Remember Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm? Ron Perlman’s Kurtis Stryker Remembers
With the new Mortal Kombat movie hitting theaters and HBO Max tomorrow, I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic about the series as a whole. What started out as my 9-year-old self staring down at a Sega Genesis controller in shock because “Oh my GOD did I just rip out that dude’s ENTIRE HEART” has not only become a significant part of video gaming but a well-loved franchise in my household.
It’s hard to believe that something so monumental to pop culture was, once upon a time, being made as a space-filler between releases (check out my interview with Joshua Tsui about his Midway Games documentary Insert Coin for more details). Now Mortal Kombat is a series made up of video games, movies, comics, toys, and, believe it or not, a child-friendly Saturday morning cartoon series that I watched the hell out of back in the day.
There’s also a 90s live-action television series, but that’s not as hard to believe as Jax giving the God of Thunder sass by calling him girlfriend.
When we talk about 90s cartoons we often site animated darlings like Batman the Animated Series, Gargoyles, THE Aladdin cartoon that Disney+ needs to go ahead and put on their streaming service, and the boom of anime that hit like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon. What we sometimes fail to mention is the surge of networks coming up with animation blocks to show that, hey, they also had cool cartoons for the kids to watch.
Enter the USA Network’s Action Extreme Team, home of the American Street Fighter cartoon and Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. While this piece isn’t about Street Fighter, I think it’s worth checking out its intro so you know exactly what we’re getting into here.
Don’t worry. I’m getting to Mortal Kombat, I promise.
What makes these two cartoons interesting to me is how they BOTH operated on the basis of their game characters working as a team. Street Fighter was now a codename for a secret task force while Mortal Kombat added Defenders of the Realm to hone in on the “teamwork” aspect that, honestly, a LOT of 90s cartoons held onto.
You can kinda see it with Street Fighter, after all, Chun-Li canonically works for Interpol, Guile is a part of the US Air Force, and Ryu and Ken trained under the same master.
But … Mortal Kombat?
As an, again, child-friendly Saturday morning cartoon?
I don’t just mean that in a “they took out fatalities” kinda way, that was what the 90s movie did and I still have a soft spot for it. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm had no fatalities AND after-school special level messages that ranged from, “I was the fattest kid in school” insecurities with Jax, to Sonya lamenting not feeling like a woman because she was stuck fighting all the time with a bunch of men.
“Don’t you miss being a woman,” she asks Kitana, at one point, because GIRL EPISODE or something, I guess.
Actually, there’s a lot about this cartoon that’s kinda mindboggling.
And I love it in a heartfelt “so bad, so cheesy, so astonishing that it’s laughably amazing” kinda way. It’s just another part of Mortal Kombat’s history, one that’s fun to talk about.
NOW it’s time for the intro.
You might be wondering, “Is that Clancy Brown as Raiden?” The answer is yes. Yes, it is. In fact, this voice cast is kinda fire. Cree Summer is Kitana. Luke Perry (RIP) is Sub-Zero. Frickin’ Leonardo from the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies is Liu Kang (Brian Tochi). And yes, as the title of this piece says, Ron Perlman is, in fact, Kurtis Stryker. Taking place in the Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 universe, the heroes we see in the intro have come together to defend Earthrealm from invading Outworld forces. Sounds pretty par for the course with Mortal Kombat.
But then it gets, well:
I still mean what I said about loving this.
Honestly, I’m not against the idea of some of the characters working together to protect Earth. That, arguably, is a big part of the MK franchise (though back in the 90s we just had text telling us this). In later games we see the likes of Johnny Cage sending a new generation of warriors (one being his own daughter) on various missions to defend the realm, which is exactly what this cartoon does with its cast. Hell, there’s an episode of the cartoon where Jax doesn’t wanna fight anymore because he’s exhausted, and in Mortal Kombat X he does the same thing, retiring from Special Forces due to all the trauma he went through in the previous game.
However, the games (and even the movies) aren’t usually trying this hard to make fetch happen. That’s right, we’re in for some major 90s Burger King Kid’s Club level fun, y’all! The cartoon features dragon jets that the team rides around in, you know, because the MK logo is a dragon? Even Scorpion’s forces have scorpion jets because we all know that Hanzo Hasashi was an ace pilot back in the day. Nightwolf is a tech geek who now has a good boy sidekick who helps him transform into, um, Nightwolf, I guess? There are waves of stereotypical enemies like mummies and giant snakes mixed in with the likes of the Tarkatan and Shokan.
Oh, and of course, plenty of will they won’t they between Liu Kang and Kitana, and even Jax and Sonya, with episodes dedicated to Liu being jealous of Kitana’s ex-fiance, Rain, and Sonya being jealous of a girl named Ruby who Jax starts to fall for.
But the greatest gift of all has got to be the attempt at making an iconic catchphrase.
Dear lord, KOMBAT TIME.
While there is a hilarious level of nostalgia cringe that comes with this series, what’s kinda endearing about it are the occasional attempts at something original. There was plenty of room for that since there was so much unexplored lore to play with, and it kinda showed that there was more to Mortal Kombat than the fatalities. The cartoon had characters, and plotlines, with Edenia, Kitana’s home realm that was destroyed by Shao Kahn and Outworld. It also built up toward a series finale that centered on Kitana staging an assault against Shao Kahn. It was honestly nice to see her take on such a role compared to her position as “hint giver to the heroes” from the live-action movie.
The cartoon also illustrated pivotal character moments that only came via reading the game descriptions. Granted, the animation was… a thing… but having an episode dedicated to Sub-Zero’s relationship with Smoke, and what the Lin Kuei clan was doing to its ninjas, was cool as, wait for it, ice.
The cartoon is also, surprisingly, the first appearance of Quan Chi, who would end up becoming a major antagonist in the video game series.
I am sooooo not joking when I say that, it’s absolutely true.
Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm is a perfect 90s time capsule of animation. It takes me back to a time where there were all sorts of cartoons on-air and constant attempts to make something that kids would vibe with, even if the source material was the exact opposite of having a Phantom of the Opera-like music cue whenever Kabal was on screen, Sonya bonding with his pain because he’s judged for his appearance and she had a friend who was also judged by her appearance because she was in a wheelchair.
Kabal is voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, btw.
Trigon from Teen Titans.
Demongo from Samurai Jack.
Joker from The Batman.
I’m telling you, this cartoon is an ongoing rabbit hole of, “Wait WHAT?!”
(Image: USA Studios)
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