In the 1980s, George RR Martin, Melinda M Snodgrass and a collection of others engaged in a two-year campaign of role-playing superworld. This gave birth to the wild cards book series: anthologies of stories set in a shared universe and written by some of the best science fiction writers.
The premise is simple: an alien virus is released into the public and affects different people in different ways, rewriting their DNA. This leads to Jokers (survivors with paralyzing disfigurements), Deuces (people with mild, almost ineffective abilities), and Aces (those with superhuman abilities), but 90% of those infected die. The book series is set in an alternate timeline that diverges from our own history in the 1940s.
The book series is hugely popular, with 29 books published as of July 2022 and a collection of short stories published on various online sites. The concept has been embraced for movies and TV series, although neither has so far reached production, and there have already been two comedy miniseries in 1990 and 2008.
With such a wealth of talent, compelling storytelling, and an ever-expanding universe, it’s no surprise that wonder would take the rights and get in on the action. And bringing in veteran writer Paul Cornell to adapt the stories from the first novel, the new Wild Cards: card draw the comic is more of a loving tribute to the series than a quick cash grab by the publisher.
If you have read any of Generic map books, the basic premise of the story will be familiar to you, and you will more than likely have read the first book that much of this new comic is drawn from. For those new to the franchise, welcome aboard and you won’t be disappointed.
On the planet Takis, one of the warring houses turns its attention to Earth in order to test its new bio-weapon. Humans are genetically identical to takisians, so make perfect test subjects, and there are so many test subjects who don’t know it running around. Not everyone in the family agrees with the mass slaughter for research purposes, but “Doctor Tachyon” (as he becomes known) is a lone voice among his peers, so the Wild Card virus is sent on its way.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Robert Tomlin has returned from the war a fly-boy hero with a nickname to match: Jet Boy. But his life is not rosy and life at home has gone on without him. As he attempts to adapt to a change in circumstances, another rushes to Earth in a crash course with history.
The opening number of wild cards is pure superhero origin indulgence. Cornell’s script is witty, knowingly pompous, reflecting the arrogance of Takisian aliens, and at times moving. The contrast between dandy aliens and world-weary humans is reflected in both the artwork and the tone set by Cornell’s script. Cornell is the perfect writer for this series, not only because he wrote for the Generic card book series, but he also has an understanding of the modern comic book industry. He has, in his time, managed to star with some of the biggest superheroes in the industry, writing Wolverine and action comics, and each time it defied normal superhero constraints, pushing the boundaries of storytelling in ways readers might not always suspect. This is at the heart of wild cards and this first issue is already beginning to demonstrate that not all superhero stories have to be the same.
Although much of the narrative is not new, adapted as it has been from the beginning wild cards book, the illustration is bright and fresh. Pencil drawn by Mike Hawthorne and inked by Adriano Di Benedetto, the figures are rendered with fine, deliberate lines. Every facial expression or position is carefully etched into the panels to create crisp, clean images. This is especially true of the Takisians where the bright and opulent backgrounds take the reader back to the sci-fi settings of the 1980s. The design work on the Takisians is a superb demonstration of the creators’ understanding of the story of science fiction and modern comics. It merges the futuristic look of TV shows like star trek with the extravagance allowed by comic book illustrations, especially those favored in superhero titles. Think of the bridge of the Enterprise mixed with Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and you have a good idea of the aesthetic the artists were going for.
This opulence is a stark contrast to 1940s America. The most noticeable difference is the coloring, provided by Ruth Redmond, which ranges from the cool blues and golds of the alien world to the grimy browns and dimly lit New York streets. York. Redmond’s work helps create the contrast inherent in Cornell’s script. The changing color palettes are an instant visual that readers can latch onto. When you turn the page, the tone of the story changes instantly before you even start reading.
The last piece of the majestic puzzle is provided by Cory Petit. On the surface, the lettering is standard mainstream comic fare. Word bubbles are placed for ease of reading and to create narrative flow across panels and pages. However, it is the subtlety of the lettering that makes it an excellent accompaniment to the rest of the work. Slight changes in font size accentuate a low-voiced mumbling character, and pausing dialogue using joined word balloons creates a perfectly timed punchline. One of the best examples is when Jet Boy visits his girlfriend to find their relationship no longer exists. The moment is a bit cliche, but when Cory Petit presses the words “I’m sorry” into a word bubble attached to the main speech, it builds tension, as if the sentiment is an afterthought, a phrase that needs to be spoken but doesn’t have the full weight of feeling behind it. A different arrangement of word bubbles, for example two separate speeches, would create a different meaning and tone.
Ace or Joker?
wild cards is an excellent adaptation of the book. It captures the character and tone of the original stories while translating the text for a mainstream comic reader. Had this been produced for an independent publisher the style might have been different, but with guidance from Paul Cornell and a team of superb designers, wild cards has the superficial feel of being a Marvel comic without succumbing to being part of the Marvel Universe.
It is a little disappointing that there are no new stories in these pages, even a short text in the last pages would have been a welcome accompaniment. But that’s a minor issue with an otherwise excellent first issue. novice readers wild cards will get the most out of the narrative, and older fans of the series can relish viewing a story that is now 35 years old. The design work and storyboarding are the strengths of this comic, but it all works together to produce a comic worth picking up. And hopefully this miniseries proves to be a success so that a future series can expand the Generic card universe in new visual perspectives.