It's hard to imagine anyone coming to Shawn Kittlesen and Dexter Soy's "Mortal Kombat X" #1 without prior knowledge of the franchise. The comic, setting up events that will lead to the release of the game later this year, traffics in the same pool of violence and bloodshed as the games but doesn't even come close to the gore one would see in the source material.
Though there is blood and limbs and "Get Over Here's!" throughout, the issue is surprisingly restrained. This is confusing, considering there is little in the way of introduction to the world for new readers: Scorpion is referred to by more than one name and appears both in mask and out; Kenshi arrives in the opening scenes like it's the tenth issue of the series; Kano makes a surprise appearance but is not named. It leaves one wondering at whom this series is aimed.
Shawn Kittlesen writes each character with distinctive enough voices that they can be told apart. Though aside from Scorpion's introductory line, the script lacks even the darkest of the humor that comes with the game franchise. The book takes itself very seriously, a mistake made by the weakest installments of the games. The plot starts in the past with the arrival of Kenshi's son at Shirai Ryu temple, then jumps forward after the delivery of some more classic dialogue from the games, which is unevenly paced but not confusing.
Dexter Soy's art channels the outrageous gore of classic manga like "Fist of the North Star" and "Blade of the Immortal." Blood explodes from wounds rather than spilling and heads burst like piÃ±atas when punched. Soy makes use of speed lines and angled shots to convey the furious pace of the action. However, the characters really look more like they are just drawn near one another than they are interacting with each other. As Takeda runs into a Red Dragon goon early in the story, the interaction looks like two character drawings that were layered one on top of the other. It makes the art feel flat, sapping the intended impact out of it. There are other great images within, though, like Sub Zero and Kano's confrontation, Raiden's arrival at the Shirai Ryu temple and Scorpion's devastating arrival in the narrative.
It just seems confusing to take a franchise where the entirety of one's interaction involves creating the most violent scenes possible at a near constant pace and not only spacing out that violence but making it almost tame in comparison; the source material creates an environment where one can watch their opponent be pulled to pieces. If the games can let someone do these things in an interactive environment, it begs the question as to why they would want to passively interact with a milder version of the thing they've already done. It would be understandable if this was meant as an introduction to the franchise but there is little in the way of introductory material here to give a reader a hand stepping into the "Mortal Kombat" universe. Even at the end of the issue, it's uncertain where exactly the team intends to take this story.
Hopefully, this comic can figure out its purpose and its intended audience soon; by doing so, it may give the creative team a direction stronger than just pushing a few characters together on panel.