…and it was about as good as you would expect.
Back in 1991, I was eight years old and I received a massive box of comic books for Christmas. While the box contained numerous issues of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the like, nestled somewhere within that box was the second issue of the Double Dragon comic book put out by Marvel Comics.
As a child of the eighties and nineties who grew up with the NES, I thought I knew exactly what I was in for. The classic story of brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee bopping their way through the mean streets of…Chicago…I guess, as told by Marvel comics nearly broke my brain. While I hadn’t had the most experience playing the Double Dragon video game at that time, I knew what I liked. The simple story of two brothers fighting to save their (?) girlfriend Marian mixed in with the theatricality of Marvel was more than I could have asked for.
While I didn’t know at the time that this was issue two of a six part mini-series, I didn’t care. All I wanted to see was Billy and Jimmy cracking skulls up and down a busted street with nothing but their fists and impractical martial arts prowess.
Boy did I get what I wanted.
Adapting a video game to the printed page can’t be easy, and I do not envy the task that the late writer Dwayne McDuffie had in front of him. When adapting a video game, especially an 80’s arcade/NES title, you have to stay faithful to the world established in a video game, while also fleshing out the world and adding more and more to the story. While this can work to the authors advantage, like the awesome Mortal Kombat comics put out by Malibu Comics,
often times you get something silly and over the top like the Street Fighter comics…also put out by Malibu.
While the Double Dragon comic is certainly over-the-top, it swings for the fences in the best way possible. While the rest of the series may not be as great as this second issue, and yeah, my own nostalgia is probably going into overdrive here, I have to say that this single issue of the series is one of the best comics I’ve ever read.
While the first sixteen pages is nothing special, it sets the stage with a storyline that is interesting enough. Billy and Jimmy Lee are the most recent inheritors of the coveted Dragon Force, a mystical fighting energy that, I don’t know, gives you superpowers of some kind. The book doesn’t go into the specifics of the Dragon Force, but it’s kind of a big deal. While Bily and Jimmy are experienced fighter, they have no idea how to handle the Dragon Force or its many gifts. While their sensei (named…”Sensei”) had intended to train them in their newfound powers, he is violently murdered early in the book, leaving Billy and Jimmy alone to fend for themselves.
While the coomic shows off many faces familiar to gamers, including both Marian and the Shadow Boss (whose named Nightfall, for whatever reason), the almost star of the show here is a new character called Stealth. Stealth is a female assassin that can shape shift and turn herself invisible for a short time.
This ability comes in handy when she straight up murders Sensei within the first three pages of the book. While the first sixteen pages of this light story are all well and good, this book goes off the chain at page seventeen when Billy and Jimmy face off against an army of street thugs mere moments after burying their sensei.
While the brothers square off against an increasingly colorful cast of ne’er do wells, their personalities shine through. While Jimmy is all business and explaining that he has no plans to die this day, Billy is arrogant and flippant, claiming to have been in worse pillow fights. I adore how crazy this fight scene gets. The gang the brothers face off against seems like something…well, like something out of a video game. While most of the bad dudes found here are just nameless, faceless thugs, every now and then we get to see cyborg or a mow hawked, skull-faced idiot wearing a cape and fucking “Energy Gauntlets”! How was this book not turned into a move?
As the battle slowly turns in favor of Billy and Jimmy, unbeknownst to them, Stealth is planning her final play to kill the brothers. Suddenly and with absolutely no explanation, her powers of shapeshifting and invisibility are ow considered illusory magic and she casts a massive spell, revitalizing every downed gang member that the brothers have beaten…and changing their image to reflect that of Billy and Jimmy Lee.
You read that right; Billy and Jimmy Lee now must fight dozens of copies of themselves. I don’t know if this is supposed to be some kind of metaphor or what, but it doesn’t matter because this book set up one of the absolute best cliffhangers (seriously) I have ever read in my life and it was one that I didn’t have resolved for me for almost thirty years.
No, this book is not great; it could be argued that it’s barely even good. Bu, do you know what is better than good, fun. This book is takes what is the most paper thin plot in any video game and adapts it to a comic in the best way possible. Sure, this book is corny, and it doesn’t have some verall message or theme, but does every story really need that?
Can’t some stories just be about two brothers bonding while beating the ever living shit out of an army of nameless thugs?
Yes, yes they can.