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MKK: Stryker & Kabal

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

He's got a gun!

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”.

He's got a gun!

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!

He's got a gun!

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.

He's got a zombie!

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.

Scary!

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…

He's got a great hook

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!

He's got a great hook

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.

He's got a great hook

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

FGC #004 Mortal Kombat Trilogy

Stryker is bad and should feel badMortal Kombat is a sincerely weird series.

Right from the get-go, MK was a strange mix of realistic graphics and over the top gore, famously featuring a masked ninja effortlessly plucking the head and spinal column from a blonde in gym wear. Somehow, seven random fighters (“A Japanese god and… how about an Australian cyborg? Do we have one of those yet?”) with approximately three special moves apiece and barely any variation in “normal” moves combined to form a Voltron of unstoppable arcade juggernautery. I almost feel bad for the makers of Street Fighter II, who must have put hours of effort into something as silly as every last fighter having an “electric x-ray” animation in response to one character’s special move, and then watched as Mortal Kombat flew to the top of the pack based exclusively on its ability to just tear your heart out.

Oh, and Goro. Goro was always pretty cool.

Mortal Kombat quickly begat Mortal Kombat 2, which was a typical video game sequel: more of the same, with maybe a few bits of “silly” tossed in to offset the ultra-violence. Don’t worry, moms, we’re all in on the joke here! Your kids can’t turn into dragons, right? See, it’s all whimsical, loony tunes violence. Please ignore that fellow with the hat bisecting that man with the swords in his arms.

Bunny!Speaking of Looney Tunes, this is about where the insane mythology creep started, as Mortal Kombat was no longer a martial arts tournament hosted by an ancient master, oh no, this was all a plot by the ruler of another dimension that got all of its fashion tips from Mad Max. And that green ninja hiding in the first game? He’s a member of an ancient lizard race and secretly fighting for oh man I cannot finish this sentence.

Can’t we just have a ludicrous four armed dragon man without having to explain his entire breed’s history?

And then came Mortal Kombat 3, where we learned the four armed dragon men had a long standing rivalry with the fanatical horsey man with the metal tail.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy is appropriately named, as it is the third version of the third game in the Mortal Kombat series. Featuring the largest cast Mortal Kombat would ever see until Mortal Kombat Armageddon (effectively Mortal Kombat Trilogy 2), you’ve got a lot of choices for pummeling in MKT, from She-Goro to She-Kahn or even She-Reptile (note that She-Sub-Zero would not be introduced until Mortal Kombat 5, and we’d have to wait until MK6 for She-Kano). There’s even some male characters, like Yellow Ninja, Blue Ninja, Prince Reference, Red Ninja, and two versions of Gray Ninja! How do those boys at Midway come up with this stuff!?

Shake it, sisterSecret shame? I might be a little harsh here with a series that is, at its core, just an excuse for roundhouses and uppercuts, but the sad truth is that I eat this stuff up with a spoon. I have always been a sucker for “comic book” universes, and Mortal Kombat is no exception. You can sell me one hundred issues of the Green Lantern Corps fighting the Yellow Lantern Corps and better watch out for the Red Lantern Corps, and you can keep me up all night on a wiki detailing the full exploits of the guy named after a temperature.

Let’s take a look at the theoretical Mortal Kombat mascot: Scorpion. For those of you that are unaware, Scorpion is literally part of Mortal Kombat’s current caretakers’ logo and has appeared in nearly every Mortal Kombat game and spin off (he missed the original version of Mortal Kombat 3, but swung back in with a vengeance in MK3 Ultimate and Trilogy). Scorpion is the face of Mortal Kombat, and no one has ever had any idea what to do with him.

In Mortal Kombat I, Scorpion was a simple skeleton man that wanted revenge on Sub-Zero, who had forcibly caused Scorpion to lose about eleven pounds during a previous, fatal encounter. Fire Ghost vs. Ice Man, a tale as old as time. Scorpion wound up scoring the only fatality to canonically take place during Mortal Kombat I, and introduced Sub-Zero to his own private burning man exhibition. Flame Wraith gets his revenge, end of story.

Mortal Kombat 2 sees Sub-Zero return, and Scorpion could swear he remembers killing that guy, but maybe his fireball missed? Or Smokey the Bear put him out? Who knows, Scorpion telejumps at the chance to double kill Sub-Zero. But Scorpion finds that, whoops, this Sub-Zero is actually the younger brother of the dead Sub-Zero, and cools his skull down to friendly fire levels. Young Sub-Zero seems to bear Scorpion no ill-will for his part in his brother’s flambé, which, really, we could all learn a lesson here about forgiving unstoppable murder skeletons.

Shao Kahn gets downright glutinous in Mortal Kombat 3, attempts to steal all the souls on Earth and in Hell, and accidentally releases Scorpion to roam the Earth and thrash ninja robots. Scorpion’s bio for the game claims he’s unaffiliated with any side, so he’s just running around, throwing spears at folks because it seems like something to do. Suppose it beats Hell.

Toasty!Scorpion remembers nothing and goes right back to trying to kill Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat 4. Scorpion completely flakes on not only having already killed Sub-Zero, but also learning that Current Sub-Zero is not Dead Sub-Zero. Scorpion comes this close to committing murder for absolutely no reason, but pulls back when he learns that Quan Chi, the Shang Tsung of MK4 (… err… MK2 Shang Tsung), was actually responsible for his family’s death. Whoops! Scorpion is actually pretty good at this vengeance thing, so he drags Quan Chi to Hell… wait… we’re calling it the Nether Realm now.

In what seems to be one part Dante and one part Three Stooges, Scorpion continues to torture Quan Chi until the start of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. He just chases him around not-Hell, swinging his axe all over the place and presumably repeatedly shouting something about getting over there. Quan Chi eventually found a couple of oni (onis? It’s just one of those words you hope you never need to know the plural), was like, “Hey, you guys? That yellow ninja guy said yo’ mama so fat, when she sits around the third circle of Hell, she sits AROUND the third circle of Hell!” Quan Chi then scampered off and started the titular Deadly Alliance while Scorpion dealt with the dual oni, Bashy and Pigpen. According to canon, Scorpion didn’t even really participate in MK:DA, and was simply tossed into a soulnado (glossary: soulnado: a tornado of souls) which sent Scorpion off to the Realm of the Elder Gods, effectively MK’s Heaven.

The afterlife of the Mortal Kombat universe is peculiar and terrible.

The Elder Gods are basically DC’s Guardians of the Universe: know-it-alls from the dawn of time that somehow have never made a worthwhile decision within our generation. The Elder Gods take one look at Scorpion, avenging demon from Hell, and unanimously decide to elect Scorpion as their champion, successfully making him the champion of all of existence. I don’t need to add anything to that, do I? Flaming Vengeance Incarnate is the defender of all that has ever been? Gonna end poorly.

And it does! All of reality gets sucked down the toilet, and Lord Raiden reboots all of existence after making a brief stop over in the DC Universe. A new world is formed in Mortal Kombat 9, and… Scorpion is a vengeful wraith hell bent on liquefying Sub-Zero. Go with what you know, right?

Penguin!Now we’re up to Mortal Kombat X, home of a very much alive Scorpion. How did that happen? I’d claim you should play the game and find out for yourself, but, spoilers, it’s because Cyber Sub-Zero was a hit in Mortal Kombat 9, and the writers needed a new “the same, but different!” iconic character. So, Scorpion, best known as “Ninja Ghost Rider” is now some Asian guy with inexplicable fire powers. Of course, if Cyber Sub-Zero is any indication, Scorps will be back to normal by next game, probably due to a flesh mangling accident with a paper shredder Sub-Zero was trying to repair or something, so let’s not get too used to the new status quo.

Bizarro PitMy point to all this nonsense? Mortal Kombat’s story is about as well plotted and forward thinking as your average DC comics plot (Hal Jordan: Hero, Out-of-Touch Old Man, Super Villain, Dead, Alive, Greatest Hero Ever, Renegade, Space Hobo). Mortal Kombat Trilogy is an early, lame effort to bring these characters together for one final showdown before beginning the truly terrible era of “games no one liked that introduce sixteen new characters a game that are all the same as the previous characters, but maybe with different hair” (MK: GNOLTI16NCAGTAATSATPCBMWDH). It is impossible to play this game today without seeing the insanity of the future stretching before it, and it’s retroactively ruined an experience that could just be a man with metal arms shooting missiles at Elvira.

Or maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve wasted so much valuable brain space on this series. Did you know Stryker was originally intended for Mortal Kombat I? See the original idea…

FGC #4 Mortal Kombat Trilogy

  • System: N64, Playstation
  • Number of Players: 2, really. 8 in a “tournament”, but good luck getting that going.
  • This Roster Looks Familiar: It is, give or take, exactly the same as the MK9 roster. Assuming Random ROB ever chooses that game, I’ve got a lovely post about reliving past glories all ready to go.
  • Admit it, you’ve played this and Killer Instinct Gold more hours than you’ve devoted to anything else in your life: Never!
  • PSX or N64: The N64 is lacking the ability to play as the bosses and unmasked Sub-Zero, and it lacks the PSX’s one-button fatality cheat that makes life so much better. On the other hand, the load times on the PSX edition are atrocious, particularly in a game where matches are over in fifteen seconds. So, good news, we’re all losers! Maybe the Saturn version was best, but I’m not buying this game again!
  • Did you know? The PSX version is the only MK game where you can play as a centaur without any kind of code. This should be an option in other games. I’m not talking about just other Mortal Kombat games, I mean every video game. Think about it. Princess Zelda is just chilling in Ganon’s clutches, and to her rescue is Link, brave Hylian Centaur of Lore. Wait. Nevermind, just googled that. Bad idea.
  • Would I play again? Exclusively for nostalgia purposes. The actual nuts and bolts of playing this game are improved upon in every conceivable way by Mortal Kombat 9. Assuming some centaur-related DLC was ever released for that game, we’d have absolutely no reason to turn on MKT again.

Quite the Fatality

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Yoshi Touch & Go. Woof. Alright. Let’s see how that shakes out, you stupid robot. Please look forward to it!