You ever think back on old 80’s cartoons where there was some unstoppable evil force (think Cobra Commander, Megatron, Skeletor, or Ronald Reagan), but they got routinely trounced every week, so why were you afraid of them, again? Like Gargamel was a malevolent antagonist that was attempting genocide for monetary gain, but he was also routinely thwarted by a pack of brownies with names like “Happy Smurf”. Why was he at all threatening? He failed every single time! There was no stopping stopping him! He would always fail!
And here’s a villain cut from the same cloth.
Shinnok was an Elder God. The dedicated theology of Mortal Kombat is ever mutable and confusing on a good day, but we do have a general god hierarchy. There are gods of individual realms, and they seem to be based on elements and such. And then there are Elder Gods, who are gods that got promoted to the City Council of the Gods. However, what Elder Gods actually do is nebulous and unclear. We think they’re supposed to protect the realms? Probably? Well, whatever the case, Shinnok was a proud member of the God Squad, but then got demoted back in prehistory when he attempted to take the whole of Earthrealm (that’s our realm!) for himself. Raiden, (regular) god of Earth, led his own squad o’ gods against Shinnok, and eventually saved the day through a massive attack that unfortunately leveled nearly all life on Earth. In your primitive, human science, you refer to this event as the start of the Ice Age.
So, yes, it is Mortal Kombat kanon that a war between Shinnok and Raiden is what killed the dinosaurs. That’s f%#&ing metal.
Shinnok was punished for his transgression by being damned from the heavens to forever dwell in the Netherrealm, aka the Hell of the Mortal Kombat universe. Now, you might be thinking at this point that this whole mythology is kind of clever, and is arguably a retelling of the popular Christian interpretation of Lucifer/Satan, the fallen angel, waging war in Heaven and then being damned to Hell for his hubris. And that would be cool if not for the fact that “Lucifer” is already ruling in Hell. Yes, it is kanon that Shinnok was damned to Hell and then punished and tormented by the ruler of the Netherrealm, Lucifer. So, apparently, this kind of “fallen divine being” thing routinely happens in the Mortal Kombat universe.
Lucifer tortured Shinnok for a few thousand years, but eventually Shinnok made a pact with a demon-wizard, Quan Chi. Quan Chi would aid Shinnok in overthrowing Lucifer, but, in exchange, Shinnok would have to go out for ice cream with Quan Chi at least once every two weeks. Shinnok, ever the scheming god, managed to negotiate this down to once a month, but only because he convinced the vain Quan Chi that too many treats would make him “kinda paunchy”, which is not a good look for a bald guy. And so the two demon bros overthrew Lucifer, and Shinnok became the uncontested god of the underworld (and Quan Chi got Lucifer’s stash of black lipstick).
But Shinnok still wanted to rule Earthrealm, so he hatched a plan to eventually reclaim what he saw as his birthright. Back when Shinnok was still living it up as an Elder God, he transferred the bulk of his power to a magical amulet. Why did he do this? Why did he willingly concede his own power to a trinket that could be removed or stolen? Well, obviously, if we knew the answer to that, then we’d be as smart as Elder Gods, right? And do I see you ruling any mystical realms filled with multi-armed weirdos? No! So shut-up and just deal with the fact that there’s a magical amulet out there possessing all of Shinnok’s powers, and he managed to drop it on his way down to Hell. And Raiden nabbed this amulet, and, as one does, sealed its power in four elemental dungeons guarded by four elemental bosses. And, worst of all, Raiden didn’t tell Shinnok where any of those elemental temples were! Is the fire one in a volcano? But which one? Earth has so many! This left good ol’ Quan Chi to align himself with Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung, and set up a little tit-for-tat for the information Shang Tsung had gained from devouring a million or so souls over the years. Quan Chi discovered the location of the amulet, Shao Kahn gained the ability to revive his dead wife at the time and dimension of his choosing, and everybody was happy. Quan Chi eventually used this information to hire Sub-Zero, reclaim the amulet, and nearly free Shinnok from Hell… but Shinnok decided to chill and wait for a little bit when Sub-Zero fought back. Soon, my pet, soon we’ll have all the failure we can carry in our wee, skeletal baby hands…
Shinnok’s big day finally came after Mortal Kombat 3. Shao Kahn’s attempted merging of the realms was just enough to weaken everyone’s defenses, and Shinnok started his invasion with… Edenia, for some reason. In what must have been the first infernal invasion based on a Benny Hill sketch, Shinnok and his buddies disguised themselves as helpless refugees, snuck into Kitana’s home realm, and took over the place inside of an hour. Edenians are really good at being conquered. Then Shinnok turned his divine eyes on Earthrealm, and kicked off Mortal Kombat 4 with a fighting tournament (as this is how things are done). Unfortunately, things went south for Shinnok almost immediately. For one thing, Shinnok was only “empowered” during this time because of Quan Chi, who had stolen the real super amulet, and was kind of making a point of standing next to Shinnok at all times, letting the old god soak up ambient amulet rays, and hoping he wouldn’t notice the ruse. This plan fell apart when Scorpion dragged Quan Chi right back to Hell (which, come to think of it, wouldn’t it have been easier for Scorpion to get his revenge while everyone was already in Hell?), and Shinnok was left fairly defenseless against the combined might of the Earthrealm warriors. As ever, Liu Kang delivered the final jump kick to that dollar-store Shang Tsung, and Shinnok was sent right back down to where the goblins go.
Absolutely no one begged for the return of Shinnok, so he spent some quality time with his remaining infernal minions until Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Shinnok was one of the many supporting villains in that tale, and he spent a little time allying himself with the protagonist of that adventure’s (literal) evil twin. But, in the end, Shao Kahn won that battle anyway, so Shinnok was left dead on the ground… which kind of shouldn’t be possible, but I’ll allow it, because it means there is one less Shinnok in the universe.
Take 2 on this story. When the Mortal Kombat kontinuity rebooted, it rebooted at the restore point of Mortal Kombat 1, so all of Shinnok’s complicated mythology remained firmly in place. However, this universe featured a Quan Chi that, thanks to a coin flip that went a different way, got two scoops of Scorpion Flamin’ Hot Crunch, and not Stryker’s Sundae Best. As a result, Quan Chi was in a much better mood in time for Mortal Kombat 4, and decided to give Shinnok the real amulet for this go round. Well, either that, or since Quan Chi had gained an entire army of superpowered undead karate wizards, he decided he didn’t need the stupid amulet anyway. Whatever the case, Shinnok kicked off nu-MK4 completely flush with power, and forsook his whole “Edenian refugees plan” for just flying in on an army of winged demons. Less evil masterminding, more shock and awe. But! Bad news for ol’ Shinnok again, just when the big bad was going to conquer the planet, Johnny Cage stepped up to the plate and magic-kicked Shinnok into next week. And next week is precisely when Raiden figured he could seal Shinnok within his own stupid amulet. So rebooted MK4 is over before it begins thanks to Raiden having not ever once played a JRPG featuring an ancient, evil god sealed into mystical jewelry (which, come to think of it, is every JRPG).
So the proper story of Mortal Kombat 10 is that, about twenty years after MK4*, most of the planet seems to be in a mad scramble to either release or permanently seal Shinnok from/to his amulet. As must inevitably happen in such a narrative, Shinnok escapes his bonds again, and… is immediately defeated by a teenage girl. Before Shinnok is Kim Possible’d into defeat, though, he does manage to obtain some kind of “devil form” by welding that amulet onto his tummy. Makes for a dude that at least looks like a decent final boss (finally!). But then Raiden chops off the former Elder God’s head. Shinnok is thus theoretically alive for the rest of eternity, but left as little more than a sputtering skull.
Shinnok isn’t technically consciously involved in Mortal Kombat 11 (some of his old zombie pals use his head as a mystical set of AAs), but his mom does show up, who turns out to be the Goddess/Titan of Time. And it’s revealed that Shinnok’s sister is also the Goddess of Good & Life, recontextualizing Shinnok as distinctly her opposite number, the God of Evil & Death. This really makes you wonder how Shinnok got a seat in the pantheon before his fall… but I guess it’s all about who you know, even when you’re a god of repeated failures.
Next time: Some more gods and demons.