Wild Cards film is 20 years too late

Syfy Films, a joint operation between Syfy and Universal, recently announced that it has begun production on the George R.R. Martin property Wild Cards.

Now that Game of Thrones is such a success over at HBO, it’s no surprise other studios want to grab material that George R. R. Martin did in the past, with some of them likely racing to do so, since right now anything with his name in it will almost certainly sell.

It’s just unfortunate that quite a lot of his work will probably get rush treatments with low budgets. In addition, some of his old properties are a bit dated, like Wild Cards.

In the 80’s, Watchmen and Killing Joke, along with their ilk, broke the floodgates wide open for comic book material.

The Comics Authority Code would not be dead for another 25 years, but this is when it began to lose its relevancy.

Comic books, the industry saw, could be a bit bloody, a bit mature, a bit ‘edgy’ – in quotes because it was still pretty tame compared to cinema, and still sell, in fact sales picked up.

There was a bubble of ‘edgy’ comics hitting the market, many from people who had previously not seen the medium as a place to tell real stories. 

Enter a group of Sci-fi authors from New Mexico, who had been playing a super-hero based role-playing game together Game Mastered by Martin. Together with a few other recruits, the group wrote a series of books, edited and compiled by Martin himself, with a lion’s share of the writing coming from him as well. They weren’t comic books, but they told stories like they were. The superhero novels and short story collections are popular with comic book readers, and broke a lot of ground for the entry of super heroes into the literary world.

The story world depicts a disaster in New York which left the city devastated, and the survivors mutated. The town split into two factions, the Aces who were given superpower, but left looking mostly normal, and the Jokers who were malformed, violent, psychopaths, with powers of their own. The range of powers ranged from trivial tricks to real ‘super power’ level abilities.

The things Martin and his friends did with that series was a part of the revolution of super hero stories at that time, but was not itself wholly revolutionary. The original series saw 12 books over three years, all edited by Martin, since then the books have changed publisher three times, and Martin doesn’t write any of the stories himself anymore, but he still edits every book.

For his own part, Martin himself recognizes the disconnect, even if he sees the work as being closer to the edge than it was. “We had a love of comics books and superheroes that we grew up on,” he explained. “But we approached [Wild Cards] differently. We wanted to do it in a grittier, more adult manner than what we were seeing in the ’80s. It’s something that many other people have been doing in the decades ever since.”

I think that given the right resources, a Wild Cards film or television series could be great. There are a lot of stories to draw from, and some of them are truly good tales, but with a dated concept, a rushed schedule, and a likely small budget, I’m expecting Wild Cards to fall rather flat when it hits audiences in the theaters, probably at the end of 2012 or the middle of 2013.

No one on this project will be there because they are passionate about it, they’ll be there to capitalize on Martin’s name in the wake of other successes. Fans of the series might be happy with it – as happy as fans usually are with an adaptation, but for everyone else it’ll just be another low-budget super hero film, something we don’t need any more of, now that we’ve seen how it can be done right.