This is the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. Good guys, bad guys, and explosions, as far as the eye can see. And only one will survive; I wonder who it will be? Let’s discover the Dealer’s Choice, edited by George R. R. Martin.
After too many disastrous raids and military embarrassments, the Nats order a full-out, no-holds-barred blitzkrieg against Bloat and his genetic outcasts. The mission is clear: destroy Ellis Island, no survivors. As the final battle rages, the Turtle throws in the towel, Modular Man switches sides, Reflector faces defeat, Legion “dies” – and assassins reach Bloat’s chamber. This is it, folks. The final days of the Rox.
Source: Back of the book (Goodreads link)
The Jumper arc comes to a conclusion with the battle for the Rox. It’s basically the Wild Cards equivalent of Civil War, an excuse to pit a bunch of super-powered characters against one another in a massive brawl. One might even call it… an ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny.
Speaking of good guys and bad guys, there are both heroes and villains on each side of the conflict. The Rox is home base for the Jumpers, who are all pretty damn evil, but previous books have also established governor Bloat as being extremely sympathetic for an antagonist. Modular Man is programmed to be just and ethical, but is enslaved to the whims of his insane creator Travnicek. Meanwhile, the government side has some pretty big heroes, such as the Great and Powerful Turtle, Mr. Nobody, and Elephant Girl; but they’ve also got Carnifex, who has a real knack for finding himself working for the wrong team. And even Carnifex, stunted as his moral compass might be, is aware enough to be repulsed at finding himself on the same side as the likes of Reflector, Battle, and von Herzenhagen. So, neither side can exactly claim the moral high ground here.
The book also introduces a bunch of new characters with flashy powers for the confrontation. Most of them, however, are nothing more than one-shots. Legion and Patchwork exist mostly as the obligatory love interests to help close out the arcs of Turtle and Modular Man. Herne gets a lot of build-up, being a member of the Twisted Fists terrorist organization and possessing a formidable Wild Card power; but he pretty much fails at everything he attempts, and all mentions of him in future books will be related to his time as a porn star. Really, the only actually significant new Aces are the hero Cameo and the villain Crypt Kicker, who will have future supporting roles as secondary protagonist and antagonists.
Though, if you stretch the definition of “new character” to include previously introduced characters who are only now receiving any sort of actual characterization, there’s the Jumper called Bodysnatcher. As you should know by now, one of my biggest complaints about the Jumpers as antagonists is how flat and interchangeable they are as characters. Though we’re told that there are over a hundred of them on the Rox, only two ever get any sort of actual characterization – previously K.C. Strange, and now Bodysnatcher. Of course, since this is the end of the Jumper arc, Bodysnatcher won’t be making it out of the novel alive. Still, doomed though she may be, she’s kind of an interesting villain while she lasts. Most Jumpers retain an attachment to their original bodies, only jumping others for a brief time and then returning; but Bodysnatcher’s original body is dead, making her purely mental entity with no permanent vessel to return to. She takes and discards one meat shell after another, suffering from a severe body dysmorphic disorder that prevents her from feeling comfortably at home in any of them. Good stuff.
But, the book also has bad stuff. For instance, it’s a major problem that the extent and limitations of Bloat’s powers are never firmly defined. It’s never clear why he can do some things and not others. For instance, he can make flying demonic fish knights, but not a forcefield to block incoming artillery shells? And it doesn’t help matters bringing in Wyungare, the Gaiman Sandman wannabe who is possibly the one character in the Wild Cards universe with even more poorly defined abilities. Apparently, he can use his power to shift the Rox into the dreamtime, thus magically solving all problems, if Bloat just gives him permission. How? Why? Unclear. Well, at least he kicks the bucket and departs the series as well, meaning we won’t have to put up with any more of his vague deus ex machinas.
Then there were the short, pointless plotlines that went nowhere. For instance, Carnifex tries to recruit Lazy Dragon for the government team, but meet his “sister” Vivian instead. This would make sense if it were part of a Lazy Dragon story arc. Unfortunately, the writers are fast forgetting that he ever existed, so it never ends up paying off. Maybe, some day in the far future, someone working on the series will remember that they left Lazy Dragon in limbo and give him some resolution. One can only hope.
Also, there’s a subplot about Dr. Mengele plotting to vivisect Sewer Jack. What the fuck. No, seriously: what in the actual fuck? Who the goddamned hell though this was a good idea?
I need to think about something less stupid. This book marks the departure of Modular Man from the series. Modular Man is a character who just never quite fit into the Wild Cards universe. The series is a parallel history which wants to keep somewhat close to real-world events, just enough to show how the Wild Card made them go down differently, so there really isn’t any room in the universe for super-inventors cranking out technological marvels that have the potential to vastly advance the world’s scientific and technical progress. In fact, the very first book in the series explicitly put the kibosh in this in its little appendix about the nature of the Wild Card virus, stating that nothing created by an inventor-Ace could ever be analyzed or reproduced in any way by anyone else; that any “technology” seemingly born of Wild Card-gifted intelligence was in fact just an extension of the “inventor”’s talent: a crutch, a magic feather, probably just a box full of rocks that only works because the creator believes it does. So someone like Modular Man, who apparently is made of functional technology and exists independently of Tavnicek, just didn’t fit in. Well, at least they decided to give him a somewhat satisfactory ending instead of just unceremoniously shoving him out the door. It could have been worse; just ask Jane Dow.
Turtle, too, got the honor of an actual story leading up to his retirement. Others weren’t so lucky; for, as is perhaps fitting for a superhero-based series, the authors have taken the lesson from comics than any big event is an excuse to kill off a bunch of old minor characters in order to make room for a bunch of new, more marketable ones. Let us have a moment of silence, please, for some departing souls: Cyclone, killed by Molly Bolt. Pulse, killed by Bodysnatcher. Wyungare, also killed by Bodysnatcher. And Kafka, transmigrated to the dreamtime or whatever the hell you want to call it. You will be missed; at least by those of you who remember you existed in the first place. Which isn’t likely many people. Hell, I’m re-reading this whole series to write reviews of it, and I barely remember them. Apparently Pulse’s real name was Cyrus Randall? Was that ever even mentioned before, or did they just now pull it out of their collective asses in an attempt to humanize him a bit so his death would carry some weight?
Well, whatever. With all the mixed good and bad parts, this book averages out at around the middle of the scale. I will say that, of the several different sections of the epilogue, I most liked the sort of ambiguously bittersweet one featuring Slash discovering Charon still making his trip, the destination now unknown but hopefully worthwhile. Ellis Island may be gone, but the idea of the Rox lives on.
Final Rating: 3/5