Bizarro Back Issues: Malibu’s Ultraviolent ‘Street Fighter’ Comic (1992)
I've never been good at playing fighting games, but when I was growing up, there were few things in this world I loved more than Street Fighter. I think I've mentioned this before, but my first memory of actually trying to make a comic was when I was ten years old and I drew the junkyard fight scene from Batman #425 and replaced the bad guys with Blanka and Dhalsim, and really, you can draw a pretty straight line from that to where I am today. I've even written a tiny little bit of Street Fighter comics myself, and I am still very much a person who thinks karate guys throwing fireballs at each other is the highest form of art.
Of course, they didn't exactly make it easy for us to like Street Fighter back then. The games were great, sure, but if you wanted a little more story about it on this side of the Pacific, your options were pretty slim. There was the movie in 1994, and the cartoon that was somehow a sequel to it, but if you wanted to see those characters in comics, you had only one choice: Malibu's Street Fighter --- the comic so legendarily rough that it was canceled after three issues with an apology from the publisher.
The short-lived series was the product of writer Len Strazewski, who had a pretty prolific career in comics, and artists Don Hillsman and Jeff Whiting, and while it has a bad reputation that, all things considered, is pretty well-deserved, it's not entirely bad. Street FIghter's story is, after all, pretty bare bones when you get right down to it, and while that's fine when you're trying to create an arcade game that really just needs eight reasons for people to be mad at M. Bison, it means that you end up having an awful lot of blanks to fill when it comes time to turn that structure into an actual story.
To his credit, Strazewski picks up on a few of the more engaging bits of the game's storyline. He's adapting Street Fighter II, so he picks up on the idea of Sagat wanting revenge for being beaten and humiliated, and on Ryu's reluctance to fight him again, and Ken's desire for fame and fortune, and even tried to make some kind of sense out of why M. Bison's plan for world domination involved hiring exactly three dudes who were pretty good at punching people.
Also, in the one scene of the book that I can wholeheartedly recommend without any reservations, Zangief shows up and actually does a piledriver on a grizzly bear.
Aside from that, though, there are a lot of choices that are just... not... great.
Chun-Li, for instance, shows up in the first issue already involved in a romance with Ryu that feels like it comes completely out of nowhere. And not only that, but the way it plays out is bananas. She appears in a fight scene where they talk about how much they hate each other --- Chun-Li's actual line is "you repulse me!" --- and where Ryu just calls her "woman" and then throws hadoukens at her until they just start almost making out for some reason.
Then Ryu calls her a tree. I don't even know, y'all. Romance in comics from the early '90s tends to be pretty dicey territory.
Aside from that, the one thing that really marks this series is that it is violent. And really, you'd expect it to be --- the game ain't called Street Let's Talk Our Differences Out Like Reasonable Adults, after all --- but Street Fighter is known for a pretty particular brand of violence. People fight, yes, but they've got stretchy arms and the ability to charge their bodies with electricity, and nobody's ever actually injured, as long as you have an extra quarter to drop in.
This, on the other hand, is a comic where the third issue opens with Blanka literally ripping a man's face off, and really, that's the least of it.
I mentioned before that the these three issues are based around the plot of Sagat trying to get Ryu to fight him again, and in order to do that --- and harness his fighting power for some kind of Evil Scheme, I assume --- they decide to provoke him by attacking Ken. And when I say "attacking," I actually mean "literally beating him to death and then scalping him."
Yeah. They cut off his scalp in the second issue, and mail it to Ryu as a challenge, which gives Ryu the opportunity for what somehow manages to feel like terrible acting in a medium that does not actually feature actors:
By the time the third issue was out, though, the book had gone completely off the rails. Even though Ken's murder and scalping were obviously the driving force of the plot, the main focus in that issue was on a guest appearance of the Ferret, the scrappy but rather unfortunately named member of Malibu's Protectors. He has a sparring match against E. Honda that lasts for seven pages, which I'm pretty sure was around seven pages longer than anyone who was really into Street Fighter comics wanted to see a dude named the Ferrett hanging around getting trounced by some pretty dubious martial arts.
After stretching out a fight between Sagat, Balrog and Ken for two issues, that third one feels like it's crammed as full as they could get it: Zangief piledriving bears, Blanka ripping off faces, Honda and the Ferret, a new character named Nida --- there's even a scene where Guile shows up and is one of the biggest jerks of all time, starting a barroom brawl over having his hair mussed and and then destroying the bar itself after being yelled at by the owner, who's so upset that he appears to have somehow dislocated both of his own arms:
To be honest, it's not a very good comic, but there is a level where I can appreciate that Strazewski and Hillsman were at least trying to ramp things up to get the whole cast in there. But it turned out to be too late.
At the end of the third issue, there's an announcement (and an apology!) that Malibu had lost the license due to "complications with Capcom and their dislike of our adaptation." From what I've read, it was the ridiculously violent scalping and apparent murder of one of the franchise's main character in the second issue that was the sticking point --- I have to imagine that somebody at Capcom saw that panel of Ryu tearfully clutching a bloody clump of hair and skin and yanked the license that day with a resounding "NOPE."
Admittedly, the epilogue that reveals where Strazewski would've gone with the characters if he'd had more of a chance reveals that Ken's not actually dead, just severely beaten and missing the top of his head, which, of course, would not have stopped him from making a valiant and presumably extremely bloody comeback. Still: yikes.
Really, the problem is that they took the cartoony violence of Street Fighter and turned it into a ludicrously over-the-top bloodbath that was more along the lines of Mortal Kombat. Which, when you think about it, is probably how Malibu ended up getting the Mortal Kombat license two years later. And you have to think that, given the rivalry between the two franchises, somebody at Mortal Kombat thought that it was absolutely hilarious that they'd given their license to the company that had proven they were too violent for Street Fighter.