After months of anticipation, Mortal Kombat X comics have finally arrived!
Only the first digital chapter is available thus far [purchase], which Mortal Kombat Online will be reviewing here. For the full print issue, you'll have to hit up your local comic shop January 14th! If you haven't pre-ordered, make sure you show your interest for future issues!
DC Comics' first foray into the Mortal Kombat comics business has had a lot of time to build interest since it was announced at October's NYCC. If you download Chapter One looking for all the answers to your every question - you're not playing with fair expectations. That said, if you pay the 99c expecting some substantial answers, it may be the comic that comes up short of the title on the cover.
As seen in yesterday's preview; Kenshi takes centre stage in a cold opening set in the Himalayan wilderness "many years ago". It's an action sequence that would've played better in a pre-credits crash for television, but where it isn't informative in detail, it is very indicative of the type of read that follows.
The beats are kept remarkably simple, as if designed to fit into 16-bit text on a home cartridge, rather than a 40 page comic: Kenshi has been working undercover with the Red Dragon Clan [for the Outerworld Investigation Agency, we're forced to presume]; his cover was blown; Sonya Blade called to tell him he has a child in Thailand; the blind sword saint was too late to rescue mother from the Red Dragon; he has the boy and is on the run.
Fellow Deadly Alliance alum Hsu Hao commands his Red Dragon minions to punish Kenshi's apparent betrayal. Fans will recognize this as a role reversal for Hsu Hao, who was embedded within the OIA Special Forces in the 2002 game. Given that he's unceremoniously sacrificed mere pages later -- we might assume this is less of a deliberate twist to the now rebooted story, and more about putting a recognized name to the Red Dragon fatality. Given the medium's ability to redeem oddball characters, it seems a shame to finish him so quickly.
The man who speared Hsu Hao's cybernetic heart and punched clean through his head is Scorpion. The ninja spectre gets two things here that are nice to see: A big, impactful, splashy entrance, and a plot that progresses him beyond the endless quest for revenge. Of course -- given that this is "many years ago", and we've already seen Scorpion bring grievances to the fight in gameplay previews -- we have to assume he'll be ready to revenge by the time the game ships. As it stands, he's obviously very protective of the clan's land. In one of the most effective moments of the chapter, Kenshi reveals he's trespassing before the kunai spear ushers in the arrival of Scorpion.
The nebulous "many years ago" comes as a jarring surprise, given the apparent significance of the 25 years to be covered by the game and comic. That shock may come from the relative precision of Injustice: Gods Among Us, which divided its series into year based volumes. That game and its comic utilized a similar deliberate passage of time to divide significance between writers on the comic and game -- five years, in that series. With Mortal Kombat X slated to dip into its history during the home console story mode, keeping things vague may be for the best, but it contributes to a general sense of shabby storytelling, where detail is sparse and context overlooked.
Scorpion - for those wondering - has found time to recover a human face, grow a beard, stoke a friendship with Kenshi, and create a new incarnation of the Shirai Ryu clan. This one is cobbled from "sole survivors" who lost their families to "The Netherrealm War". That may suggest the events of Mortal Kombat 4 - teased at the end of Mortal Kombat (2011)'s reboot story with the lurking presence of Shinnok. Like so much else in this opening chapter, it is given no further context. Why the Shirai Ryu are in Earthrealm, hanging out in the Himalaya instead of Japan, is probably of future story significance, and requires patience. It's frustrating, never the less, to have it delivered in such a cavalier manner, with so many missing details.
The chapter ends with the first appearance of Sub-Zero. Again, hints of a prior allegiance to Quan Chi and subsequent loyalty to Raiden are alluded to - but no real context about the character is given. He's slick and very much alive. This won't help speculation about the identity of the new game character, and arguably leaves readers as much in the dark, as well.
Even his mission: to procure a dagger from a Red Dragon stronghold - is without detail. This makes the final page reveal of Kano - who we know is working for Quan Chi, thanks to game trailers - lack impact. He carves a line down Sub-Zero's face and teases "The Curse of the Kamidogu".
Fortunately, Dexter Soy delivers some great visuals throughout - with his tightest pencils appearing in these final pages. The chunky inks and solid color of earlier pages seems to sharpen into more expressive, tighter lines. How the artist has anticipated the dual release for print and digital, and how it has affected the finished work, is something we can only speculate about. Of course, fan speculation will belong almost exclusively to the minimal information on offer.
The first digital chapter of Mortal Kombat X clearly sets the scene for the inevitable epic of the April game. Alas, of all the questions it raises in its brief debut, the biggest may be concerning the strengths of the comic book medium and its digital frontiers.
DC Comics utilized the same digital-first format for Injustice: Gods Among Us, effectively slicing the traditional comic book page in two [top and bottom], and the average print issue into three. The end result alleviates the pressures of squeezing elaborate sequential artwork into irregular screen sizes, but also challenges the economy and pacing of the traditional American comic. As in Injustice; these decisions distract from the art form, inadvertently calling attention to the dual purpose of a tie-in released four months prior to the main event of the video game: weekly chapters don't benefit the story, but they keep interest high and building.
There's nothing wrong with this pulp process and promotional mentality, but I think enthusiastic collectors of print issues will be the long term winners. They will receive each issue in its complete format and that, if Injustice was any indication, is the superior format.
If Injustice was any indication, this series will find a strong audience, at least within the gaming faithful. The lofty heights of Injustice's chart dominance seem unlikely, given the hook of an alternate take on Superman et al, but the action packed pages should delight digital consumers who contributed to Injustice's success. When Injustice was at its most brief, it was often those unfamiliar with the medium, and simply enjoying seeing the characters in action, who benefitted most.
This is to say, Mortal Kombat has long been a part of a philosophical struggle, and the comics will test both sides. Playing to the broad cultural touchstone, writer Shawn Kittelsen has been the face of selling action and danger - "a fatality in almost every issue", he told DC All Access. This in-game finishing mechanic has been a trademark of the series since its days as kung fu movie pastiche, but in a medium driven by story, it remains to be seen if there's value in focusing so much attention on the gimmick of death. MKX Chapter One delivers a lot of action and blood, but when it comes to storytelling, it's incredibly sparse and arguably under written. It will be in the eye of the beholder to decide if that's a good or bad thing.
Final notes: Takeda is a loaded name for fans of Mortal Kombat: Conquest, sure to fuel expectations about Kenshi's son and the influence of Scorpion [read more]. Nice to see Daegon return [from Armageddon], in name at least, as the demigod leader of the Red Dragon Clan. We'll be watching for him.
Answers will come. Story will be told. More will come next time. All in all, it's a promising start with plenty of room for improvement.
Mortal Kombat Online is looking forward to more Mortal Kombat X from DC Comics and we hope you will too! Visit DC Entertainment or Google Play to purchase the first chapter for yourself! Register to discuss the series and share your own review on the forums!