A long running shared universe series of novels and short story anthologies, the very first Wild Cards fiction was published back in 1987. The universe itself arose from a Superworld tabletop RPG campaign in which George RR Martin (yes, the creator of Game of Thrones) was the gamemaster. Having run the game for two years, Martin wanted to write a novel featuring his character, but didn’t want the rich tapestry of the story and its other characters being lost along the way. Given that it was a shared universe and had been created by multiple writers as they played, Martin believed that other writers would he interested in writing stories based in the universe that had arisen from play, so set about inviting other writers to contribute stories for the books.

Thirty five years later, it’s still going. The concept of Wild Cards is that – on an alternate, though fairly realistic Earth, an alien virus has been released which mutates the populace, with playing card-based terminology to describe the effects of the virus.

If someone draws the black queen when infected, it means the virus has killed them. Becoming a Joker means that the person has become a monster, mutant or freak – and an Ace is someone who’s developed superhero-like abilities.

This new Marvel comic is set shortly after World War 2, just a few weeks before the virus is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. WW2 hero Jet Boy – who featured in comic book propaganda during the war – is trying his best to adjust to post-conflict society, as is former enemy Dr. Tod, who has been trying to shed his villainous image. Meanwhile, humanity is being watched by advanced eyes not of this world – and they’re about to change the course of history forever…

Despite having read very few of the original Wild Cards stories – but always being intrigued with its world of gritty, fairly mature superhero action – I really enjoyed this look back at where everything began. I’m not sure how much of this story will have already been covered in the prior stories and novels, but it’s a perfect jumping on point for any reader, even if they’re completely unaware of the rich history of the alternate universe it presents.

Despite being an alternate history, it feels pretty grounded and there’s a lot of neat historical details included; the very 1940s pulp style aliens are a great touch too. There’s lots of setup to be done, but hopefully this will lead to bigger things for Wild Cards at Marvel; though many of the tropes and the setting of the series may seem overly familiar even with Marvel’s own comics (the Noir universe within Marvel being a fairly close approximation of a Wild Cards-esque universe of heroes and villains), there’s still enough in the setting, especially as it incorporates real historical events, to set it apart.

An excellent read and hopefully the start of many more Wild Cards comics to come.

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