Is Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe canon? (and if it is where does it fit??)
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was one of my favourite Mortal Kombat games, but it’s a bit of an oddity from the franchise. Not just because it was a cross-over title with DC Comics, but because it’s apparently officially counted as a main instalment of the MK series. Hence why the 2012 game, Mortal Kombat, is frequently called Mortal Kombat 9. This official status seems to have been finally confirmed with the up-coming release of Mortal Kombat X (although officially this letter isn’t standing in for 10), but it therefore presents us with an interesting question. If MK vs. DC is counted as an official game is it also canon to the series?
The answer, in my view, would be a rather obvious no, but if we play along to the idea of the game being canonical, then where would the game even fit in the series? Note that I’m speaking strictly in the continuity of the MK franchise and not DC comics (which is a veritably clusterfuck of alternate realities and plot continuities, so in that case we can make a clean sweep by saying the game is set in an alternate reality).
So what evidence do we have to go on for the canon-placement of the game. One of the more glaring elements of MK vs. DC is the absence of certain series mainstay figures such as Mileena. Granted, not every important Mortal Kombat character gets to appear in every main instalment (there was a notably long gap between the first and second appearances of Baraka and Sheeva for instance) and I’m sure not too many people noticed the glaring omission of Kung Lao either. It can be argued that the MK characters are simply fewer in numbers in order to even out the roster for the DC characters.
However, one glaring omission would actually present an interesting placement opportunity for the game, that of Johnny Cage. An often forgotten part of Cage lore is that the character was dead for a period of time during the events of Mortal Kombat 3. This is important as there is neither hide or hair of the Hollywood martial arts man in MK vs DC. Again, it could be argued that Johnny stepped out to make room for Baraka on the roster, but it’s also worthy of note that Johnny has appeared in every major instalment of the series where he has been alive (the exceptions being MK3 and Deception, where almost everyone was dead). The fact that Cage is not around would therefore hint to MK vs. DC possibly taking place around the events of Mortal Kombat 3.
As for the lack of presence from other notable story characters, it can be argued that the temporary merger of Earthrealm and the DC Universe has caused many people to blink in and out of existence, not just the heroes and villains (as evidenced by the lack of extras in most cutscenes in the game). This may be a slightly too convenient plot device to explain any incongruities, but if the game’s canonicity is to have any credence then this is probably the best avenue to follow.
In fact, there seem to be a large number of other subtle context clues to indicate that the game’s events take place at around or after the events of Mortal Kombat 3. Notably, the lack of appearances from characters in Mortal Kombat 4, particularly Quan Chi (who was of course operating behind the scenes in pre-MK4 games, but who is far too big of a player to be ignored in any post-MK4 media), indicate that the game is placed in this part of the continuity. At the same time, there are also very few characters introduced in MK3 present, which also sheds some doubt on this timeline placement. Also, even if the dimensional rifts did cause some characters to temporarily blink out of existence, there’s very little evidence to Shao Khan’s invasion of Earth in MK3, which seems to indicate that the game is definitely set some time after MK3 (and which would render Johnny’s absence practically pointless).
We know from the appearances of some of the characters like Baraka, Shang Tsung and Kitana that the game can’t possibly take place earlier than MK2 and Jax’s robotic arms also only first appeared in MK3. The feud between Scorpion and Sub-Zero is in full swing, again pointing to the absence of Quan Chi. And a minor point, but Liu Kang being alive also limits the possible continuity placement before Deadly Alliance.
Shang Tsung is also another interesting clue-character in this mystery. In MK vs DC, Tsung’s hair is also much longer than in MK3, pointing again to a point between it and fourth game. Tsung’s hair is shorter by the time of Deadly Alliance, but he was not seen during MK4, again making it possible that Tsung grew his hair out and cut it shorter in time for MKDA. Another piece of evidence are his fighting powers which focus on soul-stealing and fire powers. These were the abilities Tsung used right up to MK9 because Midway/NetherRealm were unable to make a shape-shifting mechanic work in th 3D games. If we are to take it that Tsung can only imitate others outside combat (as he does in DA and beyond), this would be another clue.
So, is there a sound argument for the canonicity of MK vs. DC? Possibly. Do I think that MK vs. DC is canon? Not in the least. As should be evident from looking at the DC end of the game, MK vs DC is more like an amalgam of iconic elements from both franchises. Particularly, the glaring presence of Hal Jordan amidst a collection varying eras of super heroes makes an assumption of reasonable continuity sort of pointless. But again, if you suspend your disbelief on the DC end and just call it another “alternate universe”, there’s a very slim chance of actual canon-status on the MK side as well. It’s fun to think about, but officially this game is a spin-off for me.