The circulation of my Scottish friend Wolfmask's first comic is probably just him, me and a small percentage of the population of Falkirk. But on first reading Skull Hero, I couldn't help but compare it to a giveaway game you'd find on the cover of Sinclair User around 1984. The second, "Don Tramp"-guest-starring issue, "Defender of the Catacombs", even features its own metal theme. It's as if the ingredients are all there, if only some plucky young dev would take a crack at making a Skull Hero game. Then again, who'd realistically buy it?
Well, anyone, possibly. For a couple of decades now we've seen comic culture comprehensively invade the mainstream, with Marvel and DC franchises ruling the box office and new films from both stables lined up for what might as well be forever. And here's me, remembering when Forbidden Planet was a room down the back of Denmark Street and not some behemoth of commerciality taking up an almighty chunk of Shaftesbury Avenue. Preacher is the latest IP to leap from paper to screen, in this case TV, via American studio AMC, and it's proven to be every bit as engaging as the Vertigo comic. Surely the next step, like The Walking Dead before it, is for Preacher to transition into the video game medium: I'm envisioning a first-person shooter where you're cast as Jesse Custer and your primary weapon is the Word of God.
Comics are a recognised art form. The adaptations we see in the cinema and on television have proven their reach, and commercial potential. More video games should follow – and I suspect they will, as studios seek out the next breakthrough, following Telltale's success with at first The Walking Dead and then The Wolf Among Us, the latter based on Bill Willingham's "fairy tales made real" series, Fables. There are many great narratives in modern comics, ripe for converting to an interactive medium, and many readers are eager to take control of their favourite characters, and explore environments they've only so far seen on a two-dimensional page.
Comics often break new ground, having nothing to lose when dealing with gender, sexuality and feminism. Little else has spoken to me as much as Bitch Planet, lately – after issue two, I went out and got a tattoo inspired by the work of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro. The comic is a parody, of sorts, of the exploitation film genre, set in a reality quite unlike our own where non-compliant women are sent to an off-Earth prison, the "Bitch Planet" in question. "Are you woman enough to survive?" asked the cover of the first issue, published in late 2014. A game adaptation of Bitch Planet could be phenomenal: hardcore feminist rollerball in outer space, as subtle as, to quote Chris Sims' issue one review for Comics Alliance, "a brick to the eyeball". Bloody fists and broken noses would come as standard, just as they would in a gaming take on The Boys, a now-wrapped superhero-noir series stuffed with gratuitous sex and spectacularly savage violence. Consider a beat 'em up of some fashion set in that particular world of corrupted people possessing supernatural powers to carry the harshest PEGI rating. The ratings board might even need a new one, above the standard adult classification, to handle all the nihilism on display.
Saga is a series that I am increasingly invested in, at a deep emotional level. It's a magnificent space opera, clearly carrying the influence of all things Star Wars on its shoulders but aesthetically achieving a truly singular feel. Its core story, of a husband and wife from different extra-terrestrial races – races that also just happen to be at war with each other – attempting to avoid the authorities and care for their infant daughter is one of natural universal appeal. So what if she has wings, and he has horns, and the stage is gigantic enough to span the stars? The heart of Saga is hugely relatable, in the same way that the various personal relationships seen in the Mass Effect series are, smaller but no less significant narratives set against another version of intergalactic war. Saga, the video game, done right, could be the most incredible RPG: perhaps massively multiplayer, perhaps designed for solo play. Pro-tip: don't trust the cats, as at least one of them can see through any deceit.
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Rat Queens follows a clan of female fantasy stereotypes with a shit load of sass, and could easily become a dungeon crawler, or even a hack-and-slash crossover affair like Diablo. The player could choose from one of the comic's four leading ladies: Hannah, an elven mage with a rockabilly vibe; the sans-beard Dwarven warrior Violet (because all dwarves grow beards, you know); the halfling thief Betty, whose appetite for drugs rivals anything you might have seen in Trainspotting; and the human Dee, who has a sickly soft spot for all things cultist. The fantasy nature of Rat Queens also opens up the possibility of a collectible card game spin-off, in the vein of The Witcher 3's Gwent. I'm sure Cthulhu worship and pixies imbibing magic mushrooms while partaking in sapphic relationships could be shoehorned into the gameplay, somewhere.
Monstress, something of a parallel to Bitch Planet, is a story of femme fatales that deals subtly with racism and the monsters that lurk within us all. Written by Marjorie Liu, whose credits include contributing to Astonishing X-Men for a stint spanning 2012 and 2013, it could make an awesome JRPG, with its assortment of minions and fox-eared children rolled out for turn-based battles like those seen in the Pokémon series. For the VR junkies to come, Tokyo Ghost's tales of a society plugged into technology, physically and mentally, could stir a few great gaming ideas, all dressed in Blade Runner-like steel and neon. Dare I speculate that the comic could be seen as prophetic, where people will quite literally kill to get their next VR fix?
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All of the above offer unique stories as yet untouched by the games world, and a multitude of different art styles, too. We know that comics can work as games – look at Telltale, of course, but also Rocksteady's masterful handling of Batman in its Arkham trilogy. Of course, with adaptation comes risk, and I know that I would be heartbroken if a favourite comic of mine was reduced to a subpar video game. One of the best comics of 2015 was Black River, a story about a group of survivors – and two dogs – trying to find a city with some semblance of civilization in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. The set-up sounds clichéd, but the execution is wonderful, writer Josh Simmons articulating all manner of terrors in affecting fashion while also reducing one character to essentially saying "dickpussy" all the time. And it's that tic that has me concerned, as you just know that a developer that's unfamiliar with the material would see that as an invitation to make a game lacking in nuance, producing an apocalyptic farce rather than a horrific and unsettling war-torn survival story in the vein of This War of Mine.
Basically, if Andy Capp got himself a video game, there's no reason why any of the aforementioned titles shouldn't, too. Comics are big business, and the most popular titles will always attract interest from other parties looking to make some money off the back of expanding their reach into new markets. But the very best stories, the most memorable characters, and the real-world issues tackled by the comics that matter, these elements shouldn't be shackled to an ill-advised "action adventure" title knocked out to meet a tight deadline. I want to see the Monstress game that's been afforded all the respect it deserves, and the Bitch Planet adaptation that gets the tone just right. There's an impressive precedent for comic conversions already, but to look at what's out there, from Saga to Skull Hero, is to realise that we're still only scratching the surface.
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