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MKK: Jarek & Reiko & Tanya

It’s hard to say what anybody wanted out of Mortal Kombat 4.

Friendly dude

Like, okay, yes, everybody wanted a successful videogame. Nobody got one, but you have to assume someone wanted Mortal Kombat 4 to make the same impact as literally every previous Mortal Kombat. MK4 was the first Mortal Kombat was entering the third dimension, and it would have been nice if that produced a game that was, ya know, enjoyable, too. But gameplay aside, who made it into the roster? Who was going to represent Mortal Kombat in this brand new generation of gaming? Well, we’ve got some of the best of the established roster like Goro, Jax, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Raiden, Reptile, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion. That is (almost) the entire MK1 roster, plus Jax, who was originally intended for that adventure anyway. Then we’ve got Shinnok and Quan Chi, who are the new big bads, and were just established in MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero (which, at the time of MK4’s production, was probably assumed to be successful, too). Fujin was also added from Mythologies, and interviews with developers have stated that he was there for further MK:M synergy. What more could players ask for?

Well, how about a little originality? Shinnok, Quan Chi, and Fujin may technically be new fighters, but they’re all from another Mortal Kombat game. Drop that trio, and you’ve just got MK1 + A Few Extra Dudes (and, let’s be real here, Shinnok in MK4 is a discount Shang Tsung already). So the producers could include other popular fighters like Kano, Noob Saibot, and Kitana… but why not make a few changes to those kharacters, and produce all new, all different kharacters! Brand new fighters designed to entice old players! What could possibly go wrong?

Jarek is exactly what could go wrong.

Friendly dude

Jarek is a Black Dragon thief on the run from Sonya Blade and Jackson “Jax” Briggs. He is little more than a petty criminal, but is caught up in a magical fighting tournament when an evil sorcerer decides to try to invade Earth. Jarek chooses to fight not necessarily for his home planet, but to maybe earn his freedom and a few bucks along the way. And if this sounds like Kano’s Mortal Kombat 1 story, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. Jarek is a clone of Kano in all but physical similarities. He’s got the knife throw. He’s got the cannonball roll. He’s even got the laser eye fatality, which is significant, as he doesn’t even have a cybernetic eye.

It was pretty clear, even to the uninformed, generally brain-dead Mortal Kombat fans of 1997 (I have such a low opinion of myself) that Jarek was just a “reskin” of Kano. He was a hastily assembled substitute for a kharacter we already liked (or at least begrudgingly tolerated). What’s more, he wasn’t even an interesting substitute. You replace a thief that is about two degrees removed from being a T-1000, you maybe try to add a little visual flair more exciting than a freaking goatee. Jarek’s signature item is a boring vest, which is less a combat accessory and more something you pick up at The Gap.

Stomping around
Me and the boys looking for trouble

Though, speaking of gaps, Jarek was thrown off a mountain in Jax’s MK4 ending, and that wound up being his kanon ending. Nobody wanted to see Jarek again, and the storymasters of Mortal Kombat were happy to oblige (save an appearance as a generic boss in MK: Special Forces aka the game that killed the franchise). Jarek resurfaced (along with everybody) for MK: Armageddon, where it was revealed that he barely survived his cliff diving (likely because he played enough Tekken to know the trick), and was nursed back to health exclusively by his thirst for vengeance. He became the only officially official serial killer in the MK universe (all the other serial killers are just doing their jobs in a bloody tournament), and returned to fighting wielding a bloody cleaver and his own (marginally) unique special moves. Of course, he fails to get any confirmed kills, and then dies, because nobody cares about Jarek. After the reboot, he appears in the Mortal Kombat X comic as a generic Black Dragon mook, and is last seen rotting in a dungeon with Kano (as you do). Kano escapes. Jarek is missing and presumed boring.

STARS!

Jarek wound up the most obvious loser clone in the MK4 roster, but Reiko had similar origins. Noob Saibot, a confirmed member of Shinnok/Quan Chi’s Brotherhood of Shadow and secretly the titular star of MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, was initially supposed to be on the default MK4 roster. However, it was decided that his slot would be given to another, newer fighter, and Reiko was born. Reiko basically looked like an unmasked Ermac (that is to say, “red ninja”), but with Brotherhood of Shadow-style facial tattoos (see also Sareena). His special moves were a mix of Noob’s shadow moves and a new, unique shuriken toss. Aside from that, he was pretty unremarkable, and was inevitably heading for the Jarek pile.

Except…

In the original arcade version of MK4 (and the N64 version, for whatever reason), Reiko’s ending was a pretty “we had thirty seconds to make something” affair, featuring only Reiko enigmatically entering a portal. Where is he going? What is he doing? Nobody knows! Like, literally, as the designers have commented they didn’t have anything in mind for poor Reiko. But! The Playstation version of MK4, and the Champion Edition of MK4, Mortal Kombat Gold, modified that ending just a little bit. In the new version, Reiko steps through the portal, and arrives… in Shao Kahn’s throne room. And then he wears Shao Kahn’s helmet! Holy $&$*! Reiko is secretly Shao Kahn! The Gameboy Color version of MK4 even added narration alluding to Reiko wanting to conquer Earth! Oh man!

STARS!

Except it was all bullshit. The developers eventually noted that this whole thing was just done “to be funny”, and, since they didn’t really have anything in mind for Reiko in MK4, tying him to Shao Kahn (at the time, presumed dead) seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t intended as some sort of secret identity situation, simply a way to humorously add a slight bit of depth to a character that is otherwise little more than another ninja.

But that didn’t stop the fan community from speculating for years. Reiko was the orangutan in the fandom for quite a while, until, finally, in Mortal Kombat Deception, Shao Kahn made reference to one of his generals wearing/stealing the good (bad) emperor’s helmet. And thus was a controversy put to rest by a one-off gag line.

Of course, MK loves sniffing its own butt, so Reiko returned in MK: Armageddon as a character that completely ditched the Brotherhood of Shadow, and is now Shao Kahn’s Number #1 Fanboy. He’s got the shoulder pads, his own giant hammer, and can even perform Shao Kahn’s dash (complete with a magical little Shao Kahn helmet appearing during the attack). His ending features Reiko literally becoming Shao Kahn. But that wasn’t kanon. Kanon is that Reiko died with everybody else.

Reiko hasn’t returned for the new timeline, but he was at least mentioned in MK9 as a dude fighting Kenshi off-screen during nuMK2. He was also practically the star of the Mortal Kombat X comic series, but his whole stupid quest to become a god to rival Shao Kahn turns out to be trickery provided by another god, and Reiko winds up destroyed by Shinnok’s amulet. So even when he’s featured in a Mortal Kombat adventure, Reiko can’t win. But at least he isn’t Shao Kahn!

Ambassador of Boomerangs

Our final “clone” character in MK4 is the most successful of the lot… and that might not be an accident. Tanya was originally going to be Kitana, but blue ninja girl was modified into yellow ninja girl in an effort to see more original characters. Unlike Reiko and Jarek, though, this switch apparently happened very early in development, so Tanya wound up with a wholly unique moveset. Tanya has her own fireballs, a drill kick, and even the most powerful of all videogame weapons: the boomerang. Tanya was her own woman in a way Reiko and Jarek couldn’t even touch, and the fact that she resurfaced for later titles seemed to reinforce her status as one of the few gems of the MK4 lineup.

And her general storyline wasn’t bad, either. Actually, scratch that, Tanya’s story is good for general storytelling, but terrible for Tanya herself. Simple rule: Tanya always backs the loser. Always. Right from the start, she’s presented as the daughter of an Edenian ambassador, and she was involved in accidentally allowing Shinnok into Edenia and whoopsie poopsie starting an interdimensional war. However, her ending reveals that she deliberately allowed Shinnok to enter the realm, and was always working with the baddies because… I guess that’s what she does. Shinnok loses, and then she gets a new job with Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, the Deadly Alliance. Then they fail, and she winds up working for the Dragon King, because Baraka said so. This allows her to participate in Mortal Kombat: Deception, and she continues to be the ambassador of evil in MK: Armageddon. She dies a bad guy, but at least she died on the same team as every other bad guy she served before.

Such a friendly lady

Tanya returns in Mortal Kombat X, and is now serving Mileena. Mileena ran for empress on a platform that she would release Edenia from Outworld’s rule, so Tanya battles on her behalf against Kotal Kahn, who wants to make Outworld great again by never breaking up the band. Tanya is featured on Team Mileena during story mode, and returns as a playable kharacter through DLC. Thus, Tanya winds up with a kanon ending that notes she betrayed fellow Mileena acolyte Rain, got his fool ass killed, and is currently chilling in Kotal Kahn’s dungeon. Considering her ending’s only sanguinity comes in the form of “at least I’m not dead”, it seems the current Tanya might have a general idea where a few decades of only serving bad guys gets her. Now I just want to see another MK vs. DC where Tanya winds up hanging out with Harley Quinn and Mercy.

But at least we got one decent recurring kharacter out of the three “clone” characters. Jarek and Reiko might have been complete duds, but Tanya is always a fun time. 33% accuracy ain’t bad. So let’s give Mortal Kombat 4 a healthy review score of 33%. That sounds about right.

Such a friendly lady

Next time: The one completely original Mortal Kombat 4 fighter!

MKK: Smoke & Blaze

Here’s your ninja cowboy robot demon cyborg for the franchise.

He's human!

Smoke was introduced as Hidden Ninja Male #2. Like Reptile, he was intended to be little more than a playground rumor, and could be battled by pressing down + start on both controllers when the digitized head of Dan “Toasty” Forden appeared on the screen (a random occurrence usually prompted by an uppercut). –Look, it was the 90’s. There was weirder stuff in NBA Jam. It had Hilary Clinton.– Anywho, Smoke was simply a gray palette-swap of Scorpion, and his defining trait was that he was enveloped in the “smoke” graphical effect that was usually reserved for a few toasty fatalities. Like when his fellow hidden characters initially appeared, there was no real explanation for Smoke’s existence.

And then things got real complicated, real fast.

It was revealed that Smoke, like Sub-Zero, was a member of the Lin Kuei assassin’s guild. And, like Sub-Zero, he was bumming around Mortal Kombat 2 to complete a hit on Shang Tsung. But, as everyone noticed Shang Tsung continued to be alive after two separate tournaments, the Lin Kuei started to lose face on account of their blemished kill count. Lin Kuei leadership decided that robots were the answer, and, after “cyberizing” two willing participants, Smoke and Sub-Zero were next on the chopping (off flesh) block. Smoke and Sub-Zero attempted to escape, but only Sub-Zero was successful. Smoke was captured, and transformed into a vaguely blue-gray robot in need of a decent muffler.

He's a robot!

Smoke was different from the other metal boys, though. Smoke, unlike Cyrax and Sector, retained his soul and some level of autonomy. He was still programmed to hunt and kill Sub-Zero the (fleshy) traitor, but, upon finding his former blood brother, he broke free of Lin Kuei control, and officially joined the forces of good. Hooray! Unfortunately, Smoke was still kind of a crappy ninja-robot, and he was defeated by Shao Kahn’s hordes somewhere along the way. He was dragged back to Outworld (maybe as a trophy, or maybe so Kano could have a new robot buddy), and Sub-Zero… kinda forgot Smoke ever existed. Maybe he just assumed the poor ‘bot exploded while no one was looking? I don’t know. Point is that Smoke was deactivated and left in Shao Kahn’s tower for a solid number of games.

While Smoke’s robot brothers saw a few more adventures over the course of the franchise, Smoke himself did not return until Mortal Kombat: Deception (basically MK6). By this point, Noob Saibot (the original Sub-Zero and another hidden character of Mortal Kombat 2) was unemployed and looking for a new startup opportunity. He decided robots were the future, and stumbled upon the deactivated Smoke. Noob decided he was going to start his own robot ninja army, and chose to revive Smoke with a new, demonic upgrade. What is the kanon explanation for how the undead ninja transformed and resurrected a long-dead cyborg? I think you know!

NANOMACHINES!

So Cyborg-Ninja-Demon Smoke was reborn as Noob’s slave, and the duo became a tag team that wound up dominating the coveted “sub boss” rung on the ladder of Mortal Kombat: Deception. However, technically, they had nothing to do with the big bad of that adventure (The Dragon King), and, aside from generally menacing Sub-Zero (II), they didn’t really do much together. They returned as separate characters with similar goals in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and Smoke started to regrow his own conscience/consciousness when Sub-Zero once again appealed to his cyber-humanity. Smoke was theoretically free of Noob’s influence by the end of MK:A… but then the universe reset, so it didn’t matter a puff.
He's a demon robot!

Mortal Kombat 9 was “only” a modified retelling of Mortal Kombat 1-3, but the title also decided to provide a complete backstory for Smoke. Smoke has always had smoke-based magic, and, like Sub-Zero’s ice or Liu Kang’s fire, it was always kind of assumed this was just some special power, and, who cares how he got it? I saw a yogi breathe fire once, it doesn’t matter if it was because he ate too much curry or was blessed by a god. But, for whatever reason, Smoke was granted a backstory that apparently went back to his infancy. Smoke was once a wee baby named Tom, but was abducted by a cult (it’s the MK Universe, so we’re going to assume this was a cult of ninja), and sacrificed to some generic demon. Tommy Boy died, but his physical form returned as an enenra (a “real” Japanese mythical creature/yōkai), a sort of smoke monster. The enenra killed everyone in the room, and then returned to simply being baby Tomas. Some Lin Kuei were in the next apartment over, heard the carnage caused by one hell of a baby, and decided to adopt and raise the demon child. Couple in some random amnesia that was caused by the whole situation, and Tomas grew up believing he was simply a normal boy ninja that incidentally possessed magical smoke powers.

He's human!  Kinda!

So, to be clear, Smoke has apparently been an undead smoke demon from day one. This will be important in a minute.

Back to what actually happens during Mortal Kombat 9. During this iteration of Mortal Kombat 2/3, Sub-Zero is captured by the Lin Kuei, and Smoke escapes (mostly thanks to Raiden attempting to stymy the annoying unlock conditions for Cyber Smoke). So, on the surface level, their roles are reversed: a human Smoke revives the humanity within a Cyber Sub-Zero. Cool! Then, just when things are looking up for Smoke (for once!), he gets his fool ass killed in a battle with Sindel, Queen of the Banshees. Like all of the other defeated heroes, Smoke is revived by Quan-Chi as an undead servant in his armies.

But… wait.

Smoke was already an undead demon, he just happened to possess a human form thanks to what appeared to be an unholy clerical error. And we can’t even claim this was some kind of unintended retkon, as this whole “undead” thing happened in the very title where his demonic origins were introduced. And, while Smoke is not a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, he returns during story mode just long enough to claim he will no longer be known as “Smoke”, but is now “Enenra” (dude is not great at coming up with interesting codenames). So the Mortal Kombat writers are leaning completely into this “revelation”.

He's demon human!

What does this mean? Basically, Smoke is a former-robot ninja undead smoke demon that died and came back as a double-undead demon from hell.

He’s one of Mortal Kombat’s more straightforward kharacters.

Next time: We’ll cover the four-armed subboss of… Wait. There’s another hidden character? No, that can’t be right. We just covered Jade and Smoke, and Noob Saibot appeared during the Sub-Zero I rundown. There’s another one? Can I get a picture?

Look closer...

No. We already covered those doofs. What? Zoom in and enhance?

There he is!

Oh! Right! It’s 4:20 somewhere, let’s cover Blaze.

Blaze’s backstory goes way back to the beginning of the MK Universe, and we’ll cover the finer details of that story when we cover Edenia’s two large adult sons in a few game’s time. For right now, we’ll look at the basics: Blaze is a fire elemental (shocking, I know), and it was his job to be involved in the single stupidest idea the gods of the MK Universe (who already base dimensional conquest on fighting tournaments) ever devised. When the time was right, Blaze was destined to “awaken” and battle some random dudes to determine the fate of the universe as we know it.

Unfortunately, Blaze got kidnapped like seven seconds into this plan, and, geez, you’d really think someone would have made sure that wouldn’t happen. Come on, gods, could you guys have set up like one firewall for your firedude?

Toasty!

Anyway, Blaze got brainwashed, and was forced to guard the egg of the Dragon King, the only way for Onaga to revive after his untimely death of being poisoned and smacked around with a hammer by Shao Kahn for a solid two days. Blaze was stuck hanging around some lava and guarding the egg, but he did get a brief sabbatical during Mortal Kombat 2 to go out and play in the background of the Pit II stage. Incidentally, some versions of Blaze’s story claim that he was kidnapped after that fight in Mortal Kombat 2, but MK: Armageddon clearly states that Blaze got stuck guarding the egg hundreds of years ago (when the antagonist of that tale awakens and founds the Red Dragons), and MK Kontinuity would never have such a glaring error. It just isn’t done!

Onaga’s Egg becomes a plot point during MK: Deadly Alliance, and Blaze becomes an actual playable (though extremely hidden) kharacter. This was all meant to be a lead-up to the finale of the PS2-era MK trilogy, and certainly wasn’t an excuse for Boon to once again introduce a hidden kharacter that he could claim was “there all along”. Blaze is distinctly introduced as an amnesiac, and, having been freed from his egg-duty by completely failing to guard the egg against a vampire, lizard, and robot, Blaze was free to roam the countryside and beat up random kombatants. He also returned for MK: Deception’s PSP-based revision, Unchained, and, since the plot of MK: Annihilation was starting to coalesce, Blaze finally remembered it was his job to fight dudes to find the dudest of them all. Sweet! He’s been kind of doing his job all along!

He's fiery!

Blaze became the final boss of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation when he happened to remember that he had nigh-infinite, literally godly power. Blaze was only supposed to test the mettle of a pair of cranky brothers, but, since he had spent the previous two games getting pistol-whipped by the likes of Kano and Kobra, Blaze decided to invite literally everybody in the Mortal Kombat universe to his special fighting ziggurat. Everybody killed everybody else for the glory of finally battling Blaze, and, in the end, Shao Kahn managed to win the tournament after nearly killing Raiden. This would have led to Shao Kahn gaining Blaze’s nigh-omnipotent (though apparently easily forgotten) power, so Raiden called a do-over on the whole universe.

He's tiny!

Now Blaze is back to hanging out in Pit backgrounds and guarding dragon eggs in the “new” Mortal Kombat universe. Sorry, you not-so-human torch.

Next time: The boss(es) of the place.

MKK: Scorpion & Sub-Zero(s)

I covered Hanzo “Scorpion” Hasashi’s journey in great detail a couple of years back (man, 2015? Time flies in universes that don’t reboot), so I’ll just cover the highlights here:

Look out!


Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Normal ninja dude that gets murdered by Sub-Zero before the end of the first level.

Mortal Kombat 1: An avenging ghost skeleton from hell that payback-murders Sub-Zero. Mission accomplished!

Mortal Kombat 2: Still an avenging ghost, still trying to kill Sub-Zero, but learns that “this” Sub-Zero is actually OG Sub-Zero’s lil’ bro. Vows to become a protector skeleton for Baby Sub-Zero.

Mortal Kombat 3: An avenging ghost that is accidentally released from Hell. Kind of a free agent, but eventually winds up protecting Baby Sub-Zero.

Mortal Kombat 4: An avenging ghost that completely forgot what he was doing. Tries to kill Baby Sub-Zero again, but backs off when he is informed Quan Chi is responsible for the death of his family. Drags Quan Chi to Hell.

Aw, hell

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance: An avenging ghost that spends a lot of his free time torturing Quan Chi. Eventually, Quan Chi gains the upper hand, and has his new oni buddies toss Scorpion into The Soulnado.

Mortal Kombat Deception: An avenging ghost that is made Defender of the Realms after The Soulnado accidentally spits Scorpion out in Heaven. The Elder Gods are even worse at their job than Raiden, so appointing a murder skeleton the guardian of reality apparently seemed like a good idea.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon: An avenging ghost that is really pissed off. The Elder Gods said they would bring back Scorpion’s family and tribe in exchange for helping out during Deception… but Scorps didn’t read the fine print, and his friends and family were returned to “life” as undead fire skeletons (just like dad!). Scorpion attempted to kill just about everybody in this contract dispute, and, considering the world then wound up in a reboot, he kinda did.

MK v DC: An avenging ghost that thought Batman was Sub-Zero in disguise. This ended… poorly.

Mortal Kombat 9: An avenging ghost that is living MK1-3 again.

They're friends now

Mortal Kombat X: A dad. Thanks to some unusual plot contrivances, Scorpion is revived as a perfectly normal dude who incidentally possesses hellfire-based magical abilities. Score! Scorpion reboots his ninja clan, and even adopts another fighter’s son as his own. And he’s best friends with (baby) Sub-Zero! He still sends Quan Chi to Hell, though, so everything isn’t completely topsy-turvy.

Mortal Kombat 11: A dad and an avenging ghost. Time travel grants us Diet and Original Scorpions, so you’ve got your choice of skeleton man or regular man. Take your pick!

So, tldr, Scorpion is the most popular character, and no one has a damn clue what to do with the damned soul.

And now for a different story…

Once upon a time, there was a man named Bi-Han. Bi-Han was an assassin of the Lin Kuei clan, and was regarded as their best and brightest. So, when an albino wizard with spikes on his neck came calling with a job, Bi-Han was hired. And Bi-Han, like a boss, made his way through some magical temples, killed a rival ninja, and ably completed Quan Chi’s tasks, despite the fact that this all had to be done with the handicap of taking place during Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. Quan Chi then inevitably betrayed Bi-Han, and the two squared off for the fate of the world in the very bowels of Hell. Bi-Han was successful, but he also learned that he was only able to fight in Hell because his soul was tainted by evil. Maybe it was because he worked with an evil sorcerer. Maybe it was because it was literally his job to kill hundreds of people. Maybe it was because he did not delete downloaded roms after 24 hours. Whatever the reason, Bi-Han, aka Sub-Zero, was informed that if he did not change his ways, he would be damned for all of eternity.

Then Mortal Kombat happened, and Scorpion BBQ’ed Sub-Zero but good. Sorry, bud, we don’t all get to have a wonderful life.

That's our Sub-Zero!
This is kanon


But anyone that knows mythology knows that if you are killed by an undead spirit of vengeance, then you will rise again as an undead spirit of vengeance. Or maybe that’s vampires? Whatever, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero was reborn as Bi-Han aka Noob Saibot.

So, a quick word about hidden characters in Mortal Kombat: We’ll talk about this more when we get to the relevant character, but Mortal Kombat more or less created the whole concept of a “hidden fighter” in fighting games when Mortal Kombat 1 V3.0 first unleashed Reptile onto the scene. By the time of Mortal Kombat 2, MK’s adoring public was already expecting crazy hidden fighters with even more ridiculous unlock conditions. A big ol’ question block became part of the game progression, and gray ninja Smoke and green ninja woman Jade were the obvious hidden characters of MK2. There was also Noob Saibot, an even more hidden ninja that was colored entirely black, and was so named because the franchise (and Noob) was created by Boon and Tobias (and read those names backwards if you didn’t catch that bit of wordplay immediately). Fighting Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat 2 required a single player winning 50 consecutive versus matches. Assuming a credit cost 50¢ at the time, this meant that to even see Noob, at least $25 had to be deposited into a MK2 arcade cabinet.

Shadowy!

What am I getting at? Noob Saibot was trolling the audience from the very beginning.

Back to anti-reality: Bi-Han-now-Noob-Saibot became a nefarious shadow wraith, and the canon explanation (mostly a retcon) for his presence in Mortal Kombat 2-3 was that he was working for Shao Kahn, but secretly spying on everyone on behalf of Quan Chi and Shinnok, whom he was now damned to serve for eternity. He was released from duty when Shinnok was defeated during Mortal Kombat 4, and briefly went back to his old job with Shao Kahn during Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance (or at least the confusingly named GBA port of it, Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition). That ended when Shao Kahn died (or “died”), and Noob Saibot, after years of infernal enslavement, could finally collect his undead unemployment.

The throne of Hell was empty after Shinnok and Quan Chi wound up dead (damned? Vaporized? Just that general incapacitation that occurs to Mortal Kombat kharacters when they’re not directly involved in the plot?), so Noob decided it was time for a promotion. He got his own robot ninja, Smoke, and started a tag-team operation with the ultimate goal of grooming a robot-demon army. To be clear, that is an army of robots that are also demons, and not demons that are incidentally working with robots. Nanomachines are involved. Regardless, Noob and Smoke ambushed Noob’s brother, Other Sub-Zero, but Sub-Zero escaped. Quan Chi decided to resurface then, and Noob, Smoke, and Quan Chi all decided to storm Sub-Zero’s front gates together. It was kind of like The Wizard of Oz, except there wasn’t a Dorothy, and the Tin Man was an undead robot ninja demon that could turn into a gas. That motley crew failed, but Sub-Zero was able to restore Smoke’s consciousness. He attempted to do the same for his brother, but Noob continued to be a jerkass demon. There was some rumbling in Noob’s Annihilation ending that original, compassionate/alive Sub-Zero was going to resurface as a controlling force… but the universe rebooted about seven seconds later.

GHOST MAN!

So, good news, the universe is fresh and new again, and Bi-Han/Sub-Zero is alive and chill again. Bad news though, the world rebooted at about the start of Mortal Kombat 1, so, despite everyone’s best attempts to avoid such a fate, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero is still kanon. This means that when Scorpion inevitably killed Sub-Zero all over again, he became Noob Saibot, again, just like last time. Unlike last time, though, since his big reveal as OG Sub-Zero was already spent back during Deadly Alliance, this Noob Saibot was out and proud, and basically became Quan Chi’s personal bodyguard for much of the story. And then he got tossed into The Soulnado. Whoops.

The Soulnado should have either torn Noob Saibot to pieces or made him Defender of the Realms (there’s precedent!), but it wound up doing exactly nothing. Noob Saibot laid low for the entirety of Mortal Kombat X, and, like in the original timeline, only decided to skulk out of the shadows when his bosses got murdered. In this case, he joined up with the bad gal du jour in exchange for a promised clan of shadow ninja. Every last kharacter in Mortal Kombat 11 fails, though, and the universe gets flushed down the toilet once again. So will Noob resurface as Sub-Zero again, or will he be doomed to be a Noob forever? Time will tell!

So let’s try this story again…

Frosty!


Once upon a time, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero was a warrior that fought in the first Mortal Kombat, but was fatally defeated by his rival, Scorpion. However, Bi-Han was not the only cryomancer in the Lin Kuei. There was his younger brother, Tundra. There was also his sister, Ice, his other brother, Freezing, his estranged cousin, Frost, his weird uncle, Kinda Cold But I Guess You Could Turn Down The Thermostat If You Want, and his dog, Cool Joe Canine. But this story isn’t about any of them, this is simply the story of Kuai Lang, formerly Tundra, who decided to adopt the title of Sub-Zero upon the immolation of Sub-Zero I.

Sub-Zero the Younger is a very different person from his brother. Well… not technically, as they both looked identical between Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2, but, when Sub-Zero decided to avenge his brother by completing Lin Kuei’s contract on Shang Tsung’s head (oh yeah, that’s why Bi-Han showed up for MK1), he made two important choices. One, he brought backup in the form of Smoke, another Lin Kuei assassin who had control over… I don’t know… probably earth or something. Second, Sub-Zero proved himself to be less blood-thirsty than his bro. Despite being in the tournament for the exclusive purpose of murdering a dude, Sub-Zero did not needlessly murder some rando during Mortal Kombat 2 (probably Baraka. He’s always the chump), and this mercy conveyed to Scorpion that Sub-Zero II was certainly not the vicious Sub-Zero I. Never mind that an immortal vengeance creature should probably be able to tell two different people apart for all sorts of other reasons, but I suppose poor perception is one of the drawbacks of being a skeleton without, ya know, eyes. Regardless, Scropion and Sub-Zero became best buddies for a game or two as a result, and everyone went home happy.

Wait, crap, nothing happy ever happens in this franchise. So we had two Mortal Kombats, and a Sub-Zero was supposed to kill Shang Tsung in both of them. And, while the newest Sub-Zero at least survived Mortal Kombat 2, he didn’t actually complete the contract, as Shang Tsung still lived. This meant the Lin Kuei assassins had to make a difficult choice to regain their fallen honor. Options available included:

• Send more assassins to kill Shang Tsung
• Declare the contract null and void, as Shang Tsung proved to be an other-worldly sorcerer
• Find out who the hell kept putting out a hit on Shang Tsung, and offer a refund
• Launch a social media campaign that would convince everyone that killing Shang Tsung was for nerds
• Turn everyone into soulless robots

So the Lin Kuei, naturally, decided to go with the robot option. Look! They were going to try the social media option, but Bi-Han was the only one with their clan’s facebook password. It happens!

He doesn't look Asian...

So Sub-Zero and Smoke were chosen to become soulless robots in the first of a line of robot assassins that clearly wouldn’t attempt to destroy all of humanity immediately. Sub-Zero and Smoke escaped, though. Well… mostly. Smoke was captured and automated, and Sub-Zero got away with a pretty significant (and bitchin’) scar. Then Shao Kahn invaded all of Earth, and Sub-Zero got stuck fighting the forces of Outworld and robot ninja programmed to hunt and kill exclusively him. This is when we all learned that Sub-Zero is not only an expert ninja, but also some kind of computer genius. It’s kanon that, during Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero fought the forces of evil, reprogrammed Cyrax, reprogrammed Smoke and reawaked his soul, and found the time to reawaken the true soul of the Lin Kuei (or something). Basically, in one game, Sub-Zero went from a fledgling fugitive to nearly the leader of his clan. Though I suppose promotion opportunities were ripe as almost everyone else on Earth was effectively dead at the time…

Comparatively, Mortal Kombat 4 was a pretty chill time for Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero decided to fight against Shinnok because he read a plot synopsis of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, and thought it was time to avenge his brother (or prove he was better than him). Scorpion plum forgot that this Sub-Zero had no input on his death or the death of his family, though, so Sub-Zero did have to deal with an angry skeleton during the battle. In the end, Scorpion and Sub-Zero made up, again, and Sub-Zero went home pretty satisfied when Liu Kang defeated Shinnok. Sure, Sub-Zero failed to kill the final boss again, but you really can’t get upset when Liu Kang saves the world. He’s good at it.

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance presented a much worse time for Sub-Zero. One day, Sektor, the one robot that Sub-Zero decided not to reprogram, showed up, and murdered the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei. Sub-Zero chased Sektor off with a broom, but the Lin Kuei was left without a leader. Sub-Zero, figuring that he was currently the only Lin Kuei member with a backstory and a name, decided to take up the mantel of leader. Literally. The position came with a rad dragon medallion, and, fun fact, it enhanced his ice powers a hundredfold. Sweet! It had the unfortunate drawback of making him look about 50 years old, though. The other assassins told him it made him look “distinguished”, but that was probably just because he wouldn’t stop making ice mirrors and sighing loudly. It was a rough time for Sub-Zero morale.

Sub-Zero then was the first Mortal Kombat kharacter to become a fake dad. Sub-Zero, now Grandmaster, took on a pupil, Frost. Frost was an unruly girl with ice powers just like Sub-Zero, so it only made sense that he would be able to help her to be a better person through training and whatever assassins do when they’re not assassinating people. Unfortunately, Sub-Zero completely failed, and, while everyone was supposed to be saving the world during Deadly Alliance, Frost betrayed Sub-Zero, and stole his rad medallion. This backfired immediately, and Frost was overwhelmed by her own overflowing cryomancy, transforming her into a comatose Frostsicle. Sub-Zero, not really anxious to ever see Frost again, decided to find the deepest ice box in Outworld to stow his treacherous protégé. And, score, he managed to find his family’s ancient land in Outworld, and, apparently, this was when he discovered his ice powers had some kind of origin story, and it wasn’t just a “Guile can throw fireballs because whatever” situation every time he shot snowballs at an opponent. Neat!

Chill Armor

With knowledge comes cool equipment powerups, so Sub-Zero donned the armor of his people in time for Mortal Kombat Deception. So, if you’re curious why Sub-Zero looked like The Shredder for a game or two, there you go. Sub-Zero then became super best friends with Kenshi, a blind swordsman, and the two had whacky adventures in Outworld that really didn’t have much to do with anything. They probably learned something about disabilities and tolerance and killing dudes with swords for arms. Sub-Zero then encountered his long lost brother, Evil Shadow Man, and Sub-Zero barely escaped with his life. He was also reacquainted with Smoke, who was now a robot demon that was none too pleased that Sub-Zero forgot he existed for like three games. Oh, and then Sub-Zero finally got home, only to discover that Frost had reawakened, got home before him, and murdered a healthy portion of his clan. Whoops!

Things only got worse during the events of Mortal Kombat Armageddon, when Smoke and Noob invaded the Lin Kuei temple, and converted anyone that wasn’t already killed by Frost into a robot demon. Sub-Zero technically “won” that battle, but the Lin Kuei were not looking too good by the end of Armageddon. Luckily, this was about when the universe rebooted, so no one had to dig out a manual on demon robot assassin clan maintenance.

DETECTED: Frosty!

The new universe of Mortal Kombat 9 started about the same: Sub-Zero took up the mantle of Sub-Zero after the death of Sub-Zero. But! This time, instead of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, Sub-Zero was captured, and automated into Cyber Sub-Zero. And that was kind of cool! Except he wound up having the same arc as Cyber Smoke (is robot, rediscovers soul, decides to fight for virtue) with the added handicap of being murdered about seven seconds into joining the forces of good. Cyber Sub-Zero then becomes an evil zombie robot, but Quan Chi immediately transformed Zombie Robot Sub-Zero back into simply Zombie, Fleshy Sub-Zero, because there was no way this albino sorcerer was going to deal with a zombie that required update reboots every three days.

So Undead Sub-Zero (but not Noob Saibot, he was already double dead at this point) served Quan Chi and Shinnok for a little bit, until Raiden (maybe accidentally) revived a group of revenants that included our favorite frosty buddy. Alive Sub-Zero then follows his old “destiny” again: he becomes grandmaster of the Lin Kuei, fights off Sektor and his evil robot ninja, and even begins a new friendship with Alive Scorpion. Frost, rather chilly in any timeline, nearly cocks it up, but Sub-Zero bonds with Scorpion over some footage of his entire family being murdered, and all is forgiven.

Great friends!

Mortal Kombat 11 continues the trend of Sub-Zero being vaguely tangential to the plot. The big bad of the game has recruited Frost and some time-displaced Cyber Ninja to her cause, and it naturally comes down to the all-star team of Scorpion and Sub-Zero to squash this threat. Sub-Zero, once again, reprograms Cyrax and more-or-less destroys the Cyber Initiative, thus ending the threat of this army of mooks that weren’t going to be useful in anything but a Musuo game anyway. When the universe is rebooted, Sub-Zero doesn’t distinctly have anything to do with the final victory (no Ice God Sub-Zero for you), and is vaporized having not ever found that sweet armor in this timeline.

Personally, I find that ending for a beloved kharacter to be a little… cold.

Next time: Six arms, two characters.