Retro Gaming Australia

Video Game Comics: Double Dragon

by on Feb.13, 2012, under Video Game Comics

Video games and comics share similar audience demographics, so it was only a matter of time after the meteoric rise of the games industry that popular games found their way onto the colourful pages of the comic book.

There are many comic books based on video game series – far more than I had anticipated when this feature was conceived – but we’re going to look at them all over time.

First up is Marvel’s 1991 six issue miniseries Double Dragon.

Double Dragon

In the interest of fairness, the thing one must constantly try to remember when reading old comics based on video games is that the writers didn’t exactly have a lot to work with, so many liberties are taken with regard to character and plot development. Writing fiction – regardless of the quality of the final product – is hard.

Dwayne McDuffie (who would later start Milestone Comics) was tasked with fleshing out the story of Double Dragon. Three games in the series had been released by the time the comic was in development, though only the first two had any kind of consistency in terms of the setting. McDuffie retained very few elements from the games: the Lee Brothers, Marion, martial arts and co-operation. McDuffie wrote the first four issues of the series, with the team of Tom Brevoort and Mike Kanterovich penning the last two.

The Double Dragon comic is set in the city of Oligopolis in an undetermined point in the future (judging from the presence of hover boards and bikes). The city has been plunged into endless night by a force named Nightfall. Marion (given the surname Steele here) is a talented undercover cop who is investigating Nightfall, and has acted as a mole in his criminal syndicate, leaking information to the Lee Brothers, who have been stopping his plans.

Rather than just being bad ass martial artists, the Lee Brothers draw their strength from a mystical force called the Dragon Spirit. Previously, the Dragon Spirit is a power passed down to one in each generation, but this time around, extenuating circumstances led to the power being divided between the Lee Brothers, who must work together to realise the power’s full potential. In fact, if they don’t work together, the power will be destroyed.

Points like Marion being a cop and the mystical source of the Lee Brothers’ power would reappear in the animated series and film to varying extents.

The Lee Brothers are instructed in the use of the Dragon Spirit by their master, who simply goes by the name of Sensei. The Dragon Spirit is mainly used to give the brothers bad ass clothes and energy weapons.

Planned around a six issue arc, the story of Double Dragon is much tighter than the usual comic malaise. While it can sometimes spend a little too long dilly dallying in action scenes and giving Billy too much space for wise cracking, the comic runs at a blistering pace. The story essentially revolves around the Lee boys attempting to put the kibosh on Nightfall after he attempts to steal their powers and has Sensei killed.

The refreshing thing about the Double Dragon comic is that it doesn’t feel the need to expressly state that it’s based on a video game, or crack wise about it. Influence is drawn from particular parts of the game, obviously – the rivalry for Marion’s affections is a key theme throughout the series and the fight against each other at the end of the game is practically the basis for the third issue.

The series has its fair share of dumb moments, though. Billy Lee’s wisecracking is rarely clever and sometimes rather painful. None of the named henchmen are particularly well thought out, mostly being expy versions of existing comic characters – it could have used more Abobo. The decision to call the Lee Brothers’ father Stan should also cause you to groan loudly though fortunately it’s kept rather serious, rather than Stan Lee’s usual fourth wall shattering appearances.

The Double Dragon comic series is a competent piece of work. It won’t exactly blow you away, but the story and setting are reasonably interesting and entertaining, which is far more than you can say about the Double Dragon film.

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