The main plot of Mortal Kombat X concerns the immortal, unstoppable elder god Shinnok and his hated rival, a twenty something woman that is perpetually chewing bubblegum. However, there is a third column and subplot running through MKX, and it features Outworld, a struggle for its throne, and Kotal Kahn (and that name should tell you who wins said struggle).
Like a lot of Outworlders, Ko’atal has a backstory that stretches back hundreds of years. At some point, Ko’atal and his people, the Osh-Tekk, traveled to Earthrealm, hung out with the ancient Mayans, and enjoyed being worshipped as gods. As a result, Osh-Tekk people influenced Mayan culture to a significant degree, as the Osh-Tek’s natural hunger for beating hearts led to some very metal rituals and murals. Oh, and Ko’atal was distinctly named their god of war (aka Buluc), which somehow makes him the second playable “god of war” to appear in the franchise (and third if you include Injustice). Regardless, at some point, the Osh-Tekk headed back to their own private dimension, and left the Mayan People with a deep and unrequited need to transform into jaguars. And that is the secret origin of furries in the Mortal Kombat universe.
But the Osh-Tekk did not fare as well as the Mayans, as they quickly became conquered and decimated by an invading force (wait a minute…). Ko’atal was conscripted into Shao Kahn’s army, and wound up being pretty effective (that whole “god of war” thing really paid off), and was trusted enough to join Jade and be the official guard of Shao Kahn’s newest queen, Sindel. Unfortunately, that whole situation ended extremely poorly (Sindel either committed suicide, or was murdered by no less than three different people, depending on the retkon du jour), and Ko’atal was punished by being sentenced to Shang Tsung’s lab/torture chamber. Also, somewhere in there, every other Osh-Tekk was obliterated, because that’s how Shao Kahn rolls (see also: Reptile). So if you’re wondering where Ko’atal was during the original Mortal Kombat Trilogy or Mortal Kombat 1-9, the answer is “Flesh Pits”, and he doesn’t want to talk about it.
But, in the new timeline of Mortal Kombat 9, Shang Tsung and all his binding magic died sometime around the invasion of Earthrealm. And, shortly thereafter, Shao Kahn was vaporized, too. This led to a new status quo for Ko’atal: he could leave the Flesh Pits! And take a long shower! And after rinsing off, he could serve the new ruler of Outworld, who appears to be… Mileena? Oh, no. That can’t be right. Well, she is technically the heir of Shao Kahn, as he… kind of birthed her… in the Flesh Pits… Hey, do you think she and Ko’atal were neighbors? No? Fine. No whacky Outworld sitcom for this crowd.
Now, the original Mortal Kombat story/timeline dealt with a deposed Shao Kahn once before. In the era of MK 5-7, there was a conflict being fought between the forces of Edenia, led by Sindel and Kitana, and whoever was leading Shao Kahn’s Outworld armies this week (which was usually just the featured big bad). It was all described in biographies, cutscenes, and endings, but the general feeling there was that there was this massive war occurring just off screen, but, since this ain’t Mortal Kombat: Three Houses (everyone in the MK Universe plays on Casual Mode), this huge conflict had to exist in the margins of the story. And, honestly, Mortal Kombat is the story of threats to Earth, not Outworld/Edenia, so it’s just as well that we’re not getting into interdimensional warfare.
However, Mortal Kombat X and the new timeline of the MK universe decided to go in another direction. After a few decades of Mileena continuing to be a complete maniac, Ko’atal splintered off and declared himself Kotal Kahn, challenging Mileena’s right to the throne. And, in an attempt to keep this conflict contained to something that would work for Mortal Kombat storytelling, they decided to hash out their beef with… rap battles.
Okay, disappointingly enough, no one ever raps. However, the story of Mortal Kombat X gives one the impression that Outworld politics are settled via pimps rolling around with their posses and occasionally throwing down in random jungles. And, like all politics, we have marginal reasons for why each MK heavy is backing their candidate. In short, Mileena is running on a platform that Outworld should conquer other realms like Shao Kahn and Onaga before her, and Kotal Kahn is garnering support by promoting the dual beliefs of Outworld isolation and Milenna is crazy-go-nuts coocoo pants banana nutso. So the factions breakdown like so:
Team Mileena Kahn
· Rain (the Edenian Prince wants to see Edenia’s needs met)
· Tanya (same basic deal, but with less royalty)
· Baraka (Mileena provides a very comprehensive dental plan)
· Kano (still with the dental plan, oddly enough)
Team Kotal Kahn
· Reptile (previously a Mileena acolyte, but ratted out her magic clone origins)
· Ermac (despises Shang Tsung-created monsters, self)
· D’Vorah (enjoys the alliteration of “Kotal Kahn”)
· Erron Black (likes the cut of Kotal’s jib)
· Ferra / Tor (Kotal makes surprisingly good nachos)
… Huh. Come to think of it, when you look at the two gangs, it appears Mileena’s group actually has some common goals, while Kotal mostly has enough of a cult of personality to draw people (/lizards/soul beasts/bug ladies/ogres) to his side. It’s not about Kotal Kahn’s issues, it’s about the man. … And the fact that he’s not a murderous mutant homunculus. I guess that counts for something.
Anywho, much of Mortal Kombat X is given over to the conflict between Mileena and Kotal, and, spoilers, the million year old godling defeats the freaky 20-something monster lady. This happens mostly because Mileena assembled the most worthless team of kombatants ever (Rain? Seriously? Was Kintaro out taking a smoke?), and Kotal had his political rival executed by his creepy bug lady. This means that, by about the middle of Mortal Kombat X, Kotal Kahn is the once and future King of Outworld.
Interestingly enough, this does not promote Kotal Kahn to official bad guy status. Every other Outworld Emperor (or Empress) had a strong urge to conquer the rest of the universe. Kotal Kahn firmly believes Outworld needs some time to itself to find the source of that recurring toilet smell (it’s not Reptile, he checked), and has no real interest in conquering Earthrealm. He only seems to draw conflict from the Special Forces when they interfere in his/Outworld’s unsurprisingly lethal laws (“Oh, did you steal some bread to feed your family? Well, the punishment is you and all your family will be devoured by bootleg animatronic merchandise. Deal with it.”), or when there’s a new Evil God of the Universe rising, and Kotal decides he wants to score some points by falling back on good ol’ sacrifice-based appeasement. Aside from those lil’ misunderstandings, Kotal Kahn is the most benevolent of Outworld rulers.
Well, I mean, benevolent aside from that teensy tiny genocide he committed against Baraka’s entire tribe for backing Mileena. And there may have been one or two other micro-genocides during Kotal’s rule, too. Look, Outworld has a lot of races, and Kotal Kahn is working really hard to get Outworld’s one Waffle House back open, so sacrifices have to be made. It happens.
Mortal Kombat 11 decides to go all in on Kotal Kahn being “the good one” by plucking Shao Kahn out of the timestream and pitting him against Kotal. Now Kotal has to defend his throne against its greatest former emperor (non-dragon division) and a horde of justifiably pissed off Tarkatans. And, since Shao Kahn is friggen’ Shao Kahn, Kotal practically looks like Jesus H. Buddha while stomping around and bisecting various mutants. He winds up reconnecting with his old girlfriend (a time-displaced Jade), learning a valuable lesson about racism (it’s bad), and eventually cedes his claim to the throne to Kitana Kahn, who will absolutely separate Edenia, thus completely negating Kotal Kahn’s entire political philosophy. This might seem like some kind of hasty, slapdash writing to firmly put a win in the good guys’ column and wholly remove Outworld as an interdimensional threat, but Kotal Kahn had also just had his spine snapped by Shao Kahn moments before, so this little plot hole might be more a product of the pain meds kicking in.
Kotal No-Longer-Kahn sees the finale of Mortal Kombat 11 partially paralyzed and broken in more ways than one. Will he return for the next MK Universe? Hey, probably. He’s got a cool hat, and that’s all we ever needed with Kung Lao.
Next time: A creepy (crawly) story.