Book Review: George R.R. Martin Presents: Wild Cards: Now & Then

“George R.R. Martin Presents: Wild Cards: Now And Then”
Writer: Carrie Vaughn

Artist: Renae De Liz
Inker and Color Artist: Ray Dillon
Book Designer and Letterer: Thomas Napolitano
Wild Cards: The Drawing of Cards excerpt written by Paul Cornell, penciled by Mike Hawthorne and Enid Balám, inked by Adriano De Benedetto and Lee Townsend, colored by Ruth Redmond, and lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Published by Bantam Books and Available from Penguin Random House
Review by Steve J. Ray

Wild Cards: Now And Then is a brand new graphic novel based in an alternate reality and shared universe co-created by George R.R. Martin, the man behind the now legendary Game Of Thrones TV show, and the books that inspired them. This alone makes this book intriguing, but the writing, art, colors, design, and lettering by the amazing creative team would still make this volume an essential purchase, whether Martin’s name appeared on the cover, or not.

I’ve not played the game, or read any of the thirty-plus Wild Card books, but after reading this graphic novel I think I want to.

Imagine how the world would have changed if, back in 1946, an alien virus was unleashed upon the Earth. Of the people infected 90% died instantly, but the remaining 10% had a far stranger fate. 9% mutated into strange humanoid or animal/human hybrid forms with strange abilities. The remaining 1% gained superhuman powers of varying degrees.

Because of the random nature of its effects, the plague was named the “Wild Card Virus”. Mutated humans were dubbed Jokers, and the superhumans Aces. Those with milder abilities were designated Deuces. The effects of the disease still linger even today, decades later, with Alpha, Beta. and Joker children being born to human families. This is the world of Wild Cards: Now And Then.

This is a fascinating premise as well as a brand new way of introducing characters with metahuman abilities. Of course, this also means that the Earth of today in the story differs slightly from the world that we know. What I love about all this is that we get a slightly skewed Earth, like the one in Watchmen, or Cla$$war, plus an all-new class system of humans, superhumans, mutants, with and all the resentment, hatred, and bigotry that this strange situation thrusts upon them.

Think of vintage X-Men-style drama in a world a lot more like our own, and you’ll get a good idea about how these characters feel, and what the book’s about… but it’s also far, far more than that.

Yes, I do get feelings of nostalgia from the tale, but Carrie Vaughn’s characters are fresh, realistic, quirky, and ultimately incredibly sympathetic. The villains of the piece, just like in real life, aren’t megalomaniacs bent on universal domination or destruction, but plain, normal human beings. They’re the rich, the powerful, and corrupt government officials. Fiction meets fact in this book brilliantly.

The main characters, Ana Cortez and Kate Brandt are instantly lovable… I adore these women. They’re real, flawed, and utterly wonderful. They’re polar opposites, yet still best friends. Plus, we learn that they have a history together (which I hope we’ll get to learn more about). The supporting cast is also great, their enemies, allies, friends, and lovers all make for fun and fascinating reading.

Now, let’s talk about the fact that the art in this book is every bit as excellent as the writing. Renae De Liz was one of the talents behind the hugely controversial, Eisner-nominated series, The Legend of Wonder Woman. Her art is crisp, clean, and deceptively simple, and her storytelling is sublime. Her husband is the inker and color artist on the book, and their styles mesh perfectly. Honestly, look at the art attached to this review and I’m sure you’ll agree.

The icing on the cake comes from the stellar design and lettering by the incomparable Thomas (Tom to his DC Comics fans) Napolitano. I’ve loved Tom’s work for years, and say so in every review I write that features his talent. Once again, his lettering and design on this book are simply stellar.

I actually have only one (extremely tiny) gripe about Wild Cards: Now And Then. When the main tale ends, we get an excerpt from a rare Marvel Comics tale from Wild Cards: The Drawing of Cards (ISBN 9781302925048) that shows the beginnings of the virus and is set in 1946.

There’s nothing wrong with the story itself, but I feel that it just doesn’t fit in with what comes before and perhaps shouldn’t even have been included in this book at all. For me, this is because it clashes completely in terms of style, content, language, and visuals with “Now & Then”. If anything, it should have come right at the start, as a preface to the main story and introduction to the Wild card virus. Of course, that’s just my opinion.


Wild Cards: Now And Then delivers a solid story with great characters, set in an intriguing world. I’m new to this universe but am now completely fascinated by it. I’ll definitely be adding the next book, Wild Cards: Sins Of The Father (out in October 2023), and Wildcards: Sleeper Straddle (out in Feb 2024) to my wishlist. Then comes the slippery slope of picking up anything that came before, like Wild Cards: Pairing Up… but, hey, what the heck? I’m still young(ish).

Give me all the books!

Images Courtesy of Bantam Books. Review Copy Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

George R.R. Martin Presents: Wild Cards: Now And Then is available now from all good book retailers and comic shops for $28.99 ISBN: 9780804177085


Popular posts from this blog

Thought Bubble 2024 convention & festival dates announced

Mystic Muses: A D&D Podcast