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American Hero
Author: George R. R. Martin

American Hero Foreword

by Melinda M. Snodgrass

George and I have been doing Wild Cards for muffamuffahummmahumma (let’s just say a really long time.) And how the whole thing started was because of a role-playing game called Superworld. One Christmas, Victor Milán gave George the game because he knew George loved comics. George began to run the campaign and within a very short time it had consumed our lives. Our little group of freelance writers were playing two or three times a week until the wee small hours of the morning.

George would stay over at my house because at the time we played mostly in Albuquerque. One morning, he came staggering out and declared that, “We have to find a way to make money off this obsession.” So while we breakfasted, we began to brainstorm. George suggested we make it a shared world. I proposed the alien virus so we could avoid a plethora of different origins because George really hates that. Standing in a toxic waste dump, then struck by lightning and, voila! Superpowers. Not his thing.

Reflecting back on those early days, I think Wild Cards—along with Alan Moore’s brilliant Watchmen—set the stage for this deep-dive into the concept of superpowers and “great power requiring great responsibility.” What I think sets Wild Cards apart from a lot of the other superhero stories is that the powers are born of trauma, or even great joy: origins which always brings us back to the characters, not only the powers or the battles between superheroes and villains. There are battles in Wild Cards, but most often they are internal and deeply personal.


Once we had the sandbox, we got in touch with some people in the original gaming group, and from there, friends in our writing world. That first crop of writers included people like Howard Waldrop: he gave us Jetboy, a historical story due to his insistence that it take place on his birthday, September 15, 1946. His story “30 Minutes Over Broadway” began the series and Howard has said he will only write the final story and nothing else. There was also Roger Zelazny, the creator of probably the most amazing character in our vast and sprawling universe, Croyd Crenson aka The Sleeper. There were many other enormously talented writers; you can check out the murder’s row in the title pages of those early books.

But people’s careers move in new directions, leaving them little time for Wild Cards, (and sadly in the case of Roger, death came far too early). Which meant that periodically George and I get together and discuss new candidates to come play in our sandbox.

In many ways working in a shared world is a lot like working in television. It’s very collaborative, so we need writers who are willing to let others use and abuse (within reason), and occasionally romance their characters. In other words, people who play well with others. We look for writers who have a body of work that displays powerful and unique characters, and we look for people from different generations and diverse backgrounds because we need those fresh new perspectives.

One of our recruits, David Anthony Durham, with the help of his young son, created the Infamous Black Tongue. Marcus has gone on to become the defender of the downtrodden and oppressed. Mary Anne Mohanraj created two women of color whose home environments you don’t often find in most superhero stories. Paul Cornell, who has written comics, television, and novels, brought us some desperately needed humor with his character Abigail Baker. (My character, the hard-luck detective Francis Xavier Black, has a mad crush on her, and can’t even get to first base with the woman!)

And of course, George and I cast our nets for brilliant writers and found Carrie Vaughn. I’ll let Carrie tell the story about how she was a Wild Cards fan before becoming joining our team, but Carrie is a perfect example of this process working brilliantly.

The first thing we ask of a candidate is that they create a character and pitch them to us for inclusion in the universe. Since virtually every superpower has pretty much been done and done to death, we look for interesting characters with interesting lives and perspectives on life. Carrie nailed it bringing us two powerful and fascinating women—Curveball and Earth Witch.

She also brought us reality television. This was certainly not a thing back in muffamuffahummmahumma when Wild Cards was born Since neither George or I are fans of that particular genre, it would never have occurred to us that reality TV would totally exist in the Wild Cards universe. But here came Carrie with a throwaway line in a character bio about how the person had been a contestant on American Hero. We didn’t accept that particular character, but we immediately absorbed American Hero into Wild Cards’ DNA.

And out of the need to create contestants and challengers for that first season of the show, a number of memorable, decent, deplorable, and heartbreaking characters were born. These characters were meant to be nothing more than spear carriers, but many went on to have starring roles both tragic and touching in subsequent books, which shows off the amazing creativity of our writers. A lot of this material first appeared on a now-defunct online website that introduced the idea of superheroes and reality television to readers, which was the core of this book you now hold.

So what you are about to read is Carrie’s oratorio with the rest of us singing backup, and having a wonderful time while we did it.



Introduction: The Deck Is Dealt

Welcome to television’s newest and greatest reality event! This show isn’t just taking on the entertainment world: it’s taking on history. What gets decided here over the next twelve weeks may very well change the world. Join us as we introduce America to a new generation of heroes.

The quest to find the next great hero began with auditions in seven cities across the country. At each stop, dozens of aces, jokers, and everything in between came out to show off what they could do, to prove why they should get a chance to compete for the ultimate prize. Now, many aces look just like everyone else. But when it came time to show off their powers, they had to put up or shut up. Journalist Digger Downs, who’s been tracking wild card celebrities for over twenty years, seemed to have a knack for picking out—and on—the wannabes. Either way is entertaining.

The three judges have a huge task ahead of them, but they’re more than a match for the challenge. Melissa Blackwood, aka Topper, had a long and illustrious career as one of the Justice Department’s premier aces. She now brings her expertise to American Hero. The Harlem Hammer, Mordecai Jones, has been in the public eye for years as one of the world’s strongest men. His opinion will no doubt be a force to be reckoned with. And Thomas “Digger” Downs has never held back his opinion of the ace celebrities he’s covered in the pages of Aces magazine.

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