Ask Chris #226: Pitching The ‘Final Fight’ Comic The World Deserves
Q: Which video game series would you love to pitch a comic series for? -- @rrob_IV
A: I'm not going to lie to you, Rob: I have always wanted to make comics about video games. I think I've talked about this before, but the first memory I have of actually trying to make comics was laying on the floor of a hotel room at Myrtle Beach one summer vacation, drawing a version of the junkyard scene from Batman #425 that had Blanka and Dhalsim from Street Fighter in place of the standard thugs. It was actually a pretty big dream of mine, and a few years ago, I actually got the chance to pitch a comic based on one of my all-time favorite games. I even ended up writing a pretty big chunk of the script.
So, since you asked, let's talk about the time that I almost wrote a comic based on Final Fight.
Like I said, this was a while ago. If memory serves, it was just before I signed on with ComicsAlliance, so, jeez, that's at least five years now. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I'm pretty sure that it was my very first experience pitching a comic to an editor or working on something that was actually intended to be in print, let alone through an actual publishing company.
The way that it happened was that Udon Studios was, at the time, publishing a Street Fighter comic (which was actually pretty great, if you've never read it), and there had been an issue or two where they'd featured a couple of Final Fight characters, who had been lumped into the Street Fighter universe in Street Fighter Alpha 3, both in the main story and in a backup. I wrote a review of it and said that if they wanted to publish more of them, I would literally write a Final Fight comic for one dollar.
It turns out that if you say that about enough things -- and Lord knows I have -- eventually, somebody'll take you up on the offer.
The reason for all this was that I love Final Fight. It's one of my favorite games, largely because it combines the simplicity of the side-scrolling beat-'em-up genre with a plot that is completely bonkers. Seriously, the core idea at the heart of the game is that a pro wrestler was elected mayor of a major American city that was so corrupt that when his daughter was kidnapped, he had to take off his shirt and hit the streets himself to beat literally hundreds of people into unconsciousness with lead pipes and piledrivers until it sorted everything out.
That's amazing. That's so ludicrous that it didn't even happen in the '80s action movies that clearly inspired it, and considering that we actually got stuff like Death Wish 3, that's saying something.
I never really wrote fan-fiction when I was a kid, but I was also growing up loving video games in an era when they had just enough story to justify walking to the right, uppercutting anything that moved and eating whole cooked turkeys out of trash cans. When I saw stuff like Shotaro Ishinomori's Legend of Zelda comics in Nintendo Power and saw how much weirder you could get from piecing together the framework that you got from a video game -- because believe me, those comics made me think that game was going to be a whole lot different -- I really fell in love with the idea of trying to piece it all together in a way that worked as a narrative that gave you the same feeling that you got from an interactive medium.
Or, you know, I was 12 and basically just wanted to write fanfic about a wrestle mayor throwing down in in the subway. It's probably a little of both.
So needless to say, when someone asked if I was serious about wanting to write the comic, I said of course I was -- and that was before they offered me even more than the dollar I'd requested. I mean, look at this cover:
That's basically Dan "The Beast" Severn and Road Warrior Animal recreating the classic cover for Hall and Oates' H2O, promising six levels of constant beatdowns. The only way it could be more in my wheelhouse is if Batman and Bulbasaur were the ones fighting in the background.
The weirdest part of the entire process, at least on my end, was making the initial pitch. At the start of things, it was early enough that they weren't sure whether they wanted something that went along with the storyline of the games or an original story that would tie it into the Street Fighter comic universe that they'd been building for the past few years, using the games as a starting point that had already happened. The first idea I sent in was based on the latter, an original story set after the Final Fight characters had migrated over to Street Fighter.
See, by the time he showed up in Street Fighter, Cody -- one of the main characters of Final Fight -- had acquired a pretty depressing character arc. In Alpha 3, he shows up as a convict, wearing a (hilariously cartoonish) prison uniform, literally in chains that, because it's a fighting game, do absolutely nothing to hinder his ability to wreck faces. The storyline reasoning was that after the events of Final Fight, where Cody helped to rescue his girlfriend from the Mad Gear gang, he was changed by the experience. He became addicted to fighting to the point where Jessica left him and he ended up being sent to jail, dead behind the eyes and utterly bored by anything that did not involve putting his fist directly into someone's head.
To be fair, it's... interesting. If nothing else, it's the kind of commentary on the nature of violence as something that has no positive outcome that you rarely see in mainstream video games. It's Patrick Swayze drawling "Nobody wins a fight" in Road House, but applied to a minor character in a game about karate men shooting fireballs at each other, and there's a certain appeal to that. But like I said, that's a pretty depressing fate for a character that you grew up with an affection for, especially in a medium that asked you to project yourself onto him. I thought Cody needed a better ending that didn't leave him as a thoroughly broken man who had been betrayed by his own act of heroism.
So here's what I pitched: Cody was in prison after a very public brawl with Mike Haggar himself. The papers said he was addicted to fighting, and Jessica wanted nothing more to do with him, and his drunken assault on the mayor in a dispute over who was grabbing the glory for the elimination of the Mad Gear gang was the last straw in his downward spiral. He was convicted of assault and sent to Metro City prison.
The twist was that this was all part of the plan. While the events of Final Fight had broken Mad Gear's stranglehold on Metro City, the gang was still around, rebuilding itself under the leadership of Damnd (the Sabretooth-lookin' boss of Stage 1 who was renamed "Thrasher" on the SNES), who was ruling the gang from within the prison walls. Haggar and Cody were working together, staging their violent falling out, and sending him to prison as a fallen hero with unmatched fighting abilities and a burning desire for revenge against Haggar. Since the MCPD were notoriously corrupt, the only people who knew about the undercover mission were the only people Haggar and Cody could trust: Themselves. Even Guy was left out of the loop, disgusted by his former comrade's fall.
Unfortunately, the day Cody goes in, an assassination attempt by Mad Gear (I believe it was a car bomb in the original pitch) left Haggar missing and presumed dead, and Cody completely on his own, in prison, surrounded by people he'd sent there with broken noses and missing teeth. While his defense attorney (I wanted to use Phoenix Wright in a cameo) worked to overturn his conviction, Cody would have to decide whether to keep up with the plan or take on the entirety of the Mad Gear gang in his last stand. Or as I called it, his... Final Fight.
In other words, it was a complete, shameless ripoff of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Sleeper, just set in the world of Capcom fighting games instead of the Wildstorm Universe. Or, if you want to be a little more charitable, it was The Raid 2 half a decade early.
You may have noticed that I referred to this as my first pitch. They didn't end up going for it, instead deciding (for good reason) to stick with the plot of the games. But that was fine, too.
The nature of Final Fight, with its simple narrative broken down into stages that form a journey across Metro City, from the slums where Damnd is taunting Haggar to the high rise where Belger runs the whole operation, makes it a pretty easy story to break down into a four-issue miniseries, and there's a lot of fun you can have with it.
One of the more fun things that I had planned in my revised pitch was that the first two issues were going to focus entirely on Cody and Haggar. The opening was about Haggar, as mayor, breaking up a mugging/initiation by Mad Gear, and then the kidnapping comes in response to that. Cody and Haggar were going to split up to hunt down leads, with each one taking a different "stage" to keep the story moving. Issue #2 was going to end with Cody in the factory just having his ass handed to him by Rolento (because Rolento is awesome), waking up chained to a bundle of dynamite for the cliffhanger.
Then, #3 would open with the Mad Gear thugs being distracted, only to find that while they were guarding Cody and his impending explosion, someone had trashed their car with his bare hands, leaving Cody to be rescued by a knife thrown with deadly accuracy from above, severing the fuse and allowing him to escape. The rescuer would, of course, be Guy, joining the story late as a nod to how he was left out of the original SNES port of the game and only showed up later in the Blockbuster exclusive Final Fight: Guy.
Before you ask, yes, I thought I was very clever.
The pitch was approved, and I'd actually gotten a jump on writing the first issue before the contract came in and made it all official -- I think I still have ten pages around here somewhere that include the opening with Haggar and a cameo appearance by Cody's foulmouthed little brother -- a reference to the actually-kind-of-terrible Final Fight: Streetwise -- when the whole project fell through.
I don't think it was anything with me or the folks I was working with as much as it was just Capcom deciding at the last minute to just not do a Final Fight series at all, which seems to be the case since they haven't done one in the intervening years. It's the sort of thing that happens all the time in comics, but I'm not going to lie, it was a bit of a bummer. It actually was a book I'd wanted to write since I was twelve, after all.
But there's one level where I'm kind of glad that it didn't happen. If nothing else, I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't have been as good as Burn the Orphanage, the book that Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace have been doing over at Image for the past few years, which took fantastic risks with a structure inspired by stuff like Streets of Rage that wouldn't have even occurred to me, and ended up being a pretty incredible read. And of course, looking back on it from a few years later, I'm sure there are choices I would've made then that I wouldn't make now, when I have a little more experience writing comics. Still, it would've been nice, and if the opportunity ever came up again, I'd definitely like to give it a shot.
I'd probably ask for more than a dollar this time, though.