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Trading Card Set of the Week – The Valiant Era (Upper Deck, 1993)

April 9, 2013

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Of the legions of mass-produced trading cards that came out in the early 1990s, few overshot the mark more than The Valiant Era from Upper Deck. Riding the wave of popularity that then still propelled Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics, they were supposed to be that company’s prestige entry into the still-new and very successful comic book card marketplace (not counting the second-rate Unity set from Comic Images). That they were, but they had a print run that made the Jim Lee X-Men #1 seem scarce by comparison, a proliferation that undermined the collectibility of what were, as we shall see, an attractive product, if one with few surprises. It was perhaps appropriate that this set, which celebrated what had been up to that point a string of triumphs for the upstart critical darling, also had overproduction and speculation to blame for its downfall, much like the comic book mothership. These cards were just another hemisphere of that bursting bubble.

The base set consisted of 120 cards, all (except for two checklist cards) reproducing covers from Valiant comics up to that point, while describing events from the stories on the backs of each. This sounds lazy and it is, but bear in mind how delightful the Valiant covers were. There was an excitement in them, an energy, a synergistic build as an expansive, brand new shared universe was molded before our very eyes. Shrunk and reproduced on the shiny lacquered stock, the cards offer an 118 slide show of what was a glorious failed experiment. All the major titles are included: Magnus, X-O Manowar, Solar, Harbinger, Rai, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong, et cetera, et cetera.

Two months ago I bought four boxes of the cards on eBay for less than twenty dollars, just to see if tales I had read of atrocious collation were correct and to see what spread of chase cards (there were many) could be had. As far as collation goes, after four boxes, which should have yielded 8+ complete sets if the distribution was perfect, I only had four complete sets — indeed, it was only at the last pack of the second box that the first set was completed. Collation is a fine line, in that you don’t want to make putting a set together too easy, but you also don’t want to frustrate the buyer so much they want to drive to the factory and torch it. This verged a bit too far towards the latter for my tastes, but I have a short fuse. Your collation mileage may vary. (And, for Upper Deck cards, I’ve seen worse. More on that in future editions of TCSotW.)

That said, the cards are nice. Here are some samples of the memory lane finery offered by the base cards, starting with the first in the set, with Magnus, Robot fighter with his miniskirt and go-go boots karate chopping his way into our hearts:

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Hey, this neato Barry Windsor-Smith Archer & Armstrong card looks familiar:

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There were two subsets of chase cards, Unseen Art and First Appearance(s). The Unseen Art cards are just that: unpublished artwork that was shelved for various reasons, and the only thing to differentiate them from the set corpus is a dash of gold foil. Behold:

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The First Appearance cards look a bit different, with their “Light F/X Technology” wonderment. Behold again:

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The final two cards are odd, in that they’re supposedly “rare,” and one is unadvertised. The unadvertised card is a hologram header, which functions as a memorial plaque for what promised to be an enduring, fruitful trading card empire (and wasn’t):

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The big card of the set was a Joe Quesada X-O Manowar Chromium card, which reproduces both the X-O Manowar #0 cover (just about the only special cover from that era I like all these years later) and all its shininess (the scanner doesn’t really convey its gleam):

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The odd thing is, though this card is only found once in every three boxes, it’s actually easier to find than any of the other chase cards, which come one in every twelve packs. Do the math, and you see the problem. If there are nine chase cards in each subset, that means, if you get a perfect spread, to have all eighteen you’d need 216 packs. As it turned out, I had two X-O cards in the four boxes I opened, and was missing one Unseen Art card and five First Appearance cards. THEORY AND PRACTICE ARE CONVERGING TO PROVE MY POINT.

A note about the gloss used in this set: It’s all well and good when cards are fresh and good, but compact storage makes them stick together. Some cards were fused together in the packs I opened, and, when I bought a complete set later on that had all the chase cards (what I really wanted), the 120 card set was as solid as a brick. Lesson: Either store these things in pages or sleeves, or you’re not storing them at all.

There would be another Valiant Era follow-up from Upper Deck, and an abortive Deathmate set, which would, like the crossover namesake did with the comics, signal a death knell for the comic-card connection. Like going back and reading the Valiant books, this set is a bittersweet experience, but it’s nothing if not pretty. Should you ever want to buy an unopened box, beware of the collation and super glue gloss, but prepare to smile a little bit.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason Wroten permalink
    July 4, 2014 7:11 pm

    Dude …. you talked about all the cards except the Battlestone D2 chromium holofoil card that is the most rare card to complete the FULL set !! I know because I collected the card set and have the Battlestone D2 card . You need to do more research !

    • July 4, 2014 7:22 pm

      Since the Battlestone D2 card you’re talking about is in the Deathmate set — a completely, utterly, irrevocably different set — I think my research was sufficient. I may cover that one someday as well, so feel free to keep checking back in. Dude.

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