I covered Hanzo “Scorpion” Hasashi’s journey in great detail a couple of years back (man, 2015? Time flies in universes that don’t reboot), so I’ll just cover the highlights here:
Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Normal ninja dude that gets murdered by Sub-Zero before the end of the first level.
Mortal Kombat 1: An avenging ghost skeleton from hell that payback-murders Sub-Zero. Mission accomplished!
Mortal Kombat 2: Still an avenging ghost, still trying to kill Sub-Zero, but learns that “this” Sub-Zero is actually OG Sub-Zero’s lil’ bro. Vows to become a protector skeleton for Baby Sub-Zero.
Mortal Kombat 3: An avenging ghost that is accidentally released from Hell. Kind of a free agent, but eventually winds up protecting Baby Sub-Zero.
Mortal Kombat 4: An avenging ghost that completely forgot what he was doing. Tries to kill Baby Sub-Zero again, but backs off when he is informed Quan Chi is responsible for the death of his family. Drags Quan Chi to Hell.
Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance: An avenging ghost that spends a lot of his free time torturing Quan Chi. Eventually, Quan Chi gains the upper hand, and has his new oni buddies toss Scorpion into The Soulnado.
Mortal Kombat Deception: An avenging ghost that is made Defender of the Realms after The Soulnado accidentally spits Scorpion out in Heaven. The Elder Gods are even worse at their job than Raiden, so appointing a murder skeleton the guardian of reality apparently seemed like a good idea.
Mortal Kombat Armageddon: An avenging ghost that is really pissed off. The Elder Gods said they would bring back Scorpion’s family and tribe in exchange for helping out during Deception… but Scorps didn’t read the fine print, and his friends and family were returned to “life” as undead fire skeletons (just like dad!). Scorpion attempted to kill just about everybody in this contract dispute, and, considering the world then wound up in a reboot, he kinda did.
MK v DC: An avenging ghost that thought Batman was Sub-Zero in disguise. This ended… poorly.
Mortal Kombat 9: An avenging ghost that is living MK1-3 again.
Mortal Kombat X: A dad. Thanks to some unusual plot contrivances, Scorpion is revived as a perfectly normal dude who incidentally possesses hellfire-based magical abilities. Score! Scorpion reboots his ninja clan, and even adopts another fighter’s son as his own. And he’s best friends with (baby) Sub-Zero! He still sends Quan Chi to Hell, though, so everything isn’t completely topsy-turvy.
Mortal Kombat 11: A dad and an avenging ghost. Time travel grants us Diet and Original Scorpions, so you’ve got your choice of skeleton man or regular man. Take your pick!
So, tldr, Scorpion is the most popular character, and no one has a damn clue what to do with the damned soul.
And now for a different story…
Once upon a time, there was a man named Bi-Han. Bi-Han was an assassin of the Lin Kuei clan, and was regarded as their best and brightest. So, when an albino wizard with spikes on his neck came calling with a job, Bi-Han was hired. And Bi-Han, like a boss, made his way through some magical temples, killed a rival ninja, and ably completed Quan Chi’s tasks, despite the fact that this all had to be done with the handicap of taking place during Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. Quan Chi then inevitably betrayed Bi-Han, and the two squared off for the fate of the world in the very bowels of Hell. Bi-Han was successful, but he also learned that he was only able to fight in Hell because his soul was tainted by evil. Maybe it was because he worked with an evil sorcerer. Maybe it was because it was literally his job to kill hundreds of people. Maybe it was because he did not delete downloaded roms after 24 hours. Whatever the reason, Bi-Han, aka Sub-Zero, was informed that if he did not change his ways, he would be damned for all of eternity.
Then Mortal Kombat happened, and Scorpion BBQ’ed Sub-Zero but good. Sorry, bud, we don’t all get to have a wonderful life.
This is kanon
But anyone that knows mythology knows that if you are killed by an undead spirit of vengeance, then you will rise again as an undead spirit of vengeance. Or maybe that’s vampires? Whatever, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero was reborn as Bi-Han aka Noob Saibot.
So, a quick word about hidden characters in Mortal Kombat: We’ll talk about this more when we get to the relevant character, but Mortal Kombat more or less created the whole concept of a “hidden fighter” in fighting games when Mortal Kombat 1 V3.0 first unleashed Reptile onto the scene. By the time of Mortal Kombat 2, MK’s adoring public was already expecting crazy hidden fighters with even more ridiculous unlock conditions. A big ol’ question block became part of the game progression, and gray ninja Smoke and green ninja woman Jade were the obvious hidden characters of MK2. There was also Noob Saibot, an even more hidden ninja that was colored entirely black, and was so named because the franchise (and Noob) was created by Boon and Tobias (and read those names backwards if you didn’t catch that bit of wordplay immediately). Fighting Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat 2 required a single player winning 50 consecutive versus matches. Assuming a credit cost 50¢ at the time, this meant that to even see Noob, at least $25 had to be deposited into a MK2 arcade cabinet.
What am I getting at? Noob Saibot was trolling the audience from the very beginning.
Back to anti-reality: Bi-Han-now-Noob-Saibot became a nefarious shadow wraith, and the canon explanation (mostly a retcon) for his presence in Mortal Kombat 2-3 was that he was working for Shao Kahn, but secretly spying on everyone on behalf of Quan Chi and Shinnok, whom he was now damned to serve for eternity. He was released from duty when Shinnok was defeated during Mortal Kombat 4, and briefly went back to his old job with Shao Kahn during Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance (or at least the confusingly named GBA port of it, Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition). That ended when Shao Kahn died (or “died”), and Noob Saibot, after years of infernal enslavement, could finally collect his undead unemployment.
The throne of Hell was empty after Shinnok and Quan Chi wound up dead (damned? Vaporized? Just that general incapacitation that occurs to Mortal Kombat kharacters when they’re not directly involved in the plot?), so Noob decided it was time for a promotion. He got his own robot ninja, Smoke, and started a tag-team operation with the ultimate goal of grooming a robot-demon army. To be clear, that is an army of robots that are also demons, and not demons that are incidentally working with robots. Nanomachines are involved. Regardless, Noob and Smoke ambushed Noob’s brother, Other Sub-Zero, but Sub-Zero escaped. Quan Chi decided to resurface then, and Noob, Smoke, and Quan Chi all decided to storm Sub-Zero’s front gates together. It was kind of like The Wizard of Oz, except there wasn’t a Dorothy, and the Tin Man was an undead robot ninja demon that could turn into a gas. That motley crew failed, but Sub-Zero was able to restore Smoke’s consciousness. He attempted to do the same for his brother, but Noob continued to be a jerkass demon. There was some rumbling in Noob’s Annihilation ending that original, compassionate/alive Sub-Zero was going to resurface as a controlling force… but the universe rebooted about seven seconds later.
So, good news, the universe is fresh and new again, and Bi-Han/Sub-Zero is alive and chill again. Bad news though, the world rebooted at about the start of Mortal Kombat 1, so, despite everyone’s best attempts to avoid such a fate, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero is still kanon. This means that when Scorpion inevitably killed Sub-Zero all over again, he became Noob Saibot, again, just like last time. Unlike last time, though, since his big reveal as OG Sub-Zero was already spent back during Deadly Alliance, this Noob Saibot was out and proud, and basically became Quan Chi’s personal bodyguard for much of the story. And then he got tossed into The Soulnado. Whoops.
The Soulnado should have either torn Noob Saibot to pieces or made him Defender of the Realms (there’s precedent!), but it wound up doing exactly nothing. Noob Saibot laid low for the entirety of Mortal Kombat X, and, like in the original timeline, only decided to skulk out of the shadows when his bosses got murdered. In this case, he joined up with the bad gal du jour in exchange for a promised clan of shadow ninja. Every last kharacter in Mortal Kombat 11 fails, though, and the universe gets flushed down the toilet once again. So will Noob resurface as Sub-Zero again, or will he be doomed to be a Noob forever? Time will tell!
So let’s try this story again…
Once upon a time, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero was a warrior that fought in the first Mortal Kombat, but was fatally defeated by his rival, Scorpion. However, Bi-Han was not the only cryomancer in the Lin Kuei. There was his younger brother, Tundra. There was also his sister, Ice, his other brother, Freezing, his estranged cousin, Frost, his weird uncle, Kinda Cold But I Guess You Could Turn Down The Thermostat If You Want, and his dog, Cool Joe Canine. But this story isn’t about any of them, this is simply the story of Kuai Lang, formerly Tundra, who decided to adopt the title of Sub-Zero upon the immolation of Sub-Zero I.
Sub-Zero the Younger is a very different person from his brother. Well… not technically, as they both looked identical between Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2, but, when Sub-Zero decided to avenge his brother by completing Lin Kuei’s contract on Shang Tsung’s head (oh yeah, that’s why Bi-Han showed up for MK1), he made two important choices. One, he brought backup in the form of Smoke, another Lin Kuei assassin who had control over… I don’t know… probably earth or something. Second, Sub-Zero proved himself to be less blood-thirsty than his bro. Despite being in the tournament for the exclusive purpose of murdering a dude, Sub-Zero did not needlessly murder some rando during Mortal Kombat 2 (probably Baraka. He’s always the chump), and this mercy conveyed to Scorpion that Sub-Zero II was certainly not the vicious Sub-Zero I. Never mind that an immortal vengeance creature should probably be able to tell two different people apart for all sorts of other reasons, but I suppose poor perception is one of the drawbacks of being a skeleton without, ya know, eyes. Regardless, Scropion and Sub-Zero became best buddies for a game or two as a result, and everyone went home happy.
Wait, crap, nothing happy ever happens in this franchise. So we had two Mortal Kombats, and a Sub-Zero was supposed to kill Shang Tsung in both of them. And, while the newest Sub-Zero at least survived Mortal Kombat 2, he didn’t actually complete the contract, as Shang Tsung still lived. This meant the Lin Kuei assassins had to make a difficult choice to regain their fallen honor. Options available included:
• Send more assassins to kill Shang Tsung
• Declare the contract null and void, as Shang Tsung proved to be an other-worldly sorcerer
• Find out who the hell kept putting out a hit on Shang Tsung, and offer a refund
• Launch a social media campaign that would convince everyone that killing Shang Tsung was for nerds
• Turn everyone into soulless robots
So the Lin Kuei, naturally, decided to go with the robot option. Look! They were going to try the social media option, but Bi-Han was the only one with their clan’s facebook password. It happens!
So Sub-Zero and Smoke were chosen to become soulless robots in the first of a line of robot assassins that clearly wouldn’t attempt to destroy all of humanity immediately. Sub-Zero and Smoke escaped, though. Well… mostly. Smoke was captured and automated, and Sub-Zero got away with a pretty significant (and bitchin’) scar. Then Shao Kahn invaded all of Earth, and Sub-Zero got stuck fighting the forces of Outworld and robot ninja programmed to hunt and kill exclusively him. This is when we all learned that Sub-Zero is not only an expert ninja, but also some kind of computer genius. It’s kanon that, during Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero fought the forces of evil, reprogrammed Cyrax, reprogrammed Smoke and reawaked his soul, and found the time to reawaken the true soul of the Lin Kuei (or something). Basically, in one game, Sub-Zero went from a fledgling fugitive to nearly the leader of his clan. Though I suppose promotion opportunities were ripe as almost everyone else on Earth was effectively dead at the time…
Comparatively, Mortal Kombat 4 was a pretty chill time for Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero decided to fight against Shinnok because he read a plot synopsis of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, and thought it was time to avenge his brother (or prove he was better than him). Scorpion plum forgot that this Sub-Zero had no input on his death or the death of his family, though, so Sub-Zero did have to deal with an angry skeleton during the battle. In the end, Scorpion and Sub-Zero made up, again, and Sub-Zero went home pretty satisfied when Liu Kang defeated Shinnok. Sure, Sub-Zero failed to kill the final boss again, but you really can’t get upset when Liu Kang saves the world. He’s good at it.
Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance presented a much worse time for Sub-Zero. One day, Sektor, the one robot that Sub-Zero decided not to reprogram, showed up, and murdered the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei. Sub-Zero chased Sektor off with a broom, but the Lin Kuei was left without a leader. Sub-Zero, figuring that he was currently the only Lin Kuei member with a backstory and a name, decided to take up the mantel of leader. Literally. The position came with a rad dragon medallion, and, fun fact, it enhanced his ice powers a hundredfold. Sweet! It had the unfortunate drawback of making him look about 50 years old, though. The other assassins told him it made him look “distinguished”, but that was probably just because he wouldn’t stop making ice mirrors and sighing loudly. It was a rough time for Sub-Zero morale.
Sub-Zero then was the first Mortal Kombat kharacter to become a fake dad. Sub-Zero, now Grandmaster, took on a pupil, Frost. Frost was an unruly girl with ice powers just like Sub-Zero, so it only made sense that he would be able to help her to be a better person through training and whatever assassins do when they’re not assassinating people. Unfortunately, Sub-Zero completely failed, and, while everyone was supposed to be saving the world during Deadly Alliance, Frost betrayed Sub-Zero, and stole his rad medallion. This backfired immediately, and Frost was overwhelmed by her own overflowing cryomancy, transforming her into a comatose Frostsicle. Sub-Zero, not really anxious to ever see Frost again, decided to find the deepest ice box in Outworld to stow his treacherous protégé. And, score, he managed to find his family’s ancient land in Outworld, and, apparently, this was when he discovered his ice powers had some kind of origin story, and it wasn’t just a “Guile can throw fireballs because whatever” situation every time he shot snowballs at an opponent. Neat!
With knowledge comes cool equipment powerups, so Sub-Zero donned the armor of his people in time for Mortal Kombat Deception. So, if you’re curious why Sub-Zero looked like The Shredder for a game or two, there you go. Sub-Zero then became super best friends with Kenshi, a blind swordsman, and the two had whacky adventures in Outworld that really didn’t have much to do with anything. They probably learned something about disabilities and tolerance and killing dudes with swords for arms. Sub-Zero then encountered his long lost brother, Evil Shadow Man, and Sub-Zero barely escaped with his life. He was also reacquainted with Smoke, who was now a robot demon that was none too pleased that Sub-Zero forgot he existed for like three games. Oh, and then Sub-Zero finally got home, only to discover that Frost had reawakened, got home before him, and murdered a healthy portion of his clan. Whoops!
Things only got worse during the events of Mortal Kombat Armageddon, when Smoke and Noob invaded the Lin Kuei temple, and converted anyone that wasn’t already killed by Frost into a robot demon. Sub-Zero technically “won” that battle, but the Lin Kuei were not looking too good by the end of Armageddon. Luckily, this was about when the universe rebooted, so no one had to dig out a manual on demon robot assassin clan maintenance.
The new universe of Mortal Kombat 9 started about the same: Sub-Zero took up the mantle of Sub-Zero after the death of Sub-Zero. But! This time, instead of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, Sub-Zero was captured, and automated into Cyber Sub-Zero. And that was kind of cool! Except he wound up having the same arc as Cyber Smoke (is robot, rediscovers soul, decides to fight for virtue) with the added handicap of being murdered about seven seconds into joining the forces of good. Cyber Sub-Zero then becomes an evil zombie robot, but Quan Chi immediately transformed Zombie Robot Sub-Zero back into simply Zombie, Fleshy Sub-Zero, because there was no way this albino sorcerer was going to deal with a zombie that required update reboots every three days.
So Undead Sub-Zero (but not Noob Saibot, he was already double dead at this point) served Quan Chi and Shinnok for a little bit, until Raiden (maybe accidentally) revived a group of revenants that included our favorite frosty buddy. Alive Sub-Zero then follows his old “destiny” again: he becomes grandmaster of the Lin Kuei, fights off Sektor and his evil robot ninja, and even begins a new friendship with Alive Scorpion. Frost, rather chilly in any timeline, nearly cocks it up, but Sub-Zero bonds with Scorpion over some footage of his entire family being murdered, and all is forgiven.
Mortal Kombat 11 continues the trend of Sub-Zero being vaguely tangential to the plot. The big bad of the game has recruited Frost and some time-displaced Cyber Ninja to her cause, and it naturally comes down to the all-star team of Scorpion and Sub-Zero to squash this threat. Sub-Zero, once again, reprograms Cyrax and more-or-less destroys the Cyber Initiative, thus ending the threat of this army of mooks that weren’t going to be useful in anything but a Musuo game anyway. When the universe is rebooted, Sub-Zero doesn’t distinctly have anything to do with the final victory (no Ice God Sub-Zero for you), and is vaporized having not ever found that sweet armor in this timeline.
Personally, I find that ending for a beloved kharacter to be a little… cold.
Next time: Six arms, two characters.