Hot Summer Horror & Sci-fi
By Kurt Kuersteiner Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine


This has been a hot summer for horror and sci-fi stories. Hits on both the big (theater) & small (tv) screen have assured many of these same titles be remembered on cardboard. The following are some thoughts about a few of the more colorful card creations of late, including the latest from Buffy, Battlefield Earth, Titan A.E., plus a detailed review of Farscape.

The reason for going light on the first three sets is simple. They've already received recent write-ups in Non-Sport Update. (For complete reviews, check out NSU's last two issues.) But I'd still like to add my 2 cents worth just for kicks.

Inkworks has released the forth in its series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer cards. These are called Buffy the Vampire Slayer Reflections: The High School Years. I gave the first series a positive review, and enjoyed the second and third season sets as well. But then there were the photo cards, and now the reflection cards. I bet I'm not the only collector who feels this cow is getting over milked. Season four has yet to be released and then there's also Angel Season 1 due out this month. That will bring the total of Buffy sets to seven in just two years! Even a full time Slayer would consider that overkill.

The other problem is the cards themselves. They're printed on a "rarely seen, ultra-premium type of card stock". It's a rough matte surface stock and feels kinda cool. But it interferes with the detail and makes everything look grainy. Maybe they're grainy video grabs and it helps conceal the problem. I don't know but I don't like it. I'm not a big fan of duplicating the same photo on the back as seen on the front, but in this case, it actually helps because the back photos are more clear than the fronts. Now that's a scary thought.

As the name implies, there are lots of photos of High Schoolers (most of which look like Calvin Kline models) and not very many monsters. If you can't get enough of Buffy, this set is definitely for you. But at a suggested retail of $3 a pack, others may find it easy to resist. There are 72 cards in the base set and three levels of chase cards (the last being six different autographs).

Battlefield Earth was a big time movie flop staring John Travolta. The fact that the Church of Scientology was promoting it may have had something to do with why many avoided the flick. I found myself reluctant to buy a ticket when I thought the profits might eventually worm their way to the likes of L. Ron Hubbard and company. But then I thought, "What the heck? I already support Hollywood. How can a mind control cult be any weirder or sleazier than that?"

I'm glad I went. It was no masterpiece, but a fun sci-fi romp. The fact that my expectations were so low only made it all the more enjoyable. Travolta was the worst actor of the lot, but acting like he was acting somehow added to the fun of the feature. It seemed, in retrospect, like a parody of science fiction. You couldn't take it seriously if you wanted to. It was to sci-fi what the Batman TV show was to super heroes!

A typical example was the in the air to air dog-fight scene. For generations, humans have been reduced to ignorant cave dwellers and turned into slaves by superior alien invaders. Solution? They find a hidden cave with the last of Earth's jet fighters stashed inside. The jets not only work, the fuel is still good and the flight simulator still runs (someone must have left the power plant running all those years). So the cave men learn to fly the high tech jets in seven days. Now THAT'S the kind of science fiction that really requires imagination!

So I'm happy to see the Upper Deck set of Battlefield Earth. Based on the movie ticket sales, they probably ate their shorts on this one, but that only translates into bigger savings for the collector buying sets on the second hand market. There are 90 cards in the base set plus three different autograph cards. There are also four different "powerdeck" cards which offer digital playbacks of the movie trailer. It's a hobby first and there's 1 per 17 packs. On the downside, there are only 3 cards per pack...

My vote for the best of the Summer sci-fi movies is clearly Titan A.E.. What an experience! I had low expectations for this movie too, but the color and animation simply blew me away. It's a futuristic "end of the world" tale where Earth's last survivors wonder the universe for a special spacecraft that can recreate the planet.

If you missed watching this in a theater, try to find a time machine and go back a few months to correct the problem. The effects are simply stunning on the giant screen. Remember the cool colors of Disney's TRON? They achieved the same effect here, only the story is fast paced and fun to follow. They also appear to have mixed actual models of the ships along with the animation. The result is an amazing blend of imagination and reality. The rock and roll soundtrack adds to the excitement as well. The 90 minutes FLEW by at light speed (plus or minus a few thousand miles per second.)

With this set, Inkworks has a winner. The photos are clear and the backs are a fun read. I don't recall very many commercials for this movie airing on TV. What a shame, because it's the kind of animated spectacle that the theater was made for. And the card set is a colorful reminder of it. There are 90 cards in the base set and 3 levels of chase cards.

I've only watched one episode of Farscape in my life, but after seeing this latest set from Rittenhouse Archives, I want to see more. The TV series premise follows the exploits of an astronaut who is stranded aboard a renegade craft when his own ship slips through a worm hole into another galaxy. This is a beautiful set with rich colors and a wide assortment of images. Rittenhouse always seems to do a good job about cleaning up their photos. If they are video grabs, they're DARN GOOD video grabs! Another great plus is that the photos on the back are different from the photos on the front, making it seem twice as nice as the sets that just duplicate front and back pictures.

This set is called Farscape Season 1, and Season 2 is also in the works. There is also a "Farscape in Motion" series due out in December. But Season one is made up of 72 base cards, 9 character cards (1:4 packs), 9 behind the scenes cards (1:6 packs), 9 Season Two preview cards (1:8 packs), 6 "From the Archives" costume cards (1 per box) plus a 7th costume card as a case topper. There are also 4 different autographs (1:72 packs) but a 5th autograph card is available with the binder. And finally, there is one "Farscape in Motion" card in each box.

Of particular interest are the costume cards. Theoretically, these are the stupidest concept for cards I have ever contemplated. A little swatch of the actual costume imbedded in a card? Give me a break! I hear the Sports card brain trust came up with this bright idea, only they used swatches of smelly sports uniforms. (Scratch and sniff, anyone?) Talk about a ridiculous gimmick! But you know what? Once I saw and felt the card, I kinda liked it. I still think it's stupid, and the novelty will probably wear off soon, but in the meantime, consider it a "guilty pleasure". (Just don't hold it against me if everyone starts doing it.)

The autographs are from Ben Browder (John Crichton), Anthony Simcoe (Ka D'Argo), Gigi Edgley (Chiana), Brian Henson (the muppet master's son and series producer). The binder autograph card is Rockne S. O'Bannon (series creator).

If you're wondering what the Farscape in Motion card is, it's the series logo. But the motion effect is pretty cool. I imagine the upcoming series of all motion cards will be equally intriguing.

Well, that's it from this corner of the card universe. It's been a fun sci-fi summer so far, and the best part is that there's still more to come!


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