Wild Cards is a science fiction and superhero anthology series set in a shared universe. The series was created by a group of New Mexico science fiction authors, and mostly edited by George R. R. Martin. There were 12 volumes published between 1987 and 1993 before it switched publishers, which released three new volumes between 1993 and 1995; a fourth appeared belatedly in 2002, and a fifth in early 2006.
While most of the books are made up of individual short stories, they generally focus around a central theme or event. There were also several longer storylines which run through several of the books. Some volumes use the format of a mosaic novel. This involved several writers writing individual story lines which were then edited together into one novel length story. Finally, some volumes are a complete novel written by a single author.
Wild Cards was inspired by superhero comics, and many of the authors play with the conventions of the medium, while some characters are based on existing heroes (for example, Jetboy was modeled on the Hillman Periodicals' character Airboy). Many of the original authors were also inspired by a long-running Albuquerque, New Mexico campaign of the role-playing game Superworld, gamemastered by George R.R. Martin, and many modeled their characters on their in-game persona. 
Setting[edit | edit source]
The series relates an alternate history of the earth after World War II. In 1946 an alien virus that rewrites human DNA is accidentally unleashed in the skies over New York City. It kills 90% of those who come into contact with it (referred to as 'drawing the Black Queen'). However, 9% mutate into deformed creatures (known as 'jokers') and the remaining 1% gain superpowers (known as 'aces'). There is also a class known as 'deuces' - aces who have acquired useless or ridiculous powers, such as the ability to levitate up to two feet, or to grow bodily hair at will. The airborne virus eventually spreads all over the world, affecting tens of thousands.
The Wild Cards universe is distinguished from most superhero comic book fiction by several thematic elements. Early on the authors decided to pursue a more realistic, or naturalistic approach to storytelling. Few of the ace characters in Wild Cards have secret identities, or are traditional crime-fighting superheroes in the mold of Spider-Man or Batman. Wild Cards remained set within a recognizably real world with recognizably real people and pop culture and, because of the historical setting of many of the stories, had characters who aged realistically during the course of the series. The majority of wild card victims live in the run-down ghetto of Jokertown, while the fortunate aces become glamorous celebrities. In addition, Wild Cards took a more graphic approach to violence, and particularly to sex, than most superhero stories do.
Another aspect of the series is its use of real people, such as Buddy Holly, Grace Kelly and Richard Nixon. Unlike most superhero universes, the events of Wild Cards alter history in many ways - a notable example being Fidel Castro remaining in New York to play baseball, and the lack of a Communist takeover in Cuba thereafter. As of 1986, Castro was the pitching coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who never moved to Los Angeles, and still play at Ebbets Field. Thus, L.A, not New York, got an expansion team called the Stars after the Giants moved to San Francisco. In the Wild Cards universe, the Dodgers are the equivalent of the New York Mets, with their history after the 1950s coinciding with the Mets' history, including victory in the 1969 World Series over the Baltimore Orioles. The Los Angeles Stars are the equivalent of the real Dodgers.
Other notable changes: Mick Jagger is a lycanthropic ace. Frank Zappa became a general in the US Army rather than a musician. Buddy Holly did not die in a plane crash, becoming a washed up has-been, working in dingy venues, covering Prince and Billy Idol. Thomas Marion Douglas (an analogue of Jim Morrison), lead singer for the rock group Destiny, was an ace called the Lizard King, and died not of an overdose in France, but from a dose of the experimental Trump virus, which cured him and removed his immunity to many years of drug abuse. The botched Iranian hostage rescue of the Jimmy Carter administration was bungled by a team of aces (including Popinjay and Carnifex) rather than Marines (and was later proven to be part of a conspiracy to prevent Carter's re-election due to his pro-wild card stance). President George H. W. Bush promised "no new exotics (a politically correct term for wild carders) laws" rather than "no new taxes," but still went back on his word.
Characters[edit | edit source]
- Main article: List of Wild Cards characters
The series features a large and ever-changing cast of characters. A minor character in one story can become a major, or even the viewpoint character, in another, or vice versa.
Books[edit | edit source]
Original series (Bantam Books)[edit | edit source]
- Wild Cards (1987)
- Aces High (1987)
- Jokers Wild (1987)
- Aces Abroad (1988)
- Down and Dirty (1988)
- Ace in the Hole (1990)
- Dead Man's Hand (1990)
- One-Eyed Jacks (1991)
- Jokertown Shuffle (1991)
- Double Solitaire (1992) (novel)
- Dealer's Choice (1992)
- Turn of the Cards (1993) (novel)
Double Solitaire and Turn of the Cards were actually full-length novels rather than anthologies, written by Snodgrass and Milán, respectively.
"New Cycle" (Baen Books)[edit | edit source]
(Also known as the Card Sharks trilogy)
Death Draws Five is another solo novel, this time by John J. Miller.
Tor Books revival[edit | edit source]
(The first three books form the American Hero or Committee trilogy)
- Inside Straight (2008)
- Busted Flush (2008)
- Suicide Kings (2009)
- Fort Freak (2011)
- Lowball (2014)
- High Stakes (2016)
- Mississippi Roll (2017)
- Low Chicago (2018)
- Texas Hold'em (2018)
- Knaves Over Queens (2018)
- Three Kings (2020)
- Joker Moon (2021)
Tor Books eBooks[edit | edit source]
Short stories published online by Tor Books
- When We Were Heroes (2013)
- The Button Man and the Murder Tree (2013)
- The Elephant in the Room (2013)
- Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza (2014)
- Prompt. Professional. Pop! (2014)
- Discards (2016)
- The Thing About Growing up in Jokertown (2016)
- The Atonement Tango (2017)
- When the Devil Drives (2017)
- Evernight (2018)
- The Flight of Morpho Girl (2018)
- Fitting In (2018)
- How to Move Spheres and Influence People (2019)
- Long is the Way (2019)
- The City That Never Sleeps (2019)
- Naked, Stoned, and Stabbed (2019)
- The Visitor: Kill or Cure (2020)
- Berlin is Never Berlin (2020)
- Hammer and Tongs and a Rusty Nail (2020)
Tor Books Novellas[edit | edit source]
Novellas published as eBooks
- American Hero (2020)
Wild Cards in other media[edit | edit source]
Portions of the series were adapted into a graphic novel. Short stories based on the series appeared in the anthology-format comic book Epic: An Anthology. Author Daniel Abraham announced on his blog that he had been hired to pen a 6-issue Wild Cards limited series for Dabel Brothers Productions that was adapted into a graphic novel and possible ongoing series, although only the six-issue limited series eventuated. The initial series was called George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards: The Hard Call and began in April 2008. 
The setting was also adapted into role-playing game format twice: once as a stand-alone game, and again in the form of two GURPS sourcebooks that made use of the GURPS Supers rules. GURPS Wild Cards, the first of the GURPS sourcebooks was published between the publications of Down and Dirty and Ace in the Hole, in 1989. It is currently outdated, providing a snapshot of the universe at that time, but does contain biographical and power data on about 60 characters from the first five books along with details on current storylines and organizations. It was written by John J. Miller.
On August 16, 2007, Green Ronin Publishing announced the development of the Wild Cards RPG line of role-playing game products, based on their Mutants and Masterminds product line. The first of these products, the Wild Cards Campaign Setting, was written by series author John J. Miller, and had its debut at Origins in 2008.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Wild Cards Comes to Roleplaying Playing With a Full Deck, Roleplayer Magazine article by John J. Miller, about the Superworld and GURPS roleplaying games
- Dabel Brother's announcement of details about the comic series
- George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards: The Hard Call #1, Newsarama, April 7, 2008
- Green Ronin To Publish Wild Cards RPG Line
[edit | edit source]
- Wild Cards World - the official site for Wild Cards.
- International Superheroes - Biographies of many Wild Cards characters.
- Book Covers - Scans of covers of all Wild Cards books.
- Wild Cards Online - Fan site dedicated to George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards series
- Green Ronin To Publish Wild Cards RPG Line - Official Press Release
- WildCardsBooks.com - Tor's official Wild Cards website
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