An ace is a person who was infected by the wild card virus and gained superhuman powers as a result. To be classified as an ace, the person must still be basically human in appearance and generally be able to "pass" in society as normal. Aces are gifted with fantastical abilities that have never been seen before the wild card, except in ancient legend and comic books, such as enhanced strength, flight, mind-reading, and shape-shifting. Aces are very rare; only 1% of those infected by the virus become aces. Many of the greatest heroes and villains of the Wild Cards universe have been aces.
A History of Aces
When the wild card virus was released in September 15 of 1946 over the skies of New York City, mankind saw mostly death and monstrosities. But among the horror there was magic. A few of the survivors actually became more than human and developed wondrous powers. Dr. Tachyon met and treated 37 of them. They were nicknamed aces. Archibald Holmes, an idealistic politician allied to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recruited four of those aces and formed the Exotics for Democracy, a superteam dedicated to freedom, tolerance, and equality. Mostly due to the exploits of the EFD (nicknamed "the Four Aces"), the public in the 1940s was in love with aces. It seemed like a postwar golden age was within reach. But it would not last long, as the nation was soon swept by anti-wild card hysteria in the 1950s, as conservative political forces ascended to power.
The Four Aces were discredited and destroyed by HUAC in 1950. Politicians like Joe McCarthy led witch-hunts that drove aces into hiding, associating them with the communist red menace. Laws that forced aces to register with the government were passed. For a decade, the nation was very hostile to wild carders and no aces operated publicly. That would start to change in 1961, as John Kennedy became President and the political climate started to change once again. In 1963, the Great and Powerful Turtle became the first public ace to make headlines in more than a decade. Soon more aces came out of hiding, reentering the public sphere. In those politically charged times, America became divided into pro and anti-wild card camps. Those were also the times of the Counterculture, and there were many aces among the rock musicians of the time, the greatest of them was Tom Marion Douglas, the Lizard King.
As the 1960s came to an end, aces were more popular than ever. It was the age of wild card chic, when everyone wanted to be an ace. In 1965, the patriotic Cyclone became the first ace to dress in a colorful, skintight costume, like the superheroes from comic books. Soon many would follow. In 1971, the very expensive Aces High restaurant opened its doors and became the place to be for the new generation of ace celebrities. All throughout the 1970s and the early-1980s, aces became even more popular. Hiram Worchester, the Howler, Peregrine, Modular Man, Fortunato, Jumpin' Jack Flash, the second generation of aces was the subject of talk shows and magazines like Aces! magazine. There were now about 90 aces operating publicly in New York.
All of that started to change in 1986, when an insane and extremely powerful ace known as the Astronomer killed dozens of people in Wild Card Day, including some famous aces like Howler and Kid Dinosaur. The rest of the decade would see aces associated with many more instances of shocking violence. The worldwide WHO tour in 1987, with many famous aces and jokers travelling the world, was a fiasco after bloody incidents in Syria and Germany. That same year saw a gang war in New York City with aces fighting on both sides, and a new epidemic of the wild card virus caused by the Sleeper. The Democratic Convention of 1988 also ended in a bloodbath that destroyed the political career of Senator Gregg Hartmann, an advocate of wild cards rights. Wild card chic was dead and buried. George Bush was president and aces were now associated with violence and terror.
Things got even worse in the 1990s. Two new menaces terrified American society: the jumpers, a vicious teenage gang capable of mind-switching, and the Rox, a group of joker revolutionaries who took over Ellis Island. Two squads of powerful aces were assembled by the government and sent to Ellis Island to obliterate the jumpers and the rebellious jokers. They were successful, but at a terrible cost, with heavy casualties on both sides. The aftermath of the Rox War saw ever increased persecution of wild carders. Reverend Leo Barnett, a right-wing evangelical leader with a firm anti-wild card stance, became President. The Card Sharks, a secret cabal of influential individuals who had manipulated events for decades, with the aim of destroying the wild cards, stepped up their plans and created the Black Trump virus, a new virus to eradicate all aces and jokers.
The Card Sharks were defeated. By the mid-1990s, a new wave of sympathy for aces and jokers began. But by then, most of the great aces of the second generation were either dead or retired, after a decade of frantic, colorful events. But many new aces appeared in the intervening years. In 2007, most of them were reunited in American Hero, a reality TV show. Things took an unexpected turn when some of the participants left the show to travel to Egypt to stop a Muslim genocidal campaign against the local wild carders. Among them were John Fortune (son of Peregrine and Fortunato), Jonathan Hive, Lohengrin, the Amazing Bubbles, Curveball, Earth Witch, Rustbelt, and Drummer Boy, all of whom were powerful aces.
They were so successful that the United Nations chose to support them and the Committee was formed, the first official superhero organization since the Exotics for Democracy in the 1940s. The Committee's first year of operations was eventful, as they tackled unrest in the Middle East, an hurricane in New Orleans, and the threat of Tom Weathers, an immensely powerful and fanatical ace and protector of the People's Paradise of Africa, a socialist nation.
Ace Powers and Biology
Aces are individuals enhanced by the alien wild card virus, possessing diverse superhuman abilities. The three most common ace powers are telekinesis, telepathy, and enhanced strength, in that order, but many other abilities are possible. Aces who have trivial or insignificant powers, like the ability to change the color of their skin or turn water into wine, are called deuces. Each ace is unique, and no two aces have the exact same capabilities. Which powers an ace acquires when his wild card manifests depend on the ace's own subconscious desires and personality. A dedicated pilot like Black Eagle gained the power of flight, while a movie fan like Mr. Nobody gained shape-shifting abilities that allow him to transform into any movie star. Sometimes, the powers are influenced by the circumstances of the stressful situation that caused the wild card to manifest. For instance, Cyclone gained his wind powers after a parachuting accident.
While most aces have a completely human appearance, some of them have minor physical alterations, like the Howler's distended throat. A very few of have large physical alterations, like Peregrine's angelic wings, but as long as they're attractive and accepted by human society, they're still considered aces. Classifications started to get blurred when an individual acquires both impressive powers and extensive deformities, like Troll, a superhumanly strong, nigh-invulnerable, 9-ft tall giant with green, horny skin. Such individuals are called joker-aces.
There is no consensus among the scientific community about how ace powers actually work. One theory maintains that all wild card abilities are actually specialized uses of psionic ability, particularly telekinesis, "action over distance." According to them, a strong ace isn't actually using muscular power to lift huge weights, but a form of unconscious short-range telekinesis. Likewise, flying aces are supposed to be using telekinesis to lift and propel their own bodies. Fire projection can be explained as microscopic telekinesis exciting molecules, and shape-shifting is supposed to happen when the ace unconsciously manipulates his own atoms. And so on.
The psychic connection would explain why so many aces are dependant on props, gestures, or states of mind to activate their powers. Such "psychological crutches" are very common with aces. Hiram Worchester must make a fist to manipulate gravity, the Turtle needs the security of his shell to better use his telekinesis, and Captain Trips needs to ingest certain powders to transform into several superpowered alter egos. As long as they hold a deep belief that those things are essential to activate their powers, they'll continue dependent on them.
Another characteristic common to many aces is an enhanced metabolism. Many aces need to eat larger quantities of food after using their powers. A few of them derive their energy from external sources, such as fire or radiation. No ace has an inexhaustible amount of power. This enhanced metabolism can be an advantage, though. A few stories have remarked that aces generally are tougher and heal faster than ordinary people, even aces that don't possess overtly superhuman self-healing powers.
Aces are as varied in personality as any other random group of individuals. A few dislike their own powers and want to be normal, but a majority of them enjoy being aces. Some aces are idealistic and kind, some are twisted and cruel, many more of them fit somewhere in the middle. The mere possession of superhuman powers doesn't change human nature; while many aces decide to use their powers to fight evil and help people, and a few of them become criminals, the majority just doesn't fit in such easy labels. Perhaps the one trait that is common to most aces is that they're individualistic. After all, aces are one in a hundred.
The general public's reaction to aces is equally varied. Some people regard them with awe and admiration, others fear their strange powers. Usually, more conservative individuals and organizations have more negative reactions to aces. Also, certain decades in America have been more accepting of aces than others (see above).
Almost all aces adopt (or are given) nicknames that describe something about their abilities. The more public an ace is, the more likely that he will have an ace name. Beginning in the 1960s, some aces have taken to wearing superhero costumes too. Spandex-clad aces have always been a minority, but they're usually the ones in the public eye. However, this practice has become less common since the late 1990s and is almost unheard of in later years. None of the modern aces in American Hero wear superhero costumes.
- "Think like an ace, and you can win like an ace!"
- And finally there were the aces. Fascinating people with exotic powers. They had created, despite the terrible toll, super-beings.
- "I can't die yet, I haven't seen 'The Jolson Story'"
Most of the protagonists in the Wild Cards series have been aces, so they feature prominently in all novels, comics, and other media related to Wild Cards.