The Mortal Kombat series has been around for nearly a quarter of a century, and it is without a doubt one of the most popular fighting game franchises. It’s straightforward, bloody fun – ideal for those who enjoy a mano-a-mano throw down. In the more recent games there are certainly no shortage of kombatants to choose from. Yes, Liu Kang is the original hero of the series. And yes, Radien always has some pretty killer combos. But for us, the cryokinetic warrior known as Sub-Zero remains one of our all-time favorites.
Call us crazy, but we’re the type of people who like to play fighting games for their story. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the blood-letting and forget how much work the creators put into developing these characters. In this list we’ll be looking at Sub-Zero – from his character debut to his live-action portrayals, all the way into the canon series.
Delving deeper into Sub-Zero’s back story will no doubt up the ante during your next fight as the ice warrior. So without further ado, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Sub-Zero.
15. The movie got Sub-Zero totally wrong
Following the popularity of Mortal Kombat 1 and 2, Threshold Entertainment decided to adapt the video games into a feature film. Admittedly, the first Mortal Kombat movie was a lot better than it could have been. They did a decent job turning an arcade-style fighting game into a fully fleshed-out film. There was an ominous atmosphere and some pretty impressive martial arts sequences to boot. But one of the most glaring missteps was their interpretation of Sub-Zero.
As opposed to being a warrior fighting for Earthrealm, Sub-Zero is an evil pawn already under Shang Tsung’s control. What’s even worse is that Sub-Zero and his arch-enemy Scorpion seem to be fighting alongside one another. During the initiation dinner, Sub-Zero ruthlessly kills a warrior for demonstration purposes alone. He is ultimately defeated by the Shaolin monk Liu Kang, which also never happened in the game. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, did a better job at restoring the Sub-Zero story arc, but the film itself was borderline unwatchable.
14. He’s the Batman of the Mortal Kombat Universe
At the end of 2008 something unspeakable happened: the Mortal Kombat and DC Universe merged to create a fighting game the likes of which had never been seen. When Raiden and Superman simultaneously repel invasions from both their worlds it causes the villains from both universes to fuse together. The unstoppable supervillain Darkseid and the sinister boss Shao Kahn merge to become – wait for it – Dark Kahn. Alright, so Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe wasn’t an amazing game, and while it was fun watching Superman pound Scorpion into the ground like a railroad spike, the game was ostensibly Mortal Kombat with Capes.
Speaking of capes, in Sub-Zero’s ending we see that the Cryomancer has added a cape to his ninja suit while he stands perched above a Gotham-like cityscape. It’s obvious that Sub-Zero has been inspired by the Caped Crusader, and when you really think about it the two do have a lot in common. Their parents were both murdered. They both trained in the martial arts to combat evil. And they both look better in a flowing black cape, don’t you think?
13. He was one of the original seven characters
The first Mortal Kombat game was released in 1992 as an arcade fighting game. It was also released for home video gaming platforms around the same time. Though it may be hard to believe now, the first few Mortal Kombat games were extremely controversial for their excessive violence and gory fatalities, which contributed to the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) a few years later.
The original game included only seven playable characters, one of which was the ice warrior known as Sub-Zero. The others were Sonya Blade, Kano, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Scorpion, and the protagonist, Liu Kang. The blue of Sub-Zero’s uniform was changed to yellow to create the Hellspawn Scorpion, and the uniform was changed once again to green for Reptile – the game’s secret character. Though this may seem like laziness today, Mortal Kombat became famous because of these palette swaps, which gave the players a larger selection of fighters along with additional backstories to align themselves with.
12. Bi-Han was the original Sub-Zero
It may come as a surprise to some that there are in fact two Sub-Zero’s in the Mortal Kombat universe. Bi-Han was the original incarnation of the character, and he made his debut in the original game as a formidable assassin who is sent to the tournament to kill the host, Shang Tsung. The evil sorcerer Shang Tsung is capable of shape-shifting and absorbing the power of those he defeats. Unfortunately, Sub-Zero fails his mission and instead forms a fierce rivalry against Scorpion. Scorpion seeks revenge against Sub-Zero, and he succeeds in killing the ice warrior by the end of the first game. Sub-Zero’s soul is then sent to the Netherrealm (more on that later).
After the massive success of the first few Mortal Kombat games, Bi-Han even got his own spin-off. A prequel, titled Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, was released in 1997. The Playstation version of the game even featured some extremely corny live-action cut scenes of Bi-Han interacting with his fellow kombatants. Despite incorporating side-scrolling and further developing Bi-Han’s origins, the game is considered one of the worst in the franchise.
11. Kuai Liang is the second Sub-Zero
When people talk about Sub-Zero today, they are almost always referring to Kuai Lang. Kuai is the younger brother of Bi-Han, sent to the second tournament after his brother fails to assassinate Shang Tsung. Kuai also develops a personal vendetta against Scorpion for murdering his brother.
Tundra was actually going to be the original name of the character before it was replaced with Sub-Zero. Instead of abandoning the name altogether, Tundra is actually Kuai Liang’s codename before he takes up his brother’s mantle. The creators also had Kuai don his fallen brother’s blue ninja uniform, and when the new Sub-Zero arrives at the tournament many of the contestants are baffled by the apparent reincarnation.
Like his brother before him, Kuai fails to destroy the evil sorcerer. However, he does assist Liu Kang in defeating Shao Kahn, the primary antagonist in Mortal Kombat 2. Kuai Liang is also able to best Scorpion by the end of the tournament, but he ultimately decides to spare the Hellspawn’s life.
10. He is a member of the Lin Kuei
Since the beginning of the series, the Lin Kuei has remained one of the most powerful factions within the Mortal Kombat universe. Under the guidance of Kuai Liang, the Lin Kuei have slowly shifted from their sinister ways toward a more honorable path. Every member of the Lin Kuei has special abilities that are passed on from generation to generation, which has helped the mysterious group persist for centuries.
Though not much is known about Bi-Han and Kuai Liang’s childhood, it is revealed that the Lin Kuei abducted the two children and murdered their parents. The reclusive group is known for choosing warriors at a young age, stripping them of their former lives, and training them to be the world’s deadliest assassins. While Sub-Zero has had his disagreements with the Lin Kuei, he has never fully turned his back on them. Kuai Liang even rises to the title of Grandmaster within the group.
9. He’s friends with Smoke
When the Lin Kuei acquired cybernetic technology in Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero and Smoke refuse to participate in the program. They are branded as traitors by the Lin Kuei, and while Sub-Zero is able to escape from the robot assassins, his friend Smoke isn’t so lucky.
The Lin Kuei send Sektor, Cyrax, and the now-cyberized Smoke to hunt down the deserted warrior. Meanwhile, Sub-Zero aligns forces with Radian, and together they are able to convince Smoke that he still has a soul. With Smoke and Sub-Zero teaming back up, they easily defeat Sektor and Cyrax and reprogram the two cyborgs to assassinate Shao Kahn.
Smoke first appeared in Mortal Kombat 2 as a hidden character, before reappearing as a cyborg in the following game. He would remain a robot for almost two decades before returning to human form in Mortal Combat (2011). Smoke would continue to fight alongside his comrade Sub-Zero under his human name, Tomas Vrbada.
8. He makes peace with Scorpion
Whether or not Bi-Han actually murdered Scorpion’s clan was up for debate at the beginning of the series. But by Mortal Kombat 4 we learn that Quan Chi actually framed the brothers for the murder of Scorpion’s family and clan. Despite this, the Sub-Zeros have long been at odds with the demonic Hellspawn.
In Mortal Kombat X, Scorpion, who has resumed his human form as Hanzo Hasashi, visits Kuai Liang at the Lin Kuei Temple. Kuai pays tribute to Hanzo for reforming the Shirai Ryu, much in the same way that Kuai was able to reform the Lin Kuei. Even though Frost tries to spoil the occasion, Kuai is eventually able to show his adversary that Quan Chi is the true architect of all of his suffering. It was Quan Chi who killed Hanzo’s family and turned the once honorable man into the undead ninja specter known as Scorpion. For once, Sub-Zero and Scorpion are able to hash out their differences without using their fists, and we get to watch Hanzo enact his bloody revenge on Quan Chi once and for all.
7. He obtains the Dragon Medallion
The Dragon Medallion is an extremely powerful artifact within the Mortal Kombat universe, as it enhances the powers of its owner to near undefeatable levels. When Sub-Zero finally returns to the Lin Kuei, he discovers that Sektor has killed his Grandmaster. Sub-Zero battles the ninja cyborg for control of the Dragon Medallion. He emerges victorious and the medallion strengthens Sub-Zero’s freezing powers beyond anything we had seen in previous games. The medallion may also be responsible for a number of changes in Sub-Zero’s appearance. For instance, after acquiring the precious artifact, Zero’s eyes turn from blue to pure white.
In his new role as Grandmaster, Sub-Zero decides to relocate the Lin Kuei to an Arctic temple which has been frozen into the side of a giant glacier. There, Sub-Zero vowed to use the Dragon Medallion to reform the Lin Kuei, and to teach his student to become righteous warriors as opposed to brainwashed assassins.
6. Frost was his apprentice
Frost travels to the Arctic Temple where she seeks to be trained by the Lin Kuei. Grandmaster Sub Zero quickly takes Frost under his wing, realizing that she is a Cryomancer with similar powers. Frost is a strong warrior, but she did not take quickly to Kuai Liang’s code of honor, which would cause the two to clash frequently throughout the series.
While Sub-Zero and Raiden are busy trying to defeat Quan Chi and Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Frost goes behind her master’s back and attempts to steal the Dragon Medallion for herself. She succeeds, but discovers that the powerful artifact is beyond her control. Ironically, Frost ends up freezing herself. Sub-Zero blames himself for failing as a teacher. However, later in the series when Frost goes on a killing rampage against the Lin Kuei, Sub-Zero is forced to apprehend his student. He freezes her in a block of ice until it is time for her to answer for her crimes.
5. He’s one of only three known Cryomancers
It is widely believed that during Shao Kahn’s reign as emperor a large number of the population was exterminated. It was thought that no Cryomancer survived this extermination, but as we well know Sub-Zero is part of the Cryomancer race. The only other two known Cryomancers are his older brother, Bi-Han, and his apprentice, Frost. However, at the end of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Sareena appears to have gained the Cryomancer’s freezing ability, leaving her exact ancestry up in the air. We also know that Shujinko was taught the freezing technique from an unknown Sub-Zero. While the aging process of the Cryomancers is unknown, it seems more likely that elderly Shujinko would have been taught by Bi-Han and Kuai Liang’s father or grandfather.
While trying to find a resting place for Frost in Mortal Kombat: Deception, Sub-Zero stumbles onto an Outworld civilization that he believes Frost and himself are descendants of. He lays Frost to rest in a sarcophagus before he dons the armor of his ancestors. The new armor further increases his freezing powers.
4. Noob Saibot is Bi-Han reincarnated
Mortal Kombat just can’t seem to let their characters die off. The character of Noob Saibot actually appeared in Mortal Kombat 2 as a black silhouetted ninja with no backstory, and he has popped in and out of the series as a playable character ever since. The character gets his name from the creators’ surnames, Ed Boon and John Tobias, spelled backwards.
Ten years after his debut, Noob Saibot is finally established as the original Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat: Deception. After being killed by Scorpion in the first game he was resurrected as a wraith to serve the evil Outworld emperor Shao Kahn. Noob Saibot is even able to turn Smoke into one of his servants, and the two appear together as a duel boss under the name “Noob Smoke.”
In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Sub-Zero finally discovers that the shadow wraith has been his dead brother all along. He desperately attempts to bring his brother back to life, but instead he is nearly killed after taking on Noob and Smoke by himself.
3. Kano gives him his eye scar
In Sub-Zero’s original timeline he obtains his signature eye scar at some point between the second and third game. Some believe that this is a mark of death given to Sub-Zero by the Lin Kuei after he turns his back on them. However, in the fourth game, as well as in Mortal Kombat: Deception, Sub-Zero displays no visible scar whatsoever. This is understandably confusing as many thought that Bi-Han had somehow returned to the character. However, in the alternate timeline of the Mortal Kombat X comics we are specifically told the story behind Sub-Zero’s scar.
Sub-Zero is asked by the God of Thunder himself to help reclaim the Kamidogu Daggers. Kamidogu, which literally translated into “god tool”, were ancient relics crafted by the Elder Gods that contain mystical powers. During battle, Kano cuts Sub-Zero with one of the daggers and the ice warrior becomes demonically possessed. This turns Sub-Zero into one of Quan Chi’s mindless servants, until he is rescued once again by Raiden with the help of Bo’ Rai Cho.
2. He was (briefly) turned into a cyborg
All of the characters die at the end of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, except for Raiden and Shao Kahn. Raiden sends a message back in time to his younger self and the entire universe resets. However, Sub-Zero’s story arc is largely unchanged. Bi-Han is once again killed by Scorpion, which makes way for Kuai Liang to follow in his brother’s footsteps. And while Kuai is busy training, the Lin Kuei are once again wrapped up in the cyber initiative.
During the tournament, Shao Kahn is so impressed with Sub-Zero’s performance in defeating Reptile that he allows the cryokinetic warrior to face off against Scorpion. However, before Sub-Zero can kill Scorpion the Lin Kuei intervene, and instead of Smoke being cyberized, Sub-Zero is captured and transformed into a robot. Interestingly enough, if you look closely when Cyber Sub-Zero is being reactivated, the electronic readout tells us that his internal temperature is -52 degrees Fahrenheit (or -47 degrees Celsius).That’s far below the temperature at which blood freezes.
1. He is the only character to appear in every game
That’s right, after 21 Mortal Kombat games containing over 60 characters, Sub-Zero is the only warrior to appear in every one. And even though he wasn’t a playable character, Sub-Zero was even given a cameo during Scorpion’s intro in the 2013 game Injustice: Gods Among Us.
So what makes Sub-Zero one of Mortal Kombat‘s most popular character? His backstory, for one. The character’s reappearance in the second game immediately added another layer of intrigue to the already mysterious Lin Kuei warrior. And when we found out the new competitor was the original Sub-Zero’s younger brother, that only gave us another reason to root for him. His rivalry with Scorpion has also been a main staple of the series. After all, what’s Batman without his Joker? Scorpion and Sub-Zero are the perfect match for one another, and make for some of the most enjoyable and challenging fights in any Mortal Kombat game.
So did we miss anything interesting about Sub-Zero? Or is there another character that you find more compelling? Let us know!