tsung and his master, Shao Kahn. Shao Kahn was not pleased for obvious reasons, but Shang Tsung had a plan (to escape immediate, homicidal punishment). Liu Kang was the Champion of Mortal Kombat, but he could be challenged. So why not have a new Mortal Kombat tournament! In Shao Kahn’s Outworld! With blackjack! And hookers! Shao Kahn was into this plan, but there was only one hitch: why would Liu Kang enter a whole new tournament? Mortal Kombat is supposed to occur once a generation. And the victor is ageless until the next tournament. Why would Liu Kang blow that? An all-expenses paid trip to Outworld didn’t look very inviting, as that realm is almost 90% sewer mutant by volume, so what options did Shao Kahn have?

And that’s when Shao Kahn decided to send a pack of Barakas to kill every last Shaolin Monk they could find. That’ll do it!

So Liu Kang was good and pissed off for the duration of Mortal Kombat 2. Joining him on his quest for vengeance was Kung Lao, one of the few Shaolin Monks that survived the slaughter to tell the tale (“There were dudes with knives for hands! It was weird!”). Liu Kang was ready to slay Shao Kahn, but Kung Lao got the lesser personal vengeance duty of avenging himself against Baraka. Other than that, Kung Lao maintained that he was a monk of peace, and only fighting in Outworld out of a debt to his friend and fallen people.

And you see how that doesn’t exactly jibe with the whole “murder hat” thing, right?

Anywho, Mortal Kombat 2 went swimmingly for the good guys, and Kung Lao returned home to attempt to rebuild The White Lotus Society, his local chapter of Shaolin Monks. That was cut short by MK3, so Kung Lao went back to the battlegrounds. Then we had Mortal Kombat 4 (Gold, technically), and Kung Lao returned again, this time “coming out of retirement” so he could score a hit on Goro, the Trogdor that killed his ancestor and namesake. Kung Lao seriously landed one hat-hit on the dragon-dude, said he was satisfied, and then noped-out of a fight with a four-armed monster that would almost certainly have killed him immediately. Smart guy, that Kung Lao.

Lookin' Sharp

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance saw Shang Tsung kill Liu Kang. What’s more, Shang Tsung was able to kill Liu by stealing Kung Lao’s form, thus guaranteeing Kang would have his guard down for that fatal back crack. This pissed Kung Lao off but good, so Kung Lao decided he was going to become the shaolin hero the Mortal Kombat universe now so desperately needed. Kung Lao traveled to Outworld, found Liu Kang’s former master, and diligently trained so he could defeat Shang Tsung and Quan Chi. Kung Lao mastered the bicycle kick, formed his own “deadly alliance” with Kitana, and, while Kitana battled Quan Chi, Kung Lao challenged Shang Tsung to a private duel. Kung Lao lost. He lost bad. Kung Lao died, and spent Mortal Kombat: Deception in the time-out crypt.

And then we met Kung Lao #3.

Through the Mortal Kombat franchise’s weird desire to not be a fighting game, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks was created. This was a sort of beat ‘em up/adventure game that, more or less, retold the events of the finale of Mortal Kombat 1, and then proceeded to the whole of Mortal Kombat 2. It was a two-player title, and featured Liu Kang and Kung Lao as a permanent duo. Unfortunately, this simple concept immediately created a pair of challenges:

1. Kung Lao wasn’t actually in Mortal Kombat 1, how is he going to be playable during that time?
2. Kung Lao and Liu Kang are generally two peaceful, agreeable Shaolin monks. Their interplay is going to be boring as hell.

So a solution was found: Kung Lao was kind of a dick! Retcons (retkons?) now included the concept that Kung Lao was always in the background of Mortal Kombat 1, he was just disguised as a generic guard until his presence was necessary. And why was he doing that? Well, because Liu Kang was chosen to participate in Mortal Kombat, and Kung Lao was jealous, so he stowed away like he was living in an episode of Ducktales. And now Kung Lao has an excuse for having a new personality! He was always jealous of Liu Kang’s skill, and he has an obvious chip on his shoulder and desire to demonstrate himself as the better fighter. Liu Kang is a stoic, dedicated monk, and Kung Lao is the hot-headed rookie anxious to prove himself. Together, they fight crime!

Lookin' Sharp

…. Still no explanation for the hat though….

Anyway, MK: Shaolin Monks was technically not kanon (as the game kinda accidentally killed a healthy portion of the cast way too early for MK3 to happen), and it was ignored when a recently revived Kung Lao spent Mortal Kombat: Armageddon palling around with wind god Fujin as a sort of counter-balance to Dark Raiden and Undead Liu Kang running around. Nothing came of that, and then the universe rebooted.

Now, Mortal Kombat 9 theoretically takes place in a timeline where Mortal Kombat 1 started exactly the same as the first time. However, presumably because somebody really liked Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, Kung Lao’s personality was switched into jerkass mode, and it was “revealed” again that Kung Lao snuck into Mortal Kombat 1 (reboot) in order to prove he was better than Liu Kang. And, yes, he maintains this generally… cantankerous personality straight through to the redux of Mortal Kombat 2. During the finale of that tournament, Raiden is still trying to figure out a cryptic message from his future self, and decides to choose not Liu Kang, but Kung Lao to fight the final battles. Kung Lao defeats Shang Tsung, Quan Chi, and Kintaro. Awesome! Then Shao Kahn shows up, and snaps Kung Lao’s neck like a twig. Whoopsie! At least you beat Shang Tsung this time!

Lookin' Dead

Kung Lao spends Mortal Kombat X as a member of Quan Chi’s undead army, and generally seems to be a surly zombie that (like most of his buddies) blames Raiden for his own death. Like some of the other heavies of Mortal Kombat X, Kung Lao receives a “son” type character in Kung Jin, his little cousin that joins the new generation of Mortal Kombat heroes. Buuuuut they barely interact at all, so I’m not sure why I even brought it up.

Mortal Kombat 11 grants us Undead Angry Kung Lao and Time-Displaced Younger, but Still Kinda Pissed off Kung Lao. Undead Kung Lao is basically just there to stand around and look menacing next to Undead Liu Kang, but Younger Kung Lao is at least a little friendlier than many of his recent incarnations. He acknowledges his rivalry with Liu Kang, but, likely because he was plucked out of the timeline literally minutes before his inevitable death (and every third person reminds him of this fact) he’s a little more mellow. In the end, Kung Lao the Younger is ejected from the final battle on a time technicality, and Kung Lao the Elder is obliterated by Ascended Liu Kang.

Okay, maybe Kung Lao has a reason to be so churlish…

Next time: The universe’s chew toy

MKK: Liu Kang & Raiden

Mortal Kombat 11 seems to kill the Mortal Kombat Universe (uh, spoilers), so, let us wake the Mortal Kombat Universe.

To kick things off, we will start with the twin protagonists of the franchise…

Look out!

Liu Kang: Liu Kang is the generic, lovable karate man that won the first four Mortal Kombat “tournaments”. He defeated Shang Tsung. He slayed Shao Kahn. Twice. And, finally, he defeated the rogue Elder God, Shinnok. And then Shang Tsung and Quan Chi broke his neck.

That’s when things started to get weird.

(Sidenote: how much does it suck that the most prominent, canon “fatality” was a random neck snap? I would have been all in on MK: Deadly Alliance if it started with a cinema scene of Quan Chi tearing off Liu Kang’s leg and beating him with it while Shang Tsung turned someone into a baby or something.)

Lookin' good, Looey

Liu Kang spent one whole title dead. Then, just in time for the Dragon King to kill all of his buddies, Liu Kang was revived as an extremely surly zombie. Unlike Scorpion or other “revenant” characters in the franchise, undead Liu Kang was simply a slack-jawed, shackled, shambling corpse of his former self. And you know what? People seemed to like that!

So when the universe got rebooted, Liu Kang was killed almost immediately. Okay, technically he was killed in an alternate version of Mortal Kombat 3, but it was still within the same game (Mortal Kombat 9) that revived him, so it seemed like it happened pretty quick. Anyway, Raiden BBQed Liu Kang to extra crispy, and then Liu Kang spent a solid game and a half being a corrupted evil ghost that wound up conquering Hell through a liberal use of bicycle kicks. And it all worked out anyway, because Evil Hell Lord Liu Kang absorbed Time-Displaced Young & Saintly Liu Kang, and they became Liu Kang+ who did a few things, and then blah blah blah, he’s the creation god of the entire Mortal Kombat universe.

Actually, maybe we should cover exactly how that all went down…

Zappy!

Raiden: Screw Liu Kang, here’s the real protagonist of the franchise. Raiden is a god. What’s more, Raiden is not one of those “Watcher” gods that is always doing his best to explain why he can’t use his godly powers to just make someone a goddamned decent taco. No, Raiden is a real “get down in the muck” kind of god, and if he has to electrocute a few guys while he’s wearing mortal skin, so be it, just means he can work on his sweet roundhouses while he’s hanging on Earth. The earlier Mortal Kombat titles went to great lengths to explain why Raiden wasn’t using his divine abilities to snap his fingers and instantly end all of his battles, but more recent titles completely forsake that kind of thinking, and, uh, I guess he’s just pulling his punches a bit when fighting Stryker, and that’s why no one’s head explodes at the starting bell.

Now, as far as what Raiden was doing during the Mortal Kombat tournaments… That’s where you can see the basic shape of the series.

Mortal Kombat 1 was your typical anime tournament for the fate of the world. As such, Raiden was just there to fly around and shout like an idiot every couple of minutes. His greatest contribution was giving Christopher Lambert something to do.

Mortal Kombat 2 was your typical anime tournament for the fate of the world, again, but this time they had a change of venue. Again, Raiden is basically just there to be everyone’s Big Tournament Thunder Daddy. Hm… I should probably check to see if that terminology could be applied to anything else…

Mortal Kombat 3 featured Shao Kahn invading Earth(realm) in a last ditch effort to conquer the whole of existence. As such, Raiden, a god of Earth, was not allowed to participate until Mortal Kombat Trilogy (Super Mortal Kombat 3 Turbo Edition). This was theoretically to show just how desperate everything had gotten for our heroes… but it just came off as the Thunder God got replaced by the Thunder Native American Dude.

It's electric

Mortal Kombat 4 saw Shinnok threaten the universe. Shinnok was a deposed Elder God, so Raiden got to take center stage, and rep the God Squad with Fujin, the God of Silent Farts. Liu Kang was the ultimate savior of the universe, but at least Raiden got promoted from “god” to “elder god”, which is really going to look great on his resume.

… Or not! Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance was the story of how Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, professional second bananas, decided to kill Liu Kang and conquer the universe. The Elder Gods decreed that Billy Soulboy and Quan White weren’t the same kind of cosmic threat that had appeared in previous Mortal Kombat events, so they were going to sit this one out. But! Raiden disagreed, forsook his Elder God status, demoted himself to mere Regular God, and, for the first time “in game”, was the impetuous for the forces of good gathering under his wing (as opposed to just getting a paragraph of plot on an attract screen). Likely because Liu Kang was sick with a case of the deads, Raiden came off as the official protagonist leader for the first time. Unfortunately, this did ultimately end in everyone dying, but good hustle!

Mortal Kombat Deception started at the exact end of Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance. Old Man and Bald Man accidently revived Onaga, The Dragon King, and then literally everyone (important) died in an attempt to subdue Onaga. This included Raiden, who kamikazed into a gigantic bolt of electricity that, at best, gave Onaga frizzy hair for a week. Raiden reconstituted, though, and came back… more than a little pissed off. Raiden descended into being, essentially, “Dark Raiden”, and spent the entirety of the title looking like he was ten seconds away from telling all his “friends” on LiveJournal how he really feels. The next day…

Mortal Kombat Armageddon was little more than an excuse for every Mortal Kombat fighter to come together and clobber the hell out of each other. Technically, it was during this time that Raiden revived Liu Kang as his zombie enforcer, but, canonically, by the time the “tournament” was over, Raiden had wound up “good” again. Which is good! Because the final two fighters were Raiden and weren’t-you-already-dead-twice Shao Kahn. And guess who won! That’s right, it was Shao Kahn! Whoops! Time for a do-over!

He's a god!

Mortal Kombat 9 starts with Armageddon Raiden contacting Mortal Kombat 1 Raiden. In order to prevent the creation of Mortal Kombat games not helmed by Netherrealm Studios, Armageddon Raiden relays the desperate message “He must win”. Unfortunately, Future Raiden forgets that all versions of Raiden are (is?) kind of an idiot(s), so Mortal Kombat 1 Raiden decides to screw up the timeline but good. Like, he thinks, “Maybe Kung Lao is supposed to win, I should send him in to fight.” And then Kung Lao dies. Or “maybe literally anyone else is supposed to win”, and then literally everyone else dies. Basically, Raiden winds up creating a timeline where all your beloved characters are dead… which is just like the end result of Deadly Alliance… but… uh… this time it happened way too early. Anyway, eventually Raiden kills Liu Kang because he was getting uppity, and saves the whole stupid universe himself by letting Shao Kahn win Mortal Kombat 3, thus invoking some esoteric rule that the boss character can’t get his own ending or something. The Elder Gods vaporize Shao Kahn, and the whole of the universe is saved thanks to fine print.

Mortal Kombat X starts with the events of Mortal Kombat 4, but, in this new timeline, only Johnny Cage is alive enough to save us all from Shinnok. Cage can only pull off a temporary victory (you know Liu Kang would have put that god in the ground if he wasn’t currently a zombie in his unholy thrall), and Shinnok resurfaces decades later, just in time for everyone’s kids to be main characters. Raiden tries to take a hands-off approach to this whole “renegade god attempting to destroy humanity” thing, and, like most Raiden decisions, that ends poorly. Shinnok nearly destroys all of creation (again), Raiden is captured, and winds up having to be saved by a magical teenager. But Raiden does help out, as he absorbs the radiant energy of Shinnok (or something), which only has the minor side-effect of making Raiden all dark and rude (again). Mortal Kombat X ends with Dark Raiden threatening Dark Liu Kang with the ultimatum that there’s only room enough for one fallen protagonist in this universe. And that proves to be true! Because…

Mortal Kombat 11 sees Dark Raiden and Lord of Hell Liu Kang in direct conflict. But then Kronika, Goddess of Time and mother of Shinnok, shows up and further muddies everything. Current Dark Raiden is unceremoniously wiped from existence, and never returns. However, time-displaced Mortal Kombat 2 Raiden appears in his place. Wait, to be clear, that’s Raiden from the Mortal Kombat 2 that took place during the rebooted timeline of Mortal Kombat 9. So it’s Mortal Kombat 2* Raiden. Got it? Anywho, MK2* Raiden winds up nearly killing MK2* Liu Kang (again), but then receives a flash of insight that apparently Kronika was always manipulating Raidens across time into murdering Liu Kangs across time, because the combination of Raiden and Liu Kang is too OP for MK. Raiden takes this revelation incredibly literally, and fuses his essence with Liu Kang (which, incidentally, winds up being a version of Liu Kang that is already the fusion of MK11 Liu Kang and MK2* Liu Kang). This creates Fire God Liu Kang, and Raiden kind of fades into nonexistence as Fire God Liu Kang reboots the universe as he sees fit. So the twin protagonists of the franchise become one as the story closes. Hooray! Symmetry! I think!

He's a god!

So, yeah, in short, it’s Raiden’s world (and timelines!), and everyone else is just living there.

Next Time: The movie star and the military star!