Aubrey Sitterson Talks ‘Street Fighter x GI Joe’ And Reveals The Roster For The 16-Character Tournament [Interview]
Street Fighter x GI Joe is not a comic that requires a whole lot of explanation. There's a good chance that you know if you're going to be into this book just by reading that title, with all the promise of hard-hitting punchouts between World Warriors, Special Missions Forces and the terrorist organization known as Cobra that comes with it. But there are a whole lot of questions that go along with that title, and chief among them is just who's going to be matched up.
To find out, ComicsAlliance spoke exclusively to writer Aubrey Sitterson about the origins of the project, why he chose to structure it as a tournament between 16 characters from both franchises, and to take an in-depth look at the entire roster of the upcoming crossover!
ComicsAlliance: So how did Street Fighter x GI Joe come about? I have this idea in my head that someone just saw the action figures from the '90s and thought "we should definitely do this again."
Aubrey Sitterson: My understanding of it is that the Capcom folks saw all the fun crossover stuff that IDW has been doing lately, particularly Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, which is amazing and awesome and should be compulsory reading for everyone in these United States. So, pretty simply, they came to IDW looking to collide some worlds.
CA: And given IDW's lineup, the Joes make the most sense for a crossover --- as much as I love, say, the Ghostbusters, they're not exactly great for karate fights.
AS: I'd be up for doing six issues of the Ghostbusters zapping Akuma, but yeah, you ain't wrong. And that's kind of what's so great about it: The crossover is a really natural, organic one, because though the scale varies, both series are about the absolute best thing that any form of media can be about: fighting.
CA: How did you get involved?
AS: IDW Senior Editor John Barber actually reached out to me because of something that I harp on almost nonstop online: In-fight storytelling. I've got a YouTube and podcast wrestling talk show called Straight Shoot --- with an amazing list of past guests, including one Mr. Chris Sims --- and it's a frequent topic of discussion on there, articles I write about professional wrestling and the yammering I do on social media. One of my favorite things about professional wrestling is the way that fights are structured to not only drive a larger narrative, but to establish and tell a story within the confines of the fights themselves. When done well, there's very little that I find more compelling.
Unfortunately, outside of kung fu flicks, it's not something that is done very often or very well in other mediums. I think that comics, television, movies, even video games, can and should learn a lot from wrestling, and having thrown down the gauntlet so many times…John gave me the opportunity to pitch on the project.
CA: I remember you telling me a few days ago that you built it like a King of the Ring-style tournament, and that's the kind of structure that immediately lends itself to that kind of storytelling, where every fight has a larger purpose in the narrative. Was that your immediate thought from the start?
AS: Yup! One of my absolute favorite things in professional wrestling is a tournament. It's the purest expression of what we're talking about: Fights that have narratives within them, but also fit together to construct a larger, ongoing narrative. And of course, Street Fighter games are built around World Warrior tournaments, so it was a natural fit!
CA: That raises the obvious question: What can be at stake in a martial arts tournament that has GI Joe, Cobra and the Street Fighters all fighting each other for the prize?
AS: That's the really fun part! For the Street Fighter characters, it doesn't take a lot to get them fighting one another. After decades of backstory, backstabbing, shifting allegiances and wounded pride, the simple existence of the World Warrior tournament is enough to get the fur flying. With GI Joe and Cobra, things get a little bit more complicated. Certainly, for most of them, there's some pride at play, as we're talking about some of the most highly trained, dangerous combatants in the world. But the actual, specific goals and motivations of each character will be teased out through the series itself, and is a big part of the drama beyond just, "Who's gonna win this thing!?"
CA: So let's start in with the roster. First up, representing Cobra, we have Anastasia de Cobray, the Baroness.
AS: The Baroness is a blast to write because she's as intelligent as she is arrogant. I love characters whose strengths and flaws are all tied up with one another, and it's something that comes in extremely handy when structuring a fight scene.
Another thing that was really appealing about her is her complex relationship with Destro. The structure of this thing is very professional wrestling based, so when I hear, "Arrogant villain who thinks they're smarter than everyone else and has an on-again-off-again amorous relationship with another villain," I am instantly sold.
CA: That just really makes me want to see Cobra Commander, Destro, Baroness and Storm Shadow as the Four Horsemen.
AS: Personally, I see Destro as more a JJ Dillon character, but yes, absolutely.
CA: The Baroness is pretty ruthless and certainly holds her own in battle, but how does she stack up when it comes to hand-to-hand? I mean, she once won a fight with accomplished martial artist Scarlett, but to be fair, she won by shooting Scarlett in the head with a handgun. That's something that even the World Warrior tournament doesn't usually allow.
AS: And that's one of the tough things about bringing G.I. Joe characters into the context of a Street Fighter World Warrior tournament, right? As part of the promotional stuff for Transformers/G.I. Joe, I remember reading [Tom] Scioli and/or Barber saying that --- paraphrasing --- the book's title had Transformers in it first, and there was a reason behind that in terms of overall tone and structure. Similarly, Street Fighter x G.I. Joe features Joe and Cobra commandos coming into Street Fighter's world. So, while you might not think that a World Warrior tournament would allow guns, knives, swords and crocodiles…they already allow Hadoukens, SIN-designed battlesuits and the use of Psycho Power.
CA: Our next fighter, representing the UK's elite Delta Red counter-terrorism strike force, is Cammy White.
AS: Cammy is one of the most popular characters in the Street Fighter canon and with good, good reason: She has arguably the most emotionally dark and complex backstory of anyone on the roster. She's got a long, grim history with M. Bison, which, again, makes for compelling drama coming into a tournament. Also though, the thing I love about Cammy is the way she upends some cliches about women fighters. Yes, she's a speed-based combatant, but character wise, she's brusque, rude and brutal. She doesn't waste time flinging energy balls at people --- she just gets up in their business and combos the bejeezus out of them.
CA: More than anyone else --- even Guile --- Cammy seems like the Street Fighter character that just fits right in with GI Joe. She and Storm Shadow even have that similar brainwashing backstory.
AS: For sure! Street Fighter character with military backgrounds, G.I. Joe ones with heavy martial arts training…Once I started making notes and laying things out, the parallels were really easy to find.
CA: Up next is my personal favorite Street Fighter, Hong Kong's own interpol agent, Chun-Li.
AS: Chun-Li was my favorite Street Fighter character as a kid, due almost entirely to how easy it was to do the Lightning Kick (Hyakuretsukyaku if you're nasty).
CA: Not going to lie, that was a big part of it for me, too.
AS: She had to be in it though --- she had to be. Not just because of how crucial she is to Street Fighter and its mythos, but how important she is to the history of fighting games, as the first-ever female combatant. It's something else that I've always loved about Street Fighter, early UFC, kung fu flicks and a lot of wrestling: The clash of styles. Chun-Li isn't the most powerful fighter, but her speed and the strength of her kicks specifically means that she can keep up with dudes twice her size. That's an awesome piece to use coming into a story. It's like Rey Mysterio vs. Big Show or something.
CA: You mentioned Cammy's backstory, and I always thought Chun-Li's was the best in terms of just pure action-movie storytelling. Interpol agent goes undercover in a deadly martial arts tournament to find her father's killer!
AS: It's great, right!? And there's so much of that built into all of the Street Fighter characters. Gameplay is a massive part of it to be sure, but the interlocking nature of all the characters is a huge part of the franchise's enduring popularity. If you have a world where everyone is that interconnected, you can't help but have drama arise.
CA: I said that Chun-Li is my favorite, and that's true, but up next we have the dude I was most excited to see on the roster: Croc Master.
AS: I can't tell you how happy I am that a) Croc Master is in, and b) You're as excited as I am.
CA: He is an international terrorist who has mental control of crocodiles.
AS: But grew up wrestling alligators. At some point, he made the switch And once you switch over to crocodiles? You don't go back. I also love that Cobra --- a wealthy, international terrorist organization --- that still, with all of the resources at their disposal, still, the best option for defending their headquarters? Crocodiles. Specially bred to be sure, but still: Crocodiles. There's a reason those things haven't evolved since the dinosaurs, man. Apex predators.
CA: Are you saying Croc Master is the Randy Orton of GI Joe?
AS: Croc Master has neither the height, nor the physique of Randy Orton, but if someone wants to get a "CROCODILE OUTTA NOWHERE!" meme going, I will share and retweet every one until they pry my phone from my hands.
CA: If Cammy is the character that could just slide right into the GI Joe universe, Croc Master definitely feels like he should be in Street Fighter throwing crocodiles at Blanka and Charlie.
AS: He's absolutely meant to be there. And this is something I'm really excited about with this project too. It would have been very easy and totally reasonable for Capcom and Hasbro to tell me to use only the most popular characters. But fortunately, they're really letting me dig in and play in their sandbox here. Croc Master is a great example of that.
CA: Next up, we have Crimson Viper, who, despite her name, is not a Cobra agent.
AS: I made a special effort to include more recent Street Fighter characters in the tournament. It would have been really easy to just coast on the nostalgia factor and throw in all the folks that we grew up playing with. But to do so would be doing a disservice to not only the younger fans, for whom the newer characters are the ones they're growing up with, but also the super talented folks at Capcom who create these new characters. So, Crimson Viper is one of three Street Fighter IV characters that I included in the tournament, and I'm really excited about all of them actually.
CA: Also you kind of had to throw in anyone who has a snake name. Otherwise, missed opportunity.
AS: For sure! Also, like many G.I. Joe characters, she's rather dependent upon her accessories: Her SIN battlesuit, metal knuckles and rocket boots. Another cool thing about Viper is that her martial arts styles are very popular real world ones: Judo and Krav Maga. That means that when it comes time to break down her fights, I can go to videos of actual Judo and Krav Maga fighters for inspiration.
CA: Is that something you've done for other fighters as well? Street Fighter seems to lend itself to that with defined styles like, say, Ryu's karate rather than the more ill-defined Arashikage Ninja fighting style.
AS: It's something I've done for every fighter, and is a big part of my process for writing the issues. I don't want this to be a book where people take turns punching one another until one of them wins. So, to prevent that, I break things down much like you would a wrestling match: Figuring out my big spots, then filling in the blanks to transition to them seamlessly, all while staying true to the characters' personalities and their fighting styles.
For the Street Fighter ones, it's much easier, as I can just go watch videos of their entire movesets. For GI Joe, it can be more challenging. Fortunately, years of watching professional wrestling, kung fu and MMA has left me well-prepared to piece together what Arashikage ninja moves might look like, or decide upon a reasonable fighting style for the Baroness.
CA: So you worked closely with series artist Emilio Laiso on choreographing the fight scenes?
AS: I send Emilio a ton of reference. It was a discussion we had early on, because I didn't want to overstep bounds and I know different artists feel differently about getting a stack of reference with a script. Fortunately, Emilio was into it --- he gets the approach and is totally into making these fights work in a way that a lot of comic book fights…just don't. As a result, most panel descriptions go to him with a timestamped video I've found, or, at the very least, a still image.
CA: Up next, we have the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, the greatest of all World Warriors, the man, the myth, the legend: Dan Hibiki.
AS: Some of my favorite things in Street Fighter are all the comedic relief characters, especially Dan. I love all the inside baseball stuff with him being a snipe at King of Fighters, and even more than that, I love that his pink gi is a reference to none other than Judo Gene LeBell.
CA: Who'd he ever beat?
AS: Judo Gene or Dan? The answers are everybody and nobody. The structure of this thing, with multiple discrete fights per issue, allows me a lot of freedom to tell different types of match stories, so having a comedy character like Dan is a really important part of that.
CA: I don't know why you keep calling him a comedy character. This is his chance. I can feel it.
AS: Here's the thing to keep in mind about Dan: That dude might seem like a joke within the context of a World Warrior tournament, but those are the best fighters in the entire world, so differences between them are measured by degrees. Any night could be Dan Hibiki's night!
CA: Was he a fun one to write? I remember Jim Zub telling me once that the reason Udon never did a Dan series or one-shot was because he was the one character that everyone wanted to write, and they couldn't settle it without a fight.
AS: He's been a blast so far. I love so very much that he's this goofball mirror image of Ryu --- it's such an easy thing to wrap your brain around, but allows for so many wacky possibilities, especially in the context of fights.
CA: Up next we have Guile, a man who loves two things above all else: his hair, and America.
AS: Another great thing about Guile? One of his fighting styles is actually listed as "professional wrestling." He's one of the folks you were talking about earlier: Someone who could absolutely fit in with the other franchise. And I think that's what's so cool about him here, and definitely something that I'm playing with. He's an Air Force guy, so that informs a lot of his interaction with the GI Joe folks.
As part of my research, I also spent a lot of time reading about and watching Street Fighter matches, and the thing that's interesting about Guile is that he's all about being tactical and reacting to other people's moves. That definitely comes into play with how he operates within the tournament.
CA: Was there a moment where you considered throwing, say, Duke or Hawk in there on the GI Joe side and decided they were too similar to Guile?
AS: There was definitely some aspect of that. Duke and Hawk are great characters, but like a lot of G.I. Joe folks, they're "Army Men" first and foremost. So when building the brackets, I tried to select characters that had some additional element --- whether visual, backstory or even just fighting style --- as I knew that was what was going to enable me to construct compelling in-fight narratives.
CA: Hardcore military guys aren't absent from the Joe side, though, as evidenced by our next competitor: Gung-Ho, the man who was introduced in a story set in winter in Alaska and still didn't button up his shirt because it would cover his Marine Corps tattoo.
AS: Gung-Ho is the perfect guy for this thing. First off, just speaking visually, with the hat, the chest tattoo and the stache…the dude looks like a Tom of Finland drawing. It's perfect. But on top of that: He's a Cajun bareknuckle boxer and knife fighter! Just hearing that, if you don't get excited by the possibilities that come with him being in a one-on-one fighting tournament…there's something broken inside you.
CA: My favorite thing about Gung-Ho is that there is zero subtlety to him. Like, GI Joe is not a subtle franchise --- there is a dude with a bazooka named Bazooka --- but even by their standards, he's just wide open all the time.
AS: Want a fun fact? The word "Gung-Ho" actually comes from Chinese. The "gung" in it is --- I'm almost 95% certain --- the same as the "kung" in "kung fu," meaning work. But yeah, I love Gung-Ho. I love that he's extreme and totally over-the-top even by G.I. Joe standards. I imagine people drawing straws to figure out who has to bunk with him. Not because he's a bad guy, but just because he's a little much.
CA: I imagine the same applies to our next fighter, Hakan, the Turkish Oil Wrestler from Street Fighter IV.
AS: Yes! Hakan is probably my favorite character to write so far because he is absolutely absurd. Not only does he use Turkish oil wrestling --- an actual, real world fighting style --- but he also owns an olive oil company. In fact, that's a big part of why he enters this tournaments: To spread the word about his superior olive oils!
If you watch videos of Hakan matches though, they're really, really fascinating because underneath the goofy, totally ridiculous facade, the red skin, the turquoise hair, the giant barrel of oil… he's this really tricky tactical fighter. Many of his moves are based on him being all greased up, which is such a wild contrast from more traditional fighters.
CA: It definitely seems like the kind of thing that would give him an advantage over someone like Zangief. Or Croc Master, for that matter.
AS: Or anyone who wants to get ahold of him! That guy slips and slides all over the place. It's ridiculous, great, and ridiculously great.
CA: Next, we have the first of three Arashikage ninjas in the tournament: Jinx.
AS: Part of me was reluctant to use all three of the ninjas, but despite sharing that aspect of their background, they're all so very different. And what's more, they serve as such great contrasts to one another. I like Jinx a lot because she reads as a young, more fun ninja than Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. I mean, she'll still kill you, but she won't give you the tortured, enigmatic silent-treatment vibe before she does so.
Also, fighting with a blindfold is one of the all-time great martial arts tropes.
CA: It does seem like you might be stacking the deck in favor of the ninjas.
AS: Well, they're ninjas, Chris. Ninjas. I feel like it would have been dishonest to say that they couldn't make it out of the qualifying rounds.
CA: I don't want to criticize because the book's not out yet, but I do feel like you missed the opportunity for Jinx and Sakura to become BFFs.
AS: Ugh. We could do a whole other interview about all the characters I wish I could have fit in. You have no idea how much mental anguish I've suffered by leaving out E. Honda and Shipwreck.
CA: As expected, though, you had room for our next fighter, M. Bison. He's not one you can really get away with leaving out.
AS: He's crucial. And the thing I love about him in this series is that he's a pure, pure villain. Not that Cobra Commander's forces aren't evil terrorists bent on destroying and/or taking over all of civilization --- because they are. But they have goals and aspirations and tactics. Bison is motivated by something else --- he's a pure, uninhibited monster --- so there's the potential for conflict even when he's facing off against other "bad guys."
CA: I've noticed that the Commander seems pretty absent in solicitations for the first issue, and that Bison's teaming up with Destro instead.
AS: Again, it's a bummer that there were only so many spots for combatants. My dream is that this thing sells so well that I can do another, longer one with 32 entrants. Or, dare to dream, a Round Robin style tournament like the NJPW G1 Climax. But, without giving away anything, I'll say this: Just because your favorite Street Fighter or G.I. Joe character isn't in the tournament…it doesn't mean their presence won't be felt in one way or another.
CA: And here I was thinking that Destro just worked really well with megalomaniacal overlords.
AS: He's got experience managing up, for sure.
CA: Next up, fan-favorite gourmet chef and heavy weapons expert Marvin F. Hinton, codename: Roadblock.
AS: I'm really glad you mentioned the gourmet chef part, because it's one of my favorite things about the character. It really works to humanize him beyond just, "Big dude who can hold a machine gun that normally has to sit on the ground." He's not as well known for his martial arts or hand-to-hand combat as some of the other combatants, but that's exactly what makes him interesting. He's a big, powerful dude who is used to being the biggest, most powerful dude around. What happens when he gets put in a situation where in terms of martial arts skills… he might be a little outclassed?
CA: I think the question on everyone's mind given the rest of this interview is whether you're just going to go ahead and write him as The Rock.
AS: Hah! No, actually. Something I've worked really hard to do with all the characters is to distill them down to their most iconic version. That doesn't mean making them bland or generic, but rather…digging into the core of who they are rather than all the specifics.
Reason being that in the case of Street Fighter, the mythology and backstories get so very complex, especially when you factor in all of the comics. And with G.I. Joe, there have been so many relaunches and different continuities that it's tough to choose just one. All of that stuff is great --- the Udon Street Fighter comics, what IDW has been doing with G.I. Joe --- but I didn't want anyone to feel like there were prerequisites coming into this thing.
CA: Next up is a character I was a little surprised to see: Rufus, the American kung fu master who dresses as a harlequin.
AS: It's come up a few times already, but I'm a big kung fu movie fan, so of course I had to include the fat, white American wearing a Bruce Lee yellow jumpsuit and his hair in a queue. Rufus is also an opportunity to really have some fun with different kung fu styles and poses. He mostly does Snake Style strikes, but seeing as he pieced his own kung fu style together himself, we have some fun with different classic movie styles.
CA: I have to know who he's fighting in the first round.
AS: You may not! I can't give everything away yet! These over-the-top, comedic characters are a big part of Street Fighter, so I didn't want to shy away from that. In fact…I've always loved that stuff about the franchise, so I was excited to lean into it with Dan, Hakan and Rufus.
CA: I'll just assume it's Croc Master then, the first step to his inevitable victory.
AS: I can neither confirm nor deny that speculation.
CA: Next, the character who is most synonymous with Street Fighter: Ryu.
AS: It wouldn't be Street Fighter without Ryu --- along with Ken, he's one of only two playable characters in the first game! Even if that wasn't the case though, Ryu is so integral to the Street Fighter mythos and aesthetic, that it'd be criminal not to include him. The Hadouken, the Shoryuken…these things aren't just video game moves, they're cultural touchstones for generations of kids around the world.
I'm sure that better Street Fighter players (full disclosure: I'm terrible) will take me to task for this, but I've always seen Ryu as the base-level character. He's the standard that everyone else deviates from --- they might be faster or stronger or have better defense or jump higher or whatever, but Ryu is what they're all compared to. Ryu is the reliable, safe bet, which makes him a really exciting character to throw into a tournament --- especially one featuring so many fighters he's never faced before.
CA: Was he tough to write? You've got all these wild characters on both sides of the aisle, and Ryu is known for being very stoic.
AS: I think that's what's great about him! He's such a great foil to bounce all these other wackadoo characters off of.
CA: Does he play the straight man to the comedy, or does he have a more serious arc?
AS: While the book definitely has some comedic aspects --- how could it not with Rufus and Hakan and Dan --- it's not a comedy book. This is a serious, knock-down, drag-out, take-no-prisoners, single-elimination tournament. Ryu is a straight man for sure, but he's also part of the serious arcs that run throughout the series.
CA: So is it safe to say that of everyone in our ensemble, Ryu has a shot at being the closest we have to a main character?
AS: That would be telling! With almost the entire pagecount taken up by tournament fights, revealing a "main character" would be giving away who made it into future rounds! The series really is an ensemble cast, which is a difficult --- but really fun --- thing to juggle. Fortunately, I'm not making up any of these characters from scratch. They all have strong, preexisting characters and personalities for me to draw from.
CA: For our final two fighters, we have two characters who are inextricable from each other: The Arashikage sword brothers, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.
AS: They're two of the most popular characters in the history of G.I. Joe, which makes sense seeing as they're amazing ninja warriors with drama laid on thick to their backstory.
Even more than Jinx though, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are inextricably linked, which makes for some awesome drama coming in. I see Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow as the tag team partners who are both entered into a tournament, causing everyone to start to predict what will happen if they meet in the ring. Also, like Croc Master, both these guys feel like they could be slotted into a Street Fighter game tomorrow and make sense. Sure, they're typically seen wielding some kind of weaponry, but as Arashikage ninjas, they're more than capable of fighting with fists and feet alone.
CA: Which version of Storm Shadow are we seeing here? The honorable ninja working for Cobra for personal reasons? The one who reunites with Snake Eyes and fights for the Joes? The brainwashed Cobra ninja?
AS: I've always found Storm Shadow most interesting when he's working with Cobra. I love the idea that both sides in this ongoing war have an unstoppable ninja warrior and even better… they're blood brothers. It's like every Civil War melodrama ever: Brother vs. Brother! But as for why he's working with Cobra or how he feels about it… that's one of the many things that will get unpacked and explored over the course of the World Warrior tournament.