Full disclosure: Before reading this comic I knew literally nothing about the Killer Instinct video game franchise, and it took me a few YouTube videos to figure out what was going on. However, I can safely say that this comic is nearly incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with the games, mostly due to the sheer volume of characters.
The comic focuses on three, though at least 10 playable characters appear in the volume. Kim Wu is a nunchaku-wielding martial artist with a dragon spirit companion; Jago is a Tibetan monk with a tiger spirit, and while his game art depicts him fully clothed, he does not put on a shirt for the entirety of the comic. Tusk is a Nordic highlander who is similarly averse to clothing.
Also there are some vampires fighting some robots but that doesn’t affect our main heroes too much.
The story begins in the aftermath of one of the games, where the heroes have defeated the Final Boss, Gargos, an interdimensional demon creature. However, the superpowered heroes find that their superpowers are fading, and go on a quest to find out why. Turns out that Gargos isn’t quite dead, and they have to defeat him without powers through the sheer force of believing in themselves… or maybe they just punch him really hard.
Once I started looking into the background lore, I found it was actually a pretty interesting setting. There are evil hi-tech corporations, genetically-engineered dinosaurs (sadly not appearing in the comic), sorcery, vampires, and everything but the kitchen sink in a superhero mishmash. However, the comic chooses to focus on the least interesting aspects. I would much rather have seen a comic focusing on a single character’s backstory in a way that doesn’t quite work in a video game. Reading the comic felt like watching someone play a video game—brief expository cutscenes interspersed between flurries of action, culminating in a boss battle rather than any sort of character development. There were more compelling character arcs in the game cutscenes on YouTube, honestly.
The fight scenes are at least well drawn, and perhaps the one area where the comic makes use of its medium. It certainly doesn’t look like an arcade fighting game in that aspect and makes full use of angles and panels to create a variety of dynamic scenes.
Most surprisingly, the Killer Instinct franchise attempts to create a diverse cast, though they fall flat on a few notes. An East Asian superheroine is cool, but does she really need the nunchucks and the dragon? However, I am intrigued by the brief appearance of a Native American character. Though he fights with a bow and arrow and has a mechanical eagle companion (and is in fact named ‘Eagle’), he comes from a specific tribe—Nez Perce—and the credits include a Nez Perce language consultant for his Nez Perce dialogue.
Overall, Killer Instinct gives you about what you’d expect from a comic based on an arcade fighting game.
Killer Instinct, vol. 1
By Ian Edginton
Art by Cam Adams