Mortal Marathon!

To celebrate the new MK game, I'm doing a guest series over at the 4th Letter, where I review every episode of every MK TV series, plus the movies.  Check it out!


MK: Defenders Of The Realm Reviews- Episode 1

In 1996 Mortal Kombat was hot. Not just “this is a popular video game” hot, but “multimedia power house” hot. While games may not have shipped in the millions on release day like they do now, they were still able to become cultural phenomenons on the national scale. You have to remember that these were the days before the internet, where you could become sick and tired of something before it was even released, and there were a hell of a lot less options as far as what to do with your leisure time went. Mortal Kombat had achieved in 3 years things that not even today’s most popular games such as Halo and the Call of Duty franchise haven't even done. There were comics, a novel, a movie, a novelization of the movie, action figures, t-shirts, and a plethora of other merchandise. By the time Mortal Kombat 3 was released in arcades in 1995, it was popular enough that there were commercials not only for the home versions, but for the arcade cabinet.

But I'm not going to be talking about the merchandise, or the live show (yes, there was a traveling live martial arts show based on MK), or even the games themselves. I'm going to be looking at Mortal Kombat's forays onto both the big and small screen. The proper place to start with this would be the movies and if I ever post this anywhere else that is more professional, I'll re-edit this so that it does...or possibly with Conquest, which is technically a prequel although it's arguable whether it actually fits into continuity with them or not. Instead we'll be starting here with what is easily the weirdest of all of these movies and series, Mortal Kombat: Defenders Of The Realm.

MK: DotR was a Saturday morning cartoon show. That's right, the series that pissed off parents and censor happy politicians alike due to it's violence and the role it played in warping the minds of children had a Saturday morning animates series. It aired on the USA Network as part of it's “Action Extreme Team” block of programming, which in it's time also included cartoons based on Double Dragon, Mario, Battletoads, Sonic the Hedgehog, and MK's largest rival in the fighting game world: Street Fighter.

The first episode, “Kombat Begins Again,” aired on September 21, 1996. It takes place after the first film, which is referenced directly in a flashback during this episode. It starts with the opening titles, which consist of a brief monologue by Raiden which sets up the premise of the show and introduces the characters. The episode proper begins inside of what they refer to later as “MK Headquarters,” with a large wolf stalking the halls, and then leaping onto Nightwolf, and seemingly attacking him. This is a misdirect though, as it turns out this is his pet wolf, Keeva (more this later). Nightwolf in this acts as the Martian Manhunter to the rest of the teams Justice League, mainly staying in the base and acting as a tactical commander, monitoring for opening portals, and handling the technology side of things.

He is interrupted by a call from Liu Kang, who is in the field with the rest of the team dealing with an invasion of “Cybers.” These “Cybers” are being led by Sektor and Cyrax, who themselves only make a brief cameo in this episode, so I have to assume they are the Lin Kuei clan, and will refer to them as such for the rest of this and any other episodes where they pop up.

Here we are introduced to the whole team, for the first time outside of the opening credits, and we get a bit of indication of who they are. Liu Kang is mostly as he is in the movies, and is the leader of the group. He is also the least interesting, having no real defining characteristics other than this, at least at this point. Also on the team are Sonya Blade, Jax, Kitana, and Stryker. Sonya immediately jumps headlong into the action, shouting her catchphrase, which is...ugh...”It's kombat time!” We here this twice more in this episode alone. I have a feeling I'm going to grow to hate Sonya during the course of this series. Kitana seems to have no character whatsoever, other than being mysterious, and a love interest for the equally boring Liu Kang. Jax is pretty much every single token black character on every 90's cartoon series ever. He at one point actually says “The fightin's over, GIRL FRIEND.” I feel that's all I really need to say about how he's portrayed.

Stryker is, amazingly, the most interesting character in the whole thing so far. He's kind of a douchebag, and act's more like a drill instructor or a gruff sergeant in a war movie than a cop. Also the fact that's he's voiced by Ron Perlman doesn't hurt. I mentioned Raiden during the opening credits, and while he isn't on the field team, this seems like the place to mention that his voice is done by Clancy Brown. That's two actors who are both decently large names doing characters on a Mortal Kombat cartoon. The 90's were weird.

Anyways, our heroes are outnumbered, and despite Sonya coming up with the brilliant strategy of “run straight towards them while screaming about how it's 'kombat time,'” it is a losing fight. All of a sudden, the robots are frozen in their tracks, and the tides turn as Sub Zero (in his MK3 unmasked form) shows up. He and Liu Kang's team together make quick work of the Lin Kuei, who retreat back to whence they came. Sub Zero is voiced by Luke Perry by the way, so now we're up to three actors who have appeared in really real big budget movies and TV series of their own voicing characters on this show. What the hell is going on here?

The team is suspicious of Subby right from the start, knowing that Liu Kang killed his brother in the first Mortal Kombat tournament. This is the flashback to the first movie that I spoke of, and the end of their fight from it is recreated beat for beat, with the added internal monologue of Liu wondering if he could have won without Kitana's help. Sub ensures them that he knows his brother was evil, and betrayed his clan because of this.

Ok. I need to talk about this, right here. Sub Zero's clan, that he betrayed, was the Lin Kuei. This is the clan that they were just fighting. Sonya makes a point of saying they can't trust him because he betrayed them. She was, seconds ago, fighting them because they are a clan of evil cyber ninjas. I don't understand her logic in this at all. Would he be more trustworthy if he had stuck around, got turned into a robot, and then helped Cyrax and Sektor murder all of them and take over Earthrealm?

They all eventually decide that Sub Zero is ok, except Sonya and Stryker who still don't trust him. Raiden then shows up to warn them all that Scorpion is planning an attack, which Sub Zero had also told them. As a group, they all head back to base in their dragon jets, which are exactly what they sound like. On the flight over, we learn that Liu Kang and Kitana both hate the jets, but realize that they need the help of technology to help beat back the invading forces. Stryker makes Sub Zero put on a blindfold on the way over, in case he can memorize the water they're flying over to get to their base, which is in a mountain on a tiny in the middle of the ocean, apparently.

As soon as they arrive, a group called the Nomad attack them, leading everyone to the conclusion that Sub Zero led them their. The Nomad turn out to be the Tarkatan race from the games, of which Baraka is a member. Baraka doesn't actually show up here, and the only named member of this group is their leader, Karbrak. Liu, Kitana, Sonya, Jax, and Stryker run to their jets to have an aerial battle with the Nomad (where is everyone getting these jets from?), while Raiden and Nightwolf stay behind to keep an eye on Sub Zero, who insists that he's innocent, and that they must have put a tracking device on him when they were trying to recruit him. I'm guessing, due to this line, that the Nomad and Lin Kuei are working together, most likely for Shao Kahn, although this isn't spelled out in this episode.

While the others are busy with the fight outside, a small group of Nomad, led by Karbrak, are able to sneak into the base. Here we see Nightwolf and Keeva meld, and Nightwolf acquires his war paint and bow and arrow from the games, along with the rest of his powers. Sub Zero helps Raiden and Nightwolf defeat the Nomad, and the air battle is also won. Raiden straight up kills the Nomad, but in a Saturday morning kids show way (“I must send them to a realm of no return!”), Sonya apologizes for not trusting Sub Zero, and they welcome him to the team. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, with Scorpion and his forces invading, which I assume will be picked up in the next episode.

All in all, this wasn't a terrible show, but it was lacking in a lot of ways. The animation is pretty good for it being both the mid-90's and on network TV instead of cable. The voice cast is all ok, with the three standouts I mentioned earlier really helping to give some life to the show. The music is pretty banging as well, being a mix of techno, which was obviously inspired by the main theme of the movie, and more classically orchestral pieces. It really helps to set the tone of the show, and make the sometimes stiff fight scenes seem more exciting. I miss the violence and humor from the games and movies, which are both totally absent here.

I also have to wonder about their choice of characters. I understand Jax and Nightwolf, who are both token characters put there because this is the 90's, and every team had to have at least 2 or 3 minorities on it, and Jax has always been a fan favorite. They even manage to do some interesting things with Nightwolf by not making him a stereotypical Native American shaman type. Stryker being included on the other hand just baffles me though. As I said, he's pretty cool in this show, due to Perlman voicing him, and him being a total unapologetic asshole 90% of the time, but he has always been a joke in the games. The most important question in this regard though is “Where the hell is Johnny Cage?” He was the best character in the first movie, which this is somewhat of a follow up on, yet he is nowhere to be found, and his presence is sorely missed. He could have added some humor to what has so far been an oppressively show.

Next Up: Episode 2- The Sting Of The Scorpion