Saturday, March 29, 2014

Reading Materials: Wild Cards


Time for another review.  Reading Materials are my attempt at drawing attention to the things I've read and what I think about them. This time its about a little gem called Wild Cards, and the kind of awesome superheroics that comes with realism and 80s grit.

I could've done one of these for Game of Thrones, as I finished off Dance of Dragons not that long ago- but instead, I'm focusing in on an earlier set of works associated with George R.R. Martin, Wild Cards.  Wild Cards started off as a anthology series where Martin and many other writers wrote stories that illuminated a shared universe, the Wild Cards universe.  Martin had been Game Master-ing a supers game; most of the other writers had participated in it.  So they turned it into a series of anthologies and novels.

Sure, characters and concepts changed, so the stories in the anthologies and novels cannot be the same as the sessions that Martin and company had held.  But some of them had to carry over.  It wasn't just that, though, that made me take a interest in the series.  I'm a fan of superhero stories, as part of a extension of a interest on Mythology and Storytelling in general.  Superheroes as a genre is the bizarre blended part of the venn diagram where people think Science Fiction and Fantasy meet.  One gets the awesome blend of all sorts of ideas being thrown around.  Eras in superhero stories also are easily thought up, with their own styles and themes that come across.

Wild Cards sits during a era where Superhero stories grew into some darker themes that had been avoided.  Written in 80s, it has that late 80s era grittiness to it.  But that isn't the only thing going in Wild Cards.

The Wild Card virus is the big alternate change to Wild Cards that differentiate it from other superhero stories.  Almost all of the superpowers in it are victims of the Wild Card virus.  But its rare to become what they call an Ace, a person with powers and no drawback.  Worse, many of those who get the virus die.  Or they might 'pull a Joker.'  Jokers are horribly deformed, making them derided and discriminated against.  This is not unlike some other groups.

I enjoyed it because it is different from other superhero stuff.  Its characters have strong motivations.  Great characters always enthrall me.  This is even better when the characters feel realistic.  Their power sets tend to be singular.  But the powers are interesting, not just plot breakingly over powerful.  My favorite character so far has been Croyd, the Sleeper (created by Roger Zelazny).  The Sleeper spends months asleep, but then wakes up for brief periods.  He always wakes up in a new body.  These new bodies always differ in power set and appearance.  Sometimes he's a joker, other times he's an ace.  Croyd tends to use his abilities to steal, especially since, as a thief, its rare for anyone notice one form of his from another.

That is the main reason I've been drawn into liking it.  It takes a different view on the normal standards of superheroes.  It subverts them while still having very kewl characters I can like.  There is some clunkiness due to era, but I think one can look over that.  Its got a gritty 80 vibe, and it isn't usual superhero fare.  If you like that, you'll enjoy Wild Cards as a series.