Pick a Wild Card out of the deck. The current one, ‘Lowball’, book 22 in the latest series, is now on the table. For those who don’t know, the majority of the ‘Wild Cards’ books are mosaic stories, a shared reality amongst many writers. With ‘Lowball’, we have eight writers, three of whom have been here since the before.
For those who don’t know, in the late 40s, an alien virus infects mankind. For many, it was a killer. For some, the aces, they stayed looking normal but had super-powers. For the jokers, their appearance was more grotesque and some still had super-powers. The nats or naturals who stayed normal and there were many of these, on the whole, tended to steer away from them. In New York, most of these wild cards hang out in Jokertown but some aces are accepted around society some of the time.
There is a mix of some older characters, like Father Squid. Some, like Eddie the police sketch artist, remind me of Cap’n Trips, being able to have multiple identities and keeping quiet about it. Not that this is wrong, after all, one of the failings in the super-hero realities is often having only one of a kind of certain super-powers and even ‘Wild Cards’ has succumbed to that over the years. I suspect that is in part because each writer owns their own characters and might be seen as an infringement or need permission to be used. It was great to see the likes of Quasi-Man, Sleeper and Jubal back ever so briefly though. I do miss seeing the role-call of the characters that was run in the earlier books, if only to get their complete names and creators.
Right now, some of the jokers have suddenly vanished and although it is feared they were kidnapped, little is being done. It is Father Squid who is leading the campaign to urge the reluctant police to investigate while the half-man/half-snake Marcus aka Black Tongue, prowls the streets looking for any clue. A new nat detective, Franny Black, is tasked by the police to investigate at the local police station, Fort Freak, few care about missing jokers to help him.
The problem with any detective-based story is how much to say without spoiling it for anyone. The key cast from ‘American Heroes’ make a big appearance and literally provide the key access to what is going on and it isn’t good, especially when Father Squid is accidentally kidnapped as well. Ian Tregalis’ use of the somewhat dim but goodhearted Wally Gunderson aka Rustbucket is a joy to read and some wonderful gags, not so much at his expense but more with him not understanding them as he plays detective, thinking a different hat would disguise his appearance.
What is odd was two-thirds through, there are some revelations that various people in jokertown already knew what was going on but it hadn’t been filtered through to the police. Then again, this is America, even in the ‘Wild Cards’ universe and no one appears to snitch to the police or maybe they’re aware that no one will listen.
The various writers are very good character writers but a few of them are less good at action and seem to cut short towards the end then develop it properly. It was either that or a tight deadline, especially as there was supposed to have been a book out last year. There are a lot of threads left hanging at the end and I’m hoping the sequel isn’t too far away. Considering co-editor George RR Martin’s fantasy success on the box at the moment, I do wonder if someone will one day push for a ‘Wild Cards’ TV series or even a film because it’s long overdue. Don’t put the cards back in the deck without a shuffle.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 361 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3195-3)