Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Back When Star Trek Trading Cards Were More Creative Than Collectible: Star Trek: Master Series!

The Good: Interesting concept, Some genuinely nice artwork, Neat chase cards
The Bad: Overproduced, Chase not terribly exciting, Some real lame cards, Mediocre text on backs
The Basics: SkyBox produces a purely middle-of-the-road set that is dragged down (ultimately) by its overproduction and inability to hold value.

Back in the day (okay, we're only talking 1993, so it's not like eons ago!) Star Trek card collectors were easy to please. A box of trading cards cost approximately $25.00 and you were able to get (usually) a complete set of common cards and maybe two or three bonus cards and fans were happy. Because the fans were so easy to please (this is what happens when they go almost twenty-five years without cards of the show they like!) the card manufacturer, in this case SkyBox, was in no rush to go out of their way to do anything extraordinary. As a result, some of the early card sets were more creative and original as opposed to being truly collectible or an actual investment. The 1993 SkyBox release Star Trek Master Series is the set that pretty much proves the point on that.

The Star Trek Master Series trading cards were originally released in boxes with thirty-six packs, packs containing six cards each. The series consists of 90 cards with five chase cards. Chase cards, for those not up on card collecting lingo, are bonus cards that appear in packs with an infrequency that makes them hard to find and therefore must be chased after. They are considered bonus cards and are numbered outside the numbering of the regular (common) cards in the set. There are three promotional cards that complete this set that were not available in the boxes of cards (one was an exclusive through Non-Sports Update Magazine, the others were given to dealers to distribute as is the common practice with promos).

The "Masterpiece Series" is a 90 card set broken down with no sense of rhyme or reason between Star Trek, the six Star Trek films, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Ultimately, the breakdown is 50 Star Trek (including movies) cards, 37 Star Trek: The Next Generation cards, 1 Deep Space Nine card, 1 mixed generations card, and the checklist. What makes this set different from virtually any other set is that instead of using photographs or other images from the actual series, this set is comprised of artwork based on images from the shows. These cards are replicas of oil paintings, airbrushed paintings, and what appear to be colored sketches (the mediums are not listed on the cards).

One of the problems with this set is that it is put together in a sloppy way. Images are oriented both landscape and portrait style with no rhyme or reason to the direction of the image other than what fits. When assembled, this means one has to constantly turn the binder to read cards or see the image from the proper orientation. This is particularly annoying when reading the backs in order as it means turning the binder frequently. Fortunately for collectors (and autograph hounds that like this set) the first eighteen cards, which focus on the crewmembers, are all oriented in portrait style so they have a decent, consistent look to them. But that's pretty much where the order to the collection ends.

The set illustrates no real sense of order following the first seventeen cards. After the crews, there are forty-eight cards that mix together ships, aliens, important events in the history of the Star Trek universe and ridiculous concept cards, like the Enterprise soaring over the Statue of Liberty flanked by jets (so much for Gene Roddenberry's multicultural vision of the future!) and artistic representations of iconic events in the Star Trek universe (like the Kirk and Uhura kissing). Then there are eighteen aliens represented including some of the background aliens from the Star Trek films that had less airtime than the average red shirt. The set closes with one card for each of the six Star Trek films and a checklist.

The checklist illustrates one of the problems with the set; the writing is mediocre at best. The checklist is the only card in the series where the number is on the front of the card (as opposed to the back, which is traditional and consistent with the rest of this set). But coming off the massive Star Trek 25th Anniversary Sets (links below!) fans who actually read the backs of the cards are likely to be seriously disappointed. The character cards do not contain any new insights or information, the episode cards are dull, and some of the concept cards basically boil down to "I thought this would be a neat idea, so I painted it." The only genuinely new thing this set has in terms of the writing on the backs is the artists' perspectives on why they painted each work and the descriptions of the films. Often that isn't all that impressive. Moreover, the set contains several mistakes, like Captain Klaa from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (reviewed here!) being referenced as from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's that type of sloppy writing and/or research that makes one doubt the enthusiasm of the manufacturer.

The images are a real mixed bag in this set as the quality of the art (and artist ability) varies greatly. The "Master Series" opens with a true master; Keith Birdsong's portraits of the main cast members of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation are wonderful . . . almost as wonderful as when they originally appeared. Most all of the images are culled from paintings Birdsong did for the covers of novels from Pocket Books. I mean, they're wonderful renderings (they sell books!), but fans of various media and mediums for Star Trek are likely to catch that pretty quick. Birdsong and the character portraits are the standouts of the set, though.

That is not to say the rest of the set is a strikeout. Some of the ship images are pretty wonderful. Indeed, it is a shame that card 27 "Ship's Phasers" was not rendered as a bonus card (on one level, it's the opposite orientation of the five Spectra cards) it's such a cool image! There are a smattering of interesting card images throughout the set and some of the best are of creatures that few would even associate with Star Trek!

But then there are cards like #46, depicting one of the very coolest moments in Star Trek: The Next Generation, from the episode "Reunion" (reviewed here!). The likenesses are terrible, the coloring is poor and the overall effect of one of the most dramatic moments of the series is cartoonish. Sadly, this is not the only card where the artwork is questionable. Several of the images look like they are animated as opposed to capturing any sense of reality of the Star Trek universe. They are not "Master" works, they are amateurish.

I write this not to be mean. Indeed, this month I have an art exhibition up in Canastota entitled "An Argument For A Novelist To Stick To Writing." I'm not a visual artist . . . sadly some of the people whose artwork appears in this set seem to be in the same boat as me. In other words, some of these images are likely to disappoint fans, especially after the general level of quality coming out of the first cards in the set.

The chase cards are what are called Spectra cards and the "Masterpiece Series" has five of them, all oriented in landscape orientation, all featuring artwork of various starships. The Spectra cards are a textured foil card and they are a little thicker than the regular cards and the foil nature of the cards is evident when one tips the card at a slight angle. Outside the difference in numbering and the color of the sidebar, the backs of the Spectra cards contain the same writing as the common versions of the card. These etched foil cards look good and were two per box. It's not the most exciting chase in the world, but it does make it fairly easy to make a master set of these cards!

Like the prior SkyBox or Impel releases, the Master Series was seriously overproduced, though the product did not seem to hit the market in a flood the way the prior three card series' did. As a result, sets of these cards have maintained a value pretty consistently in the $5 - $10 range and the Spectra cards holding value around $5.00/ea. Boxes of these cards have dropped in price from their initial $25 price into the $10 range, which is not bad for the 36 pack box. Collation was generally good in this set, so one box ought to net at least one common set (by the numbers, it ought to be two and change, but practical experience often found these boxes not quite that evenly collated).

Overall, this set is a poor investment in terms of quality and value. Sure, it's cheap enough, but most collectors expect more than just five chase cards and the Spectra cards won't light anyone's world on fire. This set is ideal for a beginning collector or a cheap gift, but the quality of the set does not hold up. The cardstock is medium grade and there is no UV coating, so the cards get damaged fairly easily when not properly cared for, though they do not appear to discolor - though this is a very colorful set, so it's hard to tell!

Purists and absolute completists will want this set, but it has little appeal for general fans. But then, by their nature, they want everything and aren't very discriminating. I, in recent years, have decided I want better.

For other mixed series Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 1
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 2
Star Trek Cinema 2000
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards


For other card reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment