Friday, August 14, 2015


Story: Chris Sarracini | Line Art: Joe Ng
Inks: Robert Armstrong & Kevin Raganit | Colors: Espen Grundetjern
Lettering: Marshall Dillon | Flats Assist: Ludwig Olimba
Project Editor: Matt Moylan | Chief of Operarions: Erik Ko

So -- Akuma. I've never quite got the appeal of this guy. He looks cool, I guess. I believe he was first introduced in one of STREET FIGHTER II's many variant games, as a hidden boss above even M. Bison. And he's appeared in a ton of games since then, to the point that he's considered a main STREET FIGHTER cast member. And, due to his apparent popularity, UDON chose him to headline the first (and so far only) STREET FIGHTER ORIGINS original graphic novel.

Published in 2013, AKUMA fills in the shared backstory of both the title character and his brother, Gouken. It begins with the men as children, living on a rice farm with their parents. In short order the farm is assaulted by a group of assassins who reveal that the boys' father was once a hired killer as well. As their father is murdered by these men, the boys escape with their mother. Gouken believes they should hide, but Akuma favors a bolder approach. He leaves their mountain hideout and is soon taken in by a dojo, where he trains under Goutetsu, the man who taught his father.

Years pass and Akuma grows restless. He leaves for Tokyo and soon after, Gouken arrives at the dojo to train with Goutetsu as well. Eventually Akuma returns and is sent to his final test, several days' meditation in the mountains where, unbeknownst to him, Gouken is undergoing the same trial. Each brother is then separately offered a chance to take revenge on the men who killed their father. Gouken refuses, having attained inner peace, but Akuma takes up the offer and razes the men's village, killing them as well as all the innocents in his path.

One of the assassins, with his dying breath, reveals that his trial from Goutetsu had been to kill Akuma's dad -- the main who had slain his own father. This leads Akuma to return to the dojo and kill Goutetsu in a fit of rage. Meanwhile, Gouken rescues a small child named Ryu from the village and adopts him.

Ten years later Gouken follows the legend of Akuma to a mountain in the wilderness, where he finally comes face to face with his brother after decades apart. They fight and Gouken wins, knocking Akuma off the mountain to his apparent death. But, unknown to Gouken, Akuma survives and walks away.

First off -- this is very good story. It's probably the best written of all UDON's STREET FIGHTER material, for one thing. Nothing against Ken Siu-Chong, but it's pretty clear he's not a formally trained writer. Chris Sarracini, on the other hand, seems to have a bit more skill in that arena (and by the way -- we're about to see a bit more of Sarracini, a decade earlier and attached to a different property, in just a few short weeks). And Sarracini uses that skill to write a nicely structured, extremely cinematic tale of Akuma's fall to the dark side.

The artwork is phenomenal as well. It's hard to tell exactly when the story takes place, due to much of the action occurring in rural Japan, but that allows Joe Ng to imbue an almost timeless feel into the proceedings. His work here is just as good as, of not better than, his effort in STREET FIGHTER IV. The backgrounds are lushly beautiful as well, and the colors are just subdued enough to add a perfect level of suitable moodiness to the proceedings.

So I like the story; I like the entire book. I'm just not sure what I think about it as Akuma's story. For whatever reason, I always figured his backstory would be more... supernatural, I guess. Akuma, as a character, feels larger than life. I'm not sure Sarracini does enough here to show us how he attains that stature. He starts out as an angry young man, learns martial arts as a way to channel that anger into revenge, then kills some guys. At the point where he murders his father's assassins, he gives in to the Dark Hadou and his speech balloons turn black (as in prior UDON issues), but it just doesn't feel grand enough.

For years I took Akuma as some sort of ghost or spirit or demon or something (I believe the "aku" in his name is Japanese for "devil") To learn that he's just a mortal -- not even some sort of reincarnated fighter or something, but just a guy who happens to have access to a dark energy source within himself -- is a bit of a letdown. Honestly, Akuma worked better before UDON committed his origin to the printed page. Like I said: it's a good story; a tragic story, but I just doesn't feel momentous enough for the character as he's been presented so far in these comics.

But, at any rate, I like the idea of STREET FIGHTER ORIGINS comics. I'd love to see more. An ORIGINS focused on M. Bison could be pretty interesting, given what little we've seen of his background so far.

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