Thursday, October 4, 2018
Unstacking the Deck: Marvel Flair Annual '94
150 card (including the checklist card) plus a 18 card "Power Blast" chase set, featuring foil on one side and a larger portion of the front image, without foil, on the back. The last 18 cards of the set (before the checklist) are dedicated to "Maximum Carnage" and "Mutant Genesis" (the story which launched the second X-Men book).
The card fronts feature previously used artwork (including from covers, internal pages, and other trading cards), featuring both specific characters and significant moments from Marvel history, recolored with computer coloring techniques and, occasionally, added computer-generated effects. The character name/moment is written in shiny foil lettering.
The landscape orientated cardbacks feature a brief description of the historical moment featured on the card front, alongside a sphere overlaid with the cover of the issue featuring the moment (usually).
The cards are printed on thicker stock than even the Fleer Ultra cards, and feature a high-gloss finish. Rather than being packaged in cellophane wrappers, the packs are thin cardboard boxes.
Firsts and Other Notables
The Flair Annual cards are Marvels entry in the super-premium card market, as they continue to follow the trends of the larger sports card market. So as Fleer has regular baseball cards, their glossier, high end Fleer Ultra cards, and their uber-premium, extra thick Flair cards, so too does have its Marvel Universe, Fleer Ultra X-Men, and Flair Annual sets.
In a deviation from previous card sets, the Flair Annual sets are built around the idea of presenting notable moments from Marvel's history, with this set covering everything from the creation of the Fantastic Four in 1962 (real world time) up to 1993 (next year's set - the last one - will cover all the events that occurred between this series and that one).
Some cards are named after the character they feature, other a phrase (like Daredevil’s card being titled “Man without Fear”), while some of the chronological events on the cardbacks are specific events “the origin of Spider-Man”), others specific issues (Amazing Spider-Man #1).
There's no #6 card and two #8s in this set, as both the origin of Iron Man (the sixth card in the set) and the Spider-Man vs. Vulture card (the eighth card in the set) are both numbered #8.
There’s also no card featuring an event from 1969 and 70.
For the most part, the comic covers featured on the cardbacks match the event being depicted on the front, but there's a handful of cards with an odd mismatch, such as the issue depicted alongside the first appearance of Mr. Sinister being Uncanny X-Men #231, which has absolutely nothing to do with Sinister.
Similarly, the art on the card fronts doesn't always match the era being referenced on the back. For example,. the card for White Queen's first appearance (in 1980) features art lifted from Uncanny X-Men #281 in 1991.
The card depicting the reunification of the X-Men and the launch of the Blue/Gold teams is labeled "Two Teams of X-Men 124" and I have no idea what the "124" is a reference to (it's not card #124).
Resurrection is spelled wrong on the "Resurrection of Namor" card.
Being the most high-end set, this series also was the most expensive - I forget the exact price point, but it was something like several dollars a pack for a mere four or five cards (whereas the "regular" cards usually ran a couple bucks at most for upwards of 8-12 cards). As a result, the various Flair sets are the ones from which I had the fewest cards. By the time they were released, I was committed to buying the main Marvel Universe set (though it had, unknownst to me, come to a close with series V), the Fleer Ultra X-Men sets, and the Marvel Masterpieces sets, on top of buying all the X-books (plus some other series, like Avengers) every month, which didn't leave me much leftover, especially for a set whose packs cost significantly more for fewer cards.
The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Despite her cardback being set in 1965 (dedicated to her wedding to Mr. Fantastic), the Invisible Woman’s cardfromt features her in her sexified 90s attire.
Moon Knight’s card art is from Stephen Platt, whose brief 90s era run on Moon Knight was a big deal (according to Wizard).
Professor X is just “Xavier” on his card.
Wolverine’s first appearance battle with the Hulk features the Todd MacFarlane-drawn cover to Incredible Hulk #240.
The first appearance of the Sentinels features an image lifted from “Days of Future Past”; the Days of Future Past card, meanwhile, does not.
I don’t know who this is, but it’s not Northstar.
Cable’s card - or rather, the Bodyslide card - is literally just the Cable card from the Jim Lee set, with some computer lasers added in the background.
The X-Tinction Agenda card features an ad for the story retouched with Cyclops wearing his Jim Lee costume (which debuted after “X-Tinction Agenda”).
Shatterstar’s card features an image from the first X-Force Annual, recolored with his current (in 94h costume colors).
I’m not sure from where this Bishop image is re-purposed.
Ditto this image for the Death of Mariko (which also features Wolverine #48 - not the issue in which Mariko dies - on the back).
The events of Fatal Attraction are depicted across a half dozen cards, though out of order - Wolverine has his adamantium ripped out on a card before the “Magneto returns” card.
It feels a little weird picking favorite cards when all the art is from something else, but here we go.
Great Mignola-drawn depiction of the original Avengers.
One of the few cards where the computer-aided effects (the spectrum lines in the background) add a little something.
Nice use of negative space.
I've never seen this image before; it's a different take on the usual depiction of Cosmic Spider-Man (whose card led off the very first set of Marvel Universe cards).
This another image I can't source, but it's tough to screw up Cyclops.
Can't go wrong with this Quesada-drawn Havok crackling with energy.
There's an interesting idea at the heart of the Marvel Flair Annual series. Where previous sets of trading cards function like a take on the old Marvel Handbook (with each card serving, via its central image on the front and biographical information on the back, like an mini Handbook entry for the character; the cards even attempt to quantify power levels, just like the Handbook), the Flair Annual set takes as its inspiration Marvel Saga, the series which attempted to present a unified, chronological history of the Marvel Universe and which, like these cards, used existing, re-purposed art to that end (rather than creating brand new art). It's a clever way to put out another set of cards featuring popular characters, but one which offers something new and different beyond the already-numerous existing card sets.
That said, the execution of these cards lets down the smart idea at their core. The other big selling point to these cards, in 1994 at least, was the addition of computer touch ups to the existing art, something which hasn't aged terribly well (and arguably was never that great to begin with), often muddying the original art or overwhelming it with distracting additions that don't add much to the overall image. Also, like the Marvel Universe Series V cards, the foil used on the card fronts for the character names often gets lost in the art (rather than popping like intended). And on the whole, the set feels a little sloppy, with cardbacks featuring typos or missed numbers, and the odd decision (or outright mistake) of featuring images of issues completely unrelated to the "chapter" of Marvel history the text is describing.
Combine that with the extremely high price point of the cards, and the whole thing is disappointing. Yes, the heavier cardstock gives the cards a nice heft and makes them feel prestigious, but the combination of poor production quality and re-used art undercuts whatever value that brings to the higher price. The decision to re-use art (which was either a cheap way to reduce costs, or a necessary reduction in costs, depending on how expensive the computer additions were) can be viewed (if we're being very charitable) as an homage to the approach used by Marvel Saga, but at the same time, it underscores how the main appeal of the set is intended to be the computer graphics (since, after all, we're not getting new original art in this set). With said graphics coming out...a little uneven, at best, it becomes that much harder to really get excited about these cards, even if the central idea at their core is a good one.
Next week, X-Men (vol. 2) #35, X-Force #37 and Excalibur #80.