By Walter Jon Williams
I’ve created my fair share of Wild Cards characters, and some, like Golden Boy, Modular Man, and Black Shadow, have achieved prominence in the series. I’ve also created a fair number of characters who were intended to be supporting players, or who for one reason or other never quite achieved stardom. Here’s a sample from my B List, along with a description of why they were created and why their names never got listed above the title.
I believe it was Victor Milan who wrote, in passing, of that “well-known Jokertown character, Snotman.” Neither he nor anyone else used, or even described, Snotman until the fifth book of the series, when he briefly became a major player in my contribution to the story revolving around Typhoid Croyd.
Snotman, I decided, continually oozed greenish mucous from every pore, and was despised, rejected, and generally kicked around even by other jokers. Helpless, leaving a trail of ooze wherever he walked, Snotman was filled with despair, self-hatred, and not inconsiderable fantasies of revenge. He remained a pitiable figure until his fateful meeting with Typhoid Croyd.
This incarnation of Croyd was able to re-infect those who had already been infected by the wild card virus, and Snotman was so infected and turned from a joker into an extremely powerful ace. He was essentially invulnerable, and could absorb enormous amounts of energy, then shoot it back at whoever had shot it at him in the first place. He also had gained chiseled movie-star good looks.
This frog-turned-prince renamed himself the Reflector (the name didn’t stick) and devoted himself to protecting Croyd from harm and to despising everyone else, particularly jokers.
When last heard from, the Reflector was working for the government, and disliked by practically everyone who knew him.
Pop Tart was originally created by me for a SuperWorld campaign run by Chip Wideman, who is not a writer but created a number of Wild Cards characters who were brought to life by the writers on the team.
Pop Tart, real name Cleonie, has the power of teleportation. Unlike Jay Ackroyd, who can teleport someone to any location he can imagine just by pointing a finger, Cleonie had to be in physical contact with whatever was being teleported, and could only teleport within line of sight. She could, for example, pop a grenade into an enemy foxhole, a safe full of bullion onto the back of a truck, or herself to the far horizon.
Cleonie also had a healthy and robust sex life, which resulted in her superhero name.
(Cleonie hates being called Pop Tart, by the way. Should you utter those syllables, you risk being popped to the topmost tower of the nearest suspension bridge.)
Pop Tart made a lateral move into the Wild Cards universe and appeared as a contestant in the first season of American Hero as a blonde Southern beauty queen with the twin ambitions of becoming a Hollywood superstar and banging Drummer Boy. (Succeeded in one, but not the other.)
Cleonie’s unrestrained ambition was put on display in my 2014 story “Prompt. Professional. Pop!”, which you may read on Tor.com. Here’s the opening line: At one in the morning I’m still driving around Culver City in a stolen car, with a satchel of hundred-dollar bills on the seat next to me and one of Hollywood’s most powerful producer-directors locked naked in his own trunk.
It’s all a misunderstanding, of course. She had no idea that accepting money in exchange for sabotaging someone else’s movie would lead to so many complications.
And that’s Cleo for you. Laser-focused ambition, ruthless optimism, a conviction that the world revolves around her, and an inability to grasp consequences.
I have to say, she’s a lot of fun to write.
This was another character developed for a roleplaying game, a young gent whose sole ability was to cause the sun to explode . . . once. In the game I played him for laughs.
Scene: Heroes and villains are engaged in a climactic battle. Nova Boy charges in.
Nova Boy: Let me at them! I’ll take care of this!
Everyone: Noooooo! It’s under control, Nova Boy! Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?
Nova Boy moved into the Wild Cards universe, but hasn’t been seen much. He was last encountered at one of Hiram Worcester’s Wild Card Day parties, where he was trying to talk his way past the doorman. “But I can blow up the sun!”
Detective (now Captain) Harvey Kant
This is an example of a character that has been widely used by other writers, in part because he’s so useful. Need a cop? A Jokertown cop? A Jokertown cop who happens to be a joker? Send for Kant!
Even though he’s a scaly humanoid lizard and resembles an undersized kaiju, Kant is at heart an old-school cop. He’s cynical, outspoken, streetwise, and has been known to deploy a Thompson submachine gun with an old-fashioned drum magazine.
He’s not 100% honest— he might help himself to an apple from a fruit stand, or pocket a smartphone from the site of a robbery— but if you offered him a bribe, or invited him to take part in a felony, he’d spit in your face.
Kant has been at the Jokertown Precinct so long that people have begun to wonder if he hasn’t long passed retirement age. Yet there he is, long after others have started collecting their pensions and moved to Florida.
The story is that he has the goods on enough of the senior brass that they decided to let him stay in place. After all, better the lizard you know . . .
Gordon the Ghoul
Otto Gordon, M.D., is another character created for a roleplaying game, but in his case not for a superhero game, but for a whodunit. Victor Milan was running a game more or less explicitly based on Silence of the Lambs, in which the players were all FBI agents chasing serial killers. I decided not to play a detective, but a sidekick, in fact the World’s Strangest Forensic Pathologist.
Gordon is a very skinny six-foot, four-inch hunchback, with coke-bottle glasses and an amiable, if slightly crazed, expression. He dresses extremely well, preferring Italian suits and hand-made shoes. They don’t make him look any more normal.
He also has some odd habits. When he doesn’t have any humans to autopsy, he’ll dissect road kill (the boy just loves blunt force trauma). And he’s also into model rocketry— except his model rockets are gigantic, and he has plans to take one to the Moon.
I wasn’t the first person to write about Gordon. Vic Milan wanted to put him in one of his novels, and I gave permission with the assumption that I’d never write about him myself. Wild Cards was on hiatus at the time, but when the new series started, I shifted him over as a pathologist working in the Jokertown Clinic. Kevin Andrew Murphy gave Gordon a scene in Fort Freak, but he never took center stage until my story “Road Kill” in Lowball.
There Gordon is in all his eccentric glory, doing the autopsy on a mysterious wild cards corpse, making pemmican out of road kill, and discovering that rocket fuel proves an excellent resource when being chased by bad guys.
Lady Light is an extreme example of a character who waited a long, long time for her moment in the sun.
Lady Light is a beautiful, petite, ultra-feminine woman who believes in Romance with a capital R. She is a romance writer who employs a number of pseudonyms, and supplements her income through cat burglary. (She watched To Catch a Thief too many times at too young an age, and lives in hope of being collared by someone like Cary Grant.)
Her power is the ability to manipulate light. This allows her to look like anyone (preferably someone who happens to be a beautiful, petite, ultra-feminine woman), in any case an ability that certainly aids her in avoiding the law. She can confuse people with lifelike illusions. When caught or cornered, she can produce a brilliant flash of light that allows her to escape while her would-be captors are staggering around clutching their eyeballs. Her light-control powers stop short of being able to employ, say, a laser beam, and remain entirely non-destructive.
I created her as a minor villain for my SuperWorld campaign, intending her as a lure for Dr. Tachyon, whose haughty Prince of Takis persona would be very attracted to any seemingly vulnerable, beautiful, ultra-feminine woman. In fact she succeeded in seducing Tachyon and was able to pass on valuable information to her criminal associates.
When Wild Cards was created, I created a character sheet for Lady Light, and then never used her. Nor did anyone else . . .
For over thirty years. Which was when Kevin Andrew Murphy called me one day to ask about using her in one of his stories. He asked me quite a number of questions, but I was unable to remember much, and all relevant documents seemed to have disappeared. I couldn’t even remember her name.
But then that really didn’t matter. Lady Light had a number of pseudonyms she used professionally, and she would hardly use her real name when committing crimes. “Use whatever name you like,” I said, and this was done. The story, “The Tower of Gold and Amber,” appeared in the expanded One-Eyed Jacks collection. I have to give Kevin full credit for reviving a character even her creator had forgotten about.
Since then Lady Light has made an uncredited appearance in an online RPG I ran as part of a charity gig for the Stagecoach Foundation, which you can watch for free.
I have no idea if she will ever appear in Wild Cards again, but wherever she is in the meantime, you can be sure that she’ll still be searching for her Happily Ever After.
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