Warning: This article contains minor SPOILERS for Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption 2 reveals how John Marston got his scars - and it's a ridiculous story. The success of Red Dead Redemption is due to a lot of factors, but the likability of Marston is chief among them. In Red Dead Redemption 2, John Marston is still around. He plays a rather significant, albeit unplayable, part in the prequel story, but John's a different man, and not just because he's younger.
In Red Dead Redemption 2, John is one of the most junior members of the Dutch van der Linde gang, and perhaps the most mocked. When the new protagonist Arthur Morgan first refers to John in the game, it's to call him a boring moron. Yet the most ridiculous aspect of John is one of his most intriguing features in the first Red Dead Redemption: his scars. Red Dead Redemption 2 answers the question of how John Marston got his notable facial markings, and the answer is extremely (and intentionally) underwhelming.
The reveal of John Marston's scars arrives in the opening hours of Red Dead Redemption 2. One of the very first story missions of the game has Arthur searching for John on a snowy mountain because he’d been missing for days. Arthur sets off with Javier Escuella, a minor antagonist from the first game, to find their missing gang member. As it turns out, he's cowering on the top of a mountain, bloody, beaten, and with a face full of deep facial cuts because a few wolves clawed him. John Marston got his iconic facial scars because he couldn’t deal with a trio of wolves. Considering everything the character does in Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption 2, that particular incident is absurd.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is smart and self-aware enough to poke fun at this lame explanation. Javier Esceulla even comments to John that they should come up with a better story for the scars. Almost dying from a handful of half-starved wolves out in the middle of nowhere doesn’t exactly fit the whole outlaw, cowboy personality. However, it's not just the scar story either that makes John look bad. While John definitely has his moments throughout the campaign, he's a bit of a screw-up, overall. He's not as feeble as Uncle ( because no one is as miserable as Uncle), but he's not the camp's golden boy either. The scar incident sets a precedent for a long story where John is shown over and over in a bad light. He's been a terrible father to young Jack, an easy captive, and the butt of several jokes.
It's a bit disappointing to see Red Dead Redemption 2 take away some of the mystique and majesty from John Marston. Yet dragging the original Red Dead Redemption hero through the mud ends up adding more to his character than it takes away. It's important to remember that, while players learned to appreciate and admire John in Red Dead Redemption, the other characters, especially former members of Dutch's gang, didn't treat him the same way. Whether John is hunting Bill Williamson, Javier Esceulla, or even Duch himself in Red Dead Redemption, all of them reacted to John roughly the same way: disdainfully. During Red Dead Redemption, it was easy to attribute these reactions to the fact that John was working with the law against his former family. Red Dead Redemption 2 paints a different picture.
Arthur and Javier don't act as John's run-in with the wolves and its consequential scars are the first time John has screwed up. It definitely isn't John's last mistake during Red Dead Redemption 2's campaign either. The truth is that no matter how charming and charismatic as John Marston seemed in the first Red Dead Redemption in the confines of Dutch's gang, he was the criminal equivalent of the annoying little brother always getting into trouble. Red Dead Redemption 2 does make John look like a bit dimwitted - starting with his scars - but it's at the expense of putting the story of the original game in a whole new and illuminating context.