Welcome back to We Want Comics, a column exploring intellectual properties, whether they’re movies, TV shows, novels or video games, that we want adapted into comic books. This month, we’re looking at Rockstar Games’ western video game franchise Red Dead: while Red Dead Redemption — released May 18, 2010 — wasn’t the first game in the series, it remains one of the most beautiful video games ever made, and its follow-up is a similarly incredible achievement.
Lately, Rockstar have gradually moved away from story-based, single-player experiences: as expansive and well-written as they were, recent projects like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Grand Theft Auto V have felt like gigantic tutorials for the online multiplayer portions of the games. Conspicuously, no single-player story DLC have been released for them, in stark contrast to the offerings their predecessors received. It’s understandable, given the sheer workload involved in updating the online gameplay, but perhaps if Rockstar partnered with a comics publisher to tell new, shorter stories, it could be a huge boon for everyone, including fans.
Which stories? Spoilers after the jump:
The Prequel to the Prequel
Set in 1899, Red Dead Redemption 2 was actually a prequel depicting the downfall of Dutch Van der Linde’s gang, so it follows the next step could be to go back further in time, to show the start of the gang circa 1877, and John Marston‘s recruitment. There’s plenty of characters, backstories, and years of activities to explore, well before the natural endpoint of the Blackwater Massacre, which the gang is reeling from at the start of the game.
The comic would have many opportunities for unique framing devices (especially since the game’s epilogue revealed that Mary-Beth Gaskill became a novelist), with potential flashbacks in settings as diverse as Austro-Hungarian Vienna (the birthplace of the gang’s loan shark, Leopold Strauss). John and Abigail‘s courtship and wedding could be a strong throughline, given how unsympathetic many of the gang’s members turn out to be.
One gang member who definitely remained sympathetic was Charles Smith, an African-Native American hunter who became John Marston’s best friend by 1907. Given his lineage, it would be interesting to see Charles get involved in a fictionalized version of the Cherokee freedmen dispute, which saw descendants of African-American slaves, owned by the Cherokee and other members of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” lose their status as Cherokee citizens — a spin-off could also take inspiration from the Osage County murders, when Osage people were being murdered for their oil wealth from the 1910s until the 1930s.
For the record, any high-profile project with a Native American protagonist needs Native American/First Nations people on the creative team, providing feedback on the script as co-writer or interior artist if they’re not hired to pen the book itself: Rockstar and their hypothetical publishing partner would do well to speak to indigenous writers like Jay Odjick, Daniel H. Wilson, Taboo Nawasha, Katherena Vermette, and Richard Van Camp, and read books from publishers like Native Realities Press and Highwater Press.
Another one of John’s most steadfast allies, Sadie Adler is a widowed rancher who becomes a bounty hunter after her time with the gang. She expresses interest in moving to South America, a dazzling location that would be made even more unique by a time period unfamiliar to most readers — it was a tumultuous era for many countries, full of progress and heartbreak (for reference, here are Wikipedia’s descriptions of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela in 1910). It would also be nice to know if she ever found love again, or some kind of solace beyond apprehending and shooting bounties: a new family to replace the one she lost, so to speak.
A retired vigilante living in Mexico, who became close friends with Marston during his adventures there, gunslinger (and Sam Elliott-lookalike) Landon Ricketts was one of the coolest characters in the first Red Dead Redemption. His backstory, including his marriage, is a blank slate compared to many of the other characters, but it would provide the creators an opportunity to tell more heroic stories than the exploits of Dutch’s gang — there’s certainly plenty of inspiration they could take from the stories of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok.Continued below
Love or hate him, John’s son Jack becomes the protagonist after his parents’ deaths by 1914. Jack’s transformation from bookish farmboy to grizzled avenger of his father’s death would make for a fascinating midquel (did he learn how to fight from any of John’s surviving friends?), but it would also be great to see him in a sequel — the first Red Dead Redemption was set explicitly during the end of the Wild West, and it would feel more appropriate to see Jack during World War I, or as a Prohibition era gangster, in a comic than a game. One thing’s for sure: someone’s going to find out he murdered Edgar Ross.
Red Dead Revolver
To play 2004’s Red Dead Revolver (the very first entry in the series), you either need to have a second hand copy for an older console, or buy a (digital) backward-compatible version on PlayStation 4. Enabling a new generation of players to discover old games is always going to be a tricky business (they may just find them unbearable to play for a start), and Rockstar could lead the way in publishing comics of older games like Revolver; whether it’s made from screenshots of the game, or a fully illustrated adaptation, it would allow new fans to experience the story in a way that’s superior to reading a synopsis, and less tedious than watching someone else’s playthrough — what better way to honor Red Harlow‘s legacy?
There are many writers who are spiritually attuned to the highbrow western, like Ed Brubaker, David Walker, Jason Aaron, or Garth Ennis — as unlikely as it is to imagine someone like Brubaker ever writing a non-creator owned comic again, Red Dead isn’t a normal game franchise either: Rockstar’s (in)famous attention to detail, and their sporadic appearances in the public eye has lent them a level of prestige that would only be similar to working on an official comic of a Hitchcock or Leone film. As for artists, may I suggest Neil Edwards, who devised a fantastic stagecoach pursuit in Titan’s “Assassin’s Creed” #1, and was never able to revisit that era?
Feel free to saddle up and share your own thoughts in the comments — it’s a free country, while it lasts, after all.