In addition to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, The Specialists owes a debt to Wild Cards, an anthology book series edited by George R. R. Martin. Both are epic stories, spanning multiple generations, that speculate how the real world might have been different if superheros really existed. But where Watchmen is a very tightly-plotted book that focuses on a handful of characters, the Wild Cards books are a collection of stories from nearly thirty authors.

In the Wild Cards series, an alien virus is responsible for introducing superpowers to the world. Of the infected, a lucky few become “Aces,” meaning that they remain human in appearance, but gain some sort of super-human ability. The majority suffer horrible mutations and are known as “Jokers”. Though some Aces do fight crime in classic superhero fashion, some use their powers for personal gain, and Aces as whole are feared by the public. Jokers, meanwhile, become an oppressed minority, often living in ghettos called “Jokertowns”.

Over the twenty volumes that have been published so far, Wild Cards authors have explored many real-world problems and events through the eyes of a their Aces and Jokers. They’ve left their mark on McCarthy’s HUAC hearings, the civil rights movement, the Viet Nam war, popular music, and presidential elections.

The Specialists is closer in scope to Watchmen than Wild Cards, but I have definitely been inspired by Wild Cards‘ approach to super-powered alternate history. And coincidentally, both The Specialists and Wild Cards began life as roleplaying games. I’ll talk more about that some other time.

Unfortunately, the earlier Wild Cards books are out of print, but new editions are said to be coming soon.