Tag Archives: udon comics

The Night Warriors

There was a time when I regularly wrote about comic book adaptations of video games over at the Geek Force Network.  While that time has come and gone, you can still enjoy the numerous articles I penned about such media crossovers at the archives.  Here is one such post from those halcyon days, just in time for the spooky October season.


It’s that time of year once more; when the barrier between the natural and supernatural is at its weakest and little ghouls haunt the streets in search of sugary treats.  For this week’s video game comic column, it only makes sense to venture into the darker side of the printed page.  There is a rather massive subgenre of horror comics, and its tentacles stretch far into the video game world.  So let’s dive into a realm where monsters do battle in rounds of two, until only the strongest survives.

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It was back in November of 2004 that Udon Entertainment debuted their Darkstalkers comic series.  At this time, Udon was releasing their work through Devil’s Due Publishing, which included a Street Fighter comic series that launched in 2003.  The Darkstalkers comic ran for six issues, until it abruptly stopped in April of 2005.  In October of the same year, the chief of operations Eric Ko, announced that Udon had become a full-fledged publisher and its lengthy hiatus was due to producing material for the video game Capcom Fighting Evolution.  Since that time, Udon has grown into a massive comic book and video game powerhouse, producing several comic series, art books, and work for video games such as Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and New International Track and Field.

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For the Darkstalkers comic, Udon had plenty of interesting characters and settings from which to source fresh story material.  This is especially true, since most fighting games have very few details outside of “some people got together to fight in an arbitrary battle tournament held by a mysterious benefactor.”  For example, this story comes straight from the Darkstalkers instruction manual:

“When the sun sets and humanity retreats to the imagined safety of their beds, a mysterious entity appears in the sky to assemble the wicked and the evil. The unimaginable secret power of the dark is unleashed! Ten supernatural beings of destruction have materialized to wage their eternal war for the domination of the night. The Vampire, the Mummy, Frankenstein, Bigfoot. . . their very names conjure fear. But who or what has summoned them? These creatures of myth and legend, the Darkstalkers, have gathered for what is destined to be the greatest battle ever. And the fate of all humanity rests on who wins the epic struggle. The Darkstalkers are coming. . .tonight!”

From this rather bare bones plot, Udon crafted a solid story about the various machinations of the Darkstalkers who hide in the dark corners of the Earth.  In this six issue series, the conflicts between certain characters take center stage, while the sideline characters are left as mere window dressing.  So while Dimitri and Morrigan prepare for an eventual battle of the ages, Rikuo and Lord Raptor only show up briefly in side stories and single panel shots.  Every issue features plenty of great fighting scenes, complete with signature moves and plenty of nods to the fans of the video games.  There is also loads of background on many of the major characters, including several side stories that flesh out their motivations even further.

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As with most of the comics from Udon Entertainment, the artwork really shines.  The horror themes of the video games allowed the artists to include plenty of heavy contrast and shadows, which really lend to the atmosphere of the comics.  The characters remain in the anime-inspired style of the fighting games, but with more vibrant colors and further detail for better expressions.  In spite of the show-stealing appeal of the characters, the backgrounds have not been overlooked.  There is plenty of detail in the settings of each scene, with some panels exclusively dedicated to moody environmental shots.

Besides the solid story work and gorgeous art, my favorite part of Darkstalkers comes at the end of each issue.  A single page is always dedicated to a gag comic called Darkstalkers Mini.  The fun work of Corey Lewis (pseudonym, Rey), these quick strips feature super-deformed versions of the fighters in silly situations, most of which end with goofy punch-lines.  Unfortunately, when Udon collected the comics into a trade paperback, all of these side stories got the boot.  On the plus side, that has made the individual issues of the comic unique to the trade version, so be sure to track these gems down!

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At the end of the first issue of Darkstalkers (right before the Mini comic), there is a writers’ commentary aptly titled, “From the Darkside.”  On this page, some of the staff from Udon spill their guts about the joy they felt in creating the Darkstalkers comic books.  There is talk of the great chance to write a darker story than the usual Street Fighter comics, along with their mutual love of horror films and fighting games.  At the very end, the colorist, Gary Yeung, says that the goal at Udon was to “make a faithful interpretation of Darkstalkers from a game/animation into a book.”  Through action-packed stories and striking artwork, all wrapped up in a spooky atmosphere, it seems like Udon met their goal quite nicely.

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Running Scared

Even though October is still a few months away, please indulge me with a little talk about horror movies.  Within this genre of film, there are a hell of a lot of franchises that got their start with impressive and genuinely scary antagonists.  Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street; these are just a few of the movies that freaked out an entire generation and created a slew of new boogeymen to check the closet for.  While the flagship entries for many of these series have become rather dated, the horror contained within is a timeless entity.  Well, mostly.

JasonNESIt seems whenever a movie is even a moderate success, the first reaction is to rapidly make a sequel and profit from consumer frenzy.  Sometimes these follow-ups can bring new perspectives on the monsters and the terror they create, but there is a sort of water-down effect that occurs over time.  The more screen time a creature gets, the more opportunities the audience has to face that monster and rationalize their fear.  Couple this with declining quality of sequels, and you are left with a once terrifying series that has become schlocky or just downright awful to watch.  The monsters are not scary anymore, they are the subject of parody.

The same sort of thing can be said about video games, particularly within the survival horror genre.  When Silent Hill first hit the scene, there were warnings of sleepless nights and new horrors all over the place.  Players had faced plenty of monsters in the past (just look at Castlevania), but things were different now.  The protagonists of these games were low on resources in an unfamiliar place, pitted against hordes of terrifying opponents, or worse yet, against themselves.  In Silent Hill 2, Konami decided to put a face to this psychological terror through Pyramid Head.

SH2PyramidHeadThe first Silent Hill was on no short supply of shambling abominations, but none of these monsters were very distinct within the story of the game.  Much of the game’s real terror was based on the dark history of the town itself.  The sequel turned the focus away from how Silent Hill came to be, and twisted the lens to the effect the town has on those who come across it.  When James arrives in Silent Hill, he is haunted by the guilt and darkness of his past.  These psychological demons manifest in the form of Pyramid Head, a sort of faceless executioner who torments the main character over the course of the game.  Pyramid Head made for a perfect monster in Silent Hill 2, and his image became iconic with the series.

A little too iconic it seems, as Mr. Head has been jammed into other Silent Hill games, as well as both of the movies.  Here we have a perfect example of trying to force an ideal monster into different situations that don’t exactly suit it.  In the second game, Pyramid Head directly correlates with the main character and his situation.  For every other appearance, Pyramid Head just serves as a generic bogeyman who is pandering to fans of Silent Hill 2.  He has become a mascot for Konami’s survival horror genre, and it was only a matter of time until he completely jumped the shark.

chibipyramidheadIn 2008, the latest International Track and Field game was released the Nintendo DS.  The newest sequel offered a robust set of events, which could be played in a single-player campaign or over the Nintendo Wi-Fi system.  This title was well received; praised for its gameplay and character design, which was handled by Udon Comics.  There was a set of original characters, right alongside some Konami favorites like Solid Snake, Frogger, and (you guessed it) Pyramid Head.  All of the characters were drawn in a super-deformed style, so with enough victories in the game, players could take control of this adorable little monster for every event.  Chibi-Pyramid Head could pole vault, run the hurdles track, or just take a fancy dive into the pool.

ChibiPHWhile this diminutive version of Pyramid head may incite less “AH!” and more “awww,” players are still reminded of the creature once feared so long ago.  Multiple cameos may have watered down this fear, but that first appearance of Pyramid Head still raises the hair on the back of my neck.  To this day, I cannot play Silent Hill 2 on my own, and certainly not while the sun is down.  I suppose the true measure of these monsters is not how often they appear in media, but the impact of their first appearance, and the lingering terror they leave behind.

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