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Trading Card Set of the Week – Star Trek Master Series (SkyBox, 1993)

May 10, 2013

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Star Trek fandom takes a lot of abuse, most of it unwarranted, much of it understandable. The reason why William Shatner’s infamous “GET A LIFE!” SNL sketch stabbed at the heart of Trek nation was because its “colossal waste of time” indictment strayed a bit too close to the mark. This isn’t to say that it was right — that fans have turned something that Shatner “did as a lark for a few years, into a colossal waste of time.” Fandom knows no rationality, no one begrudges hobbies, and collecting memorabilia from a 1960s TV show that gained an unceasing foothold in the world’s pop consciousness seems just as valid a diversion as any. It ain’t worse than Beanie Babies, put it that way.

But man oh man, there’s a lot of Star Trek crap out there — emphasis on the “crap.” Chintzy, useless crap, reminiscent of those lame collector plates you’d always see advertised in TV Guide back in the day. In fact, now that I think of it, I think I saw some Star Trek plate ads back then, too. (Who displays those things in their home? Does Miss Havisham live there? With Leatherface?)

You can probably lump this set of trading cards in with the chintzy mountain of crap.  

For as long as Star Trek has been in existence, there have been Star Trek cards, and within the card resurgence in the 1990s there was a similar Star Trek renaissance going on. The 25th anniversary of the series in 1991 led to a critical mass of collector tchotchkes to go along with the hullabaloo, including a two-series edition of cards from Impel that stretched across both the original and Next Generation eras. Those were kind of nice, but of course that wasn’t the end. In 1993, still riding the glut wave propelling both cards and Trek (TNG still running strong, Deep Space Nine the new kid on the block), Skybox (Impel’s successor) put out the shiny, fancy, painted cards before us today: the Master Series. Think Marvel Masterpieces but with Star Trek. They’re thick. They smell expensive.

They’re also kind of gross. More on that in a moment.

The card subjects run the gamut, from character portraits to action scenes to dreamed-up scenarios to commemorative encapsulations of major moments in the history of the series. There’s a heavy dose of artist Keith Birdsong among the portraits, no surprise since his paintings have graced innumerable novel covers. Here’s the first binder page of the set to give you a taste of his work (Yeoman Rand’s card is painted by Jason Palmer):

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There’s nothing really wrong with any of them, but if you wanted to nitpick, you could go after Kirk’s beady eyes, Spock looking dumb (it’s all in the lips), poor Scotty and Chekov getting stuck with the drab millennial death cult unis from TMP, and Picard looking possessed. But they’re fine and dandy.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of cards with a distinctly mawkish element, which wander a tad afield from the source material. Take for instance this over-thought meshing of the U.S.S. Enterprise with the Statue of Liberty and America’s Fourth of July quincentennial (Gerry Roundtree):

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It’s like someone crossed Star Trek, Neil Diamond’s “America” and a velvet Elvis Presley portrait. Ick.

You want Borg? The Borg back when they were awesome, in all their “The Best of Both Worlds” glory, before Voyager got its filthy mitts in there and neutered them? There’s Borg for you (Roundtree):

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If I had to pick a personal favorite card, it would probably be the following, which has our favorite sentient bipedal lizard, from the classic episode “The Arena” (David Cherry art). It’s simple and understated, without the overthinking that dooms so many of the cards:

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Really, Mr. Gorn looks rather cheerful. At least if you get beyond the stone dagger.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to briefly put on my old, dusty Trek nerd cap, and use the skills I honed as a teenager when I watched far too many syndicated episodes and read far too many books and comics. Take a look at this card, featuring one of the endless Klingon characters to have menaced/aided our principal players over the years (Cherry):

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See what’s wrong? Do you? Keep looking if you don’t. Still don’t have it? Here’s the problem: Captain Klaa had nothing to do with Star Trek: The Next Generation, but was one of the villains in the very, very bad Star Trek V. What’s the significance of this? Not much — other than I WIN.

I offer this Khan card for no other reason than everyone, even people who dislike Trek in general, love The Wrath of Khan. I mean, it’s not like Khan has anything to do with the upcoming reboot sequel that would make him current and relevant. Of course not — after all, the big villain there is a Brit named John Harrison. Yeah, no Khan at all (Sonia R. Hillios):

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There are five “special” Spectra cards sprinkled throughout. I had one box and got two of them, which seems par for the course. (Incidentally, this was the most perfectly collated box of cards in the history of the world. Two sets, easily assembled, with room to spare. FYI.) I put “special” in quotes because the chase cards simply gussy up regular cards from the base set, which is rather lame. And the first one I pulled? This one (Bob Eggleton):

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Yes, fans won’t soon forget the time the Enterprise NAVIGATED THE ASTEROID FIELD. You want asteroid fields, talk to Han Solo, okay?

Compared to the aforementioned Marvel Masterpieces, these cards are severely lacking an edge, something that would grab you and pull you in like the visceral in-you-face aggressiveness of Joe Jusko’s work. These look like scenes airbrushed on the sides of vans — like a dolphin soaring through space with a yin/yang symbol in the corner, you know? Could I do better? No. Maybe I’m jealous because every time I ever tried to paint anything, it came out looking like cave drawings of hunters going after stags. Possible. But these cards are pure kitsch, with a the limited charm and extensive baggage associated with that term.

Which means they’re probably as perfect as they can be for the Star Trek universe.

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