Universal and the SyFy Channel have partnered on a feature film venture called Syfy Films, and the company has just picked up rights to the long-running superhero anthology Wild Cards.

Superhero developments are a dime a dozen these days, but this one might have a better chance than most, because it bears the name of A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin. The recent publication of the latest book in Martin’s fantasy epic, combined with the fandom for HBO’s series based on the novels, means Martin’s popularity is at an all-time high. So the purchase of Wild Cards was probably inevitable. But the series is truly epic, with many characters whose histories span a quarter-century. So what happens next?

THR says that Syfy Films made its first buy with this rights package, which covers the entire series of books and stories. The Wild Cards stories began in 1987, before Martin published A Game of Thrones, and features stories in an alternate Earth “where an alien virus has been unleashed over New York City. Those who survived were turned into either a class of beings named Jokers, mostly deformed creatures, (or more rarely) Aces, who have special powers.”

Martin curated the series and contributed to it, with stories also coming from a great many other authors: Roger Zelazny, Lewis Shiner, Walter Jon Williams, Pat Cadigan, Howard Waldrop, Leanne C. Harper, Chris Claremont, Victor Milán, and John J. Miller. (Some of the Wild Cards characters were born out of a long running Superworld campaign, for which Martin was the gamemaster.)

The stories were originally created around the same time Frank Miller and Alan Moore were revitalizing the superhero genre in mainstream comics with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Martin tells THR that Wild Cards was a reaction to comics and the way superhero stories were told in a semi-static fashion:

We had a love of comics books and superheroes that we grew up on, but we approached the material differently. We wanted to do it in a grittier, more adult manner than what we were seeing in the ’80s. It’s something that many other people have been doing in the decades ever since. One of the things we have going is the sense of history… The comics in the mainstream are doing retcons [retroactive continuity] all the time. [Heroes] get married, then one day, the publisher changes his mind, and then they’re no longer married. To my mind, it’s very frustrating. [Our stories] are in real time. It’s a world that is changing in parallel to our own.

Syfy Films exec Gregory Novek says,

This is, beyond Marvel and DC, really the only universe where you have fully realized, fully integrated characters that have been built and developed over the course of 25 years… The trick for us is to find what’s the best movie.

All we know is that Syfy Films was set up to make movies on a much smaller budget than that of the typical tentpole. So this won’t likely lead to a series of giant superhero movies to compete with stuff from Marvel and Warner Bros. That could be a good thing, though, as the smaller budgets could allow for more storytelling risks than we see from the big superhero films.

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