Card Sharks Wild Cards novel cover

Wild Cards super-hero novels setting


Wild Cards is a series of mosaic novels, with a couple exceptions, that came out from two different publishers. It slowed down a couple years ago, but there were about 12+ in the series, with the last 3 from the second publisher.

It was edited by George R.R. Martin. He had been playing the Superworld tabletop RPG with several other writer friends, and had been spending too much time with it. So they developed it into a writing project.

Essentially it begins shortly after World War II. A human-like race, albeit much more advanced technologically with some psychic powers is at war. They have a genetic virus that they want to use on their foes, but because of its bizarre effects, they want to test it first.

Discovering Earth, and its near identical species of humans, it is designated the test site. One scientist, Dr. Tachyon, disagrees and shoots down the others as they reach Earth. After a long confusing first contact, and a terrorist threat over NYC, the gene-bomb is detonated at high altitude.


The virus

90% of those infected with the virus die. 9% become disfigured monstrosities, with 1% becoming human-looking but empowered beings. The name of the virus was coined Wild Card, because you didn’t know what you were going to get.

Death was called “drawing the Black Queen”. Disfigurement meant you were a “joker”. If you were normal but had a relatively weak or useless power you were a “deuce”. Otherwise you were an “ace.”

Most of the powers seemed to have a psychic style or origin to them, even if they were physical. Lots of the characters had psychological limitations or crutches linked with their abilities, limiting their usefulness or complicating their lives.

One character, one of the closest that ever came to becoming anything like a “superhero” was the Great and Powerful Turtle. Essentially an ace, with lots of TK, but he couldn’t use it effectively unless he felt absolutely safe.

He finally hit upon making a shell out of an old car body. Levitating it, he was still able to use TK. He did act as something like a vigilante from time to time, and spent a lot of his money over the years making new and more advanced Shells.

March of history

The series is essentially about how history changed from that day in history forward. The books go into turbulent times of history; the McCarthy era, Việt Nam, etc.. Surviving jokers had a hard time, and usually ended up grouping together. Joker’s Rights became an issue.

It is a GOOD series and is quite entertaining. And some of the characters are truly bizarre.

  • Wild Cards.
  • Aces High.
  • Joker’s Wild.
  • Aces Abroad.
  • Down and Dirty.
  • Ace in the Hole.
  • Dead Man’s Hand.
  • One-Eyed Jacks.

Epic Comics did a 4 issue mini-series back in 1990 as well

If you’re lucky a used book store might have them… The second series is only a few years old and MIGHT be in some large bookstores still. And the SFBC did some hardback collections as I recall.

(Publisher’s note – this profile was written before online book sellers were mainstream.)

By Mark A. Brinkman.