Monday, April 4, 2016

DC Comics Bloodlines Trading Cards Overview -Just For the Hell Of It Mondays

It's Bloodlines Week at Weird Science and that is a funny thing because most of us here have little idea about the what, where, how and why of what Bloodlines is all about.  Of course, Reggie knows everything and has even done some podcast segments on it, but after that, we are mostly in the dark. Why am I admitting that we are dummies?  Who knows, but it has all led to some awesome friends of ours stepping up and writing some articles for our site.  That's right, we have friends...imagine that. Justin F. from the great DC in the 80s webzine (seriously, if you are interested in 80's DC Comics, go there NOW!) wrote the following article on the Bloodlines Card Set.  I'd like to thank Justin and know that you all will enjoy the following article! -Jim

Hi, my name is Justin F. I write for the DC in the 80s webzine. I was heavily collecting comics (and an avid follower of comic fandom) from the late 80s into the mid-90s. When I found out Weird Science was running an article series on the 1993 DC Bloodlines event, I just felt the overwhelming urge to contribute something. 

Bloodlines was a DC comics intracompany crossover event that ran through all 23 of the 1993 Annuals being published by DC at the time (thankfully, Vertigo was not included in this event). As a comic collector in the early 90s, I would've been about 12 years old when the Bloodlines event launched. As an avid comic book collector of that era, I was also a 'victim' of the non-sports card collecting bubble of that same time period.

​If you thought 1993 was an exciting time for comics (Image comics had just launched a year prior, Superman was dead, X-titles flooded the marketplace and the gimmick era was upon us), it was even more exciting for a non-sports card collecting fan. The Marvel Universe I trading card series (1990) had demonstrated that publishing non-sports cards could be a lucrative licensing venture and comic book companies were quick to notice and stake their claim in this market.

A mere 2 years after Marvel Universe I's run-away success, DC comics released the Doomsday: The Death of Superman trading card set and DC Cosmic Cards. By this point, Marvel was already on it's 3rd Marvel Universe Series set (and it's first fully-painted Marvel Masterpieces set), which was a bitter pill for us die-hard DC fans to swallow.

Apparently DC was trying to make up for lost time, because in 1993 they released four new trading card sets: DC Cosmic Teams (the follow-up to DC Cosmic Cards), Bloodlines, The Return of Superman and Batman Animated series 1. 

I don't remember much promotion for the Bloodlines cards. They were obviously eclipsed by the radiance of the DC Cosmic Teams trading cards I was collecting so feverishly. I remember excitedly buying 2 packs of Bloodlines, opening them, examining them and being somewhat disappointed. Even as Skybox's 'target market', I didn't bother collecting these.

I often enjoy pretending I'm a comic book archaeologist - examining old comic book paraphernalia and trying to second-guess what the DC marketing department was thinking. In this article, I'm going to examine the 1993 Skybox DC Bloodlines trading card set, present the facts and then draw my own conclusions. Maybe you know something I don't? Fill me in via the comments section.

Let's be frank, DC's 1993 Bloodlines cross-over event wasn't that great. I think of all the early 90s cross-overs, this had the lowest lasting impression and will be forever remembered as 'that time DC tried to introduce a bunch of new and exciting characters to the DC Universe and maybe get you to buy all the tie-in issues while they were at it'. Even as a twelve year-old I was aware of that. Chris Sheehan's Bloodlines article goes into greater detail about the events surrounding the cross-over. All to say that hating on this card set because of the event it's based on is like kicking a man when he's down. So instead, I'm going to examine this card set based on it's individual merits.

This was an eighty-one card set - which was a convenient number, because it only required nine 3x3 plastic trading card sleeve/sheets if you were planning on collecting all of it (excluding the chases) and displaying in a binder - which I assure you was the 'cool' thing to do in the early 90s. The summer of 1993 also saw Marvel Annuals run their own proper "introducing a new character" event, except that these were self-contained stories and each Annual was poly-bagged and contained an Impel trading card of the new character introduced.

The first fifty-four cards of this set visually recounts the Bloodlines saga. I literally mean 'visually' because there is no flavor text on the back of the card explaining what's going on. This may be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. Instead, the back of the cards form a [9 card x 6 card] fifty-four card puzzle. And if you managed to collect all fifty-four cards? boy, you were in for a real treat

Spoiler: That's right, not a single mainstream DC character in sight. That's the 'Taker' consuming the earth.

"interesting. I wonder what's going on here?"

​"Guess we'll never know"

I really appreciate that this set is comprised of original art*. It was a nice touch having the creative teams who worked on the stories appearing in this event to get the chance to illustrate the associated cards, thus you'll find art by Mike Parobeck, Jan Duursema, Steve Erwin and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (just to name a few). However, the card art is so fixated on the new characters and/or aliens from the event that the 'major' DC characters don't get much attention. Also, there is no mention of Batman or Batman-family characters in this card set - which is too bad since Jean-Paul Valley was Batman at this point. (This is because Topps still owned the license to Batman trading cards in 1993. No, Nightwing didn't count back then - he was considered a Teen Titans property.) 

​"I have no clue who any of these characters are or what's going on. Jason Blood, perhaps?"

​"The only Teen Titans appearance. Starring: Nightwing's head and right arm."

​"This is the closest thing you're going to get to a Legion of Super-Heroes appearance in this set"

Cards #55 to #72 form the 'New Bloods' sub-set (not actually called that); the new characters introduced as a result of the Bloodlines event. These aren't actually that bad: nice art, a bio, an explanation of powers and their first listed appearance. It's just unfortunate that none of these characters except for Hitman (and arguably Argus, Anima, Sparx and Gunfire) didn't really have much of a career in the DC universe after this event concluded. A few of them later banded together to form Blood Pack - a mini-series published in 1995 that lasted 4 issues. Again, any characters that debuted in a Batman-family Bloodlines book are absent from this sub-set. On a side note: It's kind of curious that the characters who debuted in the Deathstroke, the Demon, Green Arrow or Superman Annuals don't have their first appearances listed. You can draw your own conclusions from that factoid. 

​""Fun Fact: Jamm debuts a whole two months before Marvel's Adam X-Treme"

Cards #73 to #79 form the 'parasites' sub-set, dedicated to the aliens from Bloodlines. These characters were specifically created for this event and DC was smart enough to realize that we probably wouldn't care about their back stories - so the front of the card is an illustration of the alien and the back of the card is the alien in it's humanoid form. Interestingly, both fronts and backs were illustrated by Art Adams. Considering how little of an impact these aliens had on the DCU after this event concluded, it's no surprise that these are the least interesting aspect of the card set.

"​Front & Back of parasite card"

And finally, on an aesthetic note: one of the first things you notice about these cards, upon touching them, is how cheap the card-stock feels. In comparison, the Impel Cosmic Cards felt much glossier and slicker. When you're opening a brand new pack of trading cards, you've got your fingers all over them, and the quality of the card (in relation to the price you paid for the pack) is something you quickly note subconsciously. A cheap card-stock is usually an indication that a set was rushed to production to take advantage of some marketing event they hoped to capitalize on. Either DC had a lot of faith that Bloodlines would be a sold-out event and be burning in back-issue bins for years to come, of they had another cross-promotional ace-in-hole they were relying on....

Enter the Reign of the Supermen:

In the summer of 1993 the Reign of the Superman story arc was just beginning to kick off. June 1993's Adventures of Superman #500 - which teased the idea that four alternate Supermen were all claiming to be the 'real' Superman - hit the shelves in a poly-bag and included a Bloodlines promo card. The promo card didn't mention anything about 'aliens', 'new bloods', or the recommended reading order of the Bloodlines annuals,... just this:

You see, if this cross-over has any real claim to fame, it's that the four Superman from the Reign of the Supermen each star in a distinct annual in this event (Superman: Man of Steel Annual #2, Action Comics Annual #5, Superman Annual #5, Adventures of Superman Annual #5) and that the REAL Superman joins in on the battle during the final two-issue conclusion of this event (Bloodbath Special).

DC was savvy enough to play up the extra attention the Reign of the Superman would bring and made sure to give collectors a reason to try to buy packs of these sub-par cards. The chase cards for this set were four foil embossed chase cards each depicting one of the alternate Supermen.
Curiously, they used the same card art as the base set cards:

Jon Bogdanove & Dennis Janke
Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding

Jackson Guice

​Tom Grummett & Karl Kesel

The card art from these four cards would be re-used for the dealer-only promo cards and the autograph set.
Finally, the BIG chase card - the most desirable card from this set: the Superman Redemption Card (only 1 in every 72 packs)

The Superman Redemption Card allowed you to fill out an application and mail it away to receive the ONE TRUE Superman CHASE card... 

Fans of the Reign of the Supermen story line would ultimately get their trading card "fix" several months later (end of August 1993) with Skybox's Return of Superman Trading Card set.

Like any idealistic DC fanboy who tries to separate the wheat from the chaff, I've narrowed down some of the best cards from this set (other than the four Reign of the Supermen cards I've previously identified):

​ Lobo's about to eviscerate an alien. By Eddy Newell & Michael A. Barreiro

Argus debuted in the Flash Annual and became a bit-player in the DCU. He' still around in some shape of form. Phillip Hester & Aaron McClellan

Just a really nice shot of Deathstroke.Steve Erwin & Will Blyberg.

John McCrea

This is a nice team shot of the Team Titans by Phil Jimenez & Will Blyberg, if you're into that sorta thing.

Hitman card by John McCrea

In conclusion, if I had to offer suggestions on how DC/Skybox could've salvaged this set:

-More images of the characters we want to see in the first fifty-four cards (ex: Green Lantern, JLA, L.E.G.I..O.N., New Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, anybody... really)
-I like puzzles, I really do - but a fifty-four card puzzle is a pretty big waste of execution for something as lackluster as this. Maybe a few smaller 18-card puzzles could've worked. If they absolutely insisted on a huge puzzle, what about a huge splash page of EVERY DC character from this series (minus Batman-Family of course) punching it out with the parasites? Maybe it could've been a jam piece featuring Jose Luis Lopez Garcia and several others, or maybe just one artist (I really don't care at this point). Just give me something that will make me eager to collect and complete the puzzle.
-The 'Parasites' subset was pretty much a waste. Had they turned those into sticker-cards, I could've seen them being more desirable from a collector's point of view. Everybody loves stickers.

A few of the Bloodlines characters would appear again in trading card form. Argus, Gunfire and Anima would get the 'painted card' treatment in the 1994 DC Skybox Master Series trading card set. (All three were about to have their unique ongoing series' published between 1994 to 1995, so this may have been DC trying to 'hype' up interest in the characters.)

Argus and Gunfire and Anima cards, art by Joe Phillips

Cryptozoic Entertainment gave the Bloodlines event a truly fitting 9-card tribute in it's 2014 DC Comics 
Epic Battles trading card set. (art by Pow Roderix and Overdrive Studios)

No 'new bloods' nor 'parasites' appear in this puzzle. *this* is how it should have been done.

Final verdict: you can easily pick up the entire base set of the 1993 DC Skybox Bloodlines trading cards for pretty cheap. Purchase it if you are a completionist and already own almost every DC card set from that era. Buy it if you'd like a nice trip down memory lane (to the days where DC thought they could sell us anything). Buy it if you're a hardcore Tommy Monaghan fan and collect every piece of media he's appeared in. Buy it if you think the new Bloodlines revival is suddenly going to make this trading card set more desirable (from a nostalgic point-of-view). Whatever you decide to do, I'm listening to my inner twelve year-old analysis/judgment and steering clear of this one.

*I carefully flipped through my copy of Hawkman v3 Annual #1 (a Bloodlines tie-in) and found no panels directly swiped to trading card form. Thus, I'm assuming all cards are original art. Correct me if I'm wrong.

***Remember to go visit Justin's DC in the 80s webzine!!!
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  1. I had the Superboy card must have traded for it as a kid cause I don't remember the rest of these.

    1. lol...I actually was a bit too old for this, but I think it looks cool!


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