Wild Cards.

I’ve been promising to do a write up on the Wild Cards series pretty much since day one of my coming to this site, but between there never being a decent lot of the complete series up for auction (or a complete run spread out through multiple auctions; either way an admittedly lot to ask) and my general lack of posts in the last half year or so, it never came to fruition. But with Tor Books reissuing the first volume last November, and HBO’s AWESOME adaption of Game of Thrones stoking the general public’s interest in George RR Martin up, I figured now was as good a time as any to write up a Wild Cards post…

First things first: his name might be on the cover in huge print, but George RR Martin didn’t write the whole 20 volume (and counting- a new volume is supposed to come out in June) series all by himself. He didn’t even write one whole book himself (only three of the authors involved have done that: Melinda Snodgrass, Victor Milan, and John J. Miller), tho his contributions are in my opinion some of the best stories in the series. Wild Cards is a shared universe series that usually took the form of multiple trilogies, with the first 2 books being collections of short stories with a connecting story line (not always in the foreground), and the 3rd a mosiac novel (think Stephen King and Peter Straub’s collaboration on The Talisman, but on a WAY bigger scale) that wraps that storyline up. The amount of writers who have contributed the series is well into the double digits, and includes such sci fi and comic book notables as Roger Zelazny and Chris Claremont. Martin is the editor of the series, the man in charge of maintaining continuity and keeping everyone’s toys from getting broken, a daunting task if there ever was one.

I already went into the roots of the series in the post I linked at the start, so I won’t rehash it here. The super brief summation is that a group of sci fi and fantasy writers took their superhero role playing game, and took it literary. The concept was straight out of the What If…? comics: what if superheroes existed in the real world (this was before that topic had been done to death, mind you). In the Wild Cards world, aliens unleashed a virus after WW2 that usually killed you, often mutated you into a hideous “joker”, and in the rarest of cases, turned you into an “ace” by giving you super powers. The first volume is especially marvelous in capturing the superheroes in the real world aspect of the concept, as it was essentially a history of the Wild Cards world, with stories starting on the day the virus was released and ending in the series publication year of 1987. Instead of merely going for communists, Joe McCarthy went after “aces”. The civil rights riots of the 60s were fought for Jokers rights. And so on. The series would continue on in “real” time from there, continuing to incorporate their versions of modern events (the more recent volumes include an American Idol style reality show to find the next great Ace hero and war in the Middle East, for example).

Unfortunately, the long history of the series means it’s gone through several different publishers, which means some books are harder to find than others. The first attempt at a new trilogy under a new publisher (Baen Books) after the original Bantam Books run is incredibly hard to find (tho there all 3 are all up with BINs right now, see below). And while the Tor Books reprint of the first book is allegedly the first in a new run of the original trilogy, it’s actually the second attempt at doing so: prior to this iBooks made it almost all of the way through the second “trilogy” (much like Game of Thrones, part of that story had to be split into 2 books), and did 2 new original books before the company collapsed (tho the final published book in the 2nd “trilogy” only came out in Mass Market paperback and not the over sized, illustrated, Martin afterword bearing editions the others were, a kick in the nuts for shelf porn fanatics like myself). The last original book iBooks published didn’t even have 100 copies printed, making it a highly sought after item…

(The above seller also has several BIN auctions for other books in the series.)

For me, Wild Cards has always been just as important as Watchmen in terms of bringing real world ideas into comic book superheroes, including incorporating a measure of science into it’s characters powers. You see elements from the series in comics all the time now. In Wild Cards the Bowery became Jokertown, a ghetto where all the mutated victims in NYC ended up; over a decade later Marvel (who published a 4 issue Wild Cards miniseries under it’s Epic imprint back in the day) would turn NYC’s Alphabet City into the mutant populated District X in the X-books. Wild Cards had a minor character called Detroit Steel, who was an Ace is a giant Iron Man type suit; last year Iron Man returned the favor and introduced a new Iron Man villain called Detroit Steel. And so on.

What I’m getting at here, is that Wild Cards is one of my favorite series ever, and deserves to be held up to the same level of public acclaim as Watchmen. Highest possible recommendation, even if there are some occasional stumbles. All I need to be happy is to have someone make it through a full reprint of the series, thus allowing my shelf porn fetish to be fulfilled. GET THESE!

One Comment

  1. Lowestofthekeys
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I loved the Wild Cards book series, but that Detroit Steel character, I am wondering if that was an homage to the Wild Cards character.

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