George R.R. Martin himself made the big announcement on his blog that another one of his long-running series, Wild Cards, has been picked up for development into a television series. Many are predicting that it may become just as big of a hit as Game of Thrones.
With volumes dating back ten years before the A Song of Ice and Fire saga began, there is certainly a lot of ground to cover for the show.
Just to get you started, the world of Wild Cards is an alternate history of earth where an alien virus called “Wild Card” was released on earth in 1946. Those who survived had their DNA altered and picked up powers like superhuman strength, telepathy, shape shifting, and others. These people were called Aces.
However, the virus also left others grotesquely deformed. These unfortunate ones were called Jokers. As a result of their physical deformities, they are persecuted and shunned by society. The biggest ghetto where Jokers live together is Jokertown in New York City.
There are also people whose powers are negligible and even laughable. They are called Deuces and very few of them get major story arcs in the books.
With more than 20 volumes in the series (and still growing), the world is filled with a rich array of interesting and colorful characters. Here are just 15 of them we are likely to meet in the television adaptation of Wild Cards.
15. Croyd Crenson / The Sleeper
Croyd Crenson, AKA The Sleeper, is the only Wild Cards character whose appearance in the television series is pretty much confirmed by George R.R. Martin himself. Martin stated on his blog that “it wouldn’t be Wild Cards without the Sleeper.”
As the first victim of the Wild Card virus, he’s most likely going to be the first character we’ll get to know on screen and serve as a link between both worlds of the Aces and Jokers because of his unique power.
He got his nickname from the way the virus affected him. Every time he goes to sleep, he wakes up in a new body with new powers and abilities. He could be an Ace one day, a Joker the next, and a Deuce the next time he wakes up. He’s the ultimate Wild Card in this world.
Additionally, because of the many changes his body goes through whenever he goes to sleep, he can stay in hibernation anywhere from a few hours to several months. As a result, the Sleeper has developed a phobia of ever going to sleep because he’s afraid of what he may wake up as next or, even worse, that he may not even wake up at all.
14. Archibald Holmes
When the Wild Card virus first began to spread in Manhattan, Archibald Holmes was part of a response team sent to investigate. There, he recognized the potential of recruiting Aces to help fight for American ideals.
Holmes was an idealistic politician who put together the superhero team called The Exotics for Democracy, more popularly referred to as The Four Aces. He has a grand vision for them to fight for American post-war ideals and restore peace to the world after years of war and suffering.
Although they achieved a string of successful missions around the world, they were eventually ordered to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and accused of supporting communist interests after a failed campaign in China. Holmes was sent to prison, without having committed any crime, for contempt-of-Congress and the other Four Aces on his team were also targeted and condemned.
13. Jack Braun / Golden Boy
Jack Braun was the first of the Four Aces to be recruited by Holmes. Braun was infected by the Wild Card virus in 1946 and it turned him into the strongest man on the planet. His blond hair and blue eyes also made him a poster child for the group representing all-American ideals. In addition, a golden aura surrounded him, making him invulnerable to all attacks and made him immortal – hence his nickname of Golden Boy.
But Braun betrayed his fellow Four Aces during the HUAC trial to save himself. He then moved on to a failed movie career. He also earned a secondary nickname, Judas Ace, because of what he did to his former comrades.
Although he lives mostly in seclusion these days, he started to experience somewhat of a comeback in 2007 when he agreed to take part in a reality show where some minor Aces, who had no idea who he was or what he had done, would attempt to knock him down as part of a game.
12. Earl Sanderson, Jr. / Black Eagle
The second of the Four Aces was Earl Sanderson, a World War II vet who revealed that he survived the Wild Card virus with no physical deformities and gained the ability to fly at speeds of over 500 mph. His body also became impenetrable to bullets and he could project a force field at will.
He used his fame as a member of America’s superhero team to fight for civil rights and create an equal society for blacks and whites. After the HUAC trial, where he was persecuted by the racist Congress for his former Communist ties, he escaped from prison, fled the U.S., and never returned– even after receiving a pardon from President John F. Kennedy.
11. David Harstein / The Envoy
The third Ace on the team was David Harstein. He was a dark haired, slender, and handsome chess master from the Bronx who gained a unique power to make anybody to whatever he said after he was infected by the Wild Card virus. He used his abilities to mediate international disputes and negotiate treaties among sparring world leaders. Hence, his nickname, The Envoy.
During the infamous HUAC proceedings, he was kept in a glass case so that his pheromones, which were the source of his charismatic powers, would not influence the court. He was sentenced to three years in a minimum security prison for contempt of Congress because he refused to cooperate as a witness.
When he was released, the world thought he disappeared. But really, he underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance and went by the name of Joshua Davidson. Under this new persona, he found success as a stage actor.
10. Blythe Stanhope van Renssaeler / Brain Trust
The final member of The Four Aces was the god-daughter of Archibald Holmes. Although she had contracted the Wild Card disease in New York in 1946 like many others, its effects on her did not surface until a year later when her husband died and she accidentally absorbed his mind and memories.
Her godfather recruited her into the team so that she could absorb the memories of notable scientists and innovators in hopes that their work could continue longer because she was younger than them.
Unfortunately, the stress of keeping the memories and secrets of so many people took a toll on her and during the HUAC trial, she caved and nearly gave away the names of other Aces. She got the information from the mind of Dr. Tachyon, who was her lover (and an ally and friend of the Four Aces) and who had initially helped her erect psychic barriers for her mind to cope.
9. Dr. Tachyon
The world of Wild Cards is not only populated with superpowered humans, but with aliens too. One of the first aliens to be introduced in the series is Dr. Tachyon, who came to earth hoping to stop the spread of the Wild Card virus. When he failed, he vowed to remain on the planet to help treat victims – both Aces and Jokers alike.
He set up a clinic in Jokertown, where he became a figurehead for the Wild Card community.
In the 1940s, he worked at Mount Sinai hospital, where he met and fell in love with Brain Trust. The two lived happily together for two years until the HUAC trial and Wild Card witch hunts began. Before Brain Trust could reveal the names of other Aces he had treated, he psychically took control of her mind. But the force of this control was too much for her deteriorating sanity and she fell completely into madness.
8. The Astronomer
One of the major villains in the Wild Cards series is The Astronomer. Described as having absolutely no redeeming qualities, he often schemes to conquer the entire world. He has the ability to use 90 per cent of his brain power and uses his powers to destroy others, just for fun.
When his energy levels are low, however, he is nothing more than a bespectacled man of advanced age who is confined to a wheel chair.
At his best (or worst!) however, he has many evil powers in his arsenal. Most notably, he performs a death magic ritual and gets his strength by slaying his victims, who are mostly young women. Once he is at full power, he has several abilities, including astral projection, mind control, precognition, flight, invisibility, and many more. Fortunately, he is only able to use one of his powers at a time.
While The Astronomer collected energy for his powers from ritualistic slayings of innocents, Fortunato powered up via more… pleasurable means. His abilities were driven from using Tantric magic – which he got from sexual energy. Yes, his abilities were literally powered by sex.
At his peak, he was the most powerful Ace in the world. His powers were limitless. He also ran a high-class prostitute ring in New York City. He was no abusive pimp though. He took care of his women, even though he knew he was exploiting them. He was most likely to use his powers against the Egyptian Masons, a murderous cult who were responsible for the deaths of many of his “geishas”.
6. Modular Man
Modular Man was a sentient android that was created in 1985 by Maxim Travnicek, an Ace with a superhuman gift for invention. He was initially only programmed to be a superhero when it suited the marketing purposes of his maker, who wanted to mass-produce androids as weapons for the American government.
He was stronger than 10 men but could be damaged by powerful Aces. Although he had the ability to self-heal, he was still dependent on his creator to repair him.
Over the years he was destroyed and had to be rebuilt several times. His human emotions were often in conflict with his mechanical nature and his hardwired programming to do Travnicek’s biddings.
In the 1990s, he was part of a team of Aces summoned by the government to take down some Joker revolutionaries on New York’s Ellis Island. But he was forced to change sides when Travnicek decided to join the Jokers instead.
5. Gregg Hartmann / Puppetman
The Wild Cards series was not one to shy away from politics; some of its characters were high-profile politicians with high-profile powers.
But one of those politicians was also one of the series’ biggest villains. Puppetman was liberal politician Gregg Harmann’s manifestation of the darker aspects of his Ace powers. He learned from the young age of 11 that he could use his powers to influence others to commit heinous crimes for him and he delighted in the murders of those who crossed him.
When he first set foot in Jokertown, he found all the suffering, pain, and despair to be the perfect fodder to feed his appetite for violence. Although he campaigned on a platform of helping the Jokers, behind the scenes, he used them as playthings for his sadistic tendencies.
The public persona of Gregg Hartmann was loved and supported by Aces and Jokers alike. He even almost successfully ran for President in 1988. But in reality he was hiding his darker nature of Puppetman the whole time.
4. Fidel Castro
In an alternate history series, cameos from real life historical figures are bound to happen. One humorous change from who he is in the real world is Fidel Castro. In the real world, he is the Marxist president of Cuba. In Wild Cards, he is a minor character who became a baseball pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers and later on, the team’s coach.
He had a minor Ace ability which he kept a secret for most of his life. He was only exposed when a young aspiring reporter named Digger Downs, who had the power to smell other Aces, gained access to the Dodgers locker room and though he had a scoop.
But Downs was disappointed when he learned that Castro’s only power was super-elastic arm tendons which gave him no special abilities to manipulate the baseball game in the Dodger’s favor.
3. Tom Tudbury / The Great and Powerful Turtle
Many of the heroes in Wild Cards loved the attention and nicknames the press gave them. But some only wanted to act out their hero fantasies and stay away from the publicity that came with their actions. Such was the case of Turtle, whose real name was Tom Tudbury. He was the world’s most powerful telekinetic, Ace but he kept his identity hidden by always hiding in his “shell”– the modified body of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Turtle’s abilities were directly linked to his self-esteem. He was most powerful when he was able to hide in his shell. Outside, where people can see that he is an overweight, plain-looking comic book fan, his powers were weaker and more erratic.
As Turtle, Tudbury became known as one of New York’s greatest crime fighters. Turtle could lift whole battleships with just the power of his mind. However, many people mistakenly thought he was a deformed Joker because he preferred to remain hidden inside his shell.
2. Jube The Walrus
Another alien to keep an eye on is the walrus-like Jube or Jhubben. People think he is a Joker because he looks like a walrus, complete with tusks coming out of his mouth. Actually, he was originally from a planet called Glabber and was sent to earth in 1956 by his intergalactic employers to keep an eye on the inhabitants of the planet indefinitely.
He has certainly made good use of his time as an earth xenologist. He managed to set himself up in the basement of a building in Jokertown which he owns himself. Rumors abound that he hides more precious stones and jewelry in his little apartment than Tiffany’s.
He is a well-liked, flamboyant fixture of Jokertown who is proud of his bad jokes and his perpetual aroma of freshly popped popcorn. He is most often seen hawking newspapers at his stand and wearing his colorful Hawaiian shirts.
1. Daniel Brennan / Yeoman / Ace of Spades Killer
Somehow, this Vietnam War vet managed to remain unaffected by the Wild Card virus. He is what is called a Nat in this world – a person who is just a normal human being. However, he is still considered by many as an Ace because of his archery skills. He puts those skills to good use by wiping out as much of The Shadow Fist Society as he can in his quest to get revenge on Kien Phuc, the society’s leader, for murdering his wife and unborn child.
He is often seen (or, rather, not seen) lurking in the shadows of Jokertown in his dark hood. The press gave him the nickname Ace of Spades Killer. His skills came from his own natural abilities and years of training – some of which he got at a Zen monastery in the early 1980s.
His Zen training also allows him to empty his conscious mind so that telepaths are unable to read his mind. Whether he is in the jungle or in the city, stealth is his ultimate ally and, even though the bow and arrow is his weapon of choice, he is also highly skilled with guns and hand-to-hand combat.
Special mention: Robert Tomlin / Jetboy
One of the images of Wild Cards that has been circulating since the big announcement is the face of Jetboy with his World War II Aviator getup. He was actually a 19-year old war hero who entered the war before his voice even broke. He helped to design and fly the experimental jet plane called JB-1, shot down 500 enemy war crafts, and sank over 50 ships. He sacrificed himself to try and stop the first Wild Card outbreak in 1946. Although he failed, he is remembered in history as a legend. His short and tragic life is remembered by all in the Wild Cards world and has been immortalized through movies and books.
Even though he only appears in one story out of the entire Wild Cards series, he is an iconic character who establishes from the get-go that, in this world of Aces and Jokers, even great heroes can die – just like well-loved characters from another George R.R. Martin series that has been adapted for television.