Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Now a days superheroes are both cool and legit. Everyone is looking for new supers. Why this time last year, The Guardians of the Galaxy would have qualified as geek obscura. Now they are the top grossing movie of the year. But silently waiting in the wings in a hot super property, Wild Cards, some production company could snatch this up, run with it and make a bazillion bucks. It is full of everything that makes a great cape and tights world. Amazing writers, colorful and deep characters, an astonishing world mythology and to top it off it has a powerful Hollywood heavyweight pedigree.
Wild Cards is the brainchild of George RR Martin, now some of you of course are jumping up and down and screaming, “hey that is the guy who wrote over half the scripts for the Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman Beauty and the Beast TV show, and that old man Lancelot episode of the 80’s Twilight Zone, I love that guy! I wonder what happened to him. I hope he didn’t give up writing.”
OK, OK I jest. I may be the only nerd in this quadrant of the galaxy that isn’t into Game of Thrones. But before RR was flipping off rude people asking about his health, and writing about hot blonde dragon babes, he created a shared super hero world. And the other members of the writing team read like a who’s who of eighties sci-fi. Melinda Snodgrass (Most famous as script editor for ST:TNG) Vic Milan (Cybernetic Samurai) Walter Jon Williams (Hardwired), Chris Claremont (X-Men) Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber), Lewis Shiner (The Hacker Files) and Kevin Andrew Murphy (Who wrote game books for White Wolf and Steve Jackson Games)
The books started as a roleplaying game seasons in New Mexico. George RR Martin was the game master. They started off playing Call of Cuthlhu and Marrow Project, till Vic Milan gave Martin a game called Super World. That became the crews go to game. The writers spent so much time playing games that they were going broke, to the point that Martin might even lose his new house. So he decided to make the game into a mosaic world book. The rest is as they say history.
In the WC world heroes first appear in 1946, when an alien Dr. Tachyon, steals a biological mutagen that his family was going to test on humans, because they are genetically close to his race. The battle with his space brothers exiles him to the earth. He is forced to turn the chemicals over to the US government but is stolen by the Evil Dr. Tod, the first hero Jet Boy swoops in to save the day and screws it up releasing the mutagen on Manhattan. It kills some people right off others it changed in to what is called jokers and aces.
There are two main types of mutants; jokers and aces. There is some debate in world, as to what is the difference between an ace and a joker. In general an ace is someone who got an awesome power like flight or telekinetics. Jokers usually are the ones who got the short shaft of the mutation factor. They usually look hideous and if they have any positive powers, they tend to be things like super strength and regeneration. But the reality isn’t that clear cut. Peregrine a hot looking talk show host with wings can fly, but science says that wings shouldn’t lift her body weight, so the source of her flight power must be teleknetic. She is basically classified as an Ace because of her lovely body, but technically her wings qualify her as a joker. Someone who has minor powers like, the ability to lift only a penny with their mind, the ability to psychically communicate with goldfish, or shrink their genitalia to microscopic size, are called deuces.
Aces are universally loved. They have become the world’s heroes and super stars. Jokers are feared by humanity and have become scapegoats. A special unit was formed in Vietnam called the Joker Brigade. Ugly men to fight an ugly war. Discrimination is so bad that New York only has only two Joker cops and one is hidden away in the archives. Jokers are often forced to wear masks to hide the way they look. Resentment and hatred festers in the heart of many jokers, causing them to look for revenge.
WC novels are a mosaic world, each chapter basically a short story, with some of the latter novels done as full one story arc novels. So they are the very definition of an ensemble cast books. Each story is a day in the spotlight story. That may make them a hard read for people who like to follow the exploits of one main characters, but I love how they become a melting pot of writing styles.
So lets look at the cast. Dr. Tachyon, a genius flashy dressing alien who accidentally started the whole mess. He is kind of Like Dr. Who if the good Doctor was an alcoholic, guilt soaked leach. The Great and Powerful Turtle. He is a short fat geek (And Martin’s author avatar) He is also the world’s most powerful telekinetic. He travels his shell, a psychically powered airship, the original version of the shell was a modified VW, with dark windows so no one could look in on him. He is never seen outside the shell as The Turtle because he is so crippling shy, he would freak out if someone did.. Wraith a cat burglar with a conscious, who can pass through walls, but can’t carry much with her, forcing her to don a bikini and a mask as a costume. Captain Tripps a hippie chemist who uses drugs to become five different heroes. The Yeoman, the token normal human bow and arrow marksmen. Fortunato, a half African half Japanese, expert on tantric magic. And Carnifax, a secret agent with incredible regeneration just he doesn’t always heal looking as good as he did before. Now I just skimmed the surface the books are full of awesome and quirky characters.
Wild Cards is a realistic and sometimes disturbing world of what it would be like if real people have powers. The characters are flawed and human, but on occasion they rise to the level of heroes. Wild Cards is dark and gritty but unlike Watchmen, WC is not so different form from traditional super hero fare to put off the type of audience that is attracted to main stream superhero movies.
This would be a great time to make a Wild Card Movie or even better a cable series. There was a lot of talk in 2011 about Sy-Fy and Universal making a Wild Card movie, but nothing since 2013. Which to me is not a bad thing, if this is going to be done, it should be done right. Invest the money in effects and actors, bring it up to the level of the stories writers. Make it game of Thrones or X-Men First Class level.
So why is it so obscure? Well there isn’t a lot of prose super hero stuff out there. It had a big following in the eighties but it never really grew much above the core cult following. Most of who still have their original books in boxes in their garages. Marvel did release a comic book, but WC is mainly a print product, that up until now comics have been the main medium for supers. But take it from me try out heroes in the novel format. I love comics anyone who has read DCotU knows that. But completely imaging what a hero looks like and having the story slowly evolve like a noir yarn is a great experience.
So do yourself a favor and check out George RR Martin before he was cool.