Witches, Cowboys & T-Zone Cards
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2001 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
Three recent sets have given TV fans more to collect on cardboard. Charmed, Twilight Zone, and The Wild Wild West. Two of these series are classic nostalgia sets from Rittenhouse Archives, the other is a new program profiled by Inkworks. Since card collectors are notoriously old fashioned, we'll be gentlemen about this and let the ladies go first...
The Charmed is a relatively new television series that stars three beautiful women as sister witches. (Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano.) Hollywood certainly knows how exploit a fad, and this series incorporates teen America's recent fascination with Nature worship, a form of "white witchcraft" known as Wicca. Fundamentalists call it devil worship, but the alienated young hipsters who practice it insist it's harmless. They don't believe there is anything evil about it and maintain it's a resurrection of the druid religion. They set up altars and use crystals and cast "good" spells. It is to gals today what Dungeons & Dragons was to guys in the 1980s... A fashionable "in crowd" thing that has its own rituals, vocabulary and belief structure that appears mysterious to outsiders who don't "get it".
I was one of those clueless head scratchers until I started dating a gal who was totally into Wicca. From what I could tell, the main attraction for getting guys involved was the girls-- who often parade around at various Wicca functions "skyclad" (nude). With bait like that, there was rarely a shortage of either (or any) sex at Wicca events.
But I digress. The point is that Wicca is a popular social trend that seems to be spreading fast and furious. The Charmed TV series will no doubt fuel that interest. But while the show omits the hippy "free love" thingy and the druid religion motif, it plays up the occult witchcraft angle. The result is a blend between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Bewitched... Only you get three Buffys instead of one Samantha, and plenty of warlocks and monsters tossed in at no extra charge.
The card set is colorful and dominated by the three 20 something models looking anxious, sexy and/or spellbound. The first 45 cards give a basic story line of several episodes. The remaining 27 cards profile various characters and demons. There are a few fuzzy, dark and grainy pictures in the mix, but that seems typical in the video grab biz. Rumor has it that this set took extra long to finish because various stars kept rejecting pictures when their hair wasn't perfect or they didn't look gorgeous enough. This nit-picking got to be ridiculous at times, even rejecting shots of chase scenes because the hair was tossed out of style. (My hair would stand on end if a demon chased me, and they're worried about their bangs?) It must be tough being a beautiful star.
Also included are nine different foil puzzle cards (1 per 11 packs), six different "Book of Shadows" cards (1 per 18 packs), and a special die cut spirit board card (1 per 108 packs). The Book of the Shadows cards are unusual in that they are folded cards with spells printed inside. I don't know if any of the spells can be used to conjure up the tough autograph cards. There are six different autos randomly inserted. They are signed by Shannen Doherty (Prue), Holly Marie Combs (Piper), TW King (Andy), Dorian Gregory (Inspector Morris), Brian Krause (Leo), and David Carradine (Tempus). No telling why Alyssa Milano (Phoebe) didn't sign. Maybe she was stuck on a flight? (Pardon the broom humor.) A display album is also available from Inkworks for $20.
Another super-natural series is the classic Twilight Zone. This is the second series Rittenhouse Archives has gleaned from the TV show of the same name. Twelve episodes were profiled in the first series (Premiere Edition) and another twelve are profiled in this set (The Next Dimension). Since Twilight Zone produced 151 episodes from 1959 to 1964, we could be in for another ten sets in this series!
The episodes profiled this time are Nick of Time, The Self-improvement of Salvadore Ross, The Fear, Perchance to Dream, In Praise of Pip, The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank, Shadow Play, Four O'clock, The Jungle, A World of His Own, and A Most Unusual Camera. The numbering sequence begins where the last set left off (#73). This series is black and white with a hint of "cathode ray" blue.
Besides the 72 base cards, there are 9 "star cards" featuring different guest stars like Shatner and Burt Reynolds (1 per 6 packs). The Z-2 Checklist card is 1 per 10 packs. The Rod Serling cards are 1 in 40 packs and comprise a 3 card mini-set. But the biggest selling point to these cards are the 17 different autograph cards, two of which are included in every box. The stars that signed this time were William Shatner, Beverly Garland, Burt Reynolds, Don Gordon, Gail Kobe, Don Rickles, Joseph Ruskin, Jean Carson, Don Keefer, Jack Klugman, Theodore Bikel, Peter Mark Rickman, James Best, Sherry Jackson, Buddy Ebsen, Shelley Berman, and Dennis Weaver. These also start where the earlier set left off (#A20).
Can't afford to buy enough boxes to finish your autographs? No prob. Just find all 9 different autograph challenge cards (1 per pack) and spell "Rod Serling". Mail it in to Rittenhouse and you'll get a complete autograph set for free. (Odds of winning are 1 in 3,200 packs.) The rare card is the "s" card, and only 100 were made. You'll also win the missing autograph from series one (A15 Elizabeth Allen), which means only 100 people who collect this series can ever hope to really finish it. (And you thought Willy Wonka's contest was tough.)
Running out of money yet? Not so fast. There's also an autograph card of Suzanne Lloyd (A37) that you can only get with the purchase of the binder for $40. Also included are 12 plastic sleeves (a .96 cent value!) and an exclusive Shatner promo (p3). This is probably a little frustrating for folks who bought the last 3 inch binder since it takes up a lot of space on the bookshelf but only houses one set. Most of us were under the impression we would house the next several T-zone sets in there too. Yet another expense for completists is the signed autograph card A38 by Pat Hingle (a case topper).
This series features clear pictures and (unlike The Charmed) doesn't repeat the same shot on the reverse but uses different photos. Another plus point is that the entire Next Dimension series is limited to 8,000 serial numbered boxes. From the blunder department, someone misspelled Twilght in GIANT letters on both the box and the $40 binder.
Rittenhouse produced half as many boxes of The Wild Wild West. (4,000 serial numbered.) This set is black and white with a touch of wood brown/ orange. It follows a similar format as the T-zone set. 100 base cards profiling eleven episodes from the 1965-1966 season. The original show lasted four years and 104 episodes, and a second card set is already in the works. Others will likely follow.
Flipping through the cards, one is quickly reminded how much fun the show was. It was originally created by Michael Garrison, who wanted to cash in on the James Bond craze and the western trend. By the time he finished adding all the spy gadgets and mad scientist villains, he had created a science fiction series as well. The biggest villain was the midget Dr. Loveless (played by Michael Dunn). Dunn started out as an acrobatic cheerleader in college. He was a fine actor who was nominated for Tony and Oscar awards. But his physical size trapped him in a handful of roles. Though he was the most popular guest star of WWW, he was hopelessly type-cast when the series ended. He committed suicide in 1973.
This set outlines four of Dunn's great episodes. Other villains included are John Dehner (as the Steel Assassin), Don Rickles (as Asmodeus) and Richard Kiel (as the giant Voltaire). And did I forget to mention the heroes? James T. West (played by Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). Conrad was considered quite the hotshot wearing those ridiculously tight pants! They also made a big deal out of the fact he did his own stunts and fight scenes. But that quickly ended after a painful injury occurred while filming. (Maybe one of the stunt men got tired of his attitude?)
There are also 9 "vintage West" cards of Conrad (1 in 4 packs), 9 "master of disguise" cards featuring Martin (1 in 6 packs), and 2 commemorative cards dedicated to the late Martin and Dunn (1 per 36 packs). Once again, we're treated to 2 autographs per box. The 14 different are Robert Conrad, Yvonne Craig, Lloyd Bochner, Jean Hale, Richard Kiel, Phoebe Dorin, J.D. Cannon, Barbara Luna, Bob Herron, Sigrid Valdis, Henry Beckman, Sue Ane Langdon, William Campbell, and Don Rickles. Again, a $40 binder is available from Rittenhouse with an exclusive autograph and promo. Case buyers get 5 case topper cards (of 999 serial numbered sets made).
That's it for TV's Couch Potato Card Club. It's good to know that kids today can get some exercise sorting cards when they aren't glued to the tube. Next time, we'll talk with those wacky folks behind Package Parodies! Oh, and in case you're wondering, the witch relationship didn't work out. The spell wore off and I had to burn her at that stake. (But I still carry a torch for her.)
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