The highly anticipated Mortal Kombat X arrives today from WB Games and Netherrealm Studios and in the weeks leading up to release DC Comics has published a prequel comic. The prequel is something filled with the guts and glory you know and love from the video games, but has a little more backstory to spare. Bloody-Disgusting recently sat down with comic series writer, Shawn Kittelsen to discuss what it’s like entering into Mortal Kombat.
The first kollection of Kittlesen’s story hits today April 14th as “Mortal Kombat X: Blood Ties.”
Bloody-Disgusting: What’s it like to play in the many realms of “Mortal Kombat?” Were you restricted in any way from telling the story you wanted to tell? What was the most interesting thing you learned about the many realms in your research for writing this book?
Shawn Kittelsen: It’s a lot of fun to play in the Mortal Kombat sandbox! The only restriction I had was to stay compatible with the MK9 and MKX, and I would consider that more of a guideline than a restriction. Blank pages are intimidating, so any kind of boundaries or waypoints are comforting. I could treat the games as a springboard to launch into some really cool stories, like Kotal Kahn’s origin or Cassie Cage looking for thrills at an underground MMA match.
I did a ton of research, and I guess what’s most interesting to me is that so much of the information was a refresher. I’ve played all the games through the years, but I hadn’t really thought about Deadly Alliance or Deception in a long, long time. So coming back to that now was like showing up at a Mortal Kombat reunion and seeing all these old friends who’d been relegated to some shadowy corner of my memory. Characters like Mavado. I used to LOVE Mavado.
Bloody-Disgusting: Previous to the last Mortal Kombat game story was almost irrelevant and now the increasingly complex dynamic of the characters drives the bulk of the story, which rivalry do you find the most interesting, and which of the new characters was your favorite to explore?
SK: Favorites to explore, I’m really torn between Kotal, Cassie, and Takeda. They’re all realized enough in my mind to carry their own solo series. But the rivalry that most interests me, in the comics at least, is between Kotal Kahn and Sonya Blade. He’s the Emperor of Outworld and she’s commanding Earthrealm’s defense for Special Forces. They’ve just been through this horrible Netherrealm War that nearly wiped out Earthrealm, and it’s supposed to be a period of renewed peace, but a lot like Europe between the Great War and World War II, there’s tension everywhere. Kotal has to defend his throne and Sonya is deeply insecure about Earthrealm’s safety, and since the two of them are connected to every other character in the story, their personal issues have far-reaching impact.
Another rivalry that I’ve really enjoyed developing is between Hanzo Hasashi and Raiden. Hanzo’s been traumatized by enough tragedy and lies to fill a Russian novel. Raiden is supposed to protect Earthrealm, but more often than not, he screws that up at the cost of human lives, especially after MK9. And because Hanzo’s seen so much death and sorrow already, he has very little tolerance for Raiden’s missteps. Every scene with them is charged with Hanzo’s resentment and Raiden desperate need for redemption.
Bloody-Disgusting: Most of the comic seems concerned with redeeming Scorpion for his past mistakes, what was it like to explore this character, and what ultimately makes him worth redemption?
SK: Exploring his character is a big responsibility. Here’s this iconic character who’s been around for decades, and this is the first time we get to pull back the curtain and find out if there’s a conscience behind his white eyes. And I think if you asked Hanzo himself what makes him worthy of redemption, he’d tell you he’s NOT worthy. There is no redemption for the things he’s done. And in spite of that, he gets up every morning and tries to do some good in the world. He’s not looking for someone to absolve him of his sins or forgive him because that would be selfish, it’s another form of pity and he’s spent enough time pitying himself. He knows he’s made mistakes but he’s not going to let himself be defined by those past failures anymore. That’s a powerful and empowering message: Seeking forgiveness is less important than just doing the right thing.
Bloody-Disgusting: The book utilizes the talents of many artists, how did you reference your fights scenes and what was the most brutal death you envisioned on the page, and how did the artist make it better?
SK: Whenever there’s an especially action-packed panel, my descriptions switch to ALL CAPS SO YOU KNOW I MEAN BUSINESS. We’ve got some epic brutality coming up in the chapters yet to come, but the first emotionally and viscerally brutal death was Takeda’s first kill at the end of Chapter 3. Dexter Soy put so much detail and nuance into that page, and the horror that you see on Takeda’s face at what he’s been forced to do feels 100% authentic. All of our artists have gone all out to deliver on the brutality factor, adding in those giblets that Mortal Kombat is known for, and colorist Veronica Gandini has gotten used to me asking, “Could we add a little more blood?” to those scenes. It’s what fans expect. They want MK to be bloody disgusting, pun intended.
Bloody-Disgusting: Kotal Kahn really takes a spotlight in these early issues, what was it like to carve out a new piece of the Mortal Kombat mythology on your own? And how did you embody the sheer vulnerability of Kotal’s character?
SK: Setting the stage for Kotal Kahn’s debut in MKX Story Mode was a huge honor. The comics have the advantage of allowing us to focus on the characters and their emotions in a way that there’s just not enough time for in the game, but the groundwork was all there in the earliest concept art and scripts that I got from NetherRealm Studios. They created this barbarian who drinks the blood of his conquered enemies but at the same time lives by a strict code of honor. That code is why Kotal didn’t overthrow Mileena in some macho power play; he overthrew her out of genuine concern for the safety and well being of Outworld and its citizens. And his vulnerability comes from that concern. Unlike Shao Kahn, who happily spent lives like a billionaire spends dollars, Kotal cares about people. It’s not what you expect from a character that looks so outwardly savage. Once I reached that understanding of him, he jumped to the top of the list as one of my all-time favorite MK characters.
Bloody-Disgusting: What is the blood magic that drives most of the story? And will we find out more about it once the game hits?
SK: The blood magik — I like to spell it with the K for impakt — is an element that’s specific to the books, but as readers find out in Chapters 11 and 12, the reason that blood magik is important is driven by in-game events, specifically the Netherrealm War and the revenge of Shinnok. As the comics continue, you’ll find out more about how the blood magik works and see its use culminate in a spectacularly bloody finale. The fallout from that will have a lasting effect on our main characters and set them on the path that leads directly into the events of the game, with sudden twists and shocking turns and stunning surprises along the way.