By Kurt Kuersteiner (©2006 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
Terrorism has been in the news a lot this last month. Al Quada's leader in Iraq was finally killed, President Bush gave a surprise visit to Iraq as well, and Congress debated whether to fully commit itself to winning the war on terror without regard to any deadline or a dead count (which recently passed 2,500). With all today's news, controversy, and fear of terrorism, it's hard to remember the laid back attitude that existed before September 11th, 2001. Back then, those who claimed the US would be a target of an organized terror campaign received little more than a rolling of the eyes or a Chicken Little quote. But that didn't stop everyone from predicting a terrifying future for America. One of the more graphic warnings was issued nearly twenty years ago in a most unusual format: collector cards.
It was 1987 when the Piedmont Candy Company issued "Terrorist Attack", a 35 card factory set that profiled famous terrorists and terrorist acts of the last century. The title suggested they wanted to cash in on the fame of "Mars Attacks", which were considered pretty controversial and gory when it was released 25 years earlier. Perhaps Piedmont expected a similar fire storm. According to the Benjamin price guide, "The creators, a Midwestern collector and Den's Collector's Den, even hid their identities behind (an apocryphal title)." But if there was a storm of protest, it was more of a tempest in a tea pot. Americans were no longer very shocked by anything in cards, and within a few years, serial murderers and porn would even make it onto cardboard.
Benjamin correctly observes that "Terrorist Attacks" was one of the earliest "collectors sets" to be produced for the hobby. Once Non-sports became an overnight fad and highly profitable in the early 1990s, a slew of independent companies (usually made up of one or two individuals with a passion for cards and/or easy money) started producing sets. But the bubble gum bubble soon burst, and the market shrank down to a much smaller size where it remains today. But independently produced sets remain a permanent part of the Non-sport landscape, and account for many of the most creative sets made.
One of the striking things about "Terrorist Attacks" is the fact that the original art is quite good. A chronic problem with independently produced cards is the quality of the art. However, the anonymous artist behind "Terrorist Attacks" was both talented and professional. Many of the portraits are photo-realistic and look very much like the man (or maniac) intended. The colors are vivid. Many of the scenes (although not all) are action packed as well. Some might complain the topic is lurid-- and it is-- but how can a topic on terrorism not be bloody? The only "tasteful" alternative would be not to address the issue at all. Unfortunately, the last two decades clearly demonstrate that ignoring the cancer only allowed it to grow.
In addition to the veiled reference to "Mars Attacks" in the title, the editorial tone harkens back to an earlier time in trading card history when it was assumed that every card collector was a fierce patriot and considered anyone who challenged America as evil. Check out these comments from card #11, "The Training Camp:"
"Being a terrorist is not an easy occupation. The average terrorist is an ignorant and illiterate slime who has difficulty using a fork, much less operating a machine gun or rocket launcher. Therefore, those nations that feel national policy is advanced through kidnapping and murder of innocent people need training camps where terrorists can learn their repulsive skills. Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Syria and Libya are among the nations which train terrorists how to kill unarmed tourists and workers. These nations then supply their murderous vermin with weapons, supplies and even targets of attack. After an attack has been made, these countries claim that the terrorists were working independently. Of course, when their training camps get attacked, these countries throw diplomatic temper tantrums at the United States."
My personal favorite card goes even farther over the top. It's the text to the very last card, #35, affectionately called "No More Muammar:"
"How can we stop Kaddafi and others like him? First, we can refuse to give them any aid -- be it economic, military or humanitarian. We can encourage a worldwide economic boycott of the countries who foster terrorism. When a terrorist incident occurs, we can make sure the terrorists are killed or imprisoned. We can pressure the Soviet Union to convince its allies to follow a passive and peace-loving path. Finally, we can nuke them until they glow."
Such subtle diplomacy! The author clearly missed his calling as a UN speech writer.
This series has a lot going for it, but it is not without some shortcomings. Both the title card and checklist are surprisingly bland. The title card only has "Terrorist Attack" on the front with a sky blue background and no other graphic at all. (Little wonder dealers usually stick another card in the front to attract buyers.) And why is the checklist numbered card #2 instead of the last card in the set? Why are Hitler and Mussolini included in the terrorist line up? They seem not only out of place time-wise, but labeling them terrorists is a stretch, since both used uniformed government forces to attack enemies, unlike regular terrorists. (It was probably just an excuse to include a Hitler card, something any Horrors of War fan could appreciate.)
But these criticisms are minor. And while this series is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is one of the better independent sets and is well worth the $10 it usually costs to pick up on the secondary market. It's noteworthy that it warned about possible nuclear, poison gas, and car bomb attacks against targets like New York City, the Statue of Liberty, and domestic nuclear power plants decades before the mainstream media did.
Perhaps the best part about "Terrorist Attacks" is that it does what other nostalgic sets often do. It reminds us of a more innocent time. A time when a terrorist attack in America seemed like a remote possibility, instead of a constant threat.
PS. This email was sent by Joe who indicated some of the cards were sold as packs in a plain white box. Here's his discription of it:
"The box is plain white, with no identification at all. There are 36 packs in the box, each with 8 cards. The copywrite date on the wrappers is 1986 and they have an offer for a free copy of Baseball Card Digest for 5 wrappers from any Piedmont Candy Co product that are sent in with your mane and address."
Thanks for the info, Joe!
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