Thursday, September 8, 2016

For Those Who Can't Make The Exhibition: Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Still Underwhelm!

The Good: Limited edition, Easy to collect, Some good montages, Accurate to subjects
The Bad: Expensive, Very mixed subject quality, Odd crediting on some cards
The Basics: The Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set is an adequate substitute for a trip to see the traveling art exhibition, but it is not the most satisfying trading card set Rittenhouse Archives has ever made.

When it comes to trading cards, there is something to be said about the use of the medium. Trading cards are their own medium and they are most commonly used to represent other types of works - television shows, movies, comic books - in a portable, collectible, easy-to-reference medium. When it comes to Star Trek trading cards, most of the trading card producers who have held the license have limited themselves to trading cards of the actual source material - television episodes and films. In fact, the Star Trek trading card sets that have, historically, suffered the most in the marketplace are card sets comprised of artwork based upon the various Star Trek shows. Arguably, the earliest of those art sets failed because they were vastly overproduced, but even some of the newer Rittenhouse Archives releases that have been art-themed have performed poorly in the marketplace and with collectors. In fact, the only style of Star Trek trading card that has garnered less interest, historically, from Star Trek trading card collectors have been factory-assembled sets that provide collectors a complete (essentially) common card set in one fell swoop, as opposed to forcing collectors to assemble the set through packs, boxes and cases. So, when Rittenhouse Archives announced it was producing a factory-assembled art-themed Star Trek card set, it seemed like it would be a recipe for disaster.

The trading card set is the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set. The one hundred card set was released with an initial recommended retail price of $50 (clever, see the theme?) and it's a very tough sell. Which is why I brought up medium right at the outset. The Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set is based upon the roving art exhibition that is making the rounds for the next year at major Star Trek conventions, art galleries and events worldwide. Die-hard fans who are going to major conventions like the Las Vegas 50th Anniversary Star Trek convention will see all of the art pieces as part of the price of admission. But wait (I hear you cry) what if you can't spend the hundreds to thousands of dollars to make it to one of the cities or events where the art exhibition is being staged?! Fifty dollars seems like a great price for the ability to see the artwork then. The problem, sadly, for Rittenhouse Archives is that they were beaten to market by Titan Books, which produced a coffee table book of the artwork from the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Exhibition and it retails at under $40 (and, frankly, Titan coffeetable books have a strong history of getting clearanced for dirt cheap after the hype has faded!). So, those who want to see the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Exhibition have two less-expensive mediums (as well as free online, as it turns out as spoiled the entire exhibition!) before considering the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set. And for those who are drawn to the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set, they are likely to recognize fast that trading cards are an odd choice of medium for the exhibition and the execution of the cards was met with mixed results.

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set is a one hundred card factory-assembled set that was sold directly from Rittenhouse archives. It was not limited in any noticeable way - i.e. the sets do not have an individual collector's number. Each set was sold as an entire set in a convenient little box that kept the cards safe and together.

Common Cards

The one hundred common cards are trading card replicas of the artwork in the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Exhibition. How does one get one hundred trading cards from fifty pieces of artwork? Rittenhouse Archives very cleverly produced the set with a decent visual blend of the artwork from the Exhibition to create the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set. As a result, some of the pieces are given nine-card mural treatment, then there are three 3-card murals, before the set predictably phases into single card representations of the artwork.

The nine-card murals were (generally) good choices for Rittenhouse Archives to pay special attention to. Opening with the nine cards that come together to form Dusty Abell's loving tribute to Star Trek, the set gets off to a good start. Abell may have managed to get a character or ship from each and every episode of the original Star Trek into a single piece of art. It looks good and the level of detail deserves a nine-card tribute. In a similar fashion, Amy Beth Christenson's "Don't Believe In No-Win Scenarios," a stylized collection of Star Trek (franchise) villains has a lot of punch and looks great as a full-sheet in the card pages. Unfortunately, some of the other nine-card murals are not so wonderful.

Glen Brogan's piece is a somewhat ridiculous work of art; it features the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise where the main characters are speaking to one another in emojis. The Star Trek franchise has been more or less dormant during the rise of emojis and seeing the main characters reduced to simple emoji statements undermines the complexity of Star Trek in an insulting way. Derek Charm's "Fifty Aliens" features animation that looks like it came from Mad Magazine and Ulises Farinas insults Star Trek fans who might appreciate artwork of the franchise's aliens by reducing them to ridiculous cartoons that then have name bubbles; if you're a fan of Star Trek enough to care about the obscure aliens of Trek, odds are you don't need the cartoon versions of them telling you who they are! And yet, these three pieces are also given nine-card murals in the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set.

The three 3-card murals that follow have mixed results. Patrick Connan's reinterpretation of a Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan movie poster is brilliant and well-rendered. Nicholas Beaujouan's "Spatial Gnosis" was not my cup of tea, so it was hard for me to get excited seeing the three-card layout. And the Christopher Ryan Ross photo-montage "Set Phasers To Stunning" was all-right, but not thrilling (though I can see how it got three cards devoted to it!). Ross's photo also featured the set's most problematic writing on the back. Mayim Bialik is credited as the work's artist, while Christopher Ryan Ross is credited as "photographer." Bialik is the model and Ross is the artist/photographer; the only place Bialik is credited as "artist" for this work is on the Rittenhouse Archives trading cards. Crediting the model in such a way is a bit of a faux pas.

The Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set then becomes a series of one-shot pieces of artwork. The artwork cards have decidedly mixed results (as much art does). One of Leonard Nimoy's photographs is included and is a thoughtful addition to both the exhibition and the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set. Subjects range from experimental photographs like Nimoy's piece to the blockish art deco work of Jean-Baptiste Roux. Mattel managed to get some free advertising of two toys, as did the United States Postal Service by premiering the artwork for the forthcoming Star Trek postage stamps. The only artist likely to be instantly familiar to trading card collectors (outside, obviously, Leonard Nimoy!) is Juan Ortiz, who created the artwork upon which the Star Trek Portfolio Prints trading cards (reviewed here!) were based.

Most of the artwork in the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set is based on the original Star Trek, though the last seven cards are focused on Star Trek: The Next Generation and there are conceptual pieces like Joe Corroney's "recruitment poster" style piece "It's Your Galaxy Too!" The only real negative stand-out, outside pieces that were just sloppy or ridiculous ("Spock's Ride," I'm looking at you!) was Lynn A. Norton's "Fictional Starship Display Model, U.S.S. Bellwether, NX-90866." Norton is a sculptor for Hallmark and has created some truly wonderful works. The U.S.S. Bellwether is a concept piece and while "It's Your Galaxy Too!" manages to work, the Bellwether seemed like a forced addition to the exhibition. It was the visual equivalent of fanfic. Norton is incredibly talented and it would have been amazing to see a sculpt of a ship that Hallmark has never and would never produce (even, gag, an NX-01 Enterprise with appropriate coloring, which Hallmark has never quite gotten around to!).

The backs of the one hundred cards show the fronts of the card (or the full montage) in a smaller shot and include information on the artist, medium, and the piece's title.

Chase Cards

The Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set features no bonus cards.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

There were no cards for the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set not in each box.


Rittenhouse Archives cannot take any crap for the quality of the artwork from which they generated the Star Trek 50 Artists 50 Years Trading Cards Set. However, making the set at all feels more like a 50th Anniversary cashgrab than it does a legitimate collectible or an indispensable trading card set.

This set utilizes artwork based upon elements of the Star Trek franchise, most notably:
Star Trek
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
Star Trek: The Next Generation

For other limited edition Star Trek card sets, check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: Enterprise 9-Card Preview Set
2013 Star Trek Into Darkness 11-Card Preview Set
Star Trek Cinema Collection
Star Trek Deep Space Nine Premiere Edition Set


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

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