Tie-ins — comics created as an adjunct to a video game or a movie — are typically for fans only. One such example: The King of Fighters 2003: The Comic is absolutely and unabashedly for the fans of the game — a vehicle for SNK’s characters where they can use the thinnest possible excuse for a story to justify having them smash each other through walls, into parked cars, and (as in the climax of the fight at the start of the book) bury them under a landslide, all in splashy full-color. If this sounds like fun — trust me, you don’t need this review; you’ve probably already got $14 burning a hole in your pocket as I speak.
Everyone else, however, doesn’t need to rush out and blow that kind of dough. Right from the start it’s clear you’re in fan-only territory: the plot summary at the start of the book doesn’t explain much of anything to the uninitiated. With even less preamble we’re thrown into a showdown in the wilderness between two key characters in the game’s mythology: Kyo Kusanagi and K’ (read: “K-prime” or "K-Dash"), a fighter infused with Kyo’s genetic material to grant him many of the other man’s powers. The brawl ends with K’ burying his opponent under half a mountain and walking away, but Kusanagi doesn’t stay dead. In steps the priestess Chizuru Kagura, who brings Kusanagi back from the dead as a puppet under her control … and out step the two of them for the rest of the volume, presumably to return in a future installment.
K’ himself does return a little later in this book, though, when his friend Maxima (though it’s sometimes hard to tell friend from rival in a story like this, especially for one who is unfamiliar with the game) shows up to save him from a pack of robot wolves and treats him to tea and sympathy. Something even stranger comes to the surface in their conversation: the new King of Fighters tournament for that year has a new sponsor…one whose identity remains a total mystery. Are their old mutual enemies back on the prowl again? Is the Pope German?
The second major story thread for this outing deals with Ash Crimson, the snotty pretty-boy fighter who slings around green fire and smirks at people from under his dangling forelock, and his two fighting teammates-cum-competitors, Shen Woo and Duo Lon, all of whom spend about as much time posing and being snarky as they do destroying the set decoration. Ash may be rancid butter, but he’s on our side of the bread. When yakuza kingpin Ryuji Yamazaki steps in to buy up all the available KoF tournament tickets and resell them at a major markup, Ash makes it a personal matter — and gets a knife in his side for his trouble.
Granted, it’s the first volume and it’s all story setup — but it’s setup that’s all based on even more setup from the sagas that unfolded in previous installments of the game. I’ll put it this way: If you’re already a KoF lover, and you can’t get enough of the sight of your favorite SNK characters whaling the Crisco out of each other, go right ahead. Everyone else, however, is likely to be left in the dust.
Art: I definitely can’t complain about the presentation. I’ve long been a fan of the Chinese-style of color comics, where the colors are muted in a painterly way. The quality of the interior art varies a bit, though; some panels are more sketchy, but there’s at least one panel every couple of pages that ratchets up the quality a bit closer to what’s on the cover. The big page size (and the unflopped right-to-left presentation) helps show off the full-color, full-bleed art when it’s at its best, too.
Translation: The translation itself is okay — it’s readable enough and never too stilted; however, they could have benefited from closer attention from a copyeditor. On the plus side, it looks like the the translators had access to the original digital files: the original Chinese text and FX lettering has been seamlessly removed and replaced with English text, even if their choice of fonts is occasionally cheesy.
The Bottom Line: Despite the reasonably good art, this one’s strictly for fans of the game. If you’re not already intimately familiar with the story and don’t plan on getting familiar with it, it’ll be a Kabuki performance. But if you like that sort of thing. . .