Mortal Kombat X was the first Mortal Kombat title to feature a woman in the leading role. MKX is Cassie Cage’s story, and that’s the first (and so far, only) time in the franchise when a woman was the one saving the world(s). It was long overdue for the franchise (particularly one that had ditched Sonya entirely for a game that should have been her featured title), and seems like the exact kind of thing that I, Super Woke Goggle Bob (universal arbiter of all that is good and pure), should be excited about. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat X didn’t exactly sate my social justice wendigo cravings, as, well, let’s look at the races of the last few MK protagonists:
- MK1: Asian Dude
- MK2: Asian Dude
- MK3: Asian Dude
- MK Mythologies: Asian Dude
- MK4: Asian Dude
- MK Special Forces: Black Dude
- MK5: (New) Asian Dude and Asian (kinda) Lady
- MK6: (Newer) Asian Dude
- MK7: Unknown Race Dude (another dimension dude/godling)
- MK8: Asian God / Kryptonian
- MK9: Asian God
- MK10: Pretty Blonde Lady
So we got a woman in the lead after ten (or so) games, but she’s also the official first lily white protagonist in 20 years of Mortal Kombat. And, while it’s been noted that the MK franchise leans heavily into the “non-white cultures = mystic” side of stereotypes, at least the storytellers of Mortal Kombat avoided the old trope of having the white savior step into the leading role the minute mystical kung fu dudes fail. Well… until Mortal Kombat X. In fact, give or take an already immortal god, the only survivors of Mortal Kombat 9 were a pair of white people. The copious Asian population of MK all died, the sole Native American leader was vaporized, and the pair of African American (well, at least one was African-Edenian) fighters all bit the big one. But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that pretty white lady and muscular white man survived to sire another pretty white lady. Happens all the time.
And, honestly, it wouldn’t be as noticeable if Mortal Kombat X wasn’t so much a “team” story. After MK vs. DC Universe, Mortal Kombat (9), and Injustice, Netherrealm Studios seemed pretty confident in their “story mode” style storytelling. So, since they could now eschew the common fighting game trope of “every fighter for themselves”, the new roster of MKX pretty quickly coalesced into a trio of teams. On one side, you have Team Shinnok, consisting of all the bad guys trying to revive/serve Shinnok and destroy the world. Then you’ve got team Kotal Kahn, featuring the new emperor of Outworld and his entourage. And, finally, you have the Special Forces, the good guys, which put the parents in management roles, and the new generation with boots on the ground. And, to review the MK Kids Club’s roster…
- Pretty White Lady is the leader
- Black Lady is second in command
- Asian dude is on support
- Other Asian dude is also on support
And they’ve all got their roles and skills, but it’s pretty clear that white is right, and everybody else better get in line behind her.
It’s… a little disturbing once you notice that trend.
And a big reason this trend is so noticeable is Jacqueline Sonya "Jacqui" Briggs.
Jacqui Briggs kicks ass. She was a junior Olympian, a professional kickboxer, and, against her father’s wishes, she ran away to join the Special Forces. She has technical skills beyond the rest of the gang, she can pilot aircraft without issue, and she even has rad, mechanical gauntlets that augment her strength beyond normal capabilities. She’s also the only member of the “new” Special Forces to join up without any kind of supernatural abilities, which officially marks her as more heroic than Cassie and her ill-defined green powers. Jacqui is the exact kind of woman you want on your team when the going gets rough.
… And that’s about it. What does she actually do during Mortal Kombat X? Nothing much, unfortunately. She’s there to be a sounding board for the pretty white lady that is leading the story, and, aside from a few situations where she actively punched her way out of problems, she doesn’t really do anything. Does she grow and learn over the course of the story? I guess. Like… I guess she meets a cute boy, and maybe that’s a part of advancing as a human? Oh, and she avenges her father’s exploded arms by beating on Ermac. But is that dealing with her own stuff, or just her father’s baggage? Beyond that, she really doesn’t do anything for herself, and her complicated relationship with her father is barely even mentioned beyond, “Cassie, I know how it is.”
Jacqui is there to support Cassie. And, incidentally, the race dynamics of that situation are pretty odious.
But Netherrealm did show improvement in Mortal Kombat 11! While the status quo seems to be maintained at the start of MK11, Jacqui eventually peels off from Cassie to grab a macguffin with her time displaced daddy. Jax died during MK9, became a vengeful zombie, and was then revived in MKX as a man that wanted to retire from a life of skeleton-smacking. He wanted the same for his daughter, but Jacqui followed in his potentially disastrous footsteps regardless. So, apparently by the time of MK11, Old Man Jax has so totally lost this argument with Jacqui that he decides to team up with an evil time goddess so he can rewrite all of history so Jacqui majors in ballet or something. And this leads to a disagreement that includes far more metal hands launching missiles than you might expect when Old Man Jax tries to hamper the actions of Jacqui and Much Younger Jax. And, while this is primarily a battle between Jaxs young and old, it is at least all about Jacqui and her own choices, so we finally have some kind of specific payoff for a woman that was previously simply Cassie’s black best friend. It’s still all about one of the new kids and her relationship with her parents (well, at least her dad), but it’s about Jacqui, not Cassie, for a change. Yay!
Unfortunately, the rest of the new class doesn’t fair as well. Takeda Takahashi is Kenshi’s son, but he was raised by noted murder ghost Scorpion, who was revived at the same time as Jacqui’s fullmetal dad. And, considering Takeda was initially named “Spider”, attacks predominantly with rope-y bladed whips, and evokes the general style of Scorpion much more than Kenshi, you can’t tell me Takeda wasn’t originally conceived as Scorpion’s revived son. Luckily, someone realized giving Scorpion back his (real, original) family would be one of those dumbass retcon moves akin to reviving Gwen Stacy or Bucky Barnes, so Takeda was designated as Kenshi’s son… even if it is kanon that Kenshi had next to nothing to do with raising the poor boy. Takeda’s mother hid the boy’s existence until he was eight, when Kenshi discovered the kid shortly after her murder. Then Kenshi decided vengeance was more important than child-rearing, so he dropped Takeda off with Scorpion. Scorps already got one child killed on his watch a solid decade earlier, so what were the odds that would happen again? In Kenshi’s absence, Takeda initially had a very rocky relationship with his “new dad” (“But I don’t wanna teleport to school! I want to ride the bus like everybody else! And stop saying ‘toasty’! That’s so old!”), but they eventually came to an understanding, and Takeda is now an official and dedicated member of Scorpion’s Shirai Ryu ninja clan (other notable members include absolutely no one). Takeda joins Cassie’s Special Forces squad because all the cool kids were doing it.
Takeda, like the rest of the squad, is basically there just to support Cassie, but he does get a smidgen of a story in the form of slightly different daddy issues. As one might expect, he has a bit of resentment reserved for the father that left him with a reformed skeleton, so their relationship is strained. This is further exasperated by father and son possessing a telepathic link, and Kenshi having a blind spot for boundaries or tact. Do you know how many times Kenshi has barged into Takeda’s mind at inopportune moments? Kenshi now has more knowledge of Kingdom Hearts fanfic than he ever expected. Other than that, Takeda seems to simply be “the funny one” in the gang, and caps off the story by earning an uneasy sort of truce with his dad via combating revenant hordes. And then neither of ‘em appear in MK11, so who cares?
Oh, and Jacqui and Takeda apparently fall in love over the course of MKX, and are engaged by the time of MK11. There is not a trace of an excuse across the plot for why the hell this happens, but it’s not like this franchise is called Mortal Kissing. Fill in your own romantic blanks!
And speaking of romantic blanks, the last of the new kids is Kung Jin. Kung Jin is notable for being the first (and, apparently, only) homosexual in the whole of Mortal Kombat. Of course, while this has been stated to be kanon by his creators, it is only obliquely referenced in Mortal Kombat X by a brief conversation with Raiden regarding how the White Lotus society “won’t accept him” (which, incidentally, they do), and Kung Jin rebuffing Tanya’s sexual advances (him literally stating, “barking up the wrong tree, sister”). Again, Kung Jin preferring Kangs over Kitanas is stated externally to be kanon, but we’re definitely dealing with some Marvel-esque plausible deniability here, and I’m sure that has nothing to do with a history of people yelling particular slurs at each other over Mortal Kombat arcade cabinets…
But Mortal Kombat X doesn’t care about Kung Jin’s sexuality, and neither should you (there is no part of me that believes this sentence)! Like the rest of his buddies, Kung Jin has a more interesting backstory than his present: Kung Jin is Kung Lao’s cousin, and, when Kung Lao was murdered by Shao Kahn, his family lost its fortune and standing. Now, this raises all sorts of questions, as it seems to imply that Shaolin Monks operate like… what? Victorian Royalty? And, on top of that, somehow Kung Lao losing to an interdimensional despot that led an invasion of the entire planet and was eventually only stopped by the actions of a literal god is considered some black mark against the family, when the Kung Lao family would only have standing in the first place because their exalted ancestor won Mortal Kombat once before being murdered by the flunky of that same interdimensional warlord. But whatever, just roll with it, Kung Jin had to grow up on the mean streets because Kung Lao whiffed it in one fighting tournament. Kung Jin eventually grew to be a (vaguely magical) thief, and, five years before Mortal Kombat X, he attempted to steal a mystical stick from Raiden. Raiden caught the kid, and, after Raiden sat down and talked some “fresh truths” with his “homey”, Kung Jin went on the straight and narrow with the White Lotus Society (which had previously featured Liu Kang and Kung Lao). And, by MKX, he officially qualifies to join Cassie’s team of MK descendants, even if he only snuck in on a technicality.
Kung Jin seems to make the biggest impact in Cassie’s crew. Not because he actually does anything, mind you, but simply because his “street smart” background means he’s the only squirt that isn’t a total babe in the woods. You can count on Kung Jin to be… well, he by no means knows what he’s doing, but he is the guy that at least acknowledges that sneaking around another dimension with lizard people and literal ogres walking around could maybe go very south very quickly. And he starts fights for naively optimistic reasons, but at least he isn’t doing it for some nebulous “for the good of the universe!” reason like the rest of the crew. And he’s carrying around a bow and arrow in a franchise that is obviously based on close-range combat, so that gets some bonus points, too. Whether or not he ever works out with a salmon ladder is unfortunately never revealed.
Kung Jin is missing and presumed irrelevant during Mortal Kombat 11.
And that’s the Cassie Cage Crew. Only Jacqui ever gets an encore, and the rest just have to hope they’ll return in MK12 with Wheels, I./Q., and Kid Vid.
Next time: There are no other kharacters, there is only Kahn.