Wild Cards Volume 20 - SUICIDE KINGS
This concluding chapter in the Committee triad is presented once again in the 'mosaic' style, with six writers contributing this time. The story takes place a year after the events of Busted Flush, and covers the five week period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
The core characters in this one are:
Wally Gunderson, AKA Rustbelt (by Ian Tergillis)
Jerusha Carter, AKA Gardener (by S.L. Farrell)
Noel Matthews, AKA Double Helix (by Melinda M. Snodgrass)
Michelle Pond, AKA Amazing Bubbles (by Caroline Spector)
Jonathan Tipton-Clarke, AKA Bugsy (by Daniel Abraham)
Tom Weathers, AKA Radical (by Victor Milán)
with close support from:
Ellen Allworth, AKA Cameo
Josephine Hebert, AKA Hoodoo Mama
Mark Meadows, AKA Cap'n Trips
So with the situation in the People's Paradise of Africa worsening every day and the Committee seemingly unwilling to act, a small group of aces with varying agendas decide to take things into their own hands.
Rustbelt, desperate to track an African pen-pal who's gone missiing, manages to enlist Gardener's help in finding him. Double Helix travels to the Sudan and discovers the PPA's leaders are building their own ace army, while in New Orleans, Bubbles wakes from a coma with an overriding need to locate another missing African child. Bugsy is given the task of finding out where Tom Weathers really came from, while the focus of his investigation discovers the man he fears most is the one person from whom he can never escape.
As Rusty and Gardener begin their boat journey into the heart of darkness, Weathers begins deploying his special aces to wreak havoc upon the Caliphate. Meanwhile, Bugsy goes to Jokertown for an interview with the Lizard King, Bubbles and Hoodoo Mama set off for Africa, and Double Helix begins to assemble a team for his own Mission: Impossible.
Soon, Rustbelt and Gardener discover where the PPA bury their secrets and go their separate ways, Rusty heading straight for the source while Gardener leads a small group of survivors away from the danger zone. After Weathers disrupts the Paris peace conference, Bugsy discovers the truth and sets off for Africa with Cameo. Bubbles and Hoodoo Mama dig in, Noel's team go into action, and Weathers deals with the Man.
Finally, the main players all converge on the mysterious Red House in preparation for the final battle. On one side: the world's most powerfiul ace and his team of ruthless child assassins. On the other, six tired people who have become the last hope for humanity. And the only thing for certain is that not all of them will survive to see in the new year.
Well, that wraps it up for another triad, and as expected it all goes out with a bang. But would we have it any other way? Of course not. It should be mentioned that George RR Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass once again do a fine job in editing the six authors' contributions together so seamlessly. It's easy to forget sometimes that these mosaic novels haven't been written by just one person.
So what have we got? Well, there's no doubt that Suicide Kings is a worthy ending to the trilogy, but it does start off agonisingly slowly compared to previous climactic volumes. It probably also doesn't help that this is one of the longest entries in the series, since for the first third or so (about 200 pages in the paperback version) not a great deal is happening. Noel and Niobe are adapting to married life, Bubbles is slowly coming out of her coma, Rusty and Gardener make a lot of traveling arrangements, Tom Weathers has arguments with himself, and so on. Important stuff, to be sure, but the story starts to drag somewhat when it should really be gathering pace from the get go.
But that's just a minor quibble. On the whole, this is a gripping journey inhabited by a host of compelling characters. To start with, it's great to see Bugsy taking a central role again as he employs his journalistic skills to delve deeper into the mystery of The Radical, while at the same time balancing his rocky relationship with Cameo and Simoon. And he hasn't lost the knack of causing major uproars any time he opens his mouth, either, which is all to the good. Added to which, he also has perhaps the most memorable encounter in the book when he finally meets up with his prototype, Jay Ackroyd. It's hard not to chuckle when Bugsy first sees Popinjay leaning against his desk with a world-weary expression, and thinks, this is what I want to be when I grow up.
And who among us could have imagined the slow-witted Rustbelt would be able to carry a whole book on his shoulders? But that's exactly what he does here. Despite his self-doubts, Rusty's so unapologetically heroic throughout the course of the tale that he almost becomes a force of nature. Whenever he's knocked down he just gets back up and keeps going, like an Energizer Bunny. All that matters is his mission and making sure Gardener's safe, and the relationship that develops between these two characters becomes one of the emotional cornerstones of the book.
After Double Helix's resignation from a life of espionage in Busted Flush, it's not too surprising to see him come back for one last mission, and his efforts at assembling a team of specialists to rob an otherwise impregnable bank becomes one of the more riveting subplots. Kind of a mix between The Magnificent Seven and Mission: Impossible. It's just a pity Melinda Snodgrass doesn't make more of the actual robbery itself. After all the preparations, the team are in and out in less than four pages, which is a little wasteful when there are so many opportunities for added suspense. But again, a minor gripe.
And, of course, there's the main villain of the book, the staggeringly self-righteous Tom Weathers. Oddly, up till now that old comic-book staple of the hero-turns-bad has never really been dealt with in the Wild Cards universe (Puppetman doesn't count - he was evil from the start), so it's great to see Victor Milán really making the most of the premise in this story. The character's come a long way since his initial appearance in the very first Wild Cards volume. Now he's not only the world's most powerful ace, but insane to boot. And while he may not quite be up there - or down there - with The Astronomer or Blaise in the evilness stakes, he's not too far off. It'll be interesting to see how the writers top him when the next triad comes around.
Daniel Abraham provides us with a Croyd Crenson 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' cameo when Bugsy and Cameo pass by a Jokertown coffee shop and spot a neon-blue man in the back, wolfing down eight breakfasts.
Starbucks Waitress: 'Need anything?'
Bugsy: 'Freedom from the oppressors.'
Starbucks Waitress: 'Word.'
Lohengrin: 'There was a time when we were effective. Now it's all become bureaucrats talking to bureaucrats over drinks at the Louvre while people suffer.'
Bugsy: 'Isn't that what it always comes to? I mean, look at what we're doing. A peace conference. What exactly is that but a place for the kids with the most toys to get together and have a gentlemenly conversation about who's going to kill the most innocent people?'
Tom Weathers: 'I shoulda known better than to trust the Man. Even when I fucking helped make him the Man.'