Mortal Kombat 11 seems to kill the Mortal Kombat Universe (uh, spoilers), so, let us wake the Mortal Kombat Universe.
To kick things off, we will start with the twin protagonists of the franchise…
Liu Kang: Liu Kang is the generic, lovable karate man that won the first four Mortal Kombat “tournaments”. He defeated Shang Tsung. He slayed Shao Kahn. Twice. And, finally, he defeated the rogue Elder God, Shinnok. And then Shang Tsung and Quan Chi broke his neck.
That’s when things started to get weird.
(Sidenote: how much does it suck that the most prominent, canon “fatality” was a random neck snap? I would have been all in on MK: Deadly Alliance if it started with a cinema scene of Quan Chi tearing off Liu Kang’s leg and beating him with it while Shang Tsung turned someone into a baby or something.)
Liu Kang spent one whole title dead. Then, just in time for the Dragon King to kill all of his buddies, Liu Kang was revived as an extremely surly zombie. Unlike Scorpion or other “revenant” characters in the franchise, undead Liu Kang was simply a slack-jawed, shackled, shambling corpse of his former self. And you know what? People seemed to like that!
So when the universe got rebooted, Liu Kang was killed almost immediately. Okay, technically he was killed in an alternate version of Mortal Kombat 3, but it was still within the same game (Mortal Kombat 9) that revived him, so it seemed like it happened pretty quick. Anyway, Raiden BBQed Liu Kang to extra crispy, and then Liu Kang spent a solid game and a half being a corrupted evil ghost that wound up conquering Hell through a liberal use of bicycle kicks. And it all worked out anyway, because Evil Hell Lord Liu Kang absorbed Time-Displaced Young & Saintly Liu Kang, and they became Liu Kang+ who did a few things, and then blah blah blah, he’s the creation god of the entire Mortal Kombat universe.
Actually, maybe we should cover exactly how that all went down…
Raiden: Screw Liu Kang, here’s the real protagonist of the franchise. Raiden is a god. What’s more, Raiden is not one of those “Watcher” gods that is always doing his best to explain why he can’t use his godly powers to just make someone a goddamned decent taco. No, Raiden is a real “get down in the muck” kind of god, and if he has to electrocute a few guys while he’s wearing mortal skin, so be it, just means he can work on his sweet roundhouses while he’s hanging on Earth. The earlier Mortal Kombat titles went to great lengths to explain why Raiden wasn’t using his divine abilities to snap his fingers and instantly end all of his battles, but more recent titles completely forsake that kind of thinking, and, uh, I guess he’s just pulling his punches a bit when fighting Stryker, and that’s why no one’s head explodes at the starting bell.
Now, as far as what Raiden was doing during the Mortal Kombat tournaments… That’s where you can see the basic shape of the series.
Mortal Kombat 1 was your typical anime tournament for the fate of the world. As such, Raiden was just there to fly around and shout like an idiot every couple of minutes. His greatest contribution was giving Christopher Lambert something to do.
Mortal Kombat 2 was your typical anime tournament for the fate of the world, again, but this time they had a change of venue. Again, Raiden is basically just there to be everyone’s Big Tournament Thunder Daddy. Hm… I should probably check to see if that terminology could be applied to anything else…
Mortal Kombat 3 featured Shao Kahn invading Earth(realm) in a last ditch effort to conquer the whole of existence. As such, Raiden, a god of Earth, was not allowed to participate until Mortal Kombat Trilogy (Super Mortal Kombat 3 Turbo Edition). This was theoretically to show just how desperate everything had gotten for our heroes… but it just came off as the Thunder God got replaced by the Thunder Native American Dude.
Mortal Kombat 4 saw Shinnok threaten the universe. Shinnok was a deposed Elder God, so Raiden got to take center stage, and rep the God Squad with Fujin, the God of Silent Farts. Liu Kang was the ultimate savior of the universe, but at least Raiden got promoted from “god” to “elder god”, which is really going to look great on his resume.
… Or not! Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance was the story of how Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, professional second bananas, decided to kill Liu Kang and conquer the universe. The Elder Gods decreed that Billy Soulboy and Quan White weren’t the same kind of cosmic threat that had appeared in previous Mortal Kombat events, so they were going to sit this one out. But! Raiden disagreed, forsook his Elder God status, demoted himself to mere Regular God, and, for the first time “in game”, was the impetuous for the forces of good gathering under his wing (as opposed to just getting a paragraph of plot on an attract screen). Likely because Liu Kang was sick with a case of the deads, Raiden came off as the official protagonist leader for the first time. Unfortunately, this did ultimately end in everyone dying, but good hustle!
Mortal Kombat Deception started at the exact end of Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance. Old Man and Bald Man accidently revived Onaga, The Dragon King, and then literally everyone (important) died in an attempt to subdue Onaga. This included Raiden, who kamikazed into a gigantic bolt of electricity that, at best, gave Onaga frizzy hair for a week. Raiden reconstituted, though, and came back… more than a little pissed off. Raiden descended into being, essentially, “Dark Raiden”, and spent the entirety of the title looking like he was ten seconds away from telling all his “friends” on LiveJournal how he really feels. The next day…
Mortal Kombat Armageddon was little more than an excuse for every Mortal Kombat fighter to come together and clobber the hell out of each other. Technically, it was during this time that Raiden revived Liu Kang as his zombie enforcer, but, canonically, by the time the “tournament” was over, Raiden had wound up “good” again. Which is good! Because the final two fighters were Raiden and weren’t-you-already-dead-twice Shao Kahn. And guess who won! That’s right, it was Shao Kahn! Whoops! Time for a do-over!
Mortal Kombat 9 starts with Armageddon Raiden contacting Mortal Kombat 1 Raiden. In order to prevent the creation of Mortal Kombat games not helmed by Netherrealm Studios, Armageddon Raiden relays the desperate message “He must win”. Unfortunately, Future Raiden forgets that all versions of Raiden are (is?) kind of an idiot(s), so Mortal Kombat 1 Raiden decides to screw up the timeline but good. Like, he thinks, “Maybe Kung Lao is supposed to win, I should send him in to fight.” And then Kung Lao dies. Or “maybe literally anyone else is supposed to win”, and then literally everyone else dies. Basically, Raiden winds up creating a timeline where all your beloved characters are dead… which is just like the end result of Deadly Alliance… but… uh… this time it happened way too early. Anyway, eventually Raiden kills Liu Kang because he was getting uppity, and saves the whole stupid universe himself by letting Shao Kahn win Mortal Kombat 3, thus invoking some esoteric rule that the boss character can’t get his own ending or something. The Elder Gods vaporize Shao Kahn, and the whole of the universe is saved thanks to fine print.
Mortal Kombat X starts with the events of Mortal Kombat 4, but, in this new timeline, only Johnny Cage is alive enough to save us all from Shinnok. Cage can only pull off a temporary victory (you know Liu Kang would have put that god in the ground if he wasn’t currently a zombie in his unholy thrall), and Shinnok resurfaces decades later, just in time for everyone’s kids to be main characters. Raiden tries to take a hands-off approach to this whole “renegade god attempting to destroy humanity” thing, and, like most Raiden decisions, that ends poorly. Shinnok nearly destroys all of creation (again), Raiden is captured, and winds up having to be saved by a magical teenager. But Raiden does help out, as he absorbs the radiant energy of Shinnok (or something), which only has the minor side-effect of making Raiden all dark and rude (again). Mortal Kombat X ends with Dark Raiden threatening Dark Liu Kang with the ultimatum that there’s only room enough for one fallen protagonist in this universe. And that proves to be true! Because…
Mortal Kombat 11 sees Dark Raiden and Lord of Hell Liu Kang in direct conflict. But then Kronika, Goddess of Time and mother of Shinnok, shows up and further muddies everything. Current Dark Raiden is unceremoniously wiped from existence, and never returns. However, time-displaced Mortal Kombat 2 Raiden appears in his place. Wait, to be clear, that’s Raiden from the Mortal Kombat 2 that took place during the rebooted timeline of Mortal Kombat 9. So it’s Mortal Kombat 2* Raiden. Got it? Anywho, MK2* Raiden winds up nearly killing MK2* Liu Kang (again), but then receives a flash of insight that apparently Kronika was always manipulating Raidens across time into murdering Liu Kangs across time, because the combination of Raiden and Liu Kang is too OP for MK. Raiden takes this revelation incredibly literally, and fuses his essence with Liu Kang (which, incidentally, winds up being a version of Liu Kang that is already the fusion of MK11 Liu Kang and MK2* Liu Kang). This creates Fire God Liu Kang, and Raiden kind of fades into nonexistence as Fire God Liu Kang reboots the universe as he sees fit. So the twin protagonists of the franchise become one as the story closes. Hooray! Symmetry! I think!
So, yeah, in short, it’s Raiden’s world (and timelines!), and everyone else is just living there.
Next Time: The movie star and the military star!
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