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Trading Card Set of the Week – Captain Scarlet (2001, Cards Inc.)

January 23, 2015

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One trading card set fate has made indestructible — Captain Scarlet!

Of the great “supermarionation” puppet shows that sprung (sprang? springed? sprunged?) from Gerry Anderson’s fertile mind in the 1960s, Captain Scarlet might lag behind Thunderbirds and Troy Tempest’s Stingray doings when it comes to broader appeal. Fair enough. But Scarlet, the eponymous champion of good, fighting the evil of the Mysterons alongside Spectrum cohorts issuing from their improbable base in the clouds, well, his show was the best. No argument, end of statement, book it.

What gave it its charm? Sure, the wires on the puppets were often all too visible, and the cars and gadgets and landscapes often had all the verite of the scenarios a kid would enact on their bedroom floor. But the marionettes had a greater realism than the other Anderson productions, a conscious decision on his part — it helped that the eyes on these marionettes weren’t as big as saucers. Yeah, puppets on strings can get creepy when lensed, as we’ve seen time and time again, but these crawled further out of the uncanny valley than most others. The “cast” was diverse, with racial bases covered and a corp of elite female pilots (dubbed Angels, well before Charlie) that was ahead of its time. And the adventures — Scarlet and co. versus the threat of the week, often led by the villainous, re-animated, thickly-stubbled turncoat Captain Black — were colorful (befitting the Spectrum name) and better than what was essentially filmed playtime with toys had any right to be. And goodness, that drum-laden closing theme, which played over assorted grand paintings of the indestructible Scarlet in peril, was to die for:

Anyway — the show was odd, and its oddness made it sort of good. Captain Scarlet generates a great deal of nostalgia for those around during its original airings, and syndicated broadcasts in subsequent decades have introduced its unique pleasures to new generations. There’s enough of a fanbase out there for Scarlet and Anderson’s works in general to gird a number of trading card sets, including the one we have before us today.

Produced by Cards Inc. in 2001, the Captain Scarlet set is pretty good, all things considered. It’s not too big, it’s not too small, and the design of the cards neither treads too far towards garish nor bores your eyes with overwhelming simplicity. (The built-in colorfulness of the conceit helps.) And as a plus, the distribution — 36 packs to a box, 5 cards per pack — leaves ample room for you to make a complete set of the 72 base cards if you go the whole-box route. Considering what was in store for the hobby in the new millennium, with collectors sometimes having to rip open three overpriced boxes to make one measly set, this was an echo of a simpler time.

The base cards feature nice black borders and the Captain Scarlet logo in one corner. After starting with some storyline scene cards, the set moves over to character profiles. Here’s Scarlet’s BFF, Captain Blue:

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Card backs feature explanatory text of the scenario, character or vehicle featured on the front. This comes in handy in instances like the card for Doctor Fawn, because even those who’ve seen the show and remember it might need, how shall we say, a little refresher to know who the hell this guy is:

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One recalls Steve Buscemi’s Reservoir Dogs discourse on why he doesn’t want to have the Mr. Pink codename. You wonder if Fawn had a similar reaction when Spectrum was handing out monikers.

Speaking of Spectrum, here’s one of their many end-of-episode celebrations of a job well done. (I always thought that the line from the modern marionette movie, Team America“Head back to the base for debriefing and cocktails!” — came from these denouements.) The ethnically and gender diverse cast is on full display, except for Colonel White — probably glued to that command chair of his, as usual:

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There are some cards highlighting the gadgetry (read: toys) from the show, including the Helicarrier-ish Cloudbase:

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There were three levels of chase cards. Painted box-topper cards with scenes from that closing montage were only found in certain boxes, making them a pain in the ass to collect. There were two rare autograph cards with the signatures of members of the voice cast. And there were six embossed cards for all the regular schmoe collectors, which came about 1:9 packs. Here the chase card of Captain Black, he of the thirty o’clock shadow:

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This is a nice little set, one that you can find incredibly cheap, as enough of these cards were printed to coat the surface of the Earth hundreds of times over. They’re a lot of fun for anyone who flipped through the channels one day, paused on the show with the puppets, and became a fan, even a mild one. They’re worth a look if you’re one of those people. Go ahead and buy a box — Spectrum is green.

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