Monday, June 16, 2008

Ex Libris: John J. Miller's Death Draws Five

In the 1980s, I remember picking up this book on the basis of its interesting cover and its fascinating title. It was called Wildcards: Down and Dirty and it was a shared-universe series of books about superheroes dealing with the real world. Despite the fact that it was the fifth book in the series and I felt like I had started watching in the middle of a television series, I felt like the book had jumped me out of a dark alleyway, clubbed me with a cosh and then pumped me up with cocaine. I was that hooked.

Nowadays, stories about superheroes dealing with real-world issues are ubiquitous and you may ask yourself, "Why read books about superheroes when you can just buy comic books, their true home for generations?" But you have to remember that this series of books was started in 1987 by a group of New Mexico writers that included George R. R. Martin and other SF writing luminaries like Howard Waldrop, Victor Milan, and Roger Zelazny. And how can you not like a story wherein an alien virus is introduced into the world in which 90% of those infected die, 9% become monsters and the remaining 1% gain superhuman powers?

Fast forward 16 years and 17 books later. For a time, I wasn't able to catch up on the Wildcards story as this series never really showed up on these shores. But then the Wildcards franchise had moved to ibooks Publishing and the latest hardcover, Wildcards: Death Draws 5 (an original novel) by John J. Miller, had just come out. I was quite excited to get my hands on this one more so since ibooks later shut down and the chance of the book coming out in paperback had become nil.

For someone who's well-versed in the Wildcards universe, reading this book is like coming home. Most the characters in the original series are gone now, or appear in cameos and mentions. But there are still familiar faces like Billy Ray and Fortunato who get stellar billing (and in one case, a sense of closure) in this book. Here, Fortunato's child with Peregrine, John Fortune, finally draws his Wildcard and it seems like an Ace. Unfortunately, a number of religious fanatics have deemed the boy to be either the Messiah or his adversary. It's now up to Billy Ray, Mr. Nobody and Fortunato-- as well as some new characters like Midnight Angel and John Nighthawk-- to find out if he really is the one who'll determine the battle between good and evil.

So how is the book? Well, I had issues with the book production itself, notwithstanding the actual book itself. There were a number of typos in the print and overall, I thought the book needed a whole lot of editor's work in tightening up the sentences. Some of the characterizations were a bit flat but at least the plotting was passable, stalling a bit every now and then. However, I liked the idea that Billy Ray, the series' bad-boy Wolverine/Tazmanian Devil character, gets a bit of limelight and in the process gets some depth of humanity in this book.

Conclusion: if you're a Wildcard fanatic (like me), get this one. If not, try reading the older Wildcard books. I guarantee you'll love them. (Rating: 2 out of 4 paws)

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