A joker is a person that was infected by the wild card virus and gained physical deformities. The jokers are the monsters and cripples produced by the wild card virus. About 9% of those infected by the virus become jokers. Jokers suffer tremendous prejudice and persecution, and the struggle for joker rights is a decades long battle in American society. Shunned by mainstream society, jokers usually live in the poorer neighbourhoods of great cities. The greatest joker community in the world is Jokertown in New York City.
A History of Jokers
When the alien wild card virus was released in September 15 of 1946 over the skies of New York City, most of the infected died instantly. But a few thousands survived, twisted into freakish monsters. They were soon nicknamed jokers. Society reacted with disgust and fear. Shunned, most jokers were forced to leave their families and jobs, moving to the poorer areas of New York. In the following decade, the neighbourhood formerly known as the Bowery gained a new name Jokertown. A surreal, nightmarish ghetto for the dregs of the alien virus.
Jokertown grew with the years, and soon started to attract the tourists, nats eager for the hair-rising entertainment that could be found with the most exotic humans on the planet. Jokertown's many cabarets, clubs, bars, and whorehouses provided a source of income for the poor jokers. Nonetheless, they were still victims of extreme bigotry. In the 1960s, the US government started to draft jokers by the thousands for the war effort in Vietnam. It was the time of the Joker Brigade, believed by many to be a government plot to commit joker genocide. The reaction was immediate and solidified the fight for joker rights. In those radical years, the plight of jokers was one more worthy cause for young rebels throughout America. The Joker Anti-Defamation League was founded by Xavier Desmond, so-called "Mayor of Jokertown."
The 1970s saw the crusade for joker rights become ever more violent. The radical joker known as Gimli founded the Jokers for a Just Society, a militant activist group. Events came to a head in 1976, when the Democratic Convention came to New York City. Senator Gregg Hartmann, a liberal politician and champion of wild card rights, tried to introduce the long-desired joker rights plank into the Democrat presidential platform. He failed, and Jokertown exploded into chaos and violence. It later came to be known as the 1976 Great Jokertown Riot.
The following years only saw Jokertown become even more hard-edged. Joker gangs like the Werewolves and the Demon Princes terrorized the city. In those turbulent years, many joker leaders died, including Xavier Desmond, Gimli, and Chrysalis. In 1988, Senator Hartmann's political career was destroyed after the bloodbath in the Atlanta Democratic National Convention. In the following months, the powerful joker-ace known as Bloat led a growing band of joker squatters who took over Ellis Island. Ellis was soon nicknamed the Rox, and Bloat's army of joker radicals was obliterated in the Rox War fought in 1991, when aces and the military attacked the island. Anti-joker sentiment rose to new heights in the mid-1990s, when anti-wild card evangelist, Reverend Leo Barnett became US President, and the human supremacist Card Sharks tried to wipe out all wild cards. But their conspiracy was exposed and defeated, and the pendulum has swung towards tolerance once more.
Jokertown has seen a bit of urban renewal in modern day, but anti-joker sentiment probably remains.
Joker Deformities and Biology
Joker deformities are extremely diverse and can be slight, severe, or anything in between. For instance, Xavier Desmond's nose has been mutated into an elephant's trunk, but he was otherwise a normal human, while the creature known as Snotman was a vaguely humanoid mass of disgusting mucus. Each joker is unique; no two jokers have exactly the same deformities. Dr. Bradley Latour Finn, a joker physician, has noted that there are basically three kinds of jokers: animal-based jokers like Dr. Finn himself, who is a pony-sized centaur; variations of the human form, like Chrysalis, who had invisible skin and translucent flesh; and the rarest of all, the monsters of the id, creatures so twisted that they defy classification.
Not all jokers are physically deformed, though. Any wild card mutation that changes a person for the worse can be considered a joker. An example is the lovely Angelface, with her hyper-sensitive nervous system making the barest touch painful.
The exact nature of a joker's deformity is influenced by the victim's own subconscious fears and desires. In a sense, the wild card releases the inner demons of the psyche. A man that had a pathological hatred and fear of cockroaches became Kafka, a joker that looks like an humanoid cockroach. The theory that jokers choose their own deformities, in a way punishing themselves, is another reason for anti-joker prejudice.
Many jokers have minor abilities derived from their mutated physical forms. The dwarfish Gimli has slightly above-average physical strength, while the snake-like Lamia has a poisonous bite. A few of them have powers so impressive that they can be considered joker-aces, like Quasiman, the hunchbacked, joker who nonetheless possesses great superhuman strength and the ability to teleport.
One of the few traits that most jokers have in common is that their metabolism is so unique that medical treatment is more difficult. Practically every known disease is more severe when affecting a joker.
Feelings of bitterness and self-loathing are widespread among jokers. Many of them wear masks to hide their faces, while a few become exhibitionists, gaining perverse satisfaction in shocking others. Few jokers are completely adjusted to their change. Intense envy of normals and aces is also a common joker trait. Nonetheless, most jokers are very protective of other jokers; pariahs sticking together against oppressive society. For this very reason, the same Jokertown that can disgust and frighten a nat, is at heart a human community with a sense of warmth and protection.
Jokers are victims of incredible prejudice. They were the greatest downtrodden minority of the 20th century, even more than blacks, Jews, or gays. Many "normal" persons don't consider jokers human at all. Feelings of fear, hatred, and disgust directed at jokers are common among nats, and jokers are forced to live isolated in their own ghettos. The flip-side of this disgust is the morbid fascination that causes many nats to visit the tourist attractions of Jokertown. It's a rare nat that has absolutely no anti-joker sentiment, though many decent people try to hide them.
Besides general disgust, there are several negative preconceptions about jokers. Jokers are thought to be cowardly, maybe partly because they are forced to hide themselves. Jokers are thought to be unlucky. Jokers are thought to be stupid, as many nats equate an inhuman appearance with reduced intelligence. In reality, jokers can be as brave and smart as any other person, and often they have to be.
Most jokers adopt (or are given) nicknames that describe their deformities. This practice is another sign of joker prejudice and self-loathing (as many joker names are self-imposed).
The aces had the headlines and the talk shows, and the freaks and cripples had Jokertown.
"They are an abomination unto the Lord, and on their faces they bear the mark of the beast."
"We are not a race, they tell us, we are not a religion, we are diseased and so it is right to set us apart. Ours is sickness of the body, theirs a contagion of the soul."
Self-loathing is the particular psychological pestilence of Jokertown, a disease that is often fatal.
- Wild Cards Volume I: Wild Cards
- Wild Cards Volume II: Aces High - "Jube" (The day-to-day routine of Jube the Walrus, a newspaper seller in Jokertown)
- Wild Cards Volume IV: Aces Abroad - "The Journal of Xavier Desmond" (The Mayor of Jokertown talks about his life and the pains of jokerhood)
- Wild Cards Volume VII: Dead Man’s Hand (The investigation of Chrysalis's murder takes our heroes into the heart of Jokertown)
- Wild Cards Volume XIII: Card Sharks - "Til I Kissed You" (A lost tale of Jokertown in the 1950s)
- Wild Cards Volume XIV Marked Cards - "A Dose of Reality" (The routine of the Jokertown Clinic is shown)
- Wild Cards Volume XXI: Fort Freak