American Hero - George R. R. Martin Page 0,1

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.

Some statistics: 654 potential heroes tried out for American Hero. Twenty-two wild carders with the power of flight showed off their skills, from the Hummingbird, the red-headed girl who can hover for hours (but not much else), to Jetman, who is carrying on the legacy of the great hero himself with his jet-powered boots. Eighteen aces proved themselves nearly indestructible. The most spectacular of these was Tiffani, who turns into glittering diamond. Twenty-five potential heroes shape-shifted into animals, from a giant toad to thousands of tiny bugs. Fifteen shape-shifted into inanimate objects, from a lamp post to a palm tree. Thirty-eight cars were destroyed in feats of strength and power, along with five buses, a tank, and four tons of concrete. And the three judges were mind-controlled into embarrassing situations no fewer than five times. Hint for future auditions: aces with mind-control powers shouldn’t embarrass the judges if they expect to make the cut.

Not surprisingly, the largest audition by far took place at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, but that didn’t stop what must have been most of Jokertown from coming out to watch their fellow wild carders strut their stuff. There’ve been a lot of great ace powers over the years. And there’ve been a lot of not-so-great ones, and spectators got a look at some of these so-called deuces. The judges didn’t buy the claim by an ace calling herself Office Lass that the ability to telekinetically manipulate paper clips could ever save the world. But then we met Dragon Huntress, the eleven-year-old ace who can transform her stuffed animals into the real thing. Assuming her parents sign the release form, you can bet we’ll be seeing her among our contestants.

Of those original 654 contestants, only twenty-eight made the cut and moved on to the next round. Only they will join the teams that will compete for the grand prize: a million dollars and the title American Hero.

At the luxurious Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, the contestants