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Trading Card Set of the Week – Cosmic Teams (1993, SkyBox)

August 16, 2013

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One of the very first vintage products to make it into our intermittent Trading Card Set of the Week feature was DC’s Cosmic Cards, that company’s first big release during the early 1990s comic/card boom. It was a belated answer to Marvel’s and Impel’s wildly successful sets, which took kids — like me — by storm. Cards of your favorite heroes (and villains)? Holograms? Is this Heaven?

The Cosmic Cards set was meaty and nice, but its cards had drab gray borders like the walls of a prison infirmary and, more importantly, a gaping hole within because of rights issues: no Batman, and nothing from Batman’s immediate orbit either. No Robin. No Joker. No Harvey Bullock, even. You kind of see where they got the “Cosmic” from, right? Yet the cards, like everything else tossed out to the ravenous public back then, were a success. Which necessitated a follow-up. Enter Cosmic Teams, from Impel’s corporate successor, Skybox. They arrived with different borders but, sadly, still no Batman to be seen. Still Cosmic, after all. But hey, Lobo was front and center on the marketing! (Having apparently killed Hulk’s friend Sym somewhere in his travels and made a kneepad out of him.) How bad could they possibly be [he asked with dripping anti-Lobo sarcasm…]?  

If there was another complaint with Cosmic Cards, apart from the aesthetics and distinct lack of Caped Crusader, it was that the set was too damn big, as if it was trying to overcompensate both for its tardiness and it shortcomings. Cosmic Teams trims things back, both in the base set and the de rigeur holograms. This is welcome, as with cards, like life in general, less is often more. Combine that with a fresh — and very welcome — coat of paint, with blue borders with some different accents, and you’re off to a good start.

The “Team” element is in play throughout the set, as characters are grouped and labeled with their sometimes very loose affiliations — indeed some, like Worlds of Magic, are completely external to the comics themselves, and just a means of grouping certain characters and cramming them into the set. You of course have the Justice League in here, both of America and International, the Green Lanterns, and some team schisms of the era, like Team Titans and New Titans. The first couple of dozen cards are unique, in that they form three-card murals of the teams. This is good, in that it’s somewhat fresh, and has a nice appeal when the cards are slipped into nine pocket pages. The bad is that, if you have an latent OCD, or just crave order, the odd borders when the cards are sorted individually will give you fits.

The Justice Society of America grouping is probably the best of the bunch, thanks to art from none other than Joe Kubert:

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The card backs for the team cards have some text about that group and a key to identify the characters on the front (which is handy with some of the forgotten groups). The backs for individual character cards are similar, but include a panel of art from an old comic featuring that characters (in the case of some characters, like the Justice Society folks, a real old comic), as well as handy artist credits for the card fronts, something that the contemporaneous Marvel cards lacked. Here’s the card back for Superman, with an inset from John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini:

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Among my personal highlights of the set is this card for Larvox, one of the umpteen million Green Lanterns out there — who looks like a cross between Doctor Who’s Alpha Centauri and Rell the Cyclops from Krull:

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The special delights come in the Worlds of Magic. Not one but two of Neil Gaiman’s Endless siblings make their way in, with Chris Bachalo illustrating Death, and Jill Thompson, artist from my favorite run of Sandman (Brief Lives), handling Dream (in an image reminiscent of the original “I will show you terror in a handful of dust” marketing):

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A minor quibble: Wouldn’t Destruction’s sword be missing from Dream’s gallery? Unless this image is from before Destruction abandoned his duties — but then would Morpheus be wearing a leather jacket?

If we can’t have Batman, at least we can have a definitive Batman artist in Jim Aparo, who cards up another of his classic characters, the Phantom Stranger:

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It wouldn’t be a set without chase cards, and Cosmic Teams has six of holograms, which oddly enough continue the numbering from the ten included with Cosmic Cards. Superman is in there again, as is Hawkman (really?), with Captain Marvel, Lobo and the Spectre as newcomers. And Swamp Thing. Always good to see hunched, mossy Swamp Thing get some love. And he’s even offering you a flower — how sweet:

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Cosmic Teams was a nice follow-up for DC, though it suffered from the same Batman deficit as its predecessor. The paint job was a bit better, the inclusion of some of the more shadowy Vertigo corners of that company’s universe was welcome, and on the whole, it felt like a more vibrant affair, even if there was still a whole lot of chaff with the wheat. The cards certainly outshine what  came down the pipeline in the next couple of years, when terrible art and relentless gimmicks made it very easy for increasingly distracted teenagers like myself to abandon (for a time) both comics and cards.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 6, 2014 4:17 pm

    As I recall, DC had licensed the rights to the Batman characters to another trading card company, I believe it was Topps, when the first Tom Burton movie came out in 1989. So four years later when SkyBox got the license to release this set, unfortunately the Batman rights were still held by Topps.

    I guess it’s a bit comparable to how Marvel Comics sold the movie rights to X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to various studios back in the 1990s when they badly needed the money to get out of bankruptcy, and now in the present Marvel Studios cannot use any of those characters in their own movies because Fox and Sony still have the rights.

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