Tag Archives: shao kahn

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: Sindel & Sheeva & Motaro

The ultimate problem with Sindel is that she was made for one game and one game only.

GOTH!

Mortal Kombat 3 was the story of Shao Kahn reclaiming his undead bride, Sindel, and… Actually, let’s just use her Mortal Kombat 3 biography to start here:

Sindel once ruled the Outworld at Shao Kahn’s side as his queen. Now 10,000 years later after her untimely death, she is reborn on Earth with evil intentions. Sindel is the key to Kahn’s occupation of Earth."

So… you can kind of see where the character came from with that description, right? Shao Kahn was a giant, spike-riddled king that wore bones as random ornaments, so he had to have a matching queen. While the idea of an equally gigantic bruiser lady was likely ignored because we do not live in the best of all possible worlds, it seems the plan was to make Shao Kahn, employer of many a wizard, married to a literal witch. As such, Sindel is in possession of some distinct features:

1. She can fly, and does so often as not only a special move, but also her victory stance
2. She can hurl fireballs from her mouth, a very common villain trait
3. She possesses a super-sonic scream like a banshee
4. She has long, black & white hair that seems to function like a lizard’s tail
5. She is more goth than Starbucks’ ill-fated Fall promotional drink, The Hot Gothlette.

Couple this with the fairly standard Mortal Kombat feature of pupil-less eyeballs (usually used to denote a kharacter is dead/undead), and Sindel does look like an appropriate match for Shao Kahn. Shao Kahn is basically the barbarian king archetype, and Sindel is his concubine-sorceress. It’s not the most original coupling in the world, but if it works for Skeletor, it can work for Mortal Kombat.

And then it was all undermined before Mortal Kombat 3 even ended.

The ending of Mortal Kombat 3 revealed that Sindel was not Shao Kahn’s witch queen, but yet another one of his unwilling victims. Sindel had been a queen, but she was queen of Edenia with her beloved king/husband, Jerrod. Jerrod, unfortunately, sucked at Mortal Kombat, failed against Shao Kahn, and lost fifty cents, his kingdom, and his life. Shao Kahn thus conquered Edenia, and took Sindel and her infant daughter, Kitana, as his own family. Sindel took this entire event poorly, and killed herself as a result (SIDE NOTE: the original MK3 ending simply notes that her death was part of Shao Kahn’s plan, and not noted as suicide. The suicide seems to be a retkon or “interpretation” of the ending that is generally accepted, and, well, yeesh. Right?). Shao Kahn, ever not one to let anything in his life not lead to an evil scheme, struck up a deal with the fallen Elder God Shinnok, and managed to snag Sindel’s soul in some manner of purgatory for 10,000 years, which would allow Sindel to be reborn on Earth, thus allowing him to conquer the place. This had the added benefit of Sindel being revived in a brainwashed, murder-banshee state, so, hey, willing queen as a bonus. Saves Shao Kahn some time on having to score with the Queen of Earth (who, in 1995, was probably… who? Mariah Carey?).

This immediately created a strange dichotomy: Sindel was not Sindel. Or, at least, the undead queen of evil was not who Sindel was supposed to be. Sindel’s MK3 ending even showcased a Sindel with proper human pupils, entirely white hair, and a much more modest gray, 80’s style blazer. She… kinda looked like X-Men’s Storm. Basically, Sindel was intended to be the benevolent leader of a bunch of wannabe elves, and not the demon queen of Shao Kahn. Clearly, when next we saw Sindel, she would be “good” Sindel, and not the version that might manage a Hot Topic with an iron fist.

And the only problem with that would be that absolutely no one would recognize a “good” version of Sindel.

Hairy

Sindel was benched for Mortal Kombat 4 (Edenia was momentarily conquered by Shinnok and Sindel’s own Ambassador of Boomerangs, and queenie was tossed in a dungeon with Kitana on rescue duty) and Mortal Kombat 5 (again, Kitana was the point princess, and Sindel decided to chill), but she did return in time for Mortal Kombat: Deception (6). And did she look any different? No! If anything, with the graphical glow-up available, she looked more like The Evil Queen of the West. Which makes perfect sense from the perspective of “this is Sindel”, but feels pretty weird for a woman that has supposedly been hanging back and defending her realm from Shao Kahn’s mutant forces for a game or two. And even better news? She got worse!

When I said Sindel was created for exactly one game, I damn well meant it. Sindel possessed two abilities that were practically her signature: flight, and magic hair. Bad news? Both of those abilities absolutely did not work for Playstation 2-era fighting games. Flight was right out, as we’re all doing 3-D kung-fu fighting now, and those fighters barely even jump, left alone float around the battlefield. And magic, snake-like hair? Forget about it. Dude, we could barely render a buzzcut back then. Realistic hair that also has its own skeleton? Sorry, but Kabuki Quantum Fighter 3-D was not happening. So, whereas Sindel was able to return as a fighter, a healthy chunk of what made her unique was cut out between sequels. But at least she still looked like Queen Goth of Gothania!

Anywho, Sindel was imprisoned by Zombie Kitana during MK: Deception, eventually was freed by Jade, but then managed to accomplish exactly nothing over the course of the next two games. She was there, but she didn’t do anything. And that’s kind of impressive on its own, as, come on, she commanded an entire dimension. She could have at least gotten, like, Goro Jr. on her side. Whatever. She died during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and that was that.

Zombie Queen!

But she returned for Mortal Kombat 9! And, good news, Mortal Kombat 9 contained Mortal Kombat 3 again! The game she was made for! Hooray! And the story actually did right by her! Double hooray!

So, first of all, Sindel received the retkon that her suicide wasn’t just some “oh woe is me Romeo is dead I’ll never love again” move, it was a distinct sacrifice of her life energy to guarantee that Shao Kahn had to conquer Earth through honorable Mortal Kombat, and couldn’t just roll in with a centaur murder squad. Thanks, Sindel! And Sindel’s eventual revival was less “10,000 year old Plan B”, and more “Quan Chi, Shinnok’s rent-a-lackey, has a whacky idea”. Quan Chi revives Sindel as an unwilling zombie bride, her suicide-magic is undone, and Shao Kahn invades the planet. Then, when Shao Kahn’s number one horsey man takes a dive, he decides he needs a super-powered zombie queen, so the good emperor sucks the souls right out of Shang Tsung, deposits them in Sindel, and Sindel becomes Juggernaut Sindel.

Thus, Sindel finally earns the part she was meant to play in Mortal Kombat 9. She’s an unstoppable (incidentally goth) force of destruction used against the heroes. She wipes the floor with practically everyone, straight-up rage murders/soul-eats her own daughter, and is only defeated when one of the good guys (kinda ironically) suicide blasts her to the Netherrealm. Naturally, she then becomes one of Quan Chi’s zombie grunts, and spends the rest of her existence as an undead enforcer, presumably never learning (or at least caring) that she used to be a benevolent queen. And that’s good! … I mean, not for her… But it fits her archetype better! She started as an evil zombie queen, and she’ll end as an evil zombie queen.

Oh, and she got her special moves back, too.

So just remember: some characters have an expiration date of one game.

So many arms

In a perfect, more interesting world, Shao Kahn was a “regular” playable character in Mortal Kombat 3, Sindel was made the final boss (“She proves too much for Shao Kahn to handle, and conquers Earthrealm for herself”), and Sheeva was her corresponding sub-boss. Then Sheeva might have made an impact on the mythos. As it is… well… Seems like nobody cares about Sheeva.

Sheeva really should have made a big splash. She was the first (deliberately) playable Shokan character in the Mortal Kombat franchise. And that was huge, considering people had been begging to play as the likes of Goro and Kintaro literally since the first Mortal Kombat. Unfortunately, everything that made the four-armed badass characters such badasses was dropped for Sheeva. She did not have their levels of super-armor, she was not invulnerable to projectiles, and, most disappointing of all, she was able to be tossed around like any other fighter on the roster. Obviously, these changes were made to the Shokan so that they could actually be used during a typical fight without completely unbalancing the entire match, but it did leave the (theoretically) unintended impression that female Shokans were dramatically weaker than their male counterparts. Sheeva could tear a man’s flesh off, but there was no way she could have ever stood up to Goro.

Oh, and Sheeva was the kharacter most often cut from the various forms of the Mortal Kombat 3 home ports, so it’s entirely likely there are people out there who loved playing MK3 as a kid, but never even knew she existed.

So many arms

All of this likely impacted what wound up being her kanon Mortal Kombat 3 fate. All that is established in MK3 proper is that Sheeva is assigned as Sindel’s bodyguard, and the Shokan really hate Motaro’s centaur race, which is currently being favored by Shao Kahn after Goro and Kintaro whiffed it for two solid tournaments. What happened beyond those facts was established by other fighters’ bios in future titles, and what we learned was that…

1. Jade and Kitana teamed up to take down Sheeva. They succeeded, because Sheeva sucks for Endurance Matches, and they “freed” Sindel by restoring her memories.
2. Sheeva eventually found that Shao Kahn planned to eliminate the Shokan, so she fought against Shao Kahn’s forces (besides, she was probably out of a job anyway). She lost here, too, but Liu Kang eventually won the day without her help.
3. Somewhere in there, Sheeva struck up a deal with Kano to kill Motaro. Cooperating with Kano is never a good idea! Kano did successfully distract horseyboy while Sheeva dealt some mortal blows, though.
4. However, Kano ratted Sheeva out to Shao Kahn almost immediately, so Shao Kahn stabbed Sheeva but good, and left the woman for dead.

And that was it for Sheeva for a solid few games. She even cameoed in Mortal Kombat: Deception as a corpse in Hell. That seemed to squash any future plans for Sheeva returning.

But Sheeva did finally return in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. And, like her old charge, Sindel, she didn’t really have a plot at all. She was introduced as “just as brutal as Goro or Kintaro”, and the rest of her biography was just how Mortal Kombat 3 went down. Her (non-kanon) ending was her ascending to become a “Goddess of Destruction”, which seemed a little… on the nose for a multi-armed woman named “Sheeva”.

So many arms

Sheeva doesn’t fare much better in the reboot. It’s revealed that she’s been bumming around the Mortal Kombat universe since MK1, but she’s basically at Baraka’s level on the ol’ organizational chart. She once again, technically, becomes Sindel’s bodyguard, but, since Sindel is a monster woman capable of defeating entire armies, it’s a pretty lackluster position. However, since Sheeva is really bad at her job, she is nowhere near Sindel when Nightwolf explodes, so she (unlike practically everyone in the story) actually completely survives nu Mortal Kombat 3. Way to go, Sheeva!

Unfortunately, Sheeva doesn’t have much of a future past MK9. She’s marginally important in the comics (which features a full redemption arc for Goro), but she doesn’t otherwise appear in anything Mortal Kombat 10 related. She then appears as Queen of the Shokan in Mortal Kombat 11… but that’s likely only because she was the last surviving named Shokan in this plot. Whatever the reason, she has about ten seconds of screentime, and joins a time-displaced Princess Kitana in defeating the time-displaced Shao Kahn, thus finally getting some revenge on her old boss. Hooray?

And that’s that for the final introduced Shokan in the franchise. Way to make your race not cool, Sheeva!

Smashing!

Motaro: If Kintaro thought he had a rough life for being easily forgettable, he should try being the poor horse that was completely impossible for future games.

Motaro was the impassable centaur sub-boss of Mortal Kombat 3. Likely in an effort to hide that the final boss of Mortal Kombat 3 was just the final boss of Mortal Kombat 2 (but with a shoryuken), the chief sub boss of MK3 was nearly impossible. Coincidentally, he was also the most limited of sub bosses. He had a punch, donkey kick, grab, projectile, and sweeping tail. That’s it! But, considering his very hide could reflect all projectiles and he took up about 75% of the screen, that’s all he needed. He was also the first playable MK sub boss on a home system that actually had color, so a lot of people have fond memories of the centaur.

And then he stopped existing.

Look, we get it. In a fighting tournament where everyone has basic human skeletons, it’s hard to squeeze a horse into the proceedings. The official excuse for the longest time in Mortal Kombat kanon was that Sheeva outright killed Motaro during MK3, and, since the Centaurians were supposed to be better than the Shokan, that little homicide settled the issue. Four arms beats four legs, end of story, won’t be seeing one of those dudes again. We’ve got plenty of bipedal monsters running around, we don’t need an equine.

This sucks

But Mortal Kombat: Armageddon touted that it would involve every Mortal Kombat fighter, so someone decided Motaro had to return. And he did! Mostly! The Shokan had apparently cursed the hated Centaurians, and now Motaro was stuck in a less centaur, more satyr form. Hooves and tail can stay, but only two legs for Motaro. Oh, and he’s still huge. But, man, is he a lot less imposing now that he looks like he should be telling you to get up on the hydra’s back.

But at least Motaro got to appear in Mortal Kombat 7 in some hobbled way! Every fighter that appeared in the first three Mortal Kombat titles is available in Mortal Kombat 9… except Motaro. Motaro appears in the background of a few scenes in story mode, though! And then Raiden kills him to save Johnny Cage. The end.

Motaro, how do you feel about being so ignored throughout the franchise?

I don't like it


Next time: Ninja are no joke.

MKK: Stryker & Kabal

What better way to introduce Mortal Kombat 3 than with Kurtis “The Strike Man” Stryker, the most hated of all Mortal Kombat kharacters?

He's got a gun!

Mortal Kombat 1 was a fighting tournament on a private magical island. Mortal Kombat 2 was a fighting tournament in a private magical dimension. Clearly, it was time for Mortal Kombat 3 to enter the “real world”. The excuse for Shao Kahn’s invasion of Earth was confusing (he lost MK2, but he decided to invade anyway thanks to a marital reconciliation), but the end result was obvious: Mortal Kombat was now taking place in the real world. Shang Tsung’s machinations were no longer confined to a secret fantasy location, now kombatants could duke it out on city streets and subway cars. And don’t worry about crowds! Shao Kahn sucked the souls out of nearly every living thing on Earth, so real estate prices have never been lower! And if you’re concerned about a few stragglers, don’t worry, Shao Kahn has a plan for that, too! He’s dispatched an army of malevolent centaurs to eliminate any remaining souls, and, let me tell you, the average human is not equipped to deal with a centaur. In so many ways!

And Stryker? Stryker is not equipped to deal with anything.

Stryker was based on a pretty basic character concept: what if normal guy? It’s a common trope (particularly in sequels): you’ve got a bunch of crazy martial artists and lizard people and robot people running around, why not introduce someone that is supposed to be the everyman? Stryker cannot hurl fireballs, he just has a gun and some grenades. Stryker doesn’t understand bicycle kicks, but he can propel himself with his baton. And he might not be able to tear his flesh mask off to reveal a flaming skull, but he does have a load of TNT, and that counts for something! On paper, Stryker seems like a pretty great idea, particularly for a game that is trying to make a splash by entering “the real world”.

He's got a gun!

Unfortunately, in practice, Stryker sucks. First of all, we already tried two “normal” people, and they were pretty grenade-adjacent to begin with. Sonya and Jax may have gained some mystical and metal powers along the way, but they were (right from the beginning!) fine examples of “average” people thrown into unusual, kung-fu-based circumstances. Second, we were just coming off Mortal Kombat 2, which featured new kharacters that were about 80% murder mutant by volume. We lost the guy with swords for arms for a fighter that could best be described as “kinda paunchy”? Really? And, let’s be real here, Kurtis Stryker is a cop, straight-up a NYPD officer, and it’s pretty safe to say that we had all been listening to NWO for a solid seven years at that point. I’m not saying everybody hates cops, but let’s just note that that’s one real-world profession that can be… divisive.

And Stryker’s actual story during Mortal Kombat 3 wasn’t exactly winning anyone over, either. Stryker was the leader of the “Riot Control Brigade” when Shao Kahn invaded, and then, once everyone rode the Soul Train straight into captivity, Stryker was left alone in a depopulated NYC. And what did he do? Well, if you win the tournament with Stryker, it reveals that Raiden told him what was up, he attacked Shao Kahn, and because Shao Kahn was not expecting some loser in a baseball cap, Stryker saves the world with a nightstick. But, spoilers, it’s kanon that Liu Kang saved the day, and Stryker did absolutely nothing. And how much nothing did he do? Well, it is revealed through Stryker’s MK: Armageddon biography that ol’ Kurtis spent the entirety of MK3 confused and wandering around (empty) New York. Did he fight anybody? Maybe! But it is 100% kanon that Stryker had absolutely no idea what was going on during the entirety of Mortal Kombat 3. And, oh yeah, Stryker did not appear for every game between MK3 and MK:A (effectively MK7). What was he doing during the interim? Who the heck knows!

He's got a gun!

Actually, Stryker’s absence is something worth noting. If you look at the playable kast of previous Mortal Kombat games (or just these longwinded biographies), you will note that every playable kharacter from Mortal Kombat 1 & 2 routinely gets a “check-in”. As an example, Baraka might not be in every Mortal Kombat game, but when he is absent, there is an explanation for his nonappearance. Baraka wasn’t in Deadly Alliance because he was learning to knit, and then the titular Deadly Alliance was not able to pay him for 50,000 new sweaters upon their death, so Baraka is now back with a vengeance. Scorpion is always going to show up, but even when Kitana takes a game off, you learn why she is missing (she’s usually dead), or what she was doing (being dead, getting better).

Stryker gets no such courtesy. Why was Stryker missing from Deadly Alliance? Nobody cares. Why did he decide to rejoin everyone for Armageddon? Not a single soul cares. Stryker has no complicated web of kharacter relationships with the rest of the fighters; he’s just kind of there. And that’s that! Moving on to the next, hopefully more interesting kharacter!

And, unfortunately, starting here in Mortal Kombat 3, Stryker winds up becoming the norm. Give or take an albino wizard or blind swordsman, most of the new kharacters from this point on are ignored by the grander kanon at large. Arguably, it’s a chicken and an egg situation: are they not referenced much because they didn’t become popular, or are they not popular because they were never very important to begin with? Who knows! Stryker sure doesn’t, as not knowing a damn thing is pretty much his thing.

He's got a zombie!

Anywho, the Stryker of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon was supposed to be a super “tech” cop, essentially building on the idea that he was a representative not necessarily of the common man, but of the sheer force of “mundane” equipment from Earthrealm (or just the one guy who decided to bring a gun to a fist fight). Mortal Kombat 9 retold/revised the story of Mortal Kombat 3, so that Stryker returned with an emphasis on being a “normal” cop again, though this time with the caveat of Stryker being promoted to “action movie cop”. He’s ordinary, but he’s the kind of ordinary that is the hero of Die Hard or Speed (which his in-game biography distinctly notes as “previous cases”). Yes, the implication is that Stryker is somehow Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves rolled into one. However, that wasn’t enough to make Stryker interesting and/or alive, so, when this Stryker is actually informed of what the hell is happening, he joins the good guys, and is then immediately killed. Stryker, like his friends, joins the undead army of Quan Chi, and becomes one of those zombies that is always there, but isn’t popular enough to get a spot on any future rosters. Stryker was last seen “laying down cover fire” for other Quan Chi minions, so his power, even in death, is still just “has a gun”.

Oh, and Stryker was voiced by Ron Perlman in the animated series, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. It somehow still wasn’t enough to bolster his popularity, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for any MK11 Stryker DLC.

Scary!

And here’s the other thing that started happening in Mortal Kombat 3: kharacters that were never meant to be kharacters.

Kabal was initially conceived of as a Star Wars rip-off mixed with another, slightly different Star Wars rip-off mixed with a droid. Initially, Kabal was named Sandman, was a “desert nomad”, and was vaguely cyborgian with a mechanical breathing device and wrist-mounted buzzsaws. Unfortunately, “Sandman” lost the buzzsaws for all but a weird special move, gained hookswords (which apparently had been part of an early Baraka concept), and held on to his vaguely Tusken Raider-esque aesthetics compliments of some generic metal parts. Kabal was born as a mysterious warrior that had barely survived Shao Kahn’s extermination squads, and, like Scorpion’s original Mortal Kombat 1 origins, was an enigmatic fighter hiding beneath a mask that hid his true intentions (yes, there was a time when Scorpion’s whole “he’s an angry skeleton” thing was a surprise). In fact, complete with Scorpion being absent from initial Mortal Kombat 3 versions, there’s a lot of evidence that Kabal was intended to be the “next” Scorpion in the franchise (the other evidence being that OG Kabal was overpowered as hell).

Unfortunately, while Kabal had a really unique design and interesting abilities (he can run really fast and generate static electricity), his biography was sorely lacking. “Mysterious warrior” is pretty great for an arcade attract screen or strategy guide bio, but it doesn’t exactly have (super-powered) legs going forward. His ending filled in a few blanks, though, and revealed that he, like Kano, was a Black Dragon thief. But! Having been changed by nearly being killed by a mythological creature, he decided to turn his life around, and would become a champion of good, putting his hookswords into the faces of criminals across the globe. Yes, coming so close to death truly changed Kabal, and now, with his new lease on…

He's got a great hook

Oh, wait. That would be right about when he died.

Kabal was a cool kharacter to look at… but it seems like the MK designers wanted a do-over by the time of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. Kabal was always supposed to have a cape, and his hookswords were pretty cool, so those items went to an all-new kharacter: Mavado. Mavado was our introduction to the Red Dragons, the high class alternative to Kano’s Black Dragons (who, it should be noted, are rather notorious for peeing on furniture). Mavado’s introductory biography mentioned that he murdered Kabal for his weapons (hookswords don’t just come with any old action figure), so the message was clear: the Black Dragons are dead, and Mavado is here for a brand new day.

And then Kabal killed Mavado right back. I guess Mavado wasn’t all that popular!

Kabal returned from the dead for Mortal Kombat: Deception. Literally! Havik, who holds the official Splatfest rank of “Cleric of Chaos”, resuscitated Kabal. Havik presented a mission to Kabal: go forth, and revive the Black Dragons, because… uh… Kano doesn’t have enough friends? Whatever. Kabal, despite admitting that he hadn’t even checked the Black Dragon livejournal page since Mortal Kombat 3, agrees to revive the Black Dragons with a gusto usually reserved for free buffalo wings. At Havik’s behest, he ventures forth to create an all-new Black Dragon organization, but this time, with blackjack! And hookswords!

Kabal recruits two new members over the course of Deception: our first actual Black Dragon woman and that guy from Karate Kid (the one with a youtube series). This was a pretty… uh… passable reboot of the Black Dragons, and Kabal’s gang probably would have blossomed and flourished… had the universe not rebooted immediately thereafter in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Start again!

He's got a great hook

Now, the reboot of Mortal Kombat 1-3 in Mortal Kombat 9 offered an interesting opportunity: we might actually get to see Kabal before he became a cybernetic weirdo! And we do! At the start of the Mortal Kombat 3 portion of Mortal Kombat 9, we meet the latest version of Kabal. And he’s a cop! And a good one, apparently! He’s Stryker’s partner! And this is confusing for anyone that was expecting a Black Dragon thief in Kano’s employ. Whatever! Super Cop Kabal doesn’t last long, though, as Kintaro burns his face off (literally) during the Outworld invasion of Earth. And then we get the origin we all expected: a combination of Kano’s technology and Shang Tsung’s magic revives Kabal to be the sandman we all know and love. How was Kabal revived in the original timeline? Who knows! But what’s important is we’ve got Kabal back, and he’s going to be a good guy right from the beginning! He rejects his revivers, and… dies immediately afterwards. … I wonder if he’s used to that by now.

So, (and I’m almost done with kharacters to whom this applies) Kabal becomes a zombie in Quan Chi’s army, and spends Mortal Kombat X as an annoying (NPC) revenant. Kabal is still an aimless undead with a respirator in Mortal Kombat 11, but he’s also his younger self, who has earned another retcon. Now, yes, Young Kabal is a cop without a first name, but he’s also always been a cop on the take from Kano. So, see? He was always a Black Dragon! Again! Young Kabal earns the honor of being Kano’s #1 Not-Kano henchman, and his only contribution to the plot is fighting Young Sonya once. He loses. Thanks for coming by, Kabal.

He's got a great hook

So, long story short: young artists, if you come up with an interesting physical design for a character, maybe nail down that backstory at the same time. It will make you a lot happier in 20 years. Trust me.

Next time: The culture wars

MKK: Kintaro & Shao Kahn

Never follow a dog act with a cat.

Feisty cat

Kintaro was intended to be Goro #2, and it seems literally everyone involved regretted this choice immediately. Kintaro was initially intended to be some manner of saber-tooth tiger creature-man, but this proved to be too difficult, so that “version” of Kintaro was tossed over to Primal Rage 2 (“There was a Primal Rage 2?” “Exactly”), and we basically got “Goro, but kind of like a cat?”. Tiger Goro wound up an incredibly cheap boss in Mortal Kombat 2, which, yeah, that’s par for the course with Mortal Kombat bosses. Basically, aside from being Goro’s fursona, Kintaro has no real defining features.

And then everyone forgot he existed for years.

Kintaro appeared in the Playstation version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but that was more of a dream match (for Kintaro) than anything. His next kanon appearance was in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, a game that featured (nearly) every MK fighter. Kintaro’s story in Annihilation… doesn’t exist. He’s just kind of there. Like in Mortal Kombat 2! He’s consistent! But at least… uh… his ending sees him earning magical swords. That’s… kind of something?

Ouch!

Kintaro returns for the reboot of Mortal Kombat 9, and he is defeated by Kung Lao moments after his introduction. This would be akin to being nominated for an Emmy, but then losing the prize to a kid in Mrs. Eckerson’s drama club. Kintaro did get to return for a rad endurance match with Goro against Sub-Zero, though, so his appearance wasn’t a complete waste.

And that’s about it for Kintaro. For a final denouement, he appeared in the kanonically dubious Mortal Kombat X komics, and had his head torn off by a magically-possessed Sonya Blade. It was meant to be a noble death for the Shokan warrior, but, like everything else in his cursed life, it didn’t quite land.
Kintaro, congratulations on being the first of many “forgotten” kombatants.

KAAAAAAAAHN!

But here’s a guy that no one is ever going to forget.

Not unlike over in the Street Fighter universe, the boss of the second title appears to be the one that stuck around the most. Shao Kahn isn’t always the final boss of the franchise, but he holds that honor most often. And he’s got a cool hat, too. That probably helps.

Despite being such a popular character, Shao Kahn’s origins are kind of murky. Apparently, he was originally a lesser deity of Outworld (like how Raiden is described before he ascended over the course of the series) back in the day when Onaga, the Dragon King, ruled Outworld. Shao Kahn grew jealous of the simplicity of being an interdimensional despot, though, and decided to take out Onaga with a healthy dosage of poison. Shao Kahn thus became the god-emperor of Outworld, and went on to conquer other realms. Edenia , the home universe of Kitana, was one of the earliest to fall, and Shao Kahn murdered Edenia’s king before taking the queen as his own. Queen Sindel didn’t last very long, however, as she offed herself after seeing her own prenup. This led to a germ of a plan that would eventually come to fruition a few centuries later, but, in the meanwhile, Shao Kahn primarily set his sights on Earth. Shang Tsung and Goro were dispatched to win ten generations of Mortal Kombat, and they came thiiiiiis close before Liu Kang cocked up the whole enterprise. This left Shao Kahn feeling rather lonely (he was really looking forward to marrying The Queen of Earth), so he invited the kombatants and all his closest friends to Outworld for a big party. It went… poorly.

The Mortal Kombat 2 tournament may have ended badly for Shao Kahn, but it did wonders for his reputation. Shang Tsung was a fun end boss for MK1, but he is most remembered for being a whole cast in one fight, and little more than a fireball-slinger otherwise. Shao Kahn, meanwhile, was much more in the vein of Goro: a huge, imposing monster man that was going to keep you floored. And he was an even bigger jerk than Goro, too. Shao Kahn would repeatedly taunt his prey, and hurl any number of insults that were significantly bolstered by Kahn revealing he had been the omnipresent announcer all along. Beating the hidden kharacters of MK2 offered very few pride points, but eventually triumphing and beating down the final boss and literal voice of Mortal Kombat 2 was thrilling.

He has green power, too!

And I guess defeating Shao Kahn means you saved two different dimensions? That’s pretty okay, too.

But! Defeating Shao Kahn did not save any universes at all. Shao Kahn was immediately revived after his MK2 defeat (MK9 seemed to imply that Quan Chi was involved), and he decided to cheat the universe at large by reviving his Queen Sindel on Earth. This apparently granted Shao Kahn carte blanche to set foot on Earth and reclaim his bride. And since Shao was on Earth anyway, he may as well use dark magic to merge the realms, suck up the soul of literally everyone on the planet, and dispatch centaur death squads to round up any survivors. This was perhaps not in the spirit of the original “just swing by and pick up your zombie wife” plan, but it wound up working out for Earth, as Liu Kang again challenged and defeated Shao Kahn. This pulled a big ol’ CTRL+Z on Shao Kahn’s invasion, and everything went back to normal for a solid couple of minutes. Shao Kahn also managed to survive his encounter with Liu Kang, and skulked back to Outworld to chill for the entirety of Mortal Kombat 4.

Shao Kahn was on something of a losing streak, what with personally losing two MK tournaments and Sindel/Kitana liberating Edenia and turning the Shokan and other Outworld tribes against him, so it kind of made sense when Shang Tsung and Quan Chi killed Shao Kahn to kick off their Deadly Alliance. But it was all a trick! Shao Kahn was never dumb enough to just hang out and get murdered on his own throne, and it was just an after-image, ha ha, you fools, Shao Kahn lives. Thus, Shao Kahn and the similarly presumed dead Goro teamed up for the Gamecube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception. They marched on the Dragon King… but didn’t make it in time to re-kill Shao Kahn’s revived predecessor. As a consolation prize, Shao Kahn decided to take back his old castle, so Shao ‘n Goro reconquered Outworld, and started Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in the literal seat of power.

STILL KAAAAAAAHN

And then, in a surprise turnaround for the series, Shao Kahn won MK:A. He defeated everybody! He beat Blaze, earned nigh-omnipotent power, and the only other warrior left standing was the divine (and also recently resurrected) Raiden. Shao Kahn was on the cusp of conquering the whole of the universe (which, according to his MK:A ending, would eventually bore him to literal insanity), but that wily Raiden sent a message back in time, and Shao Kahn was forced to forget his greatest triumph in a rebooted universe. Boo.

The rebooted Mortal Kombat 1-3 of Mortal Kombat 9 is basically all the same for Shao Kahn. He gets a clean kill on Kung Lao and a powered-up demon wife, but, other than that, it’s pretty much more of the same for ol’ Shao. Damn that Liu Kang! Well, until Liu Kang is literally damned by Raiden accidentally barbecuing the would-be hero. This leaves Raiden to battle Shao Kahn alone, but (future) Raiden actually comes up with a pretty great idea. Remember how that whole “Shao Kahn conquers Earth while picking up his wife” plan sounded like a major slight against the rules of Mortal Kombat? Well it was! And all it took for the Elder Gods to notice was Raiden getting the thunder kicked out of him. Thus, for transgressions against the spirit of Mortal Kombat (or something), Shao Kahn was instantly dragged to Hell by the all-powerful gods of the universe. So Shao Kahn does not survive past Mortal Kombat 3 (redux), and can never go on to achieve his supreme victory during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Of course, a redux of Armageddon would likely go differently anyway, as Shao Kahn killed pretty much everybody over the course of MK9. C’est la vie.

Green is awesome

Being obliterated by divinity kept Shao Kahn down for Mortal Kombat X, but he returned for Mortal Kombat 11. In this tale, the Shao Kahn of MK2’s finale is sucked through a time portal to the present (incidentally thanks to one of those gods that eradicated him a few decades earlier), when Kotal Kahn has ascended to the throne. Shao Kahn is having none of that, so he decides, once again, to conquer Outworld all over again. He recruits some time-displaced Tarkatans (Barakas), and starts tearing up the place in a manner appropriate to a kahn. Unfortunately, this Shao Kahn kind of comes off as a stooge, as he’s distinctly working for a nigh-omnipotent time goddess, and he is eventually defeated by Kitana, who is one of those “assassins” that is only ever capable of killing like one person (and it was her own clone, so that was arguably more suicide than assassination). By the finale of MK11, Shao Kahn is left alive and still out-of-time, but blinded by Kitana’s vengeful fan swiping. A crippled, convalescing Shao Kahn might be an interesting next step for the tyrant, but the universe ends with MK11, so we’re unlikely to see the next phase in Shao’s life. But whatever happens next in the Mortal Kombat universe, you can bet this dork with a hammer will be there!

Love the hammer

Next time: Mortal Kombat 3! Let’s start the parade of forgettable kharacters!