When I was nine years old in 1993, my life revolved around comic books and Super Nintendo - in many ways, 30 years later, it still does. And in another bit of symmetry, my favorite game franchise from when I was a kid, Capcom's venerable Street Fighter series, is getting a new entry this summer in Street Fighter 6.
That upcoming release has brought back not just some of my favorite childhood memories, but one of the most traumatic pop culture experiences I - and many other young fans - ever had.
Back in 1993, it was all about Street Fighter 2, the franchise's definitive game that, despite being a sequel, became the game against which all future entries in the series would be measured. I frankly sucked at Street Fighter 2 when I was nine, but I still loved losing round after round to my best friend.
By default, because his favorite character was Ryu, mine became Ken (and it still is). So when the original American Street Fighter comics by writer Len Strazewski and artist Don Hillsman II came out in August 1993 - the month I turned nine, in fact - I was completely and confusingly scarred by the events of the first story arc, which revolved around Ken and his friendship with Ryu.
That original Street Fighter comic series was so controversial that Capcom actually pulled publisher Malibu Comics' license to create the comic, which was initially planned as a monthly ongoing series, after only three issues, as admitted by Malibu itself in a series epilogue that appeared in the final issue.
So why did Capcom pull the plug so fast? What was so traumatic that even nine year old me was confused and upset by the time I put down Street Fighter #2?
It's all about the death of Ken Masters. The brutal, gruesome death of Ken Masters.
Malibu's Street Fighter comic is set between the events of the first World Warrior tournament in which Ryu beat - and scarred - Sagat, and the second tournament which is the subject of Street Fighter 2. But it plays fast and loose with established Street Fighter canon, aiming to set up its own story separate from that of the games.
The story jumps back and forth between flashbacks to Ken, Ryu, and Chun-Li's humble beginnings as a trio students under the same master, and Ken's modern day life as a retired fighter who has gone on to a career in acting.
We're already veering somewhat from Street Fighter canon here, but that's the tip of the iceberg - believe me.
In the modern timeline, Ken runs afoul of Balrog and his goons who beat him mercilessly until Ken manages to gain the upperhand. But the fight isn't over, as Sagat steps in and concludes the pummeling that Balrog and his henchmen gave him. And when he's done beating the ever-loving crap out of Ken, Sagat stabs him to death with a knife.
You read that right - Sagat seemingly kills Ken right there on the page. And to make matters worse, the second issue of Street Fighter ends with Ryu receiving a package containing Ken's freakin' bloody scalp.
Ken's bloodied remains in a box was enough for Capcom to decide Malibu didn't exactly have the franchise's interests at heart and pull the plug on the comic, with only Street Fighter #3 making it to print after the title was canceled behind the scenes - a Very Special Issue which included a cameo from Malibu's own superhero The Ferret.
Malibu did issue a final publisher's note in Street Fighter #3 which revealed that Ken would have actually survived, alleviating some of fans' horror. It also revealed that the comic would have brought Ryu and Chun-Li together romantically, and also would have redeemed Sagat.
There's more, including evil duplicates of Ryu and other heroes, but it's all a strange diversion from the Street Fighter mythos that would eventually be developed directly in the games by Capcom.
All of that said, as weird and lurid as the Malibu Street Fighter comics are, they did have notably exciting artwork by Hillsman, which rendered the characters in a western comics style that most fans hadn't seen them depicted in before. If nothing else, despite the bizarre nature of the story, the 1993 Street Fighter comics are rendered in a way that's still engaging to this day.
Oddly, perhaps the longest lasting legacy of Malibu's Street Fighter comic - aside from it's notoriously gruesome fake-out of Ken's death - is the name of Ken's fiance, Eliza, which would eventually make its way into other Street Fighter media.
Ken has of course gone on to be one of the few Street Fighter characters to appear in every official game in the franchise, alongside Ryu and Chun-Li, all of whom will also take center stage in Street Fighter 6.
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