Saturday, July 30, 2016

Interesting, But Expensive, Cryptozoic's Justice League Trading Cards Are Still Neat!

The Good: Good concept, Nice artwork, Some wonderful/creative bonus cards, No redemption cards!
The Bad: Some truly craptastic sketch cards, Virtually impossible to collect
The Basics: Despite being more expensive and having some lousy sketch artwork, Cryptozoic’s Justice League card set is worth collecting!

This week is a pretty DC-intensive week for me, whatwith finally catching up on some of my television and movie reviews and the imminent release of Suicide Squad this week. I'm starting the series of DC Comics-based reviews with a look at the brand new DC Comics Justice League trading cards from Cryptozoic. The Justice League cards illustrate well how Cryptozoic is evolving its product lines, by trying to capitalize on previous, successful, aspects of sets, while eliminating at least one element that made the set difficult for collectors to complete. While the Justice League cards are incredibly similar in their composition and collectibility to last year's Super-Villains trading cards, Cryptozoic learned from that prior set that the gold parallel set was a non-starter with collectors and eliminated it from the new set. Unfortunately, Cryptozoic enacted a price hike on their products at the wholesale level, so collectors will pay more for the Justice League trading cards . . . but get less than they did for the less-expensive Super-Villains set. That is pretty lousy.

That said, what is in the Justice League set is pretty decent and makes for a generally worthwhile set.

Basics/ Set Composition

The DC Comics Justice League trading cards were originally released in boxes with twenty-four packs, packs containing five cards each. Completely assembled, Justice League consists of 699 cards, but there are only four possible "master" sets that would contain 411 trading cards. While the set is heavy on incarnations of the Justice League from the New 52 reboot of the DC Comics universe, the Justice League cards include the Justice League Europe (from the 1990s), Justice League Task Force and the classic, Golden Age, Justice Society Of America in the set. Properly assembled, the set features sixty-three common cards and at least 348 bonus cards (which is the most reasonable way to count and include the unique printing plates cards) (all but eight of the cards are available in the boxes of Justice League cards).

Common Cards

Justice League is a 63 card set that features seven different incarnations of the Justice League and other major, mainstream DC Comics heroic teams. The common set is made up of seven nine-card murals, featuring artwork by Xermanico, who made the paintings for the seven murals. Xermanico's work features wonderful renditions of iconic characters like Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Black Canary, The Flash, and various Green Lanterns, as well as decent likenesses of the more obscure characters in the various Leagues, like Crimson Fox, Andrew Bennett and August General In Iron.

The common set looks wonderful, so long as one puts the nine cards in order so they are oriented correctly in a trading card sheet. The seven painting murals look similar to one another in form, with the teams in a general action shot, looking like they are ascending to the sky or descending onto criminals, depending on the team.

The writing for Justice League set is simplistic, but enough to help newbies differentiate between the eras and individuals on the cards. In addition to a small blurb about the character on the front, the backs of each common card lists the names of each character on the front of the card and the team to which they belong.

Chase Cards

The Justice League set features a quite a few more bonus cards than common cards, which is normal for trading card sets these days. Justice League set features, in the most practical way of assessing such things, 348 chase cards (though there are actually 636 bonus cards in the set) which range from simple foil parallel cards to significantly rare sketch cards to the 384 unique printing plates. In the packs, collectors can find 340 (or 628) of the 348 (or 636) bonus cards. The chase card breakdown includes: 6 Retro, 9 Madame Xanadu Tarot, 9 Model Sheet, 9 All-Star Comics Cover, 96 foil parallel cards, 9 Classic Batman TV On Cryptomium, 9 boxtopper cards, 6 Patch cards, 3 Totally Fabricated, 88 sketch cards (of various types) and 384 printing plates (though the most practical way to count them would probably be the 96 - one for each card front, regardless of the plate color). The most basic chase card set found in the packs are the foil parallel cards. The parallel cards replicate the common cards, Retro cards, Tarot cards, Model Sheet cards, and All-Star Comics cover cards but with mirrored accents. Fortunately, unlike the Super-Villains cards, the silver foil versions of the common cards are full-foil cards, so whites become silver and many of the common cards that are heavy in yellow are printed as gold foil cards! The bonus cards have backgrounds that are full foil and some of them - most notably the Retro cards - truly pop as a result of the foil reprint. The backs of the foil parallel cards are identical to the common cards, so when going through the packs, one has to look at the front of each card. It takes a whole case to assemble a complete set of 96 foil parallel cards.

Each box has a full common card set and the boxes also tended to have complete sets of Retro, Madame Xanadu Tarot, Model Sheet, and All-Star Comics cover cards. The Retro cards feature artwork reminiscent of promotional materials from the Super Friends television show for the main six Justice League characters, with beautiful solid-color backfrounds. These are nostalgia-inducing trading cards bound to appeal to those who grew up on Justice League cartoons from the 1980s. The Model Sheet cards are nine cards, each featuring a main character with a front and back reference and color blocks, as if they were sheets for the cartoon series. These, too, are very retro in their appearance and the backs reflect how iconic the characters from that incarnation of the Justice League truly were. The Madame Xanadu Taro cards are an interesting concept, but given how Justice League Dark failed to resonate with readers, the subject concept is a bit obscure. The nine cards have somewhat simplistic renderings of major DC Comics heroes with tarot card text, reminiscent of the major event/character cards in a tarot deck. So, Martian Manhunter (for example) appears in the set as The Alien. This might be the only real chase set dud by concept. The All-Star Comics cover cards feature the actual cover art from nine of the earliest comic books to feature the Justice Society Of America.

One per box was one of nine Batman Classic TV Series Cryptomium Reissue card. Cryptozoic replicated classic Batman TV series cards on their thicker Cryptomium foil cardstock and they remade the campy into cool and collectible cards. The foil and bright color cards make for a surprisingly distinctive chase, even if the text on the back is a bit boring (the backs simply state that it is a replica of a classic trading card, as opposed to replicating whatever text was on those original classic trading cards.

One per box is an oversized blank variant cover boxtopper. Each of the boxtoppers comes sealed in its own toploader and while the concept is cool - variant covers are awesome - Cryptozoic was basically mimicking its content from Super-Villains. As a result, these largely white covers basically feature the name of the primary comic book on it and, let's face it, a white card with "Wonder Woman" or "Aquaman" written on it at the top is hardly a compelling trading card.

The Totally Fabricated cards are a “hit or miss” concept card for fans of the DC Universe heroes. Costume cards are very popular trading cards these days and as the subjects of Justice League set are comic book characters, there would seem to be no costume cards that could be produced for the set. Cryptozoic did not let that stop them. Instead, they produced the “Totally Fabricated” bonus cards and Justice League set has three such cards in the boxes and packs. Found one in every 192 packs, Justice League set features admittedly fake fabric swatches (not really) from the costumes of Zatanna (no fishnets that I've seen!), Hawkman (awesome foil card!) and Firestorm. The Totally Fabricated cards are a neat idea and they are executed incredibly well, especially the foil-material Hawkman's card. Cryptozoic, to its credit, did not overproduce the Totally Fabricated cards, though the concept seems pretty played out at this point.

In addition to the Totally Fabricated cards, there are six patch cards that replicate the symbols of six New 52 Justice League heroes (no Batman, but there is are Aquaman and Cyborg patches!). The six patch cards were found about three per case and are like costume cards. This is a neat idea that is familiar now to fans of many varied genre-themed trading cards and Cryptozoic continues the tradition well in Justice League set.

Justice League set is fleshed out with eighty-eight sketch cards of heroes of the DC Universe. The sketch cards are produced by more than seventy different artists in four different configurations and each one is absolutely unique, so assembling a master set requires one to track down one from each type from each artist. Cryptozoic, very nicely, included a full guide to which artists produced which of the four types of sketch cards. The Justice League set includes traditional sketch cards, Tarot sketch cards, oversized Tarot sketch cards (which appear to be the rarest, found only one in every three or four cases!) and Hall Of Justice die-cut sketch cards. The quality of the sketch cards varies greatly between fine-art quality colored sketches and cartoonish, animated versions of the significant DC Comics heroes. The very first card I pulled was an absolutely terrible rendition of Frankenstein (Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.), but I pulled two Wonder Woman sketches that where absolutely immaculate! The Tarot variations, to their credit, feature entirely recognizable main characters, which is nice as the standard sketch I pulled of Crimson Fox forced me to look the character up to identify! The oversized Tarot sketch cards were produced by some of the best artists and I've not seen as many duds for those ultra-rare sketches. There are also Hall Of Justice sketch cards found one per case. The die-cut cards are in the shape of the Justice League's Headquarters and feature drawings of heroes or (sometimes, entire teams!) as well. The die-cut sketch cards are an intriguing idea, but more than with the prior DC Comics set, it seems like artists found the die-cut cards stifling to work with and turned them on their sides to render the characters, which makes the gimmick seem . . . more like a gimmick than a piece of quality artwork.

To assemble a true master set, collectors usually want one of each card. While sketch cards are absolutely unique, the concept that most collectors go with is needing one from each artist to complete a set. Unfortunately, with Justice League set, there are 384 Printing Plate cards. Unlike sets like Rittenhouse Archives's progressive printers proof sets from things like their Women Of Star Trek: Voyager set (reviewed here!) where the card manufacturer used the proof cards that insured the printing process worked and made them available to collectors, Cryptozoic broke up the actual printing plates - Black, Blue, Magenta and Yellow - and inserted them in packs (one per case). No one collector can ever assemble a complete, true master set of Justice League cards with the printing plate cards, so it might be germane to consider that one printing plate from each card (regardless of its color variant) might be used to make as complete a set as possible. It is hard to love the collectibility of a set where only four people can ever assemble a true master set by those standards!

Non-Box/Pack Cards

No matter how many packs or boxes of Justice League cards one opens, there are eight cards collectors will never find there. Non-Sports Update Magazine released seven different promotional cards for the Justice League set. Unlike prior sets, six of the promotional cards replicate chase cards, which makes them more inherently valuable than most Cryptozoic promotional cards!

The other card that cannot be found in any of the boxes or packs is the Green Arrow Totally Fabricated card. That card is only found in the binders of Justice League cards. Having only eight cards that cannot be found in the cases is actually pretty decent for collectors.


While, as a collector, I tend to loathe sets that are impossible to make master sets from, Cryptozoic's Justice League set is one of the better sets to include things like printing plates. As a fan of the DC Universe, there is a lot to love in the Justice League set . . . it's unfortunate that Cryptozoic charged so much for the otherwise cool cards!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store! Please check out my current inventory of these cards at Justice League Inventory Page!

For other DC Comics-based trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Epic Battles
The Women Of Legend
The New 52


For other card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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