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Trading Card Set of the Week – DC Cosmic Cards: Inaugural Edition (1992, Impel)

February 4, 2013

cosmiccardsbox

This is going to be the first of a weekly (when possible) feature here, looking at the best and worst of the comic book related trading card sets to have come out over the years. Mainly they’ll be from before both industries went through their simultaneous bust in the mid-1990s, though there may be a few here and there that come from more recent times. Emphasis on “few.”

Drumroll, please.

We might as well start with DC’s Cosmic Cards, which came out just as the popularity of both comics and cards was cresting in 1992. An “Inaugural Edition” seems fitting to inaugurate a new feature, so that clinches it. Impel, the company that produced them, had already put out two sets of Marvel Universe cards, which were runaway hits (and will one day be featured here), and DC surely had to have been chomping at the bit to get in on this action. What held them up? Well, take another look up at the top of the empty box lid up there, which once held 36 glorious packs of 12 cards each. Look at the characters. Flash. Green Lantern. Superman. All well and good, and each fine to be the face of the product.

Now gaze upon the four variant packs themselves:

cosmiccardspacks

Superman? Fine. Wonder Woman? Fine. Green Lantern? Fine. Deathstroke? Wait, Deathstroke? He has his following, but there’s something off here. It feels like there’s something missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. A character that they’re forgetting. Someone with a cape. Ears. It’s on the tip of my-

BATMAN.

Yes, boys and girls, Batman appears nowhere in the 180 cards of the base set, nor amongst the harder to find holograms. Nor does Robin appear. Or Alfred. Or any of the villains who’d be incarcerated in Arkham when not menacing Gotham. Joker. Penguin. Riddler. Catwoman. Hell, Clayface.

THIS IS A GAPING HOLE, PEOPLE.

It also explains why DC waited so long to fling these out to the market, and where the “Cosmic” came into play. (Though, to be honest, many of the characters have about as much to do with space as I do.) I’m not 100% sure on this, but I’d think that the rights to produce Batman cards were still at this point in the hands of Topps, the most venerable manufacturer of this kind of collectible. They had produced sets for the first Tim Burton Batman movie in 1989, and for Batman Returns two years later (a regular set and one under their prestige Stadium Club brand). DC had to count themselves as lucky that the last set of cards for the Superman film franchise had come in 1983, and the rights had lapsed in the interim. (In an odd way, this roughly mirrors how Marvel, which had to farm out its properties, has established a combined cinematic universe, while DC, which has a studio under the same corporate umbrella, has had fits and starts towards the same.)

I’d say going Batman-less is akin to having a Marvel set without Spider-Man, but even that wouldn’t measure up to the omission of the premier rogue’s gallery in the business. So, basically, the set is DC No Batman Cards: Inaugural Edition.

Yet, once you get over that (you never do completely), it’s not a terrible product. Though the gray borders that surround every card are as drab as a prison hallway, there was some care taken in the art and execution. Each individual character card has text and trivia on the backs centered on its subject, an inset of an item associated with that character, as well as handy small print identifying the artist(s) behind what’s seen on the front. Also, characters that have had distinctive versions in the different comic book ages get different cards. Here are Superman’s, done by Steve Rude, Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson and Jerry Ordway:

cosmiccardssuperman

Really, who else but Swan? (Incidentally, are we on the Post-Post-Post-Modern Age Superman now?)

Another of the classic cards that tickled my fancy was the Golden Age Wonder Woman card. Trina Robbins, who teamed with Kurt Busiek to forge the criminally forgotten The Legend of Wonder Woman, did the honors:

cosmiccardsww

Love the twinkle on the lasso. (Robbins also did the Golden Age Cheetah.)

Keith Giffen tackled Legion cards, Simon Bisley did Lobo’s, Carmine Infantino did the Silver Age Flash’s and Adam Strange’s, et cetera. Kevin Maguire did some of the core Justice League members from his run, including DC’s great romantic power couple, Big Barda and Scott Free:

cosmiccardsbardamir

The Mister Miracle card wasn’t the only one to break the fourth wall and incorporate the cards themselves into the art. Low-level villain Manga Khan got in on the act:

cosmiccardsmanga

Kudos to artist Ty Templeton for making a guy in a frozen mask look like he’s smiling.

I was grinning much like Mr. Khan when I got these cards recently. I wound up buying three unopened boxes for a ridiculously low price on eBay, and resolved to form up a set or two from one of the boxes, see how many holograms I could get, and maybe save the other two for rainy days. I figured I could maybe sell one of the sets for a low price, and recoup some of the already low price paid. EVERYONE WINS.

A few things:

  1. When I opened the first box, I touched the first pack to my head, like Johnny Carson doing the Great Carnac bit, trying to will a hologram into it. And when I opened it, there was a hologram. I did the same thing with the next. Another hologram. And the next. And the next. Two more holograms. At this point I was wondering if I had developed actual powers, and, when I found another hologram a few packs later, I was debating whether or not to form my own super-team. But there were no more in the first box. It turns out that they just threw four hologram packs on the top layer and one underneath, for a total of five in each box. Which is lame, and gives lie to the “randomly packed” puffery.
  2. The cards were reasonably well collated. I was ten or twelve packs in before I got my first double, a complete set was easily obtained, and there were only a few cards needed for a second. So I thought, what the hell, I’ll fill out a second set from the second box and then leave the remainder for those rainy days.
  3. The second box (which confirmed the hologram placement) rapidly filled out the second set. Except:cosmiccardsgnort
  4. Yes, folks, I was missing G’nort, the dog Green Lantern. Ch’p I could live with. Better yet, Salaak. But G’nort? This was vexing to no end, and it grew even more awful as pack after pack was torn open in a desperate search for card #117. But no G’nort, all the way down to the bottom of the box. Terrible. So there I sat, with useless cards all around, and one set to show for it. And there was the third box.
  5. So much for the rainy day. The good news: more G’nort cards were found, and four complete sets were eventually made. The bad: no more sealed boxes, and the four leftover packs you see above are all that remains of the trove. (It was a bit like the guns going down to zero in the director’s cut of Aliens. All I needed was Bill Paxton freaking out over my shoulder.)
  6. On the hologram front (all done by Walt Simonson, btw), there were fifteen in total (3×5, for all the mathematically challenged like me), which produced eight out of the possible ten. There were two extra Deathstrokes, three(!) extra Hawkmans (dopey modern armor Hawkman, too), and one each of Green Lantern and Superman. Only Wonder Woman and Waverider were left out. (Nothing dates this set more than Waverider being in the DC Hall of Fame.) Here they are — put on your sunglasses:

cosmiccardshol

Even as a kid I was never that taken with holograms as a chase card. Wow, awesome, a card that almost kind of looks like a beloved character if you hold it just right!

Despite the drab borders, despite the void of Batman’s absence, and despite the marginal characters thrown in to fill out the depleted roster, the set is fun. There are also cards depicting famous crossovers of the past, as well as some reproducing famous first covers of major characters, and overall it feels like there was at least a modicum of thought put into the production. They weren’t up to the level that Marvel had established with their first two editions, but the cards feel nowhere near as chintzy as what was to come in subsequent years, as both comics and cards circled the overproduced dreck drain. Going through the boxes was a lot of fun (except for DAMN G’NORT), and for a couple of hours I was again a kid sitting on his bedroom floor, sorting cards into piles and scribbling out checklists.

Nostalgia of course tinges this opinion, but what other reason would there be to buy cheap cards twenty years on?

More to come.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt W. permalink
    April 6, 2013 10:10 pm

    Spent too much money on these when they came out, (and I have a full set with four holograms total), but i understood why no Batman, but I wondered why there was no Green Arrow? why? Speedy is there. so I’m a bit perplexed

  2. dan permalink
    July 27, 2015 4:49 pm

    There is a Nightwing

    • July 27, 2015 6:47 pm

      There is indeed — but no mention of his pre-Nightwing career alongside a certain someone.

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