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