Spy Vs. Spy (Austin Powers vs. Wild Wild West!)
By Kurt Kuersteiner © 1999 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
There are few careers that offer as much excitement as the professional spy business. There's lots of travel, intrigue, wine, women, and gun play... Little wonder Hollywood makes so many spy movies. Two of the most recent spy flicks were big hits at the box office, and both are available in card sets. They are Wild Wild West and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Since Wild Wild West is a period piece set 100 years before Austin Powers, let's begin there first. It chronicles the exploits of US agents James West (Will Smith) and Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) as they do battle with a 19th century sinister scientist named Dr. Loveless (Kenneth Branagh). No doubt someone out there is pointing out that West and Gordon are not really spies, but "secret service". Give me a break! The job of the secret service is to act as body guards to high ranking government officials and arrest counterfeiters. Has anyone ever seen either of these two swashbucklers make an arrest? They're too busy breaking & entering (without warrants), executing bad guys (without trials), and blowing up enemy headquarters (without proper environmental impact surveys). In other words, classic spy stuff.
The Wild Wild West TV show ran from 1965 to 1970. It starred Robert Conrad and Ross Martin in the lead roles. Dr. Loveless was played by Michael Dunn, a midget who made his character one of the series' most popular villains. Only three card sets showcased the television classic. The first was the 1969 UK set by Barratt & Co. If featured 50 color drawings that were a little smaller than 1 1/2 " x 2 1/2". Many of the British art sets are not very detailed, but this one is better than most. It usually costs between $50- $75. Series 1 and 2 of 60s Sci-Fi & Terror TV (Fun Fax, 1992) also included The Wild Wild West, but only to the extent of one card per 50 card set.
Like the TV show, the recent movie transplanted 20th century science into the 1870s (albeit with a Jules Verne style). They even went a step further with the movie and made James West black! (Something the real government wouldn't allow for another 100 years.) Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the film was making Dr. Loveless physically handicapped. In today's Politically Correct climate, having the bad guy amputated at the waist and confined to a wheel chair makes some in the audience squirm. Especially when Loveless and West first meet. They exchange insults, one making racists jokes, the other, handicap puns. It was surreal to say the least... but then again, so was the rest of the movie. I still can't decide if I liked it or hated it.
The cards by Skybox are nice though. 8,000 serial numbered boxes were produced, each containing 36 packs of 9 cards each. There are 81 cards in the basic set, the first 71 of which loosely profile the movie. The pictures are clear and diverse. They do a good job of capturing the best moments. Cards 72-80 profile the main characters. One of them is Frederique Van Der Wal, the famous model. I kept waiting to hear her voice in the movie but she never spoke. Either they thought she couldn't act, or I was too busy staring at her revealing costume (or both).
There are 9 "concept sketches" cards (1 per 4 packs). These are printed on a different stock that is stamped in gold foil on the front, but only coated on the reverse side. They show how most of the mad doctor's devices work. There are also 9 "Gordon's Gadgets" cards (1 per 12 packs). These look like regular cards on the front, but don't have any coating on the back. As the name implies, they profile the good guy's gadgets. Then there are the "Platinum Portraits" of Will Smith as West. These (gray) platinum foil embossed cards are hand numbered to 750. Do the math and that averages one every 3 or 4 boxes. So the average collector would have to break 9 or 12 boxes to get all three. (And you thought going to the movies was expensive.)
Finally, there are 15 different autograph redemption cards randomly distributed. The stars include just about everyone except James West. (Come on Will, remember the little guy! Even the great Kenneth Branagh found time to sign some cards.) There is no stated guarantee of one autograph per box, but my spies say they averaged one or two per box, which is pretty darn good. The only problem is that they are redemption cards instead of actual autographs. This means anyone who saves an unopened box past March 31st, 2000 can't redeem the actual autograph. That's a real disappointment if you happen to open the box after the deadline. But to be fair, Skybox probably had little choice. Companies resort to redemption cards when the celebrities don't get the autographs signed in time. It's either that or excluding the character altogether.
Fast forward to the future one hundred years and see the progress they've made. Austin Powers is The Spy Who Shagged Me, a groovy agent in Her Majesty's Secret Service. He's a spy with an eye for the ladies- but terrible fashion tastes and god awful teeth. The first movie, Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery was a runaway hit. The sequel did pretty well too, but was somewhat overshadowed by another recent block buster. As Cornerstone put it, "If you buy only one trading card set this summer, buy Star Wars. But if you buy two card sets, buy Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."
Everything about Austin Powers is either funny or so embarrassing that you laugh anyway. Both films remind boomers how ridiculous the "me generation" of the 60s and 70s actually was. The funky clothes, the far out lingo, the long side burns- all in a desperate effort to be cool and act hip. Now we're laughing our heads off at those who were most successful at "making a statement". Some folks still maintain the message of the 60s, but few adhere to the bizarre dress code. Austin Powers does both with zeal!
Mike Myers (formerly Wayne of Wayne's World) plays the colorful British secret agent as well as his nemesis, the evil Dr. Evil. He has fun with the role and both films are amusing antidotes to three decades of overblown Bond films. The 72 card basic set is made up of 50 scenes from the movie and story synopsis. They are good shots and relay the humor well.
Cards 51-60 profile the main characters. The reverse write ups are rather humorous diary entries typed by Austin. Cards 61, 62, and 63 feature the mechanical "hot rods" from the movie. (They include the VW Bug with its psychedelic paint job. It reportedly goes from zero to the '60s in 5.2 seconds!) Cards 64-72 are "Fashion Flashbacks" (wardrobe shots) with puzzle backs.
The various chase sets include 3 different poster cards (1 per 12 packs). There are also 5 different "mojo cards" (M0-M4) which are inserted 1 per 18 packs. And of course, there's a "License to Swing" identification card, but only 1 per 72 packs. (I didn't find any, which was a pity, because I could use any help I can get.)
There were also several different promos, and it turns out that Cornerstone added promos P6, P7, and P8 to random packs. These haven't been released anywhere else as of yet, according to Darren Johnson, Cornerstone Operations Manager. Darren also said that all 600 cases of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me have been sold out. (But there are still factory sets available. They contain no chase cards and are sold primarily through Spencer gift stores.) Darren confirmed that Cornerstone plans on producing another Austin Powers set in the fall, but no details are certain at this point.
So now you are probably wondering who wins this showdown between spy sets? The winners are the incredibly lucky spies themselves. They always manage to slip out of trouble and nab all the beautiful babes. The losers are definitely the doctors (Loveless and Evil). Despite their advanced education and creative genius, they always lose out to the more athletic types who know how to fight. (This is beginning to sound like High School dejavu) Rest assured which ever century you live in will remain safe as long as there are agents like West and Powers serving in the secret services. More importantly, Hollywood will continue to entertain us with their undercover exploits and card companies will immortalize them in cardboard. Like I said- the spy biz is one heck of a career!
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