Thursday, December 22, 2011

SkyBox Makes One Failure Worse With Star Trek 1994 Master Series Cards!

The Good: Interesting concept, Some genuinely nice artwork, Nice-looking chase cards
The Bad: Much of the artwork is terrible, The best items not in box, Chase, Collation/Organization!
The Basics: SkyBox produces a pretty terrible set that is made even worse by its lame chase cards and its difficult-to-find exclusives.

SkyBox, the non-sports affiliate of Fleer trading cards, was a pretty unambitious company when it picked up the Star Trek license and started producing Star Trek trading cards in the early 1990s. Star Trek: The Next Generation was going strong, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was beginning, there was the 25th Anniversary and fan interest in Star Trek and trading cards was high. SkyBox, therefore, produced approximately two sets of Star Trek cards a year, usually with only one level of chase cards and neither the sets nor the chase held their value very well over time.

My how times have changed!

SkyBox, however, was pretty well known for following its mediocre products with even more mediocre products! Following on the heels of their 1993 release Star Trek Master Series (reviewed here!), SkyBox released the 1994 follow-up, 1994 Star Trek Master Series (technically, it's 1994 Star Trek Edition Master Series, but no one calls it that!). Whereas the first release had both originality and some quality artwork, the 1994 Master Series is lacking in truly great art - for the most part - and had even lamer chase cards than the first release. As well, this might be the very worst organized set of trading cards (at least of the Star Trek line) that SkyBox ever produced.

The Star Trek 1994 Master Series trading cards were originally released in boxes with thirty-six packs, packs containing six cards each. The series consists of 100 cards with nine chase cards and a survey card. 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 two promotional cards and an exclusive mail-away set of four cards that complete this set that were not available in the boxes of cards. As well, there is a binder available for this set, though it is remarkably hard to find these days. Sadly, it is all of the stuff that is not in the box that retained its value in this set and so the boxes continue to lose market value (usually they may be found in the $10 - $15 range).

The "1994 Master Series" is a 100 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 29 Star Trek (including movies) cards, 39 Star Trek: The Next Generation cards, 29 "Deep Space Nine" card, 1 mixed generations card, and the 2 checklists. In the tradition of the Master Series set, the images on the cards are comprised of artwork based on images from the shows. These cards are replicas of acrylic paintings, airbrushed paintings, pencil sketches, oils, watercolors, (I kid not) markers and computer digital illustrations (the mediums are listed on the backs of each card).

Perhaps the most serious problem with the base set is that it is put together in a sloppy way. "Sloppy" actually does not begin to cover it in this case. In addition to the haphazard style of assembly where images on the cards are oriented both landscape and portrait style with no rhyme or reason, the cards are not arranged in a sensible number order. So, for example, anyone who puts trading cards into a binder knows that standard card pages hold nine cards. It has been that way . . . well, forever. It's a nice number, nine cards per page. The "1994 Master Series" actually attempts to exploit that (well) by creating a lovely 9-card image of space station Deep Space Nine (yea!). Those cards are numbered 25 - 33. Catch the problem?

Yes, assembled in a pure, normal number order, the mural would start on one page and end on another, as opposed to having all nine cards on one page (which is kind of the point of a nine-card mural!). As well, later in the set, villains and heroes are put together in cards that belong side by side, which leaves gaps in the binder pages again in order to properly assemble the look of the artist's intent. Yeah, this is an absolutely terrible set in that regard. As always, with the portrait and landscape orientation issue, no matter how the set is assembled, one has to constantly turn the binder to see the image from the proper orientation. There is not a worse set as far as putting together in a binder in Star Trek history. This set is a HUGE disappointment in that regard.

The set illustrates no real sense of order . . . at all. The set begins with twenty-four alien race and character cards mixed together without respect to artistic quality, appearance in the franchise, show the character/alien originated on, or even simple alphabetical order! Then, there's the mural of Deep Space Nine, followed by four cards illustrating relationships on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is followed by seven computer-illustrated concept shots of places in the Star Trek universe. After that, there are more character relationship cards (this time heroes and villains, six cards total) before going into twenty-six starship drawings (terrible, just terrible!) and fourteen episode drawings (some of the worst cards of the set) before finishing with eight computer-altered cast shots of each of the main cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There is no sense of order with people, ships, episodes, etc. mixed up pretty randomly, a problem made far worse by the arrangement problem. The two checklist cards bring the set to an even 100 cards.

Fans who read the backs of the cards will be unlikely to be wowed by them. Whereas when the series' were underexploited in terms of merchandising, by the time this set came out (and since) there were innumerable books, magazines, and collectibles that would inform the casual fans about what the show was about. So, for example, the average Star Trek fan who would be collecting this set is more likely than not to have seen the classic episode "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!), and they will not need yet another card (the card in this set is at least the third since SkyBox started producing cards three years prior to feature a plot description of this episode!) describing its plot. A few of the cards have the artist's thoughts/inspiration, and one or two cards are of character, ships or concepts that are obscure and thus the writing on the back of the card is once again is worthwhile. Again, these are few and far between.

The images are generally terrible. Indeed, the good ones are the exception to the rule, not vice versa. The ultimate rating of this set comes from the terrible nature of the common and chase cards that are available in the box and in large part that is because most of the artwork is hideous. The pencil sketches look amateurish, the episode cards are atrocious and the Deep Space Nine crew portraits are barely art. Indeed, when did taking a publicity photo and using a computer to remove and change the background and pixillate the character become art?! It's Sunday afternoon boredom and the result looks awful, absolutely awful! None of the artists from the first set returned for this set and it shows in the quality. I'm a huge fan of Star Trek and I like science fiction art and I had heard of NONE of the artists who did art for this set!

Perhaps the bottom of the barrel in this set are the episode cards. Card 85 recreates the 3-D chess game from Star Trek's "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (reviewed here!) in hand-painted dyes, markers and acrylics. It looks like a sketch from a high school student's notebook when they doodled in class! It looks that unprofessional and simplistic!

The chase cards are what are triptych cards and the "Masterpiece Series" has nine of them, all oriented in portrait orientation, all featuring artwork of the three crews from Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. These cards are completely indistinguishable from common cards, save by the numbering on the back (F1 - 9), a spectra foil on the left side . . . and the fact that the artwork isn't crappy! The portraits range in quality and the best is the Star Trek crew triptych. These Crew Triptych cards look good and were three per box, meaning it takes three boxes (with ideal collation) to make a master set. It's not the most exciting chase ever devised, largely because it's not much of a chase card!

The best things in the 1994 Master Series are not available in the box. First, there is a binder to this set, which was originally a mail-away deal for $19.99 including the shipping. Now one is lucky to be able to find the binder under $50, even though there were no exclusive cards in the binder (as there are now)! As well, there was a bonus card set available directly from SkyBox as a mail-away exclusive (the offer was on the wrapper). The Proscenium Hologram set is a set of four cards that feature unique artwork that blends standard trading cards with both embossing (they surface of the cards is raised in points corresponding to the image!) and holograms. So, for example, HG3 features the Next Generation crew on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, looking at the viewscreen. The viewscreen is a hologram of a Romulan Warbird. This idea is very cool, excellently executed, unique to this set of Star Trek trading cards and this set has retained its value quite well over the years. When one can find this exclusive set, the starting price is usually $50!

Unlike the prior SkyBox releases, the 1994 Master Series was not overproduced, making it a little harder to find unopened boxes of these cards. However, because the set was so poorly received and the chase cards do not hold much value, boxes may usually be found below $15.00. The common card set ranges from $5 - $10 and the Crew cards are easily obtainable for $5.00 or less, each. Collation in the set was pretty bad and usually it required two boxes to assemble a single set (though you'd have a lot left over and could sometime get two sets out of the two boxes).

Overall, this is possibly the worst set of Star Trek cards ever produced and a box of them is not worth your money. This set is a poor investment in terms of quality and value.

Purists and absolute completists might want this set, but collectors who want something good, fun to collect and that will retain its value will need to look elsewhere.

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.
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