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MKK: Quan Chi

This is going to be difficult to explain to people in the year of our Raiden 2019, but Mortal Kombat went through the strangest metamorphosis between its initial release and the finale of Mortal Kombat 3 four years later. At launch, Mortal Kombat (1) was a revelation that not only lit the arcades ablaze like a thousand flaming skulls, but also was featured nigh-nightly on the evening news during segments that warned us all of “mature content” and the vicious seduction of our innocent children. Mortal Kombat was an arcade smash and the scariest goddamned thing in the world. Contrast this with 1996, when Mortal Kombat Trilogy was hitting home consoles. At this point, we had…

He's on fire!

• Mortal Kombat cameos across the board
• The wildly successful Mortal Kombat movie
• Various Mortal Kombat comics, some directly from the franchise creators
• Mortal Kombat being the featured game on roughly every game/cheat magazine every other month
• The Mortal Kombat animated series, Defenders of the Realm
• Mortal Kombat action figure lines, including one set that was meant to scale with contemporary GI Joes
• And, of course, freaking events that accompanied every Mortal Kombat console release. It’s arguable that the release of the original Mortal Kombat on consoles, “Mortal Monday”, introduced a generation to the very concept of videogames having release dates (as opposed to weird hunks of plastic that were clearly just teleported into stores randomly from the future)

In short, Mortal Kombat went from being some dingy tech demo fighting game to the root of all evil to, eventually, a mainstay at toy stores across the country. Mortal Kombat had become arguably the face of gaming by 1996.

So you’ll forgive the curators of Mortal Kombat for believing they could do no wrong. You’ll have to forgive them for Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero.

On paper, this could have been a thing of beauty. The concept was simple: Mortal Kombat has a robust kast with interesting and complex “mythologies”, so why not produce some games that focus on non-fighting tournament based events? Not every problem can be solved by a round robin round of roundhouses, after all. And while we’re at it, let’s see if this “mythology” can tie into the inevitably convoluted backstory for the next “real” Mortal Kombat title. How much better would Shao Kahn be if you knew his whole deal before he popped out of nowhere in Mortal Kombat 2? So much better! One would assume! (Incorrectly!)

Unfortunately, MKM:S was not to be a beautiful unicorn, but more of a three-legged donkey that has been rolling in shit all day while another, fatter donkey stood there shouting MAGA slogans and various homophobic slurs. The gameplay of MKM:S was predominantly based on “what if exactly the same controls as a fighting game”, which could have worked for more of a beat ‘em up, but was absolutely abhorrent in what is essentially a 2-D platformer. Frankly, any game where you need to press a button to turn around should be fired directly into the sun (looking at you, Guilty Gear: Isuka). And couple the general stiffness that already exists in Mortal Kombat with a nigh-infinite gauntlet of instant kill traps, and the whole experience just…

That sucked

Falls flat.

And in further ill-advised developments, the good folks behind Mortal Kombat decided to go a step further past digitized human actor sprites, and hire for-real human actors to act out the important plot beats of Mythology. Regrettably, this created a sort of reverse uncanny valley effect. When you see Sub-Zero as a little digitized fighter, that’s cool, there’s Sub-Zero, he’s going to take someone’s head off, and it’s going to work out. When you see that “same” Sub-Zero as a real-life FMV person in a cutscene… uh… what am I looking at here? That’s not Sub-Zero! That’s just some dumpy dude wearing a Sub-Zero costume! And I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Playstation 1-era videogame actors were maybe not the best at selling a story. In short, in a time when “immersion” was starting to become gaming’s latest buzzword, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero did its level best to practically insult the player for investing in Mortal Kombat (mythologies).

And amid all this, this is how we were introduced to Quan Chi.

This jerk

First of all, of all the kharacters introduced after Mortal Kombat 3, Quan Chi looks to be the most relevant and reoccurring. This seems to indicate that someone in the Mortal Kombatorium (where all Mortal Kombat games are made) really likes the guy. Maybe a member of the KISS Army saved Ed Boon’s life? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Quan Chi was the marquee fighter for Mortal Kombat 4, the star of MK:MS, and a frequently recurring antagonist in nearly every following Mortal Kombat title. He was slated to be DLC (with Harley Quinn!) in MK vs. DC, and he even technically premiered not in Mythologies, but as a guest villain on the animated series. He was a little off model (albeit like every MK: Defenders of Realm character), and he had a Megatronian plan to infect all the heroes with a rage virus or something to make them all fight for no reason (like… every Mortal Kombat… huh), but he was still essentially the “evil wizard” Quan Chi right from the get-go. Quan Chi is somebody’s favorite fighter in the franchise.

But you wouldn’t know that from watching MK:MS. Again, on paper, we’ve got a pretty cool customer. Quan Chi was a wizard, and, like most wizards, he needed some magical doodads for, I dunno, turning someone into a toad or whatever. Wizards are a naturally lazy bunch (you ever seen a wizard mowing the lawn?), so he hired a pair of rival ninja(esque) guilds to go and find his trinkets. Sub-Zero of the Lin Kuei not only completed the assigned task, but also murdered his rival along the way. As an extra special thank you for a job well done, Quan Chi completely obliterated the rival ninja clan, and maybe picked up a spare vengeance skeleton along the way. So, to be clear for future retkons: the final answer here is that Quan Chi murdered Scorpion’s family, and Sub-Zero only kinda inspired it. Please get your retribution right, Scorpion.

Anywho, Sub-Zero wound up with Quan Chi’s ultimate goal, a magical amulet, and dutifully handed it over to the wizard. At this point, the chalk-white wizard with freaking spikes growing out of his shoulders revealed that, gasp, he’s totally an evil wizard, and Sub-Zero was tricked into helping Quan Chi revive an ancient evil god known as Shinnok. Quan Chi escaped to Hell, and Sub-Zero followed after Raiden explained that an ancient evil god running around would be a terrible thing for the assassination business. People would be getting murdered for nothing!

So, naturally, Sub-Zero ventured down to the Netherrealm, eventually defeated Quan Chi and the divine Shinnok, and saved the day. How could an evil god empowered by his extra-special magical amulet be defeated by a mere ice ninja? Simple! Quan Chi kept the real magical amulet for himself! Oh, that rascally Quan Chi! He’ll be the death of us all!

Anywho, this cool and calculating wizard was played by the same dude as Kano, so maybe his real cunning didn’t exactly come across in his initial premiere…

This jerk

And then that brought us up to Mortal Kombat 4. Nobody liked Mortal Kombat 4.

Again, Mortal Kombat as a brand was riding high after the release of Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Unfortunately, this was also the era when games “had to” upgrade to 3-D. The old days of 2-D were dead and gone, and the mere concept that 2-D games could exist alongside their pointy colleagues was insane. Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Battle Arena Toshinden (of all things!) were defining what fighting games could be, and Mortal Kombat wanted a piece of that sweet, polygonal pie. Thus, Mortal Kombat 4 forsook the realistic 2-D models of the olden days, and elevated the whole kast to the third dimension.

Unfortunately, nobody had a damn clue how to translate the actual Mortal Kombat gameplay to 3-D, so… woof, man. Just woof.

As previously noted, Quan Chi was the marquee kharacter of Mortal Kombat 4, as he was featured in all advertising and was plastered over the side of every Mortal Kombat 4 arcade machine. Oddly, though, he didn’t have much to actually do in Mortal Kombat 4. Shinnok was the final boss, and Goro popped up again as the sub-boss. Quan Chi was just kind of… there. He did feature prominently in a few endings, though, like when Scorpion discovered ol’ Quan was responsible for killing his family, or when Quan Chi stood over a defeated Shinnok and finally revealed that he had been holding on to the real, actually useful magical amulet this whole time. You’d think that last reveal would just be an excuse to explain why the toady defeated the master in a completely fantastical ending, but, nope, that winds up being kanon for the rest of the franchise. The finale of MK4 sees Shinnok and Quan Chi failing, but Quan Chi does manage to hold onto an amulet of unimaginable/ill-defined power. Score!

Unfortunately, unlike Quan Chi, Mortal Kombat as a cultural juggernaut could not survive its failures. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero killed some good will. Mortal Kombat 4 killed even more. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was a movie made specifically for fans of the convoluted Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but, give or take some horse punching, it was an abject failure for all but the most dedicated of ninja enthusiasts. The next attempted “Mythologies” title, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces: Starring Jax and Only Jax, was the final nail in the Mortal Kombat coffin (koffin). The Mortal Kombat franchise not only never saw a release on the Playstation/N64 console generation again, it also saw John Tobias, co-creator of MK and godfather to Noob Saibot, leave the franchise. Mortal Kombat as we knew it was gone. Mortal Kombat could return, but it would be a different animal. It would have to be.

And then Mortal Kombat returned in a totally new form on the Playstation 2 as Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. And, as if to tell us that nothing had ever been learned, there was Quan Chi with his bone-licking grin, smiling back at us as the final boss. You crash the entire franchise (twice!), and you get promoted! Clearly, Quan Chi is the whitest of the MK fighters.

This jerk

At least Quan Chi suffered a little for participating in some horrible titles. Scorpion’s MK4 ending turned out to be kanon, and he dragged Quan Chi to Hell for a substantial torture session. Given Scorpion isn’t all that great at psychological torment (he’s more of a zoning guy), you kind of have to assume this punishment involved a lot of uppercuts. A lot. Eventually, Quan Chi remembered, duh, he’s got an amulet of unspeakable power, and, with the aid of a pair of oni, he escaped the Netherrealm to discover the Tomb of the Dragon King. Thus, Quan Chi recruited Shang Tsung, formed the Deadly Alliance, and successfully killed Liu Kang, Shao Kahn (sorta), Kung Lao, Kitana, Sonya Blade, Jax, and probably severely wounded Stryker with an errant flaming skull. Having won literally everything, the Deadly Alliance inevitably fell apart when Shang Tsung gave Quan Chi the side-eye for like a second, and thus a big ol’ wizard fight broke out. Quan Chi emerged victorious, and likely would have ruled the realms had the Dragon King not shown up and wiped the floor with the survivors (who were not survivors for very much longer). Quan Chi himself saw Raiden powering up for an apocalyptic suicide blast, and decided to hightail it out of there to realms unknown. As a result, Quan Chi did not participate in Mortal Kombat: Deception, though in-game data shows that he was intended for the title, but must have been cut at the last moment. Someone finally acknowledged that we all needed a break from Quan Chi.

Quan Chi makes a comeback in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, though, and is responsible for the networking mixer that eventually pulls all the final bosses across MK onto the same side (though everyone was disappointed that Goro only brought a cheese plate). This, of course, leads to every villain betraying every other villain simultaneously, and Shao Kahn is the ultimate victor of that “alliance”. And, as we all know, this leads to everyone being dead, and the universe being rebooted again. (Though with a brief sojourn in the DC Universe, where, despite not being a playable kharacter, Quan Chi still manages to have a significant impact on the plot.)

This jerk

Mortal Kombat 9 was a reboot of the original Mortal Kombat Trilogy, so you might think we’d be free of Quan Chi, who did not appear during that time. And you’d be wrong! Quan Chi is the only (non DLC) fighter to appear in MK9 that was not in the original trilogy. Despite there being no explanation for such a shift in the timeline, Quan Chi has now been retkonned into being right there from the start, appearing as undead Scorpion’s manager in the original tournament. Yes, Quan Chi was apparently the Don King to Scorpion’s Mike Tyson. And when Scorpion has second thoughts about biting off Sub-Zero’s ear, Quan Chi is there to show Scorpion a PowerPoint presentation about how Subs called Scorpion’s mama fat. Thus, Quan Chi gains an undead Sub-Zero as his newest Noob, and everything is going according to plan, bwa ha ha and whatnot.

Quan Chi generally hangs around Shao Kahn’s posse, and is even responsible for reviving Shao Kahn and Sindel at the finale of nu-MK2. And then, during MK3, his big plan is finally revealed: he just wants to see the world burn. Or die. Apparently if you die in Mortal Kombat, you become a member of Quan Chi’s undead army, because QC set up a net on life’s drain or something. Quan Chi is thus now the leader of an army that includes practically everyone that died in the three Mortal Kombat tournaments… which, in this timeline, is practically everyone. Except Motaro. Motaro is dead, and he is going to stay dead. Forever.

At the point that he has literally won everything he ever wanted, Quan Chi bows out of Mortal Kombat 9, and a very lonely Raiden is left to deal with Shao Kahn. So Quan Chi returns in Mortal Kombat 10 for a redux of Mortal Kombat 4: Shinnok and Quan Chi are invading the realms, and the only hero left to oppose their tyranny is… Johnny Cage. Huh. But he (inexplicably) wins! Shinnok is beaten back into his own magical amulet during the opening of MK10, and Quan Chi is stuck (once again) trying to find a way to revive his master. At least he still has like 60% of his undead army to keep him company.

This jerk

Unfortunately for Quan Chi (I love typing that), it’s not easy being a masterless evil wizard. Quan Chi is soundly beaten by Sonya in a random raid, and loses control of (undead) Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Jax. Then, he has to recruit a gross bug lady to sneak around Outworld and steal back his (kinda his) super amulet. Then he’s captured by the Special Forces, and it’s revealed that Quan Chi is now less “evil wizard” and is closer to “marginally magical hobo”. And then it’s all over when (currently alive) Scorpion gets wind of the fact that the dude that killed his family is locked up in a cell, and decapitates the sorcerer on sight. But! Gross Bug Lady did manage to get the amulet to Quan Chi just in the nick of time, and Shinnok is revived before QC completely loses his head. Quan Chi dies as he lived, wholly and unwaveringly dedicated to Shinnok. Which is only, ya know, the complete opposite of his personality in the other timeline. Maybe he read a particularly engrossing Shinnok Tract in this timeline?

Regardless, Quan Chi is dead and buried for Mortal Kombat 11, so he’s apparently not coming back. Good riddance to bad rubbish, you franchise-killing monster. Inevitably see you next game!

This jerk


Next time: Netherrealm politics

MKK: Reptile

Secret Ninja

There was some confusion regarding Kingdom Hearts Explained and my general tone, so I feel like I should state this plainly: I love the story of Mortal Kombat. I love that, over twelve or so games, some very clearly crazy people have decided to foist a remotely coherent tale upon a group of murderers that occasionally (and seemingly incidentally) save the universe(s). Your Harry Potters and Songs of Ice of Fires all written by one author with one artistic vision are fine and all, but, for my money, give me a story where you have to account for how the last chapter included an undead skeleton from Hell that killed your ice magician and now you have to invent a new ice magician little brother that has to fight the previous ice magician that has become a magical shadow man ruled by a member of the KISS army from an incidental spin-off. It’s completely bonkers from top to bottom, and a minor miracle that it works at all, left alone as well as it does.

Which neatly brings us to Reptile. As nearly everyone already knows (not my mom. My mom does not know about Reptile), Reptile was introduced in Mortal Kombat I as the first hidden character in the series (if not the first hidden character ever in a fighting game). Reptile was not a selectable fighter under any (intended) circumstances, but could be fought as a hidden opponent if the most ridiculous of qualifications were met. It had to be at The Pit stage. You had to score a double flawless victory (aka never get hit). You had to never block. You had to perform a fatality. And, finally, a random shadow had to go across the moon in the background, thus adding just the tiniest touch of “playground rumor” to the proceedings. Assuming all of these conditions were met, you could fight Reptile, a green ninja that moved exceedingly quickly and used special moves belonging to both Sub-Zero and Scorpion. If you beat Reptile, you earned a crapton of points, and possessed bragging rights at your local arcade until the end of time.

Now, what’s interesting here is that the initial creation of Reptile apparently took seven seconds. While his “unlock conditions” were labyrinthine, Reptile was a green ninja with the abilities of the blue and yellow ninja. Blue + Yellow = Green. He was an afterthought. He was a random creation by a programmer that got bored and wanted to add a little extra fun to his game. Boon has literally stated that he thought of Reptile on a lunch break commute.

Kisses!

And then, because Mortal Kombat and Reptile in particular became so popular, someone had to actually do something with a character that existed thanks to a kindergartener’s understanding of color mixing.

So, for Mortal Kombat 2 and 3, the fans didn’t need very much. Reptile was explained (retconned) to be Shang Tsung/Shao Kahn’s personal bodyguard (presumably in the employ of Shao Kahn, but loaned to Shang Tsung as necessary), and any fights during Mortal Kombat I were obviously a toady’s attempt to squash any fighters capable of those flawless victories. Reptile was also revealed to be a lizard man in camouflage, capable of removing his human flesh disguise in much the same manner that Scorpion would pull off his “head” to reveal his shiny skull. Oh, and his new, unique special moves all seemed to play off his original status as a secret palette swap, as his orb projectile was a weird modification of Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s stun abilities, while his other skills, like spitting acid or turning invisible, lined up with his stealthy, reptilian origins. Reptile really was an interesting spin on “graduating” a hidden, mysterious character to the proper playable roster.

And then things got weird.

Ugh

Mortal Kombat 4 went full polygons, and dropped the motion capture graphics forever. As a result, the “recolor” ninja (of which there were… eight at that point) were afforded opportunities for a little more graphical variety. Thus, Reptile maintained roughly the same silhouette, but gained scales over most of his body. This was kind of an odd change, as it had previously been established that Reptile was hiding the head of a green (Jurassic Park style) velociraptor under his mask, and this “unmasked” Reptile just looked like a dude with a particularly Batmanian skin condition. Mortal Kombat 4 wasn’t offering any answers (aside from “everyone looks like ass in this game, deal with it”), so fans were left to wonder what the hell was going on with Reptile.

Dinosaur!

Deadly Alliance decided to go full dinosaur with Reptile, and offered an explanation: Reptile was bad at his job. Apparently, Reptile belongs to a human-dinosaur race that was naturally dinosaur-looking, but could affect human-esque disguises with a little concentration. When Deadly Alliance starts, Shao Kahn is (thought) killed, and personal bodyguard Reptile is a little distraught that he failed so phenomenally that his master is straight up dead. Thus, we discover how Reptiles grieve: by turning into spikey lizard monster men and palling around with vampires. Look… he was going through some stuff, okay? And then that previously mentioned vampire tricks Reptile into reviving the Dragon King, who immediately possesses Reptile’s body, so Reptile spends the entirety of MK: Deception kinda-dead, kinda-the final boss. It was a rough time for everybody.

Reptile!

Somehow, Reptile and the Dragon King are separate entities in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and it could theoretically be explained by Nightwolf separating Reptile’s soul while sending the ol’ Dragon King to Hell, but, whatever the case, Reptile returns with a more ninja-y form. Given Annihilation was a celebration of Mortal Kombats that came before, this “retro” version was basically a glow-up of Mortal Kombat 4 Reptile, though now with a proper head. There isn’t much of a kanon explanation for Reptile’s presence or purpose during this time, but, hey, here’s that reboot again, so nobody really has to worry about it.

Like some of the other villains, Reptile just gets a repeat of his Mortal Kombat 1-3 status during Mortal Kombat 9. This time, he looks a little more modern dinosaur/avian, but he’s otherwise back to his “green ninja” status. Here’s a lovely picture of him about to kiss Shang Tsung:

Kisses!


Mortal Kombat X then presents a Reptile that has gone to the spikey side of dinosaur-person land. This makes sense, as Shao Kahn is dead again by this time, and his new master, Kotal Kahn, just doesn’t do it for him like in the good old days. Reptile basically continues to be a professional minion throughout that adventure… which is all he’s ever done in the series. Reptile, disappointingly, does not return for Mortal Kombat 11, even though Kotal Kahn and the majority of the rest of his entourage is present. This marks the first Mortal Kombat title without Reptile appearing (give or take an initial MK3 version or whether or not you qualify The Dragon King “as” Reptile), which is kind of a shame. Reptile has been through a pile of permutations since his first appearance, and he’s a fine metaphor for the series itself. He’s wildly inconsistent, can apparently change his blood color based on his mood, and ping pongs around allegiances while somehow maintaining the exact same stooge status. He’s all over the place, and, sometimes, that’s just how we like it.

Kisses!
Such a looker

Next time: Hat Man

MKK: Goro & Shang Tsung

Look out!

Back in the day, Mortal Kombat stirred up a lot of controversy. We were told the “fatalities” were beamed directly to Earth by space aliens in an effort to desensitize our youth, and, just when we had finally gotten over that “controversy”, there was the whole deal with Nintendo and Sega choosing different routes for censoring the home versions. While it seems almost insane to ponder now, ask any “90’s kid” what was the big deal about Mortal Kombat, and they’ll give you one response: the blood.

And somewhere in all of that controversy, people forgot one other important thing about Mortal Kombat 1: it was damn hard. Mortal Kombat 1 is the Dark Souls of fighting games from 1992.

As a quick reminder, beating Mortal Kombat meant you first had to beat the entire roster of fighters, including the iconic Mirror Match. That was followed by three Endurance Matches, which were a completely unfair set of 1 v 2 battles. Assuming you could beat opponents with technically twice as much health as your chosen fighter, the following match would be even more insane. Ladies and gentlemen, Goro lives!

Goro was pretty impressive for the time. In a game featuring motion-captured actors, he was a Claymation powerhouse meant to evoke monsters from the early days of cinema. Four arms, twelve fingers, a confusing number of pectoral muscles, an innate dislike for pants: he was basically The Incredible Hulk crossed with another Incredible Hulk (that had a lower set of arms). And he felt like an impassable brick wall, too. He was stunned very rarely, projectiles bounced right off those amazing abs, and when you got hit by Goro, you got hit by Goro. On paper, his moves were nothing special (a fireball and a jump stomp? Lame), but anyone that ever had a few quarters riding on defeating the half-man, half-dragon Champion of Mortal Kombat knew that all Goro needed was one good punch. Defeating Goro took skill, patience, and maybe a little luck. Goro is the Dark Souls of fighting game sub-bosses.

Unfortunately, Goro went downhill from there almost immediately.

Now he sucks!

Mortal Kombat 1 Goro was mute (save a roar or two), and his biography basically consisted of the fact that he was two millennia old (!) and had been the uncontested champion of Mortal Kombat for 500 years and nine generations (however that works out). He killed Kung Lao back in the day… and that was it. He was nigh immortal, he was going to kick your ass, and there are decent odds he beat your grandpappy’s ass, too. That is all Goro needed! But, when he surfaced for Mortal Kombat 4, he was literally back with a vengeance (for Liu Kang), and wound up being so lame, he lost to (this generation’s) Kung Lao (spiritually Liu Kang’s annoying little brother). Then he returned for Mortal Kombat Deception (or at least the Gamecube version), and there was this whole complicated story about becoming a general in Kitana’s armies, but he was back-attacked by Noob Saibot, and he was left for dead, and he was found by an injured Shao Kahn, and Shao Kahn shared his life force so Goro would live, so Goro decided to rejoin Shao Kahn, but first he had to fake his own death by putting his royal seal on a slain Shokan warrior, and now Goro lives, but in an effort to return Shao Kahn to his throne because he owes him a life debt. Got all that? I don’t mean to insult any wookies that might be floating around the forum, but, seriously, dudes? You made Goro the Unstoppable into friggen Chewbacca. Chewbacca is strong, yes, but he’s a giant teddy bear! Kinda literally! And, surprise, Goro’s return appearances after Mortal Kombat 1 were just about as threatening as fighting a teddy bear. By the time Armageddon rolled around, Goro was officially palling around with Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung again, and his former might was all but a memory…

Look out!  He's got a skull!

But in Mortal Kombat 9, Goro returned as Champion of Mortal Kombat, and he was a generally mute threat again. Hooray! And then he came back in a non-kanon DLC role for Mortal Kombat 10, and he’s just kind of an almost-mute threat, too! And in the Mortal Kombat X tie-in comic, he has some weird redemption arc that goes absolutely nowhere! And in Mortal Kombat 11, he’s dead for some reason! Okay! Whatever! Truly, balancing Goro’s character arc versus his status as a threatening foe is the Dark Souls of plotting.

Meanwhile, Shang Tsung has a pretty significant backstory that goes back before Mortal Kombat even got going. First of all, he started out as a human of Earth, and fought in at least one Mortal Kombat tournament some 500 years back, but cheated through some unknown means. Considering this is a fighting tournament that routinely involves magical skeletons from Hell fighting dudes with four arms wielding four spiked knuckles, I would really like to know what could be considered cheating. Regardless, Shang Tsung was disqualified for being a jerk, but Shao Kahn, Emporer of Outworld, decided to adopt Shangy, because I guess every organization needs a guy who cheats ineffectively. Shao Kahn taught Shang Tsung how to become a sorcerer, and then, in a marginally unrelated incident, Shang Tsung was cursed by the Elder Gods to devour souls whenever he committed homicide. Given how the MK Universe works, this would be akin to being cursed to eat a delicious chocolate cake every time you got a coffee. I guess the Elder Gods were trying to curse Shang Tsung to be fat? Soul fat? It’s a confusing universe.

More skulls!

Anyway, this whole “soul curse” thing spectacularly backfired, as Shang Tsung grew strong by feeding on the souls of his enemies and inheriting their skills and memories. When Shang Tsung showed up for his next Mortal Kombat (possibly under a soul-stolen new shape/identity), he won the whole thing, and Shang Tsung was set to be new Champion of Mortal Kombat on behalf of Shao Kahn and Outworld. But Shang Tsung was defeated by Kung Lao, an ancient warrior and ancestor of Liu Kang. Kung Lao reigned as champion for at least a generation (fun fact: Mortal Kombat Champions do not age, which is a pretty sweet prize for punching people to death), but then Shang Tsung returned with a four-armed monster man. Goro became the official Mortal Kombat Champion for the following 500 years, and, somewhere in there, Shang Tsung, ever the Don King to Goro’s Tyson, built his own magical island for future Mortal Kombat tournaments. In earlier games, this was just a random island where Shang stowed his gold and various monks, but later titles have made the island a magical place with forcefields, zombies, and Shang’s own private Soulnado. It’s a pretty impressive island fortress, and the only drawback is that, thanks to yet another curse by the Elder Gods, Shang Tsung has to do all the landscaping himself.

So, by Mortal Kombat I, Shang Tsung was snug as a bug in an evil island powered by the souls of the dead rug. Liu Kang defeated Goro, though, and Shang Tsung was a last-minute addition to the tournament in an effort to trounce the forces of Earth. Unfortunately, the dude that can transform into any fighter isn’t really much of a threat for the guy that has already defeated every fighter, and Shang Tsung’s reign was ended with a swift kick to the face.

Look out!  The most skulls!

Shang Tsung then becomes the toady-based through line for the next two Mortal Kombat tournaments. First, in a desperate attempt to not be homicidally punished by his boss Shao Kahn for fumbling a five century-long play at the goalpost, Shang Tsung suggested having a better, slightly more purple tournament in Outworld for Mortal Kombat 2. Shao Kahn really liked this idea, so he restored Shang Tsung’s youth. Or he just didn’t want to smell old man Shang Tsung anymore. Whatever the reason, a vibrant Shang Tsung fought as a “normal” participant in Mortal Kombat 2, though he did retain his shape-shifting abilities from Big Boss College (he got a BS in weak point reduction). When that plan inevitably failed, he was instrumental in the revival of Shao Kahn’s undead queen on Earth, so Shang Tsung once again earned a tournament invite for the forces of evil. Unfortunately, he lost, repeatedly, and, by about the time the forces of Outworld were being beat back to their outhouse dimension, Shao Kahn had had enough of the sorcerer’s sass mouth, and Shang Tsung wound up in a dungeon (probably in Kano’s used shackles).

Shang Tsung spent all of Mortal Kombat 4 on the bench, but he returned in Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance to form the… Deadly Alliance. Neat! Quan Chi (the MK2/3 Shang Tsung of Mortal Kombat 4) had a plan to pilfer his boss’s magical amulet, revive the Dragon King’s Army, and conquer all of existence. Unfortunately, in order to reanimate an army of the dead, he needed a decent soulmancer on the payroll. Shang Tsung fit the bill, and, while Shang had had a rough year or so, he had been the king of Mortal Kombat for a solid few centuries. Shang Tsung and Quan Chi thus teamed up, and, first order of business: (kinda) kill Shao Kahn. Then it was off to (really) kill Liu Kang. After that, the duo set up shop at an all-new Soulnado, acquired some local real estate, fought the forces of good, and, in a surprise upset, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi actually won. With Liu Kang dead, the dastardly duo defeated all of Earth’s forces, and actually fulfilled their quest to revive the Dragon King’s Army. Sweet! Unfortunately, they also kinda sorta revived the Dragon King, too, who promptly killed everybody in attendance. So close!

No skulls...

Thus, Shang Tsung didn’t show up for Deception, but he did return for Armageddon, as, apparently, he had pledged his soul to Shao Kahn a few centuries back, and, so long as Shao Kahn lived, he could summon Shang Tsung back to life, too. Good thing Shang Tsung was so bad at killing Shao Kahn two games back! Shang Tsung wound up helping Shao Kahn regain the throne of Outworld, and, since Shao Kahn then went on to win Mortal Kombat Armageddon and thus prompt Raiden to reboot all of reality, Shang Tsung could totally note on his resume that he was partially responsible for the destruction of a universe. You know, if anyone could remember that universe…

Oddly enough, Rebooted Mortal Kombat 9 Shang Tsung had nearly the same Mortal Kombat 1-3 arc, though with one vital difference. When Shao Kahn revived his queen, he sucked all the souls out of Shang Tsung, and gifted them to his lady love. This had the side effect of making Sindel into an unstoppable monster, and making Shang Tsung super-duper dead. And he stayed dead! Mostly! Shang Tsung is Mortal Kombat 11’s first DLC character, and he’s a time-displaced version of his older/younger self. Apparently, it is kanon that the Goddess of Time identified Shang as too damn treacherous for her generally malicious schemes, so he had to be hidden in the DLC department until which time he was willing to play nice. But other than that, Shang Tsung Prime died a good two decades before the end of this universe.

Morphin' Time

WEIRD FACT: Shang Tsung’s ending for Mortal Kombat Armageddon sees Shang gain god-like power, and, when Shao Kahn objects, Shang Tsung transforms his old boss… “into a centaur slave”. Now I’m not going to jump to any conclusions here, but it seems very likely that Shang Tsung belongs to the loyal order of centaurphiliacs, and the writers have just not yet found a way to sneak that information back into the main kanon. Keep an eye out, true believers!

Next time: Cold-blooded ninja.