Hadoken!!! – A “Street Fighter Unlimited #4” Review
Street Fighter #4
Writer: Ken Siu-Chong
Art: Joe Ng
Colors: Espen Grundetjern
Now, take this with a grain of salt. Because I am probably not the target demographic for this comic book. First off, as fighting games go, I am more of a Tekken and Soulcaliber man myself. In fact, I’ve never really understood the rabid fan following of the world’s longest running 2D fighter. At all. Still, I can appreciate the notion of adding lore to a fighting game franchise, as the games themselves touch on only the slightest quadrant of a story, but many seem so well suited to make the jump to other media formats with a more fleshed out story. So, away we go with Street Fighter Unlimited #4.
The book opens in Japan with Ryu fighting his old Master, recently resurrected from the dead. There’s an exchange of dialogue which makes the barest sense to me, and then it is off to Spain. Here we find Guile, Cammy, and Chun-Li engaged in a fight for their lives against some manner of android/robot/automaton things. Large in number and limited in their destructibility. The book overall focuses on these two story lines and features a healthy roster of fighters from the various games.
I have to say that the panel work in this book is some of the most deft tone-matching work that I have seen. As I mentioned in last Week’s review of Daredevil #4, melee-heavy books are tough to get right. There is an additional measure of care that has to be given to pacing, and the physical positioning of characters in terms of where they start a fight and where they end up in each incremental sequence has to be on point, otherwise it is typical inexplicable comic-book martial arts, and no one wants that anymore. Joe Ng does a wonderful job of arranging the panels in such a way that it accentuates the storytelling of the fights, and mixes up the drum beat by inserting big splash pages where appropriate. The panels play kind of like an excellent TV show or movie soundtrack, with big crescendo’s where needed, accelerating to allegro in big fights, and softening with decrescendo’s on exit. It is masterfully played. And the colors of Espen Grundetjern play REALLY well on those big splash pages. Each one would easily make a great poster for a kid’s wall.
There’s a bit of gristle to grind in the artwork, however, in that I hate the character models. Every female is cleavagy, with thin torsos and arms, but redonkulously enormous thunder-thighs. I get that it is reflective of the Street Fighter art style, and the genre of artwork that the game channels. So I have to give props for the comic excellently mirroring the game in pitch-perfect tone. But the character models just lend to the image that this is not a serious comic. It is doubly unfortunate, because if it were not for the character models, this might barely slip into the upper end of consideration as an all-ages book for me. And I am always on the lookout for those.
The theme of the artwork dovetails in my takeaway from the script. Ken Siu-Chong’s story is also very two-tone. The thread featuring the spec-ops types (Guile, Cammy, and Chun-Li) is very much pre-tee/teen popcorn comics stuff. But the Ryu storyline is a shade more serious and emotional. In many ways it’s a good mix, giving you a chance to eat some chewy fare, but then backs off of taking itself too seriously and channels something more akin to a Street Fighter cartoon (or what I think a SF cartoon would be like, since I never actually watched the one that come out).
The problem with both of these components is that they mix into a dynamic that leaves me wondering who this book is for? It’s not for me, as I tend to look for pretty serious comics that do take themselves too seriously. It’s not for the all-ages crowd as it’s not as asexual as one of those books should be. I guess it is for that pre-teen crowd that I called out earlier? The ones who are allowed to play this kind of game, but may not yet have access to comics that are targeted at more mature audiences? I’m not sure, but at the end, I have to pick a score, and so it felt appropriate for this to land somewhere in the middle, kind of like how the book itself is. It could easily be better if it was not trying to target the in-between group and went one way or the other. There’s some really sharp artwork that is limited by being chained to the game’s art-style. And there are bright spots in the story, that is again limited from higher levels of sophistication due to the target audience. I think this comic will likely well suit fans of the franchise who are looking for something that mirrors the tone of the game. For those who are not as deeply vested, there are probably other titles that will make a good fit for their needs.