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Playing Card Motifs
Playing cards have a wide and varied use in fiction. If they show up, they're to evoke an air of luck, gambling, and trickery.

The standard international deck (also known as the French deck), is the most widely-used in fiction as it is in card games. It consists of four suits — clubs (♣), diamonds (♦), hearts (♥) and spades (♠) and 13 cards of each suit, plus two jokers. Respectively, the suits traditionally represent the peasantry, clergy, merchant class, and nobility. When it comes to color-coding, hearts and diamonds are red while spades and clubs are black. If the four suits are used in a work, more often than not they'll be to differentiate factions. The suit of spades in particular is associated with death.

The components of each deck, and the motifs associated with them, often represent the hierarchy within the card-themed organization in question. Note that the rankings of the cards vary between games.

  • The Ace: The highest rank (although some games have it as the lowest), and the origin of the term The Ace (and by extension, things like Ace Pilot).
    • The Ace of Spades is the highest-ranking card, popularly known as the "card of death." Someone using this motif will likely be highly competent in battle.
  • The Face Cards are a group of "court" cards (a king, a queen, and a jack or knave), ranked in that order. They are named on French decks, but not on English decks. Whom the "faces" are supposed to represent, if any at all, are points of contention, however recent years have seen them replaced by more generic court characters.
    • The King cards traditionally rank below the ace and above the queen. When all four are collected, they are termed "the four horsemen." When not overshadowed by the Queen, often The Leader of the playing-card themed organization in question.
    • The Queen ranks below the king and above the jack. Such characters will often be regal and imperious.
      • The Queen of Spades, popularly representing Pallas Athena. In the game Hearts, she is considered unlucky; whoever gets the Queen of Spades gains 13 points to his detriment note . She is the titular Old Maid in the game Old Maid. Tarot Motifs have her as an intelligent, tactical woman, befitting the goddess she was supposed to represent.
      • The Queen of Hearts represents the biblical figure Judith. Thanks to Alice in Wonderland, if the Queen of Hearts shows up in a work you can damn well bet it's an Alice Allusion. If not, she will often be a Love Interest or, at the very least, an object of romantic desire.
    • The Jack or Knave typically ranks below the queen and above the 10, making him the lowest-ranking face card. Often the right-hand man to the King, the Queen or both. In an Alice Allusion, the Knave of Hearts is likely to show up alongside the Queen of Hearts. If not, he's going to be a Trickster Archetype, thanks to the nursery rhyme.
  • Cards ranking from ten to two (also known as deuce) are portrayed with the card's number with as many symbols of the suit as the number. Commonly portrayed as Mooks.
  • The Jokers (often two to a deck) are commonly portrayed as court jesters or fools. The use of the joker card, if any, vary wildly from game to game. In Tarot Motifs, it is comparable to The Fool. If a character is described as such, they may very well be The Trickster or a Wild Card.

Aside from the standard 52-card deck, other common decks include:
  • 32-card "Piquet" deck: 52 cards minus two to six cards.
  • French Tarot deck: 78 cards: 56 suited cards (Knight face cards are inserted between the queen and jack) plus 21 trump cardsnote  and the Fool.

Compare Tarot Motifs and Alice Allusion. The Gambler will often have this as his scheme, as will the Death Dealer. Supertrope to Dead Man's Hand. See also Poker.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Shugo Chara! has the Guardians of Amu's school: The King's Chair, the Queen's chair, the Jack's chair, and the Ace's chair. The Joker's chair can only be filled by someone with at least three charas, making an actual Joker quite rare. Amu's charas, Amulet Spade, Amulet Heart, Amulet Clover, and Amulet Diamond also fit the suit part.
  • In One Piece, Doflamingo's Co-Dragons have card suit themes: Diamante (diamond), Trebol (club) and Pica (spade). Doffy himself sometimes go by his alias "Joker".
  • G Gundam: The Shuffle Alliance acts as the Big Good of the setting. They're a quintet of Gundam Fighters who have playing card themed titles. Who chooses the Shuffle Alliance isn't clear; the current generation simply seemed to have the crests of their title appear on the back of their hands, and the old Shuffle Alliance knew they had to take over.
  • One story arc in Ranma ½, has the regulars playing Poker against the "Gambling King", who resembles a king from a deck of playing cards.
  • In the anime of Fist of the North Star, the very first arc has villains with this motif: The gang leaders are named after the suits (Spade, Diamond, Club, and Mr. Heart), Shin's Dragon has a Joker motif, and Shin himself is the King.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU's Gambler is a Golden Age villain and Master of Disguise who gets by mostly on luck. His grandfather was a riverboat gambler and bandit, and the primary inspiration for his villainous turn. He committed suicide after losing at a rigged casino. His grandchildren, the second Gambler and Hazard, follow much the same gimmick, though Hazard has luck powers.
  • As The Gambler, Gambit uses a playing card motif, with particular fondness for the Joker and the Ace of Spades. In Gambit-related storylines in which Rogue appears as his love interest, it's common to see her represented in his motif as the Queen of Hearts.
  • The Royal Flush Gang has always had a playing card motif, but not so much gambling... Except the Justice League version, who first appeared in an episode that took place entirely in Las Vegas. They were also Shout Outs to the Teen Titans.
  • The Joker, Batman's nemesis, corresponds well to his eponymous card by being chaotic and unpredictable. He also tends to use the Joker itself as a Calling Card.

    Film 
  • Maverick. During a scene where Maverick tries to choose which card he draws from a deck, he picks the Queen of Hearts - a Foreshadowing of his romantic encounter with Annabelle Bransford.
  • Callum Change's (former) mansion in Funny Man is decorated with card motifs, especially jesters. Film's main villain is based equal amounts on a standard jester as he is on Punch.
  • In Heroes Henry Winkler plays a Vietnam vet trying to round up his old buddies to start a worm farm, he and his buddies had nicknames of the higher ranked Hearts.

    Light Novel 
  • Gambling imagery sees frequent use in Baccano!, being as The Mafia and the camorra play significant roles in the series. Playing card imagery is no exception: the opening credits sequence of the anime styles the kooky thief duo Isaac and Miria as the Joker, and indeed they have a tendency to shake up any situation they unwittingly wander into. The Dreaded killer-for-hire Claire Stanfield, meanwhile, is sometimes associated with the Ace of Spades in its capacity as the "death card."

    Literature 
  • The Erast Fandorin series often uses card motifs in connection to criminal world:
    • Early in The Jack of Spades, the eponymous Conman of the Novel goes into a prolonged Internal Monologue about the symbolism of the nickname he picked for himself.
    • In He Lover of Death, all Khitrovka gangs seem to be structured like card decks: the gang leader is referred as King, his girlfriend is the Queen and his right-hand man is the Jack, while the regular gang members are spread out between ten and six (from most important to most expendable, respectively). The Ace is a King whose gang dominates the entirety of Moscow underworld.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: In Wonderland is the court of the King and Queen of Hearts, in which all the royalty and soldiers are anthropomorphic playing cards.
  • In House of Leaves, Johnny freaks out over someone giving him a King of Hearts lighter.
  • Both the book version and the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate have the Queen of Diamonds be the trigger for Raymond Shaw's brainwashing. Discussed by the Army psychologist as a reference to Shaw's mother.
  • In Retribution Falls, Darian Fray loses a hand of Rake when he draws the Ace of Skulls, which also happens to be the name of a passenger liner carrying the son of a duke that he was conned into attacking with the lie that it was a freighter carrying gemstones.

    Live Action TV 
  • Kamen Rider Blade: Each of the 52 Undead corresponds to a single card in the deck, with the four Riders using the Aces to transform and capturing the other Undead of their suit to use their powers. Blade represents Spades, Garren (based on the word galleon) represents Diamonds, Chalice represents Hearts (parallel to Cups in the Tarot), and Leangle (a type of Aborigine war-club) represents Clubs. Additionally, there are also Joker Undead.
  • Alice (2009), being an adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is naturally rife with this, but manages to sneak in a Stealth Pun regarding this: Winston, the King of Hearts, is Driven to Suicide.
  • In J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai, each of the four heroes is named after a different suit/rank combo: Spade Ace, Clover (Club) King, Heart Queen, and Dia(mond) Jack. The team's Sixth Ranger, Big One, is basically the Joker in this analogy even if he's not as blatant about it as the others. The team name (pronounced "Jacker"), besides being an acronym of the ranks, also sounds similar to "Joker".

    Music 
  • "Desperado", originally by Eagles, contains the lyrics:
    Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boy. She'll beat you if she's able. You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.
  • David Pomeranz's King and Queen of Hearts have the eponymous King and Queen as a romantic couple.
  • In "A Deck of Cards" a soldier gets in trouble for pulling out a deck of cards in church. The soldier explains why:
    The Ace reminds me that there is but one God. The duce tells me that the Bible is divided into two parts: The Old and New Testaments. When I see the tray I think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost ... my deck of cards serves me not only as a Bible, Almanac, but also a prayer book.
  • Motörhead's 1980 single "The Ace of Spades", from the album of the same name. Guess what it's about.
  • The Vocaloid song "Alice Human Sacrifice" uses this motif (as part of a bigger Alice Allusion). In order, Meiko is represented by a red Spade, Kaito is represented by a blue Diamond, Miku Hatsune is represented by a green Clover, and both Rin and Len Kagamine are represented a yellow Heart.
  • "Queen of Hearts" by Juice Newton:
    Playing with the queen of hearts
    Knowin' it ain't really smart
    The joker ain't the only fool
    Who'll do anything for you

    Real Life 
  • During the Second Gulf War, the United States distributed a deck with the 52 "most wanted" Iraqis with Saddam Hussein being the Ace of Spades. During that time, they also distributed a deck of missing artifacts.
  • The state of Florida released a deck with unsolved cases for inmates to play around with.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Hucksters in Deadlands are mages who cast spells by playing poker with demons, and most of their spells are card-themed.
  • Card Shark from Dark Champions
    • And Blackjack from European Enemies.
    • Supplement C.L.O.W.N. (Criminal Legion of Wacky Non-conformists). One of the "villains" of C.L.O.W.N. was the Trump Knight. He had a sceptre that could change to Club, Diamond, Heart or Spade form, with each form having two powers usable in combat.
  • Four of the Queens from Princess: The Hopeful: The Clubs believe in harmony with nature, The Diamonds believe in enlightenment, The Hearts believe in politeness, duty and social interaction, and The Spades believe in good humor and practical thinking.
  • A set of Light-Elemental Warrior cards in Yu-Gi-Oh! are based around the tradition King, Queen and Jack. Normal summoning a King's Knight while having a Queen's Knight on the field special summons a Jack's Knight.

    Theater 
  • In Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale) by Igor Stravinsky and C.F. Ramuz, the Soldier plays cards with the Devil to get rid of his ill-gotten money so he can go on to claim the Princess. The Devil, holding the Villain Ball, wins every round, and on the last round the Devil holds the Ace of Spades and the Soldier holds the Queen of Hearts.
  • In Love's Old Sweet Song by William Saroyan, the Con Man, having finally fallen in love with Ann, asks her to Pick a Card, and she draws the Queen of Hearts.
  • In the musical Fiorello!, "Politics and Poker" has a group of Tammany hacks playing poker while discussing political strategy:
    Second Hack: How's about we should make Jack Riley the guy?
    Third Hack: Which Riley are you thinking of? Jack B. or Jack Y.?
    Ben: I say neither one, I never met 'em.
    Fourth Hack: I say: when you've got a pair of jacks, bet 'em!
  • In the opera The Rake's Progress, Tom Rakewell wagers his soul against Nick Shadow on correctly guessing three cards drawn from a deck, and wins by relying on symbolic coincidences. For the first card, Tom thinks of his Love Interest Anne, and names the Queen of Hearts. When a spade propped against a gravestone crashes down, Tom exclaims, "The deuce!", which leads him to name the second card as the Deuce of Spades. Nick craftily reinserts the Queen of Hearts, but before Tom can guess the third card, he drops the words "love" and "return."

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Setzer, from Final Fantasy VI uses cards, dices, darts and slots in his attacks. His airship is named Blackjack. And he joins the party by losing a (rigged) coin toss. This clip shows how badass a Setzer can be: he's a wispy, Silver-Haired Bishōnen that sails his airship at top speed, unfazed by the wind as he stands at the rudder, who destroys a heavily-armed gunship by tossing a few sharpened cards at it. Ante up, indeed.
    • And the Trickster class in Final Fantasy Tactics A2, who throw playing cards and use magic chants to, for instance, convince opponents that they've been poisoned (which is the same as poisoning them). The tricksters fought in the mission to unlock the class are all dimwitted thugs, though.
    • Final Fantasy X-2: The heroines each have a different suit motif while using the Lady Luck dressphere: spades for Yuna, diamonds for Payne, clubs for Rikku, and hearts for Leblanc.
  • Oswald from King of Fighters XI is a Death Dealer and thus his attacks have playing card theme: Spade, Clover, Diamond and Heart can be cancelled into each other up to 3 times, while Ace is an attack that can either deal minor or massive damage, simialr to the value of the card. King and Queen are Counter Attack and projectile moves respectively. His super move Four Suits, at its strongest, does 21 hits (Black Jack) while Joker has him unload his 52 cards at his victim. Furthermore, his color scheme is the one of playing cards: Black suit, red shirt and glasses, white hair, and yellow tie for the details in the figure cards.
    • This even extends into the game's soundtrack: "Joker" is the New Hero Team's theme (Oswald is on this team, by the by), "Queen" is the Rival Team's Theme, "King" is Adelheid's theme, and "Jack" is used for some sub-bosses.
  • Sneff, from Chrono Cross, throws playing cards at his opponents, and two of his moves revolve around playing cards: Big Deal, in which he tosses an entire deck, and HP Shuffle, in which he shuffles the three numbers that make up his HP (091 might become 910, 901, 190, 109, 091 and 019).
  • In Luigi's Mansion, the keys obtained from beating major bosses have playing card suit motifs.
  • Mega Man Star Force 3 features as its main villains a criminal syndicate named "Dealer". It is led by one Mr. King, and has among its high-ranking members Queen Tia, Jack, and Joker. There's also Ace, who deserted the organization. Furthermore, three of the (unwitting) major bosses of the game are Spade Magnes, Diamond Ice, and Club Strong, while King's Dragon is named Heartless. Their base's inner sanctum is even decorated like a gigantic card table.
  • In Devil May Cry 4, Dante's unique Gilgamesh attacks reference poker while Nero's sword attacks reference casinos/gambling. The sword itself is called the Red Queen to fit this.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: One of the rooms in which you get trapped is a Casino room, themed around finding numbered playing cards, which you use to solve puzzles to get more cards, and to escape the room. One of the puzzles is a Baccarat table, and there's a conversation about the rules for Baccarat (specifically that the strongest hand is a Nine) which is used as foreshadowing for the inspiration of the Nonary Game.
  • REFLEC BEAT: Colette has an event and four songs based on this motif. To play these songs you have to beat bosses named after the suits.
    • SPEED BLADE by L.E.D. The boss is Francis Club.
    • Ambitious by S-C-U. The boss is Rose Heart.
    • Arcanos by Dj Torriot. The boss is Lily Dia (as in Diamond).
    • Velvet Sentiment by seiya-murai. The boss is Cecil Spade.
    • Beating all four unlocks a new song and Boss: CLAMARE by MAX MAXIMIZER. The boss is called "Joker".
  • In Super Mario RPG the player characters had suits associated with them; Mario was Spades, Mallow Clubs, Peach Hearts, Bowser Diamonds and Geno Stars (possibly representing the Joker).

    Visual Novels 
  • In menus and promotional images for Kissed By The Baddest Bidder, the main cast are represented with playing cards: Eisuke as the Ace of Hearts, Hong Kong gangster Soryu Oh as the King of Spades, Gentleman Thief Mitsunari Baba as the Joker, Ota Kisaki as the Queen of Diamonds, and Detective Mamoru Kishi as the Jack of Clubs. In-game, the high-class hotel and casino around which most of the action revolves is called the Hotel Tres Spades ("three spades"), and has fifty-two above-ground floors.

    Web Original 
  • Global Guardians PBEM Universe
    • Supervillain Blackjack uses tricked out, weaponized playing cards as weapons, and dresses in a costume reminiscent of the Jack of Spades.
    • The Card Sharks are the GGU's version of DC's Royal Flush Gang.
  • Richard Bartle's 1996 article titled Players Who Suit MUDs, describing four types of Player Archetypes: Diamonds are achievers (they sparkle), Spades are explorers (they dig), Hearts socialize (they care) and Clubs are fond of Player Versus Player content (they...hit things).
  • SCP-2156, a college student who became so obsessed with solitaire and/or numerology that she broke reality.

    Webcomics 
  • Homestuck:
    • The Midnight Crew, each of whom is themed and named after a specific suit.
    • The troll quadrants of romance use the four suits as their symbols.
      • Matespritship, the flushed quadrant uses hearts, similar to how humans use hearts as a symbol for love.
      • Moirallegiance, the pale quadrant, uses diamonds.
      • Auspisticism, the ashen quadrant, involves a "mediator" between two opposing personalities, hence the uses of the three-lobed club.
      • Kismesissitude, the caliginous quadrant, uses spades.

    Western Animation 
  • Poker-Face, from SilverHawks. His weapon is a staff that releases a card-suit shaped laser. His eyes are slots that change to match the occasion ($ signs when thinking about money, for instance).
  • In one episode of Jackie Chan Adventures (specifically, an episode parodying the James Bond series), Dr. Necrosis' Dragon had power over playing cards, and always spoke in metaphors and puns related to them. "The deck is stacked in our favor! We have the upper hand!" "Dealer calls a new game!" "I thought he folded..."
  • Ezekial Clench of Samurai Jack was a Wild West–style villain with a slight playing card motif; The spurs on his boots were shaped like spades, he had a card in his hat... Oh, and his cybernetic hands, the wrists of which had the playing card suits on them. The hands had a special ability depending on which suit was facing up. (He changes the setting by turning the wrist so that the desired suit is on the back of the hand.) He's also a bounty hunter, and on the run from his ex-wife, so luck is a big deal to him. (He does decide to call a truce with her to go after Jack, which turns out to be a very bad idea.
  • On Batman Beyond, the Royal Flush gang are a villainous team example, taking their names from the cards that make up a royal flush in poker: King, his wife Queen, their children Jack and Ten, and the robotic Big Guy Ace. In their debut episode, Bruce is able to predict their next heist after realizing that their crimes thus far have also followed a (somewhat tenuous) playing card motif:
    Bruce Wayne: All of their crimes are playing-card related, and the earliest playing card decks had swords, not spades.
    Batman: How does the yacht fit in?
    Bruce Wayne: It was part of a yacht club.
    Batman: Ouch.
    • Other versions of the team are featured in the Justice League episode "Wild Cards" and the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue." In "Wild Cards" the team was assembled by the Joker after he freed them from a government metahuman research facility; that team's Ace went on to form the "Epilogue" version of the team by using her reality-warping abilities to give superhuman powers to the other four members.
    • Even earlier in Batman: The Animated Series, a sleazy billionaire discovered he'd spent too much building a casino-hotel and was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. He promptly changed all the style and decor of the casino to obviously rip-off The Joker's image. Though it was all a ploy to get the Joker to blow the place up and clean up from the insurance, he played it off saying it was only a playing card gimmick.
    "Please, the joker is a time-honored symbol long associated with cards and games. I can't help it if it bears a passing resemblance to some costumed lunatic."
  • Used widely in The Magician: The Hero is a death-dealing Magician Detective named Ace Cooper. The Big Bad's name is Black Jack, and his dragons are called Diamond and Spade. On top of that, Black Jack owns a casino, and even the clothes he and his henchmen wear have a red and black color motif.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer & Marge are at the movies and see a trailer for their universe's version of Cars called Cards about anthropomorphic playing cards.
    Announcer: Fifty-two jokers, playing the game of their lives.
    Child card: I don't wanna be a 3! I wanna be a 7!
    Adult 5: Shut up, kid. you're as crazy as an 8, I'm telling you.
    Announcer: With Eddie Murphy as the Jack of Clubs!
    Jack of Clubs: You don't understand, officer. I thought that king was a queen.
    Announcer: This summer, the house is full and the deuces are wild in Cards.
    at a card game
    Drunken 8: Hey, Jack, you got any twos?
    Jack of Diamonds: You can't handle the twos!

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