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Sci-Fi Sets: 2 are Hot, 1 is Not!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 1998 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine from Issue #152

  This Fall, leaves aren't the only paper raining from the sky. An abundance of new cards are scattered everywhere. But you won't see many folks collecting them to burn. Most the recent titles deserve to be saved (and the rest are too expensive to waste!) Over thirty titles were scheduled for release from October to December this year. Instead of trying to itemize them all, we're going to take a close up look at three of the most recent big name science fiction sets. They are Starship Troopers, Outer Limits, and Lost in Space Archives.

If any film deserves to have a "buzz" associated with it, it's Starship Troopers. This Hollywood blockbuster is, after all, a film about bugs. Big nasty bugs with bad attitudes but good appetites. They apparently make a play for planet Earth and the humans decide they don't like the competition. Since the story takes place in the future, rocket ships and special effects play almost as big of a role as the characters. Did I say characters? I should have said "models". Most of the cast looks like guest stars from Melrose Place. (How they manage to blow dry their hair during the fighting sequences is anyone's guess.) But the point is, there's a lot to look at in this film and it translates well on the cards.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but after seeing the cards, I really want too. I expect it to be as mindless as the Independence Day film was- but exciting nevertheless. Unlike the Topps ID4 set, this series from Inkworks features clear photos and no grainy video grabs. The pictures are also interesting and distinctly different from one another. I didn't want to read them because I didn't want to spoil the surprise of seeing the film, but many of the photos compelled me to flip them over and read all about it. The backs feature short summaries of each scene and usually a sketch from the story board. There are also some "behind the scenes" shots as well (a subset of nine). The complete set is 81 cards, but there are also nine embossed "Bug Wars" cards (1 per 11 packs), four embossed "Art of Starship Troopers" cards (1 per 17 packs) and two gold embossed "Starship Gold" cards (1 per 54 packs). Of the three chase sets, the "Bug Wars" seemed the most interesting. The "Art" set features a puzzle piece photo of the box art (soldiers charging the viewer) and the gold cards are standard gold embossed foil cards. The die-hard fans will probably want them.

Many collectors credit Inkworks for keeping their word about set breakdown per box. (The company promises at least one full set per box.) I certainly found it to be the true with my box. I also found the exact amount of chase cards as the stated statistics would imply (3 Bug Wars, 2 Art cards, and 1 gold card). The 36 pack box isn't going to win any awards for beauty, but the regular set does exactly what it's suppose to do: It generates excitement for seeing the flick. Overall, Inkworks deserves credit on this one.

I wish I could say the same thing for the Outer Limits set from Duocards. At first glance, this series seemed to have everything going for it. A popular title, two seasons of new shows to draw material from, and Gary Gerani at the helm as card editor. For those of you who don't recognize the name, Gary is the long time Topps editor who crafted such classics as Fright Flicks, Universal Monsters, and Dinosaur Attacks. (There was a excellent article about him in the December issue of Non-Sport Update.) If anyone could make a great set, it would seem to be him. But alas, as much as I want to love this set, I can't. It's stuffed with filler cards, ho-hum pictures of props, and stagnant PR shots of actors looking at the camera. Even the best episode of the season ("The Sandkings") is wasted with a graphic of nothing but the title. Other episodes like "Birthright" and "Dark Matters" could have featured shocking monster pix. Instead, they have actors standing around. Some of the photos are eye catching, but too many of them are not.

To be fair, I don't believe it's Gerani's fault that this set looks the way it does. "Higher ups" probably limited him when they decided this series would only feature "Season One" episodes. There just aren't enough dramatic pictures to stretch out over 81 cards using 22 shows, even after including the first season from 1963. (Remember, most the good pictures from the 1960s series were used up by Topps over thirty years ago. If you want something different, you're stuck using left overs.) It appears that someone was more interested in holding back material to produce a second series than they were in producing a high quality first series. Cutting down the number of cards in the set would have helped, but that would have reduced pack sales and cut into profits. (So once again, the bean counters trump the artists!) One sign that editors are struggling for good photos is when they use the same picture on the back as they do on the front. For instance, Universal Monsters Illustrated had a great variety of different photos on the back and no duplication. But most of the pictures in this series appear on the front and the back. It gets old real fast.

I hate to sound harsh, because these days, the hobby needs more promotion than criticism. But when the industry is slumping, products need to be more imaginative, not less. And I've heard plenty of other collectors grumble about this set, so it's not just me. Nine of the regular cards are reissues of the original Topps 1964 set. So are the six Chrome chase cards. So are the nine OmniChrome cards (which you have to order from the company for $10). I haven't seen either of the two gold cards yet, but don't be surprised if they're also reissues from the Topps series. (Is it unfair to expect more originality from a set costing over $100 to complete?)

On the bright side, the backs are very well written and interesting. Gerani is a long time science fiction TV buff (he wrote a fantastic book about the genre called Fantastic Television back in 1977) and his love for the subject is obvious. The cards are printed on classy 24 point stock. The break down of sets per box is good. (I got two from my 30 pack box, plus two Chrome cards). Some of the boarderless black and white stills from the 1963 season are interesting too, though not very dramatic. And there are some cool monster cards from the new show.

The Lost In Space Archives set (by Inkworks) could easily have encountered the same problems as Outer Limits, but fortunately, does not. All three seasons (including the black and white first season) are featured to make this set interesting. The color is remarkably good, and the editorial (also by Gary Gerani) is fun to read.

Remember how the backs of the Hammer Horror cards were broken up into subsets of nine so they matched as you flipped each plastic page in your collection? The same thing is done here and with good effect. The subset titles are: Launching of Lost In Space (how it all started), Never Fear- Smith is Here (Doctor Smith's classic moments), Amazing Encounters (weird situations and aliens), Techno Futura (the various ships and robots featured in the show), The Women of Lost In Space (famous female regulars and guest stars), Memorable Moments (famous plot gimmicks), Classic Episodes (favorite episodes), Cast Profiles (brief bios of the cast) and The Movie Preview (nine shots from the upcoming movie).

About that upcoming movie... The preview cards don't tell you much, but they do make it look interesting. William Hurt plays Professor John Robinson. Gary Oldman plays Doctor Smith. He certainly looks the part, but can he sound as slimy as Johnathan Harris did in the original series? (Oh, the pain... the pain!) It does not appear that the new movie will try to recreate the cheesy "camp" atmosphere of the original show. The truth is, no one could accomplish that feat like Irwin Allen did- especially when he thought he was being serious.

The set is made up of 81 cards. There are also six "Weird Alien" holo-foils which are pretty neat (1 in 17 packs), and a nine part foil stamped puzzle card of the Robinson family (1 in 11 packs). There's also a "Danger Will Robinson" embossed foil card of the Robot (1 in 108 packs) and a standard cardboard Robot card you can cut out of the bottom of each box. For the record, my 36 pack box had two regular sets, two "Weird Aliens" cards, and three "Robinson Family" cards. I'm not sure I'm going to chase after all the chase cards, but I certainly enjoyed the overall set. Most L.I.S fans probably will, too.

For hard-core collectors out there, keep in mind all three of these sets have promos available. Both Outer Limits and Lost In Space offer binders direct from the company. All three series have rather plain silver foil wrappers. Of the three products, the Outer Limits and Lost In Space boxes looked the most handsome.

Well, sci-fi seekers, this concludes our report from Alfa-Control. Till next time, may you remain hopelessly Lost In Cards...

 

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