In adaptation-related news this week, we learned that director Takashi Shimizu will be at the helm for a live-action feature of Kiki’s Delivery Service and that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot was bidding on the TV rights to Stephen King’s time-traveling alt-history tome, 11/22/63. Today’s installment of Hollywood! Adapt This features another revisionist history that isn’t contained in just one volume, but rather spread out over twenty-some issues. This sci-fi superhero anthology series dates back to 1987 and continues still today with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin acting as contributor and editor. What’s it all about? Hit the jump to find out. Hollywood! Adapt this: Wild Cards.
Starting in 1987, Wild Cards is a twenty-one volume (soon to be twenty-two) anthology that takes place mainly in an alternative-history New York City where an experimental virus has killed, deformed or granted superpowers to those exposed. In 1946, the alien virus – known as Xenovirus Takis-A or colloquially as the Wild Card virus – kills 90% of those it infects, while physically deforming 9%; those lucky few who appear unaltered but acquire superpowers are the remaining 1%. In sticking with the anthology’s theme of playing cards, dying from contraction of the virus is known as “drawing the Black Queen,” the deformed victims are referred to as “Jokers” and the 1% are dubbed Aces. There is also a subset of Aces known as Deuces since their particular powers are pretty lame, like the ability to levitate pennies or to turn into a puddle of water.
The first book in the anthology focuses on the effects to Manhattan, its population and the sociopolitical ramifications that come with the spread of the Wild Card virus. Written by a number of different authors, each short story in the first edition introduces a new character or group of characters and places them in similar historical situations that we’re familiar with from our actual timeline, ie the House Committee on Un-American Activities and McCarthy hearings were focused on potentially subversive Aces instead of Hollywood actors. The stories also worked in pop culture icons and political figures in clever alternative versions of their real-life selves. Wild Cards used the newly-created races and classes of Aces and Jokers to provide a commentary on race and class issues of contemporary times.
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?
It appears as though there are some plans in the works to adapt Wild Cards into a feature film, as SyFy Films (SyFy and Universal) picked up the film rights to the anthology a couple of years ago. With Disney/Marvel’s superhero movies busting box-office records and Warner Bros./DC hoping to pave the way to the Justice League on the back of the Man of Steel, it’s understandable to see why other studios want to get in on the trend. However, Wild Cards feels a bit too unwieldy (and unfamiliar) to general audiences to warrant a feature film franchise. I’d put my money on a TV adaptation if anything.
Martin has clearly done well for himself with the Game of Thrones adaptation that’s currently enjoying its third season on HBO. For as violent and graphic as Wild Cards can be, a proper TV series adaptation would need to be on a premium cable channel if only to free the creative types from worrying about the censors. Since one of the characters (Fortunato) charges his powers through tantric sex acts and another (The Astronomer) boosts his own abilities through ritualistic slaying, it would be tough to bring the more colorful characters to screen on network or even cable TV.
As for why Wild Cards should be adapted, its reality-based and almost practical style of storytelling would be a nice contrast to the super-secretive world of Marvel and DC comics where heroes and villains historically have secret identities which removes them from social and political backlash. Wild Cards could be a more mature version (in terms of content, though not necessarily in taste) of Marvel’s Avengers of S.H.I.E.L.D. while bringing 25 years of original superheroes and villains to the screen. Hell, maybe even Neil Gaiman could finally get to write an episode.
With Martin’s success from Game of Thrones and his ongoing work with HBO, plus the current desire for all things superheroic, Wild Cards would be a perfect opportunity for adaptation. I’m sure the logistics behind getting character rights from each contributing author could be a nightmare, unless that was already part of the deal when signing on the for the anthology. Even so, Wild Cards is an incredibly rich world full of original characters (or at least original takes on familiar ones) that deserves a broader audience. Adapting the anthology to a premium cable series would sure be an enticing way to do that.
Be sure to tune in to Hollywood! Adapt This next week when we take a look at a bloody barbarian book trilogy full of colorfully-named characters and some of the most vivid fighting scenes you’ll ever read. “The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.”