Wild Cards Volume 9 - JOKERTOWN SHUFFLE
Jokertown Shuffle is a direct continuation of One-Eyed Jacks, but this time we see things more from the jokers' point of view as Bloat consolidates his plans for his Ellis Island stronghold. His stories, The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat Parts I-XI (by Stephen Leigh) make up the spine of this volume, recounting his evolution as the leader of a growing resistance against the nats and run in conjunction with Lovers Parts I-VI (by Melinda Snodgrass), which deal with Blaise and Tachyon.
The first Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat segment puts us into the mind of Bloat as he dispenses a little justice in his new kingdom, before And Hope to Die (by John J. Miller) propels us right into the action with Brennan being forced out into the open by assassins, and ending up in hospital fighting for his life.
The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat Parts ll to lV run concurrently with Lovers Part l & ll, in which Tachyon is taken hostage to Ellis Island (AKA the Rox), and finally realises how repugnant Blaise really is. In Madman Across the Water (by Victor Milan), Mark Meadows becomes America's Most Wanted, but employs some executive aid in order to get that which he most desires.
The authorities make their first assault on the Rox, and Bloat faces some harsh realities in The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat Parts V & Vl, while Tachyon gives Blaise some good news in Lovers Part lll. Elsewhere, in While Night's Black Agents to Their Preys Do Rouse - Part l (by Walter Jon Williams) we meet Black Shadow, a man with a severe identity crisis who, by helping an old friend finds himself some new enemies and realise there's more to art than he first thought.
Bloat gets a new tenant in The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat Part Vll, and in Riders (by Lewis Shiner), Veronica's journey to get to the truth behind last volume's mystery ends in pain before Jerry comes to the rescue in Nobody Does It Alone (by Walton Simons), where he wraps up his business by using matter over mind.
Bloat converses with a penguin before mouthing off to the world in The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat Parts Vlll & lX, while Tachyon just talks to himself in Lovers Part lV. Black Shadow visits the Rox in While Night's Black Agents to Their Preys Do Rouse - Part 2 (by Walter Jon Williams) and discovers a secret about himself when he makes a deal with the governor to get a friend off the island.
Lovers Part V has Tachyon seeking out the Turtle for some moral support, and The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat Part X sees the second attack on the Rox by the nats, wherein Bloat reaches deep into himself to unleash the power of art on his assailants. Blaise makes his escape in Lovers Part Vl, and Bloat's imagination makes the impossible possible in the final segment of The Temptation of Hieronymous Bloat.
If the last volume was saved by its connecting stories, the exact opposite is true for Jokertown Shuffle. While realising the necessity of expounding on Bloat's 'growth' - thereby setting the stage for volume 11 - and the warped relationship between Tachyon and his grandson (which also forms the basis of the next volume), that realisation does not make them any more pleasurable to read. It wouldn't be so bad if the page count of the running narratives was similar to that of previous volumes, but here both add up to over a third of the book. Lovers is particularly heavy-going and repetitive.
Thankfully, saving the book from getting totally immersed in repeated rapes, degradation and bloatback are the actual stories themselves, which are, with the exception of Riders, fast-moving and full of great characters. Some old and some new. Right from the outset, with And Hope to Die, we get the long-awaited climax to Brennan's vendetta, with Yeoman and Kien battling it out in the Jokertown clinic. While Madman Across the Water is the exciting resolution to the last volume's Captain Trips story, with a feel not unlike The Magnificent Seven, as Mark and his friends (and his 'friends') go on a mission to retrieve his daughter.
While Night's Black Agents to Their Preys Do Rouse is another choice tale and gives us some much needed back story for Black Shadow, who's only appeared in the background up till now. A tough, ruthless multi-powered ace who seems to be one of the few who actually use their powers in the traditional manner - ie. as a vigilante, Shad is a nice updating of his namesake from the 30's pulp books (with a hefty dollop of the Batman thrown in). He refrains from enquiring whether people know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, but he does get to do the sinister laugh every now and then.
In addition, we also get the satisfying conclusion to Jerry Strauss' mission of vengeance, begun last volume, in Nobody Does It Alone, as Jerry discovers he's more resourceful than he first imagined and helps close a loophole in the Jumper saga.
If, once again, the whole seems to be rather less than the sum of its parts, then that is more than compensated for with the next volume in the Jumper storyline, Dealer's Choice, which will prove that the writers always seem to save the best til last.
Ackroyd (to Tachyon): 'There are people who are actors on history. They can't step off the stage no matter how much they might want to. You're one of those people - you poor bastard.'
Cosmic Traveller: 'I'm one of your daddy's friends. Cosmic Traveller, I'm called.'
Sprout: 'Oh, I know! The blue one. The one everybody says is a weenie.'