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Literature / Wild Cards

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Wild Cards is a "shared universe" Superhero book series, originally conceived by George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire) as a spin-off from an RPG organized by several Albuquerque-area authors. The world of Wild Cards is pretty much like ours, until 1946. That year, the ruling elite of a world of aliens physically quite similar to humans decides to use Earth as the testing ground for a bioweapon in the form of a virus, later called Xenovirus Takis-A, or the "Wild Card" virus. The test sample is stolen by a pulp-style Nazi-sympathizer villain calling himself "Dr. Tod"note , who releases the virus over New York City.

Ninety percent of those infected with the virus die horribly as their own DNA turns against them. Nine percent are mutated, gaining extra eyes, pincers for hands, or skin that bruises at the slightest touch. The lucky one percent not only remain physically unchanged, but they gain superpowers. And a negligible percentage of the one percent end up physically unchanged, but gain a superpower that isn't really super, such as the ability to change the color of the wallpaper around them. It is later determined that these numbers are actually wrong, and the number of infected was much higher than previously realized: many if not most of those infected were, in fact, apparently unaffected, but carried the infection latently, and could pass it on to the descendants as a recessive trait.

Wild Cards examines, somewhat realistically, the effects of a world where a small portion of the citizens have suddenly gained superpowers. But because the series is in part an Homage to the superhero genre, there are some tropes involved that one does not normally find co-existing in the same story. There aren't many masked vigilantes, as they eventually end up revealing their secret identities or have them discovered. The mutated victims, the "Jokers", are regularly treated like scum, strung along by the government, and end up developing their own subculture. The superpowered "Aces" don't always go into crimefighting or villainy, either; some of them parlay their talents into fame or private industry.

Twenty-three volumes and counting, the series has had a somewhat rocky publication history. After publishing twelve volumes with Bantam, the series switched first to Baen and then to iBooks, before getting picked up again by Tor after a hiatus of seven years. Tor is also reprinting the older books in the series. The series has also been adapted for RPGs (GURPS first, Mutants & Masterminds much later) as well as several series of comics, including:

  • Wild Cards (1990) - A series published by Epic Comics.
  • Wild Cards The Hard Call (2008) - An original story by Daniel Abraham.
  • Wild Cards: The Drawing of Cards (2022) - A Marvel series adapting the early stories.
  • Wild Cards: Now and Then A Graphic Novel (2023) - An original graphic novel.

    Books in the series 

  1. Wild Cards I
  2. Aces High (Wild Cards)
  3. Jokers Wild
  4. Aces Abroad
  5. Down and Dirty
  6. Ace in the Hole (Wild Cards)
  7. Dead Man's Hand
  8. One-Eyed Jacks
  9. Jokertown Shuffle
  10. Double Solitaire (Solo novel by Melinda Snodgrass)
  11. Dealers Choice
  12. Turn Of The Cards (Solo novel by Victor Milan)
  13. Card Sharks (First book published by Baen)
  14. Marked Cards
  15. Black Trump
  16. Deuces Down (First book published by iBooks)
  17. Death Draws Five (Solo novel by John Jos Miller, extremely rare)
  18. Inside Straight (First book published by Tor)
  19. Busted Flush
  20. Suicide Kings
  21. Fort Freak
  22. Lowball
  23. High Stakes
  24. Mississippi Roll
  25. Chicago Low
  26. Knaves Over Queens
  27. Texas Hold 'Em

    Contributors to the series 

This series provides examples of:

  • Ace Custom: Jetboy's JB-1. May be considered a Super Prototype too, but it seems that the reason it wasn't mass-produced was both that it was experimental and that only Jetboy had the skill to pilot it.
  • Addiction-Powered: Averted with Captain Trips. His powers manifest after consuming several varieties of drugs, but he's not addicted to them.
  • Aliens Speaking English:
    • The telepathic Dr. Tachyon.
    • Jube The Walrus; Justified, since he's a spy trained to blend into Earth culture.
  • All Myths Are True: Subverted. We've seen Aces with powers and identities based on Haitian voodoo, Aboriginal Australian Myths, Egyptian Mythology, Guatemalan mythology, and even Tantric sex — but they're not literal gods, it's just the Wild Card virus manifesting in a way they understand (or something).
  • All of the Other Reindeer: There was and remains some animosity toward Wild Cards by those left unaffected by it...out of fear and/or jealousy, or just plain old prejudice, especially towards the squickier looking Jokers. There are Jokers Rights movements ranging from benign to terroristic.
  • All Your Powers Combined: Tom Weathers (The Radical) has all the combined powers of Captain Trips' alternate personas (Until they start turning on him, one by one, during the events of Suicide Kings).
  • Alien Space Bats: The Wild Card hits shortly after the end of World War II.
  • Alternate History:
    • Aces have changed history on multiple occasions. Among other things, multiple wars fail to happen or occur in very different ways, there's no united India and Batista remained in power in Cuba into the 1980s.
    • There are also some alternate histories in the stories themselves — one character spends several months in a timeline where the USA is a Communist USSA, and the plot of Low Chicago revolves around trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong after an accident with time travel powers sets off a 'Time Storm'.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Tom Weathers' goal in life is to use his immense power to make the world a better place. Using his personal definition of "better", of course: a purely Communist state run along traditional lines... including thought police and the elimination of dissidents. As he puts it, "You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs", and if the "eggs" in question just happen to be a village full of innocent men, women, and children, all of whom must be killed by their own government so that they can blame another country and start a war, then so be it.
  • Amoral Attorney: Edward St. John "Loophole" Latham. He seems to think the court is basically a big game. How amoral is he? When the mother of Sprout — Mark Meadows' mentally-disabled daughter - hires Latham for the custody dispute, Latham sets Mark's apartment building on fire while Sprout is inside, forcing Mark to dose up in front of witnesses to activate his Captain Trips powers to rescue her. With Mark's drug use exposed, the state takes Sprout away from Mark - only to find that the mother has committed suicide. Sprout is thus sent to an asylum, but Mark breaks her out and goes on the run. Latham collects his pay without a second thought. Many believe he owes his lack of a conscience — and resultant skills as a lawyer — to the Wild Card. Latham doesn't, he is naturally that bad. His Card finally turns several novels in, and he gains the ability to grant Jumping powers through penetrative sex. And he has a taste for teenaged boys and girls. Since Latham became Prime after exposure to Typhoid Croyd, whose infection even allowed current Wild Cards to turn, it's certainly possible that he was an "Ace" attorney beforehand.
  • Ancestor Veneration: Every upper-class Takisian is selectively bred for superior beauty and ability, so they revere their ancestors for providing them with quality genetic material.
  • Animate Body Parts:
    • The unofficial mayor of Jokertown has, in place of a nose, an elephant trunk with seven fingers on the end that he can and does use like a third arm.
    • Peregrine has hawk-like wings in addition to regular human limbs, although her power of flight consists of winged flight and subconscious levitation. She discovers that when the levitation is blocked by her pregnancy.
    • Several Jokers and Joker-Aces (Jokers with powers) possess additional limbs of different usability.
  • Animorphism:
    • Rahda O'Reilly turns into an elephant that can fly.
    • Sewer Jack turns into an alligator.
    • The Ace Nobody lived for some time as King Kong.
    • Aquarius (and, therefore, the Radical) can turn into a dolphin.
    • Kid Dinosaur turns into his namesakes, limited by the requirement to know enough about the species and by conservation of mass.
    • Subverted with Lazy Dragon. He appears to change into any animal he can imagine, including mythical creatures. But his real power is to animate a miniature (statue, figurine, origami) of the animal in question and control it by transferring his consciousness, leaving his body behind.
  • Anyone Can Die: The timeline of Wild Cards stretches from 1946 to the present day — several notable characters have died from old age, and maybe even more have met their ends courtesy of others, e.g. Brain Trust, Chrysalis, Kid Dinosaur, the Astronomer, Cameo, Gardener, and the Radical.
  • Ascended Fanboy:
    • The Great and Powerful Turtle — his Card turned impressed by a superhero comic character with telekinetic powers.
    • Kid Dinosaur — an avid fan of dinosaurs, his Card turned granting him limited animorphism.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Blaise Andrieux — human-Takisian bastard with issues caused by, among other things, unchecked powers.
    • Demise, courtesy of the Trump Card cure, but he got better.
    • Mackie Messer — a knife expert who turned an Ace related to his fixation with "cutting" and "go through like a hot knife through butter". His encounter with the psychic Ace Puppetman didn't help matters.
    • The Radical (from the latest series of novels). To put his sociopathy in perspective, he was quite happy to attempt to nuke New Orleans, to get revenge on one person who kidnapped his daughter. AFTER he got her back.
  • Back from the Dead:
    • Crypt Kicker, who went postal and finally shot himself, turning his Ace at that moment. Ended up as walking Toxic Phlebotinum, with the additional power to secret corrosive poisons from his animate corpse.
    • Demise, who originally turned the Black Queen. The application of the Trump Card cure saved him at a price.
    • Cordelia Chaisson's Ace allows her to revive someone dead or dying if they aren't too far gone.
    • Buddy Holly, who turned his Ace (courtesy of Typhoid Croyd) in a death&rebirth scene (live on stage!).
    • Cameo, who can channel the spirits of the dead (and use their powers if they were psy-based Aces).
    • From Busted Flush, Hoodoo Mama, who has the power to create zombies.
    • Deadhead channels the memory and personality from corpses by eating the brain.
    • In the first book, Fortunato reanimates a corpse (to get information out of the dead person), by having anal sex with it.
  • Badass Normal: Yeoman, the setting's equivalent of the Green Arrow (with a little Punisher thrown in). He regularly goes up against a gang with its share of Aces, and often wins. His mental discipline is deemed Ace-degree by Tachyon and Fortunato.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Mark Meadows is one of the sweetest characters in the entire series, but he's got some serious inner darkness which can manifest in dangerous ways. The most prominent examples are his rampaging persona Monster and the Came Back Wrong version of The Radical.
  • Big Bad: Changes for every group of books.
    • The Astronomer.
    • Puppetman.
    • Ti Malice.
    • The Jumpers, including Blaise Andrieux in Double Solitaire.
    • The Righteous Djinn, although their intentions differ.
    • The Radical from Busted Flush and Suicide Kings (although he's technically The Dragon for Dr. Nshombo).
    • Baba Yaga and Horrorshow for the Mean Streets triad.
  • Big Eater: The Sleeper, upon waking. Several other Aces and Jokers, due to sheer body size or increased energy turnovers. Most specifically Midnight Angel, whose ace abilities gift her with Super-Strength and the ability to summon a flaming sword, is also endowed with a enhanced metabolism, and is mentioned in all of her appearances as either being hungry or eating a huge meal.
  • Fatman (i.e., Hiram Worchester), who is a chef and restaurant owner. Whether he became overweight because of using his gravity-manipulation power and the subsequent eating binges, or was overweight beforehand, is never revealed.
    • Also anyone bitten by the Hunger, not that it does them any good as their metabolism increases to the point where they will die of starvation no matter what.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: The Mad Scientist Travnicek, after his infection due to Typhoid Croyd, turns the Card again, drawing a Joker (or possibly a Joker-Ace) and develops a ring of unnatural, horn-like sensory organs around his neck.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: "Nur Al-Allah" is ungrammatical in Arabic, it should simply be Nur-Allah; and "Sayyid" does, technically, translate as "master" but it's also the common form of polite address, roughly equivalent to "mister" in English, which doesn't make for an imposing Ace name.
  • Blessed with Suck: Some aces and deuces can be seen as this, when their powers may prevent them from living a normal life for some reason.
  • Body Horror: Loads and loads of it. Some jokers only have minor alterations like red skin or feathers instead of hair, others are not so lucky and end up with repulsive or debilitating deformities.
  • Brain Critical Mass: The default powerset of Takisian Psi Lords seems to be the result of successful epochal eugenics. The Psi Lords inherit their powers and can partially grant them to human-Takisian children.
  • Break the Cutie: At least one in every story arc. Honorable mentions:
    • Mark Meadows — He's far too innocent for the setting. Results in the manifestation of a new personality.
    • Dr. Tachyon himself. Euthanizes his love interest in his first appearance. Gets transferred into a teenage girl's body and then raped and impregnated by his own grandson later on. Yeah.
    • Wally "Rusty". Oh, dear God. By Suicide Kings, both the child he sponsored and his first possible love interest are killed before his eyes, and he's traumatized by witnessing a Child Soldier grooming operation. All of which could have been avoided if anyone had listened to him.
  • Broken Aesop: There's a question about it with the Jokers. Are those who take the Trump and hate their lives really wrong given their gross deformities?
  • Brought Down to Normal: John Fortune. Twice, to much angst on his part.
  • Came Back Wrong: Overlaps with Came Back Strong.
    • James Spector, aka Demise, was injected with the Trump virus after turning a painful Black Queen. He gained the ability to kill anyone who makes eye contact with him along with one of the most powerful Healing Factors in the setting, but was also robbed of his ability to feel human emotions. He also constantly remembers his own death in excruciating detail.
    • Bobby Joe Puckett, aka Crypt Kicker, turned his ace while committing suicide. He gained superhuman strength and the ability to secrete various toxic chemicals from his body, but his mental faculties were greatly diminished.
    • The Radical, starting in Black Trump and explored further in the Committee arc. In his very first appearance, The Radical is presented as Mark's most noble persona, so much so that he spends decades trying to get him back. When The Radical finally does return, it seems like a relief as Mark finally breaks out of his Trauma Conga Line and becomes his most powerful self. However, he soon becomes Mark's dominant personality and slowly degrades into a villain with a healthy does of Sanity Slippage over the following years.
  • Canon Immigrant: Cameo and Herne were both originally created for the GURPS supplement Wild Cards: Aces Abroad, and incorporated into the novels while it was still being written.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Golden Boy for the Golden Age Superman.
    • Wall Walker for Spider-Man, sort of.
    • Yeoman for Green Arrow and/or Hawkeye.
    • The Lizard King for Jim Morrison.
    • The Sleeper bears some resemblance to Robbie Reed, at least at first — a young boy gets the power to change into a brand new hero potentially every day. At first. But now he's an amphetamine-addicted freelancer.
  • Captain Geographic: Aces Abroad introduces a few, perhaps inevitably. Most recurring are the Living Gods, Egyptian Jokers who resemble the ancient gods. (They eventually get jobs in Vegas to escape persecution).
  • Child Soldiers: Created by Dr. Nshombo in Suicide Kings by injecting kidnapped children with the Wild Card virus.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: The other Jokertown Boys for Gimcrack, who, as a Literal-Minded Reality Warper, is prone to unwittingly turning any metaphor he comes across into a literal one to the detriment of himself and everyone around him.
  • Compelling Voice: The Nur, literally. Astronomer, Fortunato, and, of course, the Sleeper sometimes, use a telepathy-based version.
  • Crapsack World: Life in the Wild Card universe is pretty rough. First of all, you might draw a Black Queen and die, possibly in a rather horrific manner, or a joker and become disfigured, and sometimes also discriminated. Even if you draw an ace, you can get a useless deuce that wil still get you discriminated as a wild card without giving you any real power or you can get an ace with some drawback that significantly impact your day-to-day life. Also, aces don't go around wearing spandex and stopping robberies, and villains don't plan world domination in their lair while evil laughing. There are political extremists, gang members, serial killers and other unsavory characters that just happen to have superpowers.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Joker-aces. Some of them are pretty powerful in their own right, but the extent of their deformities sometimes makes you think if it's worth it.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Society on Takis is very much this. Despite having interstellar travel their society is pretty much feudal Europe... with EUGENICS! (in space). Who would have thought George R.R. Martin would be involved with a book series about a Machiavellian medieval society?
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check:
    • Sculptress, whose Ace was the power to shape solid materials on touch. After the Turtle brought her in, she started working for the government.
    • Midas: Ability to transmute anything to gold on touch, understandably lethal to humans. While not exactly a classic supervillain power, could have wrought chaos on the economy. Became a sculptor instead, his works are treasured by museums worldwide.
  • Decadent Court: One human character who gets to visit Takis describes "skullduggery" as being "like a fifth classical element" among the Psi Lord culture there.
  • Death Is Cheap: Averted. This is one of the things that distinguishes Wild Cards most strongly from 'traditional' superhero-genre works: unless a character's Ace involves somehow surviving death (Demise springs to mind), death is quite absolute. Even a Healing Factor doesn't help much here: it just leads to the character's enemies using more extreme measures to make the death stick.
  • Deconstruction: Fortunato for the classic Gary Stu-style machismo hero. Wealth, looks, a harem of geishas, and Sex Magic-based powers bordering on Reality Warper levels don't do anything to stem the toll that his mistakes and Pyrrhic Victories take on him over the years. He gradually becomes completely disillusioned with the entire situation and leaves to Walk the Earth in search of spiritual fulfillment.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The writers go to some trouble to try to depict the different cultural values of the decades the series spans, as well as working in the differences in foreign countries, and also the Takisians and the Network.
  • Deus Sex Machina:
    • "Blowjob", who can animate small objects by breathing on them, but only while sexually aroused. She later uses another emotional trigger — hatred — after she goes Ax-Crazy.
    • Prime, who bestows the Jumper power onto others via sex.
    • Cash Mitchell from Deuces Down. His power allows him to make things lighter... but only when undergoing strong emotions. In order to to get their ship off the moon once they land, he has his girlfriend screw him till it lifts off.
    • Genetrix, whom after having any sort of sex gives birth to a clutch of eggs that hatch into super powered (sometimes) children — who die after a few days.
  • Die or Fly: The Wild Card is prone to "turning", i.e. activating in a latent, at times of great stress. Harlem Hammer (super strength, damage resistance, unique metabolism), Will-o-Wisp (lightning) and Crypt Kicker (toxic undead) turned their Aces at life-or-death situations.
    • Seemingly Nat (i.e. non-powered) children of Wild Card carriers or latents are called "Suicide Kings". Owing to the fact that stress or duress may force the Wild Card to "turn", that the offspring of two Wild Card carriers or latents is always a latent himself/herself, and the survival rate after a "turning" is roughly the 10% (and of that 10%, only the 10% becomes an Ace or a Deuce... the 90% becomes a grossly misshapen Joker), causing undue stress to a Suicide King is a firing offense for education workers, and presumably anyone else in a position of authority over them.
  • Death of a Child: As Anyone Can Die, and that includes kids, small children, and babies. The Wild Cards universe is not a friendly place. In fact, Word of God states that Kid Dinosaur, a Bratty Half-Pint with saurian powers, was created just to show the whole inhumanity of the Egyptian Masons plot by having a new, innocent character with no influence in other story arcs graphically slaughtered.
  • Differently Powered Individual: All based on card-playing terminologies:
    • Aces — The Beautiful Elite who won the Superpower Lottery. Takisian Psi Lords and warriors are technically Aces by breeding. There are telepaths among Nats, so the Takisians have most probably developed from that potential, as humans and Takisians are biologically the same species — they can mate and produce fertile offspring with partial Psi Lord powers.

      The distinction between Ace and the following Deuce depends on circumstances and conditions to use the power, e.g. the ability to become a human puddle is a Deuce — unless kidnapped or shot; The ability to change carpet ornaments is a Deuce — unless you are a carpet seller.
    • Deuces — those with less useful abilities. Originally all those who kept their human shape were called Aces. As a weak Ace with the only ability to change his skin color is thus referred, he responds "If I'm an Ace, I'd hate to see a Deuce", coining the term. A classical example is the cook from "Aces High" — he can turn into a dolphin. Only on a new moon and only for two hours.
    • Jokers — those who just get random mutations. There are so-called Joker-Aces — those unlucky enough to be physically deformed, but who also got powers out of the deal. Those with useless powers are Joker-Deuces instead, but that term gets used very rarely. Notable examples are a Jokertown Clinic guard Troll — big, strong, armored, green and ugly, the Oddity — superstrength by Body Horror, TV host Peregrine — she has wings, hollow bones of a bird and can fly by subconscious levitation, and she is extremely beautiful by human standards.
      • Medical science considers Peregrine to be a Joker-Ace due to having body parts not present on "normal" human beings. She considers herself a Joker, although the public and Wild Card community consider her an Ace.
      • Another anomaly is Angelface, an extremely beautiful woman whom many consider a Joker because of her cripplingly hypersensitive nervous system and skin that bruises at the slightest touch, leaving her in constant pain. She considers herself to be an Ace, because she spent a lifetime in a hospital bed after being run over by a cart in her late teens, until she turned her card and regained her health, strength, and youth.
    • Kings — carriers whose card has not yet "turned". (For "suicide kings".)
    • The 90% who die are said to have "drawn the Black Queen". When one's Wild Card infection becomes active, it's referred to as "your card turning over". Muggles are called Nats, short for "Naturals".
      • Or the more sinister connotation that people without the Wild Card are similar to "gnats".
    • In GURPS Aces Abroad (not to be confused with the anthology), Telephoto says "That depends. In 'Stralia, I'm a Joker. In South Africa, I prefer to be an Ace."
  • Disappeared Dad: John Fortune's; His father, Fortunato, went off to find himself.
  • Dream Weaver: The Ace named Revenant could send dreams to a sleeping person.
  • Extended Greetings: Takisian etiquette and protocol require names, birth order and genealogy recitation as part of an introduction. Any omission or slip in correct order is a grave insult. Hence why Dr. Tachyon is given that appellation as a nickname rather than referred to by his extraordinarily long given name.
  • Fad Super: A few. From The '60s, we have Captain Trips, a hippie whose powers activate by drug consumption, with multiple alter egos all named after popular psychedelia songs. From the same era, Fortunato, who has Tantric sex powers (studies into Eastern mysticism were big during that era, partly thanks to the Beatles, and everything he knows about Tantra he learned from a faddist prostitute he engaged). The Great and Powerful Turtle, who fights crime from a flying car, decorated his "shell" with peace signs during the Summer of Love.
  • Fantastic Ghetto: Jokertown, based on the real-life New York neighborhood of the Bowery, is a fairly realistic depiction of an unpopular minority's "ethnic" neighborhood. There's no laws saying Jokers have to live there, but no one wants them as neighbors, and in any case Jokertown is the only place where they can afford to get housing. Considering that the Bowery was already a somewhat shady neighborhood in real life before the events of the series, it's no surprise that Jokertown's economy quickly becomes dominated by nightclubs and strip joints.
    • There's also the Joker Quarter in Jerusalem and the Rathlin Island compound in Ireland. In the fourth book two Guatemalan aces carve out a country of their own to be a homeland for anyone of indigenous American heritage with very forward thinking policies on Jokers, but we don't get to see how it turned out.
  • Fantastic Racism: Most humans are prejudiced against Aces and Jokers as well as the usual real-world racial/sociopolitical/religious targets. Many Jokers return the favor by despising Nats. The South-African Apartheid policy handles Jokers as blacks, but black Aces as colored.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Cap'n Trips describes Takis as a combination of Renaissance Italy, Saudi Arabia, and feudal Japan note , before eventually deciding the best analogy is the modern day Mafia.
    • It's implied that Takis is a Multicultural Alien Planet, at least in some details (some Houses breed for different kinds of beauty), but we only get to see Tachyon's side of things.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Exists but is extremely difficult technology to develop. The Takisians and those Network species that can afford to buy it are the only ones who really understand it.
  • The Federation: Played with in the case of the Network. In principle, they are a voluntary association of many worlds and species. However, the whole thing is largely run by and for the Master Traders who founded the Network as an exercise in unrestricted capitalism. Members that are poor and/or low-tech tend to stay that way, since they have nothing to trade in exchange for more advanced technology. In particular the Network places prohibitively high pricing on Faster-Than-Light Travel. Members can lease starships from the Network for ruinous prices (and the ships will self-destruct if they try to take them apart to see how they work). Actually buying the technology would bankrupt all but the wealthiest or most advanced civilizations. This is a major point of contention between the Network and the Takisians, as the latter told to Network to get lost when they discovered a species of Space Whales and genetically-engineered them into Sapient Ships. The lost revenue resulted in many attempts by the Network to regain control over Takis. Jube the Walrus is actually an alien scout inspecting Earth for them.
  • The First Superheroes: The premise of the series is to present a realistic world where superhumans and deformed mutants exist. The first stories in the first volume describe the Mass Super-Empowering Event: the release of an alien virus in New York City in 1946. The first half of the book details the exploits of the Doctor Tachyon, the Four Aces, and the Sleeper, the first generation of superhumans in a world not yet used to their ilk. However, even some later material also has shades of this trope. Superhumans go into hiding due to the Red Scare of the The '50s, and the origin story of the Great and Powerful Turtle in the The '60s marks the reintroduction of the public superhero. A later volume in the series shows how the Wild Card virus affected the United Kingdom, and we get this trope again, as 1940s Britain deals with superhumans for the first time.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Liberally applied everywhere, as the Wild Card virus is a huge change sending out veritable tsunamis of ripple effects. As a result, the 1980s global political landscape is almost unrecognizable, and social issues are radically different: the Arab-Israeli Wars were initially averted by a peace agreement signed under influence of an Ace; Mahatma Gandhi was saved from assassination in 1948, only to see his efforts to unite India fail because there is no common reaction to his death; Joseph McCarthy went after Aces instead of as well as Communists; Fidel Castro remained a baseball player, while Guevara's attempted revolution in Cuba was quashed, leaving Batista in power into the 1980s; Buddy Holly lived to become a has-been and then a shaman Ace; Marilyn Monroe lived past the early 1960s; Elizabeth Taylor died instead of James Dean in that car crash; Joker civil rights became a major political issue, both in the US and worldwide, coupled with racial segregation issues.
  • Free-Love Future: The Takisians have this going on, which is why Dr. Tachyon is so promiscuous. While their Psi Lord nobility practice Arranged Marriage as part of a Super Breeding Program, nobody expects either the men or the women to remain monogamous, only to restrict actual procreation to partners specified by the breeding plan. Both genders keep concubines. Takisian commoners likewise have very open sexuality. The entire civilization has no concept of homophobia and procreation and love are regarded as two different things. Interestingly, Takisians have a very strong cultural taboo against rape and even Psi Lords, who have Mind Control powers, consider rape to be a sign of total depravity on the part of the rapist.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Gimcrack. He's annoyingly literal-minded, but that just means he can make universal remotes that do everything and literal X-ray glasses without realizing that they don't work that way. According to Tachyon, the gadgeteers are actually using telekinesis and / or limited reality-warping powers, since their gadgets usually don't work unless operated by the inventor.
  • God Guise: Since a number of Wild Carders forms and/or powers resemble figures or symbols from various religions, not surprisingly a number of them have been given (or have deliberately cultivated) religious roles. Nur Al-Allah was the most blatant example.
  • Good Is Not Soft:
    • Dr Tachyon. He is generally a kind, well-meaning and helpful person with high moral standards, and also a very sensitive guy, easily hurt and who can cry for not much. However, when he feels he is in his good right, he will do anything to achieve his goals. Even cold-blooded murder is not averse to him if it is necessary and morally justifiable.
    • Yeoman. A traumatized war veteran engaged in an outright personal war with organized Ace crime. The criminal organization he's going up against houses fugitive war criminals, too. Yeoman has few scruples in paying them back in kind for their deeds.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: SCARE.
  • Grand Theft Me: The primary hat of the Jumpers. However, the Jump power doesn't work on those with a Psychic Block Defense, which is what allows part-Takisian Blaise to avoid being jumped and instead take over as the leader of the Jumpers. Jumpers must also be able to see the target. The government capitalizes on this by tricking captive Jumpers into an "experiment" where they have to jump elderly test subjects in another room that they can see through a window. Most of them not being very bright, they oblige, only to discover that the window is mirrored on the other side, and they cannot jump back to their own bodies or anyone else. The conspiracy then kills them in their elderly bodies, leaving the minds of "valuable" individuals in the bodies of the young adult Jumpers.
  • Hat of Power: Minor character Topper is an FBI agent with the Ace power to pull anything out of her top hat that can fit through it. As with many Ace powers, it is implied that need for the hat is a psychological limit she has imposed on herself (her power first manifested while doing a magic act in a high school talent show), but is so deeply ingrained that the power will not work without the hat.
  • Human Aliens: The Takisians. They can interbreed with humans to produce fertile offspring, as Earth is possibly a Takisian Lost Colony.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: 99% of the Jokers. Even the ones with powers also come with significant deformities. Tachyon on occasion roll-calls an entire squad of Joker-Aces to deal with a rogue Ace. In the course of the series, there are several ways to un-draw the Wild Card:
    • Mai Minh, Ace daughter of Vietnamese refugees, could cure Jokers by copying their Joker and then remolding herself and the Joker back.
    • Water Lily lost her water-control powers, but now can heal Jokers by having sex with them.
    • Tachyon's Trump Card, the Xenovirus Takis-B, is in theory designed to turn any Wild Carder back to Nat. The Trump has to be developed on individual basis, but Tachyon has achieved some successes, although very few are named:
      • Lizard King (Ace to Nat, died shortly thereafter because only his Ace was protecting him from the consequences of his drug use).
      • Bentley, Croyd's mentor in crime, fox-like Joker turned back to Nat.
      • Subverted with Demise. The Trump Card overwrote his Black Queen — into an Ace.
    • The Jumpers offer wealthy Jokers a Freaky Friday solution by jumping them into Nat bodies. Before the jumping, the Joker declares the unsuspecting Nat his full heir, after the jumping the Joker body is disposed of.
  • Imagination-Based Superpower: This makes the Joker-Ace Bloat one of the most powerful Wild Carders.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Deadhead.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Tachyon and his cousin/rival Zabb have major Foe Yay, culminating in them actually becoming lovers when Tachyon was trapped in a female body. They are both exclusively heterosexual though, and while Takisian culture would not prohibit them from remaining lovers once Tachyon got his male body back, they both acknowledge that the relationship would not work. Tachyon is still deeply hurt by Zabb's death.
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Starting with Dr. Tachyon's first love interest Brain Trust, and continuing onward throughout the series. Tachyon is quite promiscuous, and apparently doesn't care about protection.
    • Popinjay marries a Takisian.
    • A Nat ends up involved with Dr. Finn, whose Joker makes him a centaur, even though he's technically human.
  • Intimate Healing: Water Lily, who can cure Jokerism upon having sex with her victim. As this seems to have both overwritten her original water-control Ace (Typhoid Croyd again) AND made her prime target of any Joker-serving prostitution racket, clearly Blessed with Suck.
  • Killed Off for Real: It's a long, long list... unless your powers explicitly involve cheating it, death is final in the Wild Card universe.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy spent his entire career leading the anti-Wild Card hysteria that swept across the nation in the early 50s. Many victims saw their lives blighted and destroyed: they lost jobs and careers to the blacklist, lost friends and spouses, inevitably lost custody of their children in the all-too-frequent divorces, suicide. McCarthy's most lasting achievement was the Wild Card Acts which required any person exhibiting Wild Card powers to register immediately with the federal government. His campaign worked so well that once he got everything he wanted, his continued persecution of Wild Card victims was seen as overly excessive, and McCarthy was seen as an unfettered fanatic. Joe McCarthy died a broken man who talked incessantly about those who he felt had betrayed him.
  • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: In response to seeing a magazine article about Whether Golden Boy or The Harlem Hammer is World's Strongest Man, Xavier Desmond notes in his journal that the argument is pointless as muscle strength can only be enhanced so much and no physically-empowered ace or joker has come close to matching the telekinetic strength demonstrated by the Turtle or other psychics who make Super-Strength look downright pedestrian by comparison.
  • Living Ship: Takisian ships are the domesticated form of a telepathic space-dwelling species that they have bioengineered for use as vessels.
  • Long-Lived: Takisians. Commoners live for three to four centuries, possibly due to their race's advanced biotechnology and medicine. The eugenically-bred Psi Lords can live for thousands of years. However, among the aristocracy assassination is the number one cause of death, with old age trailing a distant second. Those Psi Lords who do survive to old age command great respect. On Earth, some Aces appear to be unaging, but not enough time has passed to really know for sure.
  • Lower Half Reveal: In the story A Dose of Reality, a reclusive female doctor that has been indocrinated by her bigoted, anti-wild card family, goes to work in the Jokertown Clinic initially just so she could get her hands into research that would allow her to craft a virus to kill all wild carders. When she first meets Dr. Bradley Finn, she sees him behind a counter and is attracted to this handsome stranger. He comes from behind the counter, and is revealed as a centaur, causing her to be appalled. The whole point of the story is how she gradually realizes Finn really is the marvellous, handsome man she initially thought he was.
  • Magic Feather: A lot of Ace powers need a specific "focus" to work. According to Tachyon, most or all of these limitations are purely psychosomatic.
  • Magic-Powered Pseudoscience — In an epilogue to the first book, it's made clear that the inventions of most gadgeteer Aces are just props for their innate powers. This is partially true for Mod Man, who otherwise would have broken down after Travnicek lost his Ace. Mod Man's tech cannot be fixed, changed or studied AT ALL. He has some leftover power that allows him to still exist, but from now on, he cannot be repaired by anyone.
    • As of his last appearance (and actually, even in his first appearance, without Travnicek's consent or knowledge), Modular Man had managed to make some simple repairs to himself. He was planning on taking classes in the necessary disciplines, hoping to learn enough to handle major repairs. Since he hasn't been seen since Volume 11, there's no knowing if he succeeded.
  • Malfunction Malady: Peregrine is shocked to discover that she loses her ability to fly while she is pregnant.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: The Wild Card virus.
  • Mauve Shirt: Several characters are explicitly mentioned by Martin as created from the start exactly to provide drama by dying horribly, specifically Howler and Kid Dinosaur, though he uses the term Red Shirt.
  • Meta Origin: The Wild Card virus.
  • Missing Mom: Sprout, daughter of Mark Meadows AKA Capt. Trips; Justified in that her parents got a messy divorce. The mom later shows up and tries to get custody - with "Loophole" Latham as her lawyer. Mark finally kidnapped his own daughter to keep her.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: A lot of the Wild Card virus's victims have variations on this as they turn part-animal.
    • Dr. Finn — centaur.
    • Wild Fox — kitsune ears and tail.
    • Sharky — great white shark.
    • Lamia — human female / giant snake.
    • Father Squid — face full of tentacles.
    • Peregrine — bird wings on a human body.
    • Dr. Travnicek after Typhoid Croyd — a bipedal mess of insectoid sensory organs.
    • John "Devil" Darlingfoot — Joker-Ace with a goat-like right leg.
    • The Living Gods all turned into living representations of the animal-headed deities of Egypt.
    • Several incarnations of Croyd AKA the Sleeper are technically Joker-Aces — a super-strong winged flying gargoyle, a nightmarish wolf-like mutant (although the only witness here was Captain Trips on LSD), a bat-like flyer again. The partial ratio of Joker to Ace changes every time, from pure Ace to pure Joker.
  • Modern Major General: Captain Trips, one of the most powerful Aces on Earth and a brilliant biochemist... who sucks as a businessman. And at relationships.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Tachyon himself is not a doctor literally, but the nickname does pay respect to the knowledge he has about the Xenovirus Takis-A (aka the Wild Card virus) and his general intelligence. The development of the Trump Card cure would earn him a few honoris causa doctorates anyway. Tachyon's knowledge of genetics, biology, and medicine is such that it would be easy for him to get several Earth doctorates, he just sees no reason to. In fairness, Tachyon didn't invent the name. The U.S. military personnel and scientists were uncomfortable with his extremely complex string of names (including his complete pedigree), and more so with his royal title. So rather than call him "Your Highness", something 1940's Americans found distasteful, they opted for "Doctor", since he seemed to be a specialist in advanced biological/medical sciences and he himself addressed all human scientists by their adequate academic title. "Tachyon" was a nod to the then-theoretical particle that powered his symbiont ship's FTL drive. Well, that and the reporter couldn't pronounce "Takhisian"...
  • Mythology Gag: Carnifex at one point remembers participating in a Secret Service raid on 'Jack Stevenson Games', a nod to Steve Jackson Games, who at that point held the rights to Wild Cards and produced two GURPS volumes for it. (The raid was based on a real event, too.)
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Humans are actually genetically indistinguishable from Takisians, meaning they can catch the Wild Card and interbreed. The implications are discussed very briefly- Tachyon notes that it could be a miraculous bit of parallel evolution or Earth could be a Lost Colony of Takis note .
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The Lizard King IS Jim Morrison.
    • Hiram Worcester is Orson Welles in clever plastic disguise. (Word of God in Compuserve chat.)
  • Not Wearing Tights: Most aces just wear civilian clothes, since their identities usually aren't secret. Oddly, an interlude in the first book talks about upcoming ace fashions that sound like standard superhero dress. Apparently they didn't catch on. A few special cases:
    • Yeoman and Black Shadow, who are vigilantes, both wear costumes to disguise themselves.
    • Wraith can't take very much with her when she phases, so she tends to do her burglaries wearing just underwear.
    • The Turtle and his buddy only wear cheap paper masks while fighting crime. Since they do it from the comfort of a flying car, why bother with elaborate costumes?
    • Masks are considered a fashion statement among Jokers (and those who visit Jokertown), because they prefer not to publicize their deformities.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: "Sewer Jack" Jack Robicheaux, the alligator-shifter Ace, who could be counted on to act exactly like a real alligator when in that form. Ironically, this 1. doesn't apply to his last meal, 2. renders him controllable by Bagabond and 3. extends his lifespan since alligators are immune to AIDS.
  • Nightmare Sequence:
    • Popinjay has a recurring one that causes him to wet the bed. Resolved after he pops Ti Malice into a place inspired by his nightmare.
    • Bloat literally summons creatures from Bosch paintings.
    • The Sleeper actually dreams during his sleep periods. It's not nice. And gives him more reasons to extend the waking periods with various pharmaceuticals.
    • Demise re-experiences his Black Queen at all times. He strongly prefers to fall asleep dead drunk.
    • One of The Astronomer's associates was a dreamwalker. Make an educated guess on what dreams he dispensed.
    • Tiamat, the Swarm, works via Hive Mind. Telepathically tapping into it is NOT recommended.
  • No Conservation of Energy: Averted. Aces and Joker-Aces have to come up with energy in some way. Notable examples include:
    • Kid Dinosaur's animorphism is limited by coservation of mass — if he wants to turn into a T. rex, for instance, he can only turn into the same size as he normally is.
    • Mr. Nobody automatically absorbs or dispenses heat and/or electricity to transform — his transformation from human to King Kong caused a city-wide black-out.
    • Rahda "Elephant Girl" O'Reilly has successfully used the energy surges which accompany her transformations as improvised EM pulses.
    • Croyd "the Sleeper" Crenson and Midnight Angel fuel their powers by massive food consumption.
  • No Export for You: Eksmo-Press owns the rights in Russia. As of 2013, they've released the first 4 books and butchered several more to release the contributions of Zelazny as a stand-alone out-of-context novel.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • An amphibious Philadelphia schoolteacher who kept her gills concealed beneath her clothing saved a drowning child — only to become a victim of the Wild Card Act.
    • When the first Hardhat got involved in a violent clash between hippies and the police to stop them, he got attacked by the Radical.
  • No-Sell: When Mackie Messer attacks Golden Boy with his buzz-saw hands, Golden Boy is completely unaffected.
  • Obliviously Superpowered:
    • Gimcrack is a kind-hearted Manchild who is Literal-Minded and naive to the point of believing everything he sees in ads. However, as a result of his Wild Card mutation, his specialized Reality Warper powers causes this stuff to come true for him: for instance, his powers make it so the present he asked Santa Claus for actually appears on Christmas morning. It's also impossible to convince him that he is a superhuman: if you point out that penis enlargement products only work for him and nobody else, he'll just say that's because other people can't follow the instructions properly.
    • Dr. Cody Havero, Chris Claremont's main character in Wild Cards, is heavily implied to be a superhuman unaware of her own power. While ostensibly a Badass Normal, she seems to have a sort of superhuman luck that only kicks in when she is shot at, causing the bullets to miss her: even when she walks into a veritable rain of bullets, the worst that can happen is that she will have Only a Flesh Wound. Wild Card powers are manifestations of subconscious desires, and Cody was a Combat Medic in the Vietnam War, so being able to ignore bullets to help people seems to have been her heart's desire.
  • One Person, One Power: Zig-Zagged in the setting. Many Aces (and Joker-Aces) play this straight, but there are notable exceptions like Fortunato (a powerset), The Radical (a case of All Your Powers Combined), and Cameo (channeling powers of others) to name a few.
  • Oppressive Immigration Enforcement: In this series of superhero novels, there is a great example in the novel "Mississipi Roll". In an early novel, Kazakhstan suffered an extradimensional incursion from Lovecraftian horrors. Kazach "jokers" (as the mutated victims of the wild card virus are called) are scapegoated and a lot of them flee to the US. The immigration policy of the Conservative US administration is very callous, and the ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents are among the villains of the novel. It is remarkable that long-standing protagonist Carnifex (he's been a superhuman agent for the Department of Défense since the 1980s) finally resigns in disgust, taking other heroic agents with him, instead of continuing to cooperate with the immigration agents tasked with rounding up the Kazach jokers.
  • Organic Technology: The Takisians are all about this. As Takis is very metal-poor, they have developed organic technology to a greater extent than any other known race.
  • Out with a Bang: The power of a female assassin Ace named Roulette, whose secretions upon orgasm can be a pleasure drug or a fast-acting and lethal poison. Roulette learns to control her originally random power. She ultimately turns the Black Queen from Typhoid Croyd.
  • Parental Abandonment: The Amazing Bubbles's parents abandoned her when she sued them for spending her modelling money behind her back.
  • Parental Obliviousness: The parents of underage Aces don't seem to be able to keep their powered children out of the action... or sometimes even aware the child is involved. Kid Dinosaur's mom is briefly described as trying to keep her son away from the first Swarm outbreak. She fails.
  • Performance Anxiety: The Great and Powerful Turtle can't use his telekinetic powers unless he feels like he's safe in his shell — so he builds a large shell out of surplus battleship armor and a Volkswagen Beetle. It should be noted, though, that while he's in his armor, he's a complete badass and generally considered one of the most powerful Aces on the planet, along with Fortunato. And since this is purely a Magic Feather issue, other psychic Aces can opt to help him.
  • Personality Chip: Modular Man is designed to replicate human emotions and psychology.
  • Personality Powers: kinda of. It is implied, but never outright stated, that the virus works in tandem with the subconscious of the infected. For example, in Aces Abroad Sarah Morgenstern mentions that in South America there are a lot of feathered snake jokers, and another character in Inside Straight says that jokers with an animal head are a dime a dozen in Egypt. Sometimes the link between the personality and the infection is clear, sometimes it requires a bit of insight and sometimes it seems pretty random.
  • Phlebotinum Battery:
    • Fortunato, one of the most powerful psychics in the setting, derives his powers from consensual tantric sex practices.
    • His arch-nemesis, the Astronomer, works in the exactly opposite way — he derives his powers from rape, torture and murder.
  • Playing Card Motifs: Used to refer to the xenovirus Takis-A and its effects. The virus itself is the eponymous Wild Card; the activation in a carrier is referred to as "drawing / turning your card". The mutations are thus compared to blindly drawing cards from a deck: "drawing the Black Queen" for a fatal mutation, the "Joker" for a disfiguring but life-compatible mutation, the "Ace" for a useful superpower without overt physical mutations (ugly ones, anyway), "Knave"(at least in England/Britain) to denote a Joker with Ace level abilities, and the "Deuce" for a useless superpower. Infected children, due to the chance of drawing the Black Queen when the virus triggers (e.g. on puberty onset, or during an emotional crisis), are occasionally called "Suicide Kings". Ace powers without visible signs of use (e.g. the Puppetman's empathy or Digger Downs' Wild Card detection) are referred to as an "Ace in the hole". Dr. Tachyon's individually-tailored cure, xenovirus Takis-B, is most often called the "Trump Card". Later, a racist group aiming to kill all the infected are known as the "Card Sharks", and the modified virus of their making has been named the "Black Trump". In a form of public recognition, New York is also home to the "Aces High" restaurant.
  • Poisonous Person: Various degrees of danger and control:
    • Crypt Kicker: Voluntarily secretes a corrosive poison from his palms. Crypt Kicker weaponized this ability.
    • Quinn the Eskimo: Voluntarily secretes a whole list of organic substances in his blood and injects them via needle-like claws. Quinn is also a criminal chemist; he analyses the substances and markets them as designer drugs. Quinn also weaponized his ability for close combat.
    • Lamia: A Joker-Ace with snake-like features, including fangs and poison glands.
    • Roulette: Used her ability to secrete a poison during her career as an assassin.
    • Cocomama: Can transmute organic substances into cocaine. Runs a "drug"-smuggling operation by making cocaine from common flour on the spot. Poisonous by being able to perform the transmutation on living humans, thus administering cocaine directly into the bloodstream by transmutation.
    • Kurari, as numerous other Jokers and Joker-Aces, permanently secretes his namesake poison from the skin.
  • Psychic Powers: The most common Wild Card abilities are variations of Telepathy and Telekinesis. It's implied by Tachyon that all Wild Card powers are really broad applications of Psychic Powers.
  • Puppeteer Parasite:
    • Played straight with Ti Malice. Ti Malice is a Joker-Ace who feeds on human blood and controls his "puppets" by releasing a powerful pleasure drug into their bloodstream.
    • Averted with Puppetman — he's a powerful empathic Ace who controls emotions and drives on a large scale, but lacks parasitic traits.
  • Queer Colors: Minor character The Candle is openly bisexual and has the superhuman power to generate seven kinds of flame, each one a color of the rainbow. He is one of the contestants in the Reality TV show "American Hero". He's a good guy, but is said to have no chance to win in the show, because "America isn't ready for a Hero that is a switch-hitter."
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Blaise jumps his grandfather into the body of a teenage girl and then rapes him/her. All the more horrific for Tachyon because rape really is extremely taboo to Takisians. Also ironic, because they believe that rapists are hopelessly depraved, which Blaise kind of proves.
  • Reality Show: The Inside Straight novel is all about the Aces/Jokers Reality TV Show "American Hero" and who gets discarded from the deck (voted off).
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Averted. Even under the assumption that his virologist background would allow Tachyon to work on curing AIDS, curing the Wild Card beats any other virus in urgency. The Wild Card spreads like the common influenza, has a 90% lethality rate, and can be used as a bio-weapon in its native state, as used by disease-powered Aces and the Card Sharks. Tachyon's specialty is a mutagenic mass-empowering virus, released on the planet for beta testing, and failing spectacularly — <1% empowered Aces, <1% useless Deuces, 9% disfigured Jokers (give or take the Joker-Aces), 90% dead Black Queens. This makes neither a good empowerment method, since the Aces are more than likely to want revenge for the Black Queens; nor a good weapon, since the very same Aces among the survivors will be out for revenge if the Wild Card was used solely for its lethality. Tachyon is neither a world-saving superhero by nature, nor does he have a high opinion of the human race — especially after all the grief he received despite all his efforts to fix what his family did.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Modular Man, who is fully functional. This is a source of great delight to his creator, Travnicek, and a great source of embarrassment to Mod Man, once he realizes Travnicek uses his memory files for porn.
  • Roadkill for Dinner: This is part of the schtick of Gordon the Ghoul, the forensic pathologist of the police station in the Fort Freak trilogy. Half the cops of the police station in Jokertown are wild carders, but Gordon is actually a normal human who is weird enough in both physical appearance and behaviour to be commonly mistaken for a joker (someone with physical or mental deformities due to the virus). Part of that image comes from his obsession with roadkill, that he will defend at all times with speeches about this great source of nutrition that America is overlooking.
  • Sapient Ship: The Takisians use and breed sapient (or semi-sapient) symbiont ships. Dr. Tachyon's ship — which he named "Baby" — regenerates its "ghost drive gland" over a period of years or decades, after he burned it out trying to go real fast. It is noted that the symbiont ships provide the Takisians with a considerable edge against Network ships. Because the ships are sapient and interface with their crews telepathically, they share the Takisians' desires, including to survive and win. Which can make them very fierce warships. They also have Psychic Powers of their own, including telekinesis which provides Artificial Gravity and Inertial Dampening. Two capabilities that the Network has never really managed to reproduce technologically.
  • Self-Harm–Induced Superpower: The Hero Twins are a pair of Mayan Native Americans with superpowers that need to be activated by shedding a bit of their own blood.
  • Sex Magic: Fortunato's powers are based on, and charged by, Tantric sex.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The beginning of the "Wild Card era" in the wake of the battle between Jetboy and Dr. Tod is both a tribute to the pulp-era characters they represent, and their eventual replacement by superheroes and supervillains in pop culture. In fact, much of the history appearing in the first book parallels the history of comics; for example, the HUAC hearings resemble the Comics Code Authority censoring violent comics, and Turtle inspiring aces to come out of the closet seems to be a nod to Spider-Man and Marvel's younger heroes of the sixties.
    • The Beatles, in Jube's Catchphrase: Goo goog g'jube. Made even better by the fact that he really does look like an anthropoid walrus.
    • The Doors in the Lizard King's name. The Lizard King is Jim Morrison. He is reptilian-looking and projects collective hallucinations.
    • The Rolling Stones via Jumping Jack Flash, and Manfred Mann via Quinn the Eskimo.
    • Harry Potter as one of John Fortune's childhood Halloween costumes.
    • Several of the costumed Ace heroes are shout-outs to comic superheroes and/or real-life pop culture figures.
    • One book mentions a Jack Stevenson Games company. The first roleplaying game version of Wild Cards was a GURPS adaptation by Steve Jackson Games.
    • The Great and Powerful Turtle is, or at least sees himself as, an insignificant person behind his big impressive public front — which is actually true of the person previously most associated with the title "the Great and Powerful".
  • Snake People: Lamia and Blacktongue are joker-aces with serpentine traits.
  • Some Call Me "Tim":
    • Tachyon's actual name is Prince Tisianne brant Ts'ara sek Halima sek Ragnar sek Omian of House Ilkazam (and that's just his first name; his full name would list his genealogy for the last thousand generations). The American scientists and military men he makes first contact with are endlessly corrected on how it's said, and mispronouncing it is quite the insult. So he is given the much-simpler nickname Dr. Tachyon in reference to his ship's tachyon engines. Ironically, those engines are busted, and he is a virologist.
    • In Jokers Wild, we see some people of his family call him "Tis", despite the fact that it is explained in the first book that using any sort of nickname is seen as rude on Takis. On the other hand, these particular family members are his political enemies (or at very least rivals) so it is possible they are deliberately rude to him.
  • Space Whale: The species that the Takisians genetically-engineered into their symbiont ships is this. Apparently these creatures still exist in the wild.
  • Split Personality: Puppetman, Lazy Dragon, Oddity, Mother.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Jack Braun gains superstrength; Mackie Messer ("Messer" is a German word for "knife") is a German human buzzsaw Ace.
  • That One Case: Ramshead's one last case drives the main plot of Fort Freak.
  • The Straight and Arrow Path: Yeoman.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
    • The Takisians. They were sufficiently advanced enough to envision and research a mass empowerment virus. Assuming Tachyon is right about the psychosomal nature of the Wild Card, a group of Takisian geningeneered soldiers exposed to the virus under control and supervision of a Psi Lord are most likely to draw Aces or Joker-Aces of the Flying Brick category without the 90% Black Queens.
    • The Network, to some extent. As a trading entity, the Network spans races from incredibly advanced to barely spacefaring, where the most advanced are advanced far beyond humanity.
  • Superhuman Trafficking: Possible fate of Aces (and Deuces with potentially useful powers) if they lack combat power to defend themselves.
    • Mai Minh, healer Ace. Escaped her fate during the Swarm attack.
    • Water Lily, Ace with an Intimate Healing power.
    • Roulette, Ace with a randomly triggering Poisonous Person power. Her power to dispense either a pleasure drug or a lethal poison during coitus baited those tired of life. Roulette later learned to control this power and became an assassin.
  • Superpowered Alter Ego: Captain Trips' "friends", each of whom has a different physical form, personality and set of superpowers.
  • Super Powerful Genetics: Works strictly by Mendelian laws.
    • All children of two Wild Carders are latents, although most turn their card at birth (as birth trauma is often stressful enough to trigger the virus). Illustrated with Roulette's child drawing the Black Queen at birth and Tachyon's effort to prevent this for John Fortune.
    • All children of a Wild Carder and a Nat are carriers; All children of 2 Nats are Nats.
    • With a Wild Carder and a carrier the chances stand 50/50 for latent and carrier; with 2 carriers it's 1:2:1 for latent:carrier:Nat.
      • The only known exception is Mistral, who "inherited" Cyclone's air powers because he subconsciously manipulated her genes in the womb with psychokinesis. It's assumed it was Cyclone because no one knows anything about Mrs. Cyclone except that there was one. For this scenario to work at all, she had to be a latent, a carrier— or, possibly, a Deuce with the ability to modify DNA (as in Anne McCaffrey's short story, "A Womanly Talent").
  • "Too Young to Die" Lamentation: When Jetboy fails to save New York from Dr. Tod, resulting in the release of Xenovirus Takis-A, his last words are, "I can't die yet - I haven't seen The Jolson Story." These words end up engraved upon his tomb.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Fortunato's "geishas", high-class call girls who received higher education as part of their training to become ideal fantasy women. In addition to making a lot of money, most of them had advanced degrees and extensive contacts in upper-class society by the time they were too old to continue in the business.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Herne the Hunter from Dealer's Choice. The character page on The Other Wiki describes it as English/Welsh/Scottish/Jamaican, and it's never stated exactly where he's from.