UDON’s own take on the rise of the Illuminati!
The UDON comic book version of the Street Fighter universe is an interesting animal: reaching back to the Alpha/Zero era, it tells the story of a timeline matching the Capcom games precisely on some points, while broadly rearranging and twisting the character’s lives in other ways, to make the UDON comics into their own sort of Street Fighter parallel universe.
While covering the subject matter of the Street Fighter Alpha series, Street Fighter II, and Street Fighter IV, the comics did a thorough and entertaining job of filling in the gaps around the beginnings of most of the SF cast, the original Shadaloo-hosted Street Fighter tournament, and the rise (and fall) of Shadaloo-offshoot S.I.N. As these comics were being produced while new games were also being made, the new characters in the game continuity often got inserted into the narrative in interesting ways–but overall, the gist of the past stories doesn’t stray too far from the game’s own canon. In the Street Fighter Unlimited series, we’re now dealing with the post-SFIV and pre-SFIII era directly–and with the events of Street Fighter V taking place in that same zone, it’s here where UDON starts to diverge even more from the Capcom games’ canon to tell its own tale of the rise of the Secret Society. The result is both an intriguing alternate take on the storyline and characters, and an entertaining vehicle for our favorite characters to smack each other around. Minor spoilers follow!
A new enemy, a new journey
The Super Street Fighter graphic novels featured the early machinations of the Secret Society, in the immediate wake of Seth and S.I.N. In the second volume (“Hyper Fighting”) Evil Ryu and Oni were made straight-up canonical in UDON’s own universe, once Ryu drew the Satsui no Hado out of Sakura with his own ki, and succumbed to the equivalent of two fighter’s darkness to become Evil Ryu; meanwhile Akuma unleashed his full potential as Oni to fight him. At the close of Super Street Fighter volume two, Gill appeared and used his godlike power to suppress the Satsui no Hado in both of them, returning Ryu and Akuma to “normal” (though confused and frustrated). The volume ended with Gill deciding that the time had finally come to reveal the Secrety Society and their intentions to the world.
This is where Street Fighter Unlimited picks up: Ryu is conflicted and ashamed of his murderous moment, his chest scarred as a reminder of Evil Ryu’s emergence. This scar acts as a reminder to the reader as well–Ryu has no such scar in Street Fighter V. We’re in new, unfamiliar territory. While Gill–with the loyal help of Kolin, and the grudging obedience of Urien–stages a disaster-thwarting PR event to reveal himself and his power to the world at large, Ryu sets out on a new pilgrimage to figure out if he can ever utilize the power of the Satsui no Hado without losing himself to it. After seeking out old Retsu and coming face-to-face with the master he thought was dead, Ryu’s search takes him to Brazil to train with the bizarre and unorthodox hermit Oro.
Meanwhile, the story follows Alex, Guile, Cammy, Ken, Chun-Li and others as they follow the Secret Society’s trail through the remnants of Shadaloo, to learn what the Society’s agenda actually is. Following the layout of the single comic issues, the story is broken up into the main sections punctuated with smaller side-stories.
While stuffed with a generous amount of Street Fighter action, Street Fighter Unlimited has a noticeably more thoughtful, philosophical tone than prior comics–a lot of panels are devoted to exploring Ryu’s internal struggle and guilt, while he seeks a new teacher to guide him onward. Gill is shown as he presents himself to the world–angelic and wise, powerful but gentle, a caring and benign ruler for a new world order. In volume two, once Gill has gathered street fighters from around the world to his island, the question arises–what do fighters do when there’s no one to fight? Is there a place for them in a world of complete peace?
Of course, Gill’s darker agenda begins to surface, and Urien’s jealousy and intention to betray his brother become apparent–once Gill announces a new Street Fighter tournament, and expresses dissatisfaction with the level of ki the fighters can produce. A strange machine is revealed: it’s based on recovered S.I.N. technology, and Gill wants to charge it with the fighters’ ki; as we get these clues that Gill’s new world order won’t be exactly as cheerful as hoped, Alex learns that he has an unexplained connection to the Secret Society.
As these volumes form only the first two thirds of the full Street Fighter Unlimited arc, volume two does end rather abruptly, leaving us hanging for volume three for the conclusion of the story threads that have been laid out (of course, you can read the full story in the completed monthly issues, too). The result is still some great Street Fighter storytelling with more than its share of memorable moments. Highlights include: a slice of Haggar’s daily workload as mayor of Metro City; Alex, Chun-Li, Guile, and Cammy battling an army of shape-shifting Twelves; Oro’s unusual (and brutal) testing and training of Ryu; and a side-story in which Dan gains his chance to avenge his father’s death at Sagat’s hands.
Throughout the story the influence of Street Fighter IV and V can be felt in the inclusion of costume and character cameos. Street Fighter V content gets directly engaged in the bonus story for volume one–each volume has an additional tale not published in the monthly run–where F.A.N.G makes his presence known to re-recruit Balrog and Vega into a new Shadaloo. Both bonus stories tie directly into the Street Fighter Legends: Cammy comics (to be collected into their own volume in May 2017).
Works of art
As lavish hardcover collections, the books are frankly gorgeous–although, maybe we’ve grown accustomed to that from UDON by now? The stories are broken up by the individual issues’ original covers, and each volume includes a massive gallery at the end, full of bonus covers and concept art.
The homage covers are a big highlight, almost worth the price of admission on their own!
The main story duties fell to Ken Siu-Chong, with Jim Zub, Adam Warren, Chris Sarracini, and Matt Moylan as guest writers. They have certainly provided an engaging main storyline, along with fun side-stories here. Art is shared between tales by Joe Ng, Edwin Huang, Josh Perez, Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz, Omar Dogan, Sarah Stone, Hanzo Steinbach, Brendan Tapper, and Genzoman; all of them bring their own unique flavor to the visuals, all of it a pleasure to behold–especially in the increased size format the hardcover offers over the original comics. Colors by Edwin Huang and Espen Grundetjern, flats by Ludwig Olimba, and lettering by Marshall Dillon complete the beautiful presentation in these books. While the main story art is shared between different artists, by volume two Huang is handling the main story sections exclusively–which suits me just fine, as I love his distinctive style of Street Fighter artwork.
Not something to miss
Street Fighter Unlimited, Volume 1: The New Journey and Street Fighter Unlimited, Volume 2: The Gathering are both available now, either through various online booksellers or through a comic retailer near you. If you enjoy Street Fighter in any capacity outside of on the screen, I consider these must-reads. Check them out, before volume three (“The Balance”) drops in June 2017!
[All images courtesy of UDON Entertainment]