Sub-Zero (Mortal Kombat)
|Mortal Kombat character|
Sub-Zero in 2011's Mortal Kombat
|First game||Bi-Han/Noob Saibot: Mortal Kombat (1992)
Kuai-Lang/Tundra: Mortal Kombat II (1993)
|Created by||John Tobias|
|Voiced by||Jim Cummings (MK: TJB)
Luke Perry (MK: DotR)
Tom Taylor (MK:A)
Jim Miller (MKvDC, MK2011)
|Motion capture||Daniel Pesina (MK, MKII)
John Turk (MK3, UMK3, MKT, MKM:SZ)
|Portrayed by||François Petit (first film)
Keith Cooke (second film)
Ryan Watson (Live Tour)
J.J. Perry (Konquest)
Kevan Ohtsji (Legacy)
Harry Shum Jr. (Legacy)
|Fighting styles||Shotokan (MK:DA, MK:D, MK:A)
Dragon Kung Fu (MK:DA, MK:D)
|Weapon||Ice Scepter (MK4, MKG)
Kori Blade (MK:DA, MK:D, MK:A)
Sub-Zero is a video game character from the Mortal Kombat series and one of the original characters in the first Mortal Kombat game in 1992. A mainstay of the series, the character has appeared in every Mortal Kombat fighting game and also appears in many other Mortal Kombat media works such as the Mortal Kombat live action film series and animated series. The backstory of the Sub-Zero character has been explored in various Mortal Kombat games and other media.
The character made a return appearance in Mortal Kombat II, in which it was revealed that the original Sub-Zero had died during the events of the first game and was replaced by his younger brother. In subsequent games, the younger brother remained as Sub-Zero, while the elder brother became Noob Saibot. The character has been described as descending from the Cryomancers, an ancient race of people possessing the ability to generate and control the powers of ice, which gives Sub-Zero the innate ability to control ice in many forms.
Sub-Zero has received positive reception and gained a high popularity, including being featured on multiple lists of the best video game ninja characters.
Conception and design history 
According to Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias, Sub-Zero was originally conceived as a character named simply Ninja, a mysterious member of "the Lin Kuei, a legendary clan of Chinese ninja." He wrote that inspiration came from the controversial book The Chinese Ninja Connection by Li Hsing, which "posits historical evidence for the existence of the Lin Kuei and their influence on the Japanese ninja. I was aware of there being some controversy about the author’s claims. So when we split the character in two for palette swaps, I thought it would be fitting that one was of Chinese origin and the other Japanese to kind of embody the argument." Sub-Zero was then named Tundra, but the name was changed after a member of the design team saw the film The Running Man, in which the first assassin fought by Arnold Schwarzenegger's character used the name, albeit not hyphenated.
John Tobias said in 1995 that Sub-Zero was unmasked in Mortal Kombat 3 in order to stir up fan speculation about the character's backstory. An April 1995 article from VideoGames magazine, which was written while the game was still in production, included the first image of actor John Turk in costume, though Turk was purposely photographed from the rear and in shadow in order to conceal the character's identity. The new Sub-Zero made his proper debut on the cover of GamePro that same month with Turk's red outfit tinted blue (as it was for the game), but the photo used was actually mirrored, as his scar was over his left eye. According to Ed Boon, Sub-Zero's Freeze was originally omitted from the game in place of the Ice Shower, but was brought back in the next revision following fan feedback at a local arcade.
Since Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero has had a scar running down from his forehead and across his right eye as a mark of death. The scar was originally red, and later changed to blue in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance as a result of Sub-Zero's enhanced powers. In Mortal Kombat: Deception, his scar has faded to the point where it can no longer be seen. He now wore an armored uniform heavily inspired by Dynastic era Chinese battle armor, though it was often criticized by fans as being too reminiscent of the Shredder. However, Sub-Zero's alternate uniform was very reminiscent of Chinese culture, even featuring Sub-Zero without a cowl and a Qing Dynasty-era hairstyle. In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Sub-Zero retains the scar, which is not part of his alternate costume. Since Deadly Alliance, Sub-Zero is the only character who has shown considerable signs of aging. Concept art from Deadly Alliance depicted him with a graying, receding hairline, and a more pale and gaunt face, while his scar was now blue and his forearms frozen over. Although Sub-Zero originally had blue eyes, they turned white after he obtained the Dragon Medallion in the game. Sub-Zero's appearance in Shaolin Monks was one of the most revised ones from the title. Character lead Mark Lappin did almost ten passes on his design; producer Shaun Himmerick noted that "we went through literally 5-6 heads and styles of head costume on him" and commented that Sub-Zero's design in Mortal Kombat was difficult to make although most people called it "simple". In the end, the staff was satisfied with his final look in the game as it reminisces them to his classic outfit.
Aside from Sub-Zero's unmasked appearance in his Mortal Kombat II ending, and his recent portrayal in 2011's Mortal Kombat: Legacy, the character has primarily been portrayed or voiced by non-Asian actors. Midway later explained Sub-Zero's rather occidental appearance for a Chinese assassin by giving him a white mother. According to this new backstory, his father had a wife, two sons, and a daughter while he lived in America to hide his personal role as an assassin for the Lin Kuei.
In video games 
The oldest of the two brothers who takes the name Sub-Zero, called Bi-Han (Chinese: 避寒; pinyin: Bìhán), was introduced in the first Mortal Kombat game where he participates in the titular tournament as he was ordered by the Lin Kuei to kill the host Shang Tsung and take his treasure. He fails to accomplish his mission, and is killed by the specter Scorpion, who sought to avenge his own death. Bi-Han then becomes the undead Noob Saibot.
In the direct sequel Mortal Kombat II, Bi-Han's place is taken by his brother Kuai Liang (Chinese: 快涼; pinyin: Kuàiliáng). Upon his brother's death in the first tournament and the survival of Shang Tsung, Kuai Liang is sent by the Lin Kuei to complete his brother's unfinished task. In Mortal Kombat 3, the younger Sub-Zero escapes from the Lin Kuei who wanted to transform their warriors into cyborgs. They program three cyborg assassins to hunt and terminate Sub-Zero, who by this time had received a vision from Raiden and agreed to join the rebellion against a new threat.
In addition to the current Sub-Zero, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy included a playable character known as "Classic Sub-Zero". His biography states that although he was believed to have died after the first Mortal Kombat, he returned to try again and assassinate Shang Tsung. However, his ending states that he is not Sub-Zero, but an unidentified warrior who was missing from the previous tournament. In Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which serves as a prequel to the first Mortal Kombat, sorcerer Quan Chi hires the Lin Kuei to find an ancient amulet. After the first Sub-Zero delivers the amulet to Quan Chi, he is sent back to the Netherrealm by Raiden upon learning it is the key to releasing the god Shinnok. Sub-Zero regains the amulet while fighting Shinnok and returns it to Raiden.
In Mortal Kombat 4, Raiden once again summons Sub-Zero to assist in the defense of Earthrealm against the former Elder God Shinnok. In the meantime, Sub-Zero fights Scorpion, who was told by Quan Chi that the Lin Kuei killed his family, but he leaves him upon discovering Quan Chi was the actual person responsible. In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Sub-Zero defeats Sektor in a fight for leadership of the Lin Kuei Clan. He also meets Frost, his apprentice, and takes her to fight alongside Earthrealm's warriors against the alliance of Shang Tsung and Quan Chi.
In Mortal Kombat: Deception, Sub-Zero joins Shujinko's group to defeat the new threat in Onaga. He also confronts his corrupted older brother, now the undead Noob Saibot, across the game. In both Deadly Alliance and Mortal Kombat: Unchained, Sub-Zero comes to encounter Frost for the Lin Kuei's leadership, but he remains victorious. In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon's Konquest mode, Sub-Zero faces the warrior Taven, who invaded the Lin Kuei Palace. Both eventually decide to ally to stop the invading Noob Saibot and Smoke. After the invaders' defeat, Sub-Zero stays with the unconscious Noob Saibot to find a way to save him.
In Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, which reprises the events from Mortal Kombat II, Sub-Zero first appears as a boss character, but then allies with the protagonists Liu Kang and Kung Lao for a short time during the search of his older brother. He is last seen pursuing Noob Saibot in the Netherrealm. Mortal Kombat: Fire & Ice, which would star Scorpion and Sub-Zero in co-operative gameplay, was cancelled when Paradox Development, creators of Shaolin Monks, "couldn’t do it in time and under budget."
He is also playable in the crossover title Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; in the storyline, Sub-Zero is involved in a war between the titular fictional universes and is the protagonist for one chapter of the story mode. In his ending he realises he is no longer the assassin he once was and leaves the Lin Kuei. Inspired by Batman, he becomes a superhero donning a new costume with a cape; unknown to him, the Lin Kuei are on his trail because they do not tolerate desertion. Ed Boon notes that Sub-Zero's counterpart from DC Comics is Batman as both are "dark, mysterious, brooding characters." Sub-Zero is also as a guest character in The Grid.
Both incarnations of Sub-Zero appear in the 2011 Mortal Kombat game. While Bi-Han is still killed by Scorpion and becomes Noob Saibot, Kuai Liang's fate changes in the second tournament due to Raiden's interference; the timeline is altered and, after he has defeated Scorpion, Sub-Zero is captured and turned into a cyborg instead of Smoke. He is able to regain his mind and joins Raiden's warriors to stop Shao Kahn. However, Kahn's wife, Sindel, overloads his circuits, electrocuting him as a result. He is then resurrected and enslaved by Quan Chi in the Netherrealm. Additionally, Sub-zero's background is further clarified during this installment as well, as it is revealed that the two brothers were in fact abducted by the Lin Kuei as infants, after the Lin Kuei murdered their parents.
When he first appeared in the first Mortal Kombat, Sub-Zero featured only two special moves: his ice blast and sliding kick. These moves have become Sub-Zero's trademark since then, being featured in every game that Sub-Zero has appeared in (Mortal Kombat II and subsequent games feature the younger Sub-Zero). Mortal Kombat II added his ground freeze move, and two new Fatalites including the now-famous one where he would freeze and shatter the victim. In Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero got his ice statue move and ice shower (the latter featuring three different variations).
Sub-Zero's Predator-inspired Fatality, the "Spine Rip", is considered by Boon to be his favorite Fatality from the first game as well as the most controversial. Some home versions of the first game have replaced the "Spine Rip" with another finishing move due to its violent content. Unlike other returning characters whose moves remained intact, this fatality was not carried over to MKII and MK3 (story-wise, this can be explained as a different character, the younger brother, assumes the identity of Sub-Zero), although the younger brother does have the "Spine Rip" finisher in MK4, MKG, MK:SM, MK:A and MK 2011. The developers had to remove the "Spine Rip" from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe as that game was aimed to a younger audience.
The Nintendo 64 port of Mortal Kombat Trilogy gives all of the younger Sub-Zero's special techniques and finishing moves to the masked version, due to the fact the Nintendo 64's cartridge format had memory restrictions that did not allow the use of both masked and unmasked characters. In Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Sub-Zero gained a teleporting move (he freezes himself and falls back to the ground, appearing behind the foe).
In other media 
In the Blood & Thunder series, the elder Sub-Zero is featured, seeking Shang Tsung's death faithful to his game's profile. Accompanied by fellow Lin Kuei member Hydro (an original character created for the comics), he confronted Scorpion and surpassed his fears for him when he realizes that's what fuels the specter's powers. Like the other characters, he pursued the powers of the Tao Te Zhan. In the Battlewave series, Sub-Zero allied himself with Kitana, Kung Lao, and Baraka to overthrow Shao Kahn. During the final Tournament Edition issue, Sub-Zero is depicted as being the victor of Shao Kahn's tournament, defeating Goro and claiming the Dragon Medallion, despite being mortally wounded by Scorpion. The Mortal Kombat 3 version of Sub-Zero made a cameo appearance in the epilogue of Malibu Comics' 1995 Battlewave miniseries, in which he froze a group of Lin Kuei while proclaiming that the clan was corrupted and no longer worthy of his services. This subplot was never developed as the Mortal Kombat comic book series folded shortly thereafter.
In the first Mortal Kombat movie, the elder Sub-Zero was played by François Petit and served as one of Shang Tsung's guardians alongside Scorpion in the tournament. Although Shang Tsung does make a reference to the rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero early in the film, their relationship is not explored and both are slaves under the sorcerer's command. He is killed in combat by Liu Kang when he is impaled and frozen. In the animated film Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, the elder Sub-Zero was once again featured alongside Scorpion as servants to Shang Tsung and their feud was explained by Raiden through flashbacks, although interpreted differently from that of the games.
The younger Sub-Zero made an appearance in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and was portrayed by Keith Cooke, who had played Reptile in the first movie. After saving both Liu Kang and Kitana from an ambush by Smoke, Sub-Zero has an inconclusive fight with Scorpion, who kidnaps Kitana and escapes. He urges Liu Kang to seek out Nightwolf as instructed by Raiden before going after Kitana and leaves Liu Kang to continue on in his quest.
Sub-Zero was one of the leading characters in the 1996 animated series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, and was voiced by Luke Perry. An ancestor of Sub-Zero featured in two episodes of Mortal Kombat: Konquest, and was played by J.J. Perry. He was a Lin Kuei assassin hired by Shang Tsung to defeat Great Kung Lao and retrieve a magic crystal from his home, which had the ability to transport its keeper to other dimensions. Sub-Zero's rivalry with Scorpion was also featured, in which Scorpion murdered Sub-Zero's sister and Sub-Zero killed Scorpion's lover in retaliation. The two fought to a draw and Scorpion escaped when Kung Lao and his friends came to Sub-Zero's aid. Sub-Zero was subsequently berated by the Lin Kuei for his weakness, resulting in him killing the Grandmaster.
A brief image of Sub-Zero can be seen in the short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. Dialogue implies a deadly rivalry between him and Hanzo Hasashi, better known as Scorpion. Bi Han, the elder Sub-Zero appeared in the seventh episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, assassinating a shogun whom Hanzo Hasashi was supposed to protect and fought against him at the end of part one. In the next episode it is revealed that Quan Chi impersonated him in order to deceive Scorpion that Sub-Zero murdered his family and clan to enact a false sense of vengeance in him against Bi Han and gain his allegiance for the upcoming Mortal Kombat tournament. Kuai Liang will appear in season 2 of Legacy, and will by played by Harry Shum.
Cultural impact 
The character of Sub-Zero inspired the character of Glacier in World Championship Wrestling (Ray Lloyd, a Georgia native and former martial arts champion, has played the character in various wrestling promotions since 1996). Merchandise items of the character include action figures, and a joystick for the PlayStation 2 released along with Mortal Kombat: Deception.
His ice-projectile technique has been noted by 1UP.com to be one of the best mechanics that changed video games due to how practical it is as it gives players the opportunity of making any move while the opponent is frozen. According to GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann, the unlocking of the hidden character Classic Sub-Zero in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as so "annoying" to the point that players would not do it. His redesign from Mortal Kombat 3 was disliked by GamePro, which they deemed "suspenders" and compared his scar to a red smear. However, his appearance in Deadly Alliance received praise by Gaming Age's Tim Lewinson noting "Sub-Zero never looked so good, with dry ice rising from his hands and a cold, steely glare in his eyes." GameDaily listed his appearance in Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero as one of his worst moments, citing its sloppy controls, glitchy graphics, and unsatisfying quest for this. On the other hand, IGN staff liked how Sub-Zero was given his own video game, noting him to be one of the series' most popular characters, and that "it offers gamers a new look at Sub Zero". Besides that, positive response was given to the fact that Sub-Zero's techniques from the fighting games can be used in Mythologies. The Fatality Sub-Zero uses in Deadly Alliance was found to be one of the most violent ones from the title as well as from the series as commented by Ace Gamez. ScrewAttack ranked Sub-Zero's original Fatality as the best in the series and credited its infamy with the creation of the videogame rating system. ScrewAttack also placed Sub-Zero as second on their list of top Mortal Kombat "kharacters". The rivalry between Sub-Zero and Batman in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was emphasized by IGN who noted that although both characters were extremely powerful, Sub-Zero's freezing skills were more entertaining than Batman's abilities. In UGO Networks' 2012 list of top Mortal Kombat characters, Sub-Zero placed as third.
IGN listed Sub-Zero's first incarnation 85th in their list of 100 video game villains. In 2008, GamesRadar featured him in their article discussing the top video game assassins, stating that "his bloody ways and ability to freeze opponents solid enabled him to punch his way into the hearts of arcade gamers everywhere". He also made it to the semifinals of GamesRadar's "Ultimate Character Battle!" poll losing to Hulk. In 2009, GameSpy named him one of the 25 "extremely rough brawlers" in video gaming, praising his fighting style, while Unreality ranked him fourth on the list of top five video game ninja characters. He was also featured on the lists of the ten best video game ninja characters by CrunchGear (at number ten) in 2008, and by Wild Gunmen (at number four), GamePro (at number five) and ScrewAttack (at number five). Virgin Media as well featured him on their list of "top ten ninjas" and BBC News mentioned him as an example of "Western ninja-inspired nonsense" in 2012. In 2010, UGO.com ranked Sub-Zero ninth on their list of the top 11 Mortal Kombat characters, noting his ninja costume as the most iconic from the series. He tied with Scorpion at the top from of Game Revolution's list of the best "old school" Mortal Kombat characters" in 2011, with both noted as the most popular characters from the franchise. Another GamesRadar article from 2011 discussed his and Scorpion's evolution across the Mortal Kombat series, citing them as its two most popular characters. GamePlayBook ranked him as the best Mortal Kombat character, praising his freeze attacks and "Head Rip" Fatality. However, they also ranked the unmasked version of Sub-Zero as the third worst Mortal Kombat character, criticizing his new design. Complex ranked him as the fifth "most dominant" fighting game character in 2012 and as the 24th "most badass" video game character of all time in 2013.
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