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Monday, November 14, 2016

Cryptozoic's DC Comics EPIC BATTLES trading card set

Released in 2014, this was Cryptozoic's fifth DC Comics trading card set.

For posterity, I'm just going to repost a few things Cryptozoic announced on their website about this card set (before I dive into my inital reactions and overall review):
  • Cryptozoic's DC Comics Epic Battles trading cards are printed on Cryptomium™ cardstock (whereas Cryptozoic trading cards are typically printed on 20pt C2S stock, Cryptomium cards are printed on a 30pt composite foil stock).
  • The base cards (63) all feature original art, and form to create seven nine-card puzzles (depicting one of seven major DC Comics storylines). Hence, EPIC battles.
  • Epic Battles is loaded with inserts, chase cards and variants: the BAM! chase set, the Make Believe chase set, Bombshell Bi-Fold chase cards, Totally Fabricated chase cards, Sketch cards, as well as copper, gold and metal variants of the base set cards.
  • From the Cryptozoic site: "Hot boxes are great, but we're aiming for Epic! In addition to the random assortment of Epic Battles base and chase cards, there will be a handful of boxes that will each contain at least ten sketch cards! Many of these sketch cards will be buyback cards from our previous DC Comics trading card sets. We're calling these "Epic Boxes." " (!!!)

Epic Battles trading cards - base cards #21 and #24 (art by Pow Roderix and Overdrive Studios)

How did I first discover this set? About a year ago I was sitting at my computer wishing longingly that DC Comics had released a Zero Hour trading card set in 1994, and decided to google if any Zero Hour cards existed out there that I had somehow overlooked. Lo and behold, Cryptozoic didn't just release a few themed Zero Hour trading cards - you were actually able to assemble them to create a nine-card puzzle depicting a scene from a Zero Hour battle. That pretty much sold me.

Upon receiving these cards in the mail, I was delightfully surprised with the selection of DC battles they decided to showcase. Typically, when one asks me to name DC's most iconic battles, I'd name all of the DCU heroes vs the Anti-Monitor (Crisis on Infinite Earths), Superman vs Doomsday (Death of Superman), Batman vs Bane (Knightfall), Hal Jordan vs the Green Lantern Corps (Emerald Twilight), DCU heroes vs Parallax (Zero Hour) and the whole DCU vs Superboy-Prime (Infinite Crisis). I might even throw 1989's Invasion! or 1991's Armageddon 2001 in there. I wasn't even close...

Epic Battles featured in this set:
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths,
  • Panic in the Sky (a storyline that ran through most 1992 Superman books)
  • Bloodlines (a storyline that ran through most of the 1993 annuals and introduced a few new characters),
  • Zero Hour,
  • Blackest Night (a 2009 storyline involving zombified versions of DC characters),
  • Flashpoint (the precursor to the New 52 relaunch), and
  • Trinity War.
So, my first big surprise was that Cryptozoic decided to spotlight a relatively unknown and often forgotten Superman-themed event (see: Panic in the Sky), as well as a DC cross-over that most fans would rather forget about (see: Bloodlines). To anyone else, this may appear to be a strike against the card set, but to this DC comics fan - it's a MAJOR plus. As far as I'm concerned, any card company that wants to dig up and showcase an obscure DC event from my youth is a winner in my books.

Speaking of obscure, does anybody else remember Triumph - a character introduced in 1994 who was retconned to have been a founder of the original JLA? He was prominently featured in the Justice League titles until about 1996... and then he was just dropped as quickly as he appeared. It would seem like he was quickly forgotten and nobody seems to remember him, except me and Cryptozoic, apparently, because he's featured on one of the trading cards. (It's the little details like this that make this card set one of my favorites of the past decade.)

Epic Battles trading cards - base cards #31 and #32 (art by Pat Boutin)

Alexander Luthor Jr., a character introduced in 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths, finally gets his due and is featured on a trading card. No other trading card set has immortalized Alexander Luthor Jr before. Just one more reason I really enjoy this set:

Epic Battles trading cards - base card #3 (art by Vince Sunico)

Cryptozoic chose a strong roster of talented artists to illustrate these 9-card Epic Battles. As seen in Cryptozoic's DC Comics Super-Villains (2015) and DC Comics: Justice League (2016) trading card sets, Xermanico (aka Alejandro Germánico Benit) once again contributes another beautiful painted composition spanning multiple cards — this time depicting a key moment from the Panic in the Sky storyline. I believe this was Xermanico's first contribution to a Cryptozoic set. You can see more of Xermanico's work at his deviantart page.

Epic Battles trading cards - base cards #11, 12, 14 and #15 (art by Xermanico)

The base cards themselves feel thicker. To touch and hold, the 30pt composite foil stock of the Cryptomium™ cards feel sturdier and are heavier than your conventional trading card. They feel like chase cards. The scans on this webpage are not doing them justice, but the base cards look great. You'd imagine a trading card set that touts a composite foil stock to look obnoxiously shiny and somewhat 'cheap', but that's not the case with these cards. The reflective sheen is subtle, yet it compliments the art fantastically. To be fair, some cards make better use of the foil surface than others — as evidenced by Pow Roderix and Overdrive Studios' Bloodlines 9-card puzzle (see Hawkman and Deathstroke cards near the beginning of article) and Marat Mychaels' Flashpoint 9-card puzzle (not shown). Both aforementioned artists use heavy black inks to contrast the silver reflective whitespace of the cards and the final effect is something that jumps out at the eye and holds your attention. [If you'll notice, we've only posted a few trading cards at a time, if you want to see the whole picture you're going to need to but this base set. ;) ]

Epic Battles trading card - base card #40. Who are Guy and Hal shooting at? Collect the set to find out. (art by WAY$HAK)

The 9-card Epic Battle arrangements are action-packed, full of detail, and are pleasing to look at joined as a completed puzzle or as single cards. Unlike the 2012 Batman: The Legends trading card Batcave 9-card puzzle foil chase set, you're not going to get a card that leaves you scratching your head wondering what you're looking at (ex: "Is that Superman's foot?") — only one card out of this 63-card base set doesn't have a superhero or super-villain featured on it.

Once again, comics veteran Adam Beechen provides the copy text at the back of the card. Beechen did an excellent job with this text and it can be read as a single stand-alone card or as a running narrative describing the events during the featured cross-over. He manages to keep the text tight and compact, but descriptive — this is important to me since, often, when I need a refresher on a previous storyline, I like to look back over my trading cards and read the Coles Notes version. The back of the card also tells us which characters are featured on the front (just in case you were unfamiliar with them) and who illustrated the card.

Epic Battles trading card - reverse of base card #11
As a DC comics fan, this set appealed to me for two reasons: it featured some of my most cherished early nineties DC cross-over events, and it featured them in nine-card puzzles. The fact that they were foil stamped was a delightful surprise. As a whole, I was impressed with the artists chosen to immortalize these events. This whole base set, while being relatively small (63 cards), is a gem and makes me feel like I just attained 63 chase cards. As mentioned before, these cards REALLY stand out among other trading cards and you can sense that these are something special when you hold them. It's not often that I find a trading card set with base cards that are SO GOOD they eclipse the radiance of the chase cards (except for the artist sketch cards) — but that's exactly what happened in this instance.

BAM! chase cards (by THARP)

Prior to this trading card review I've never heard of THARP, but if you told me he/she was an animator for the Power Puff Girls or Teen Titans Go!, I wouldn't be surprised. This kind of art does not personally appeal to me — it's a bit too 'child-like' for my tastes. (Maybe this was something Cryptozoic threw in to occupy your young son or daughter as you opened your sealed box searching for the artist sketch card?) So I'll be passing on these. It's a personal prefence thing, really. If you're into this kind of art, don't let my opinions deter you... these chase cards are also printed on Cryptomium™ cardstock and come in a sticker variant. There's nine in total to collect.

Epic Battles trading card - T-03 Cyborg

Make Believe chase cards (by Patrick Ballesteros)

Another 'cute' nine card chase set. However, this one joins to form a larger image of children dressed as superheroes and super villains playing on a playground. If you're into that, you're really going to enjoy these. I'm not really into this, so I'll be skipping it. These chase cards were also printed on Cryptomium™ cardstock.

Epic Battles trading card - PB-08 Wonder Woman, Barbara Minerva

DC Comics Bombshells Bi-Fold chase cards

This is a new concept (to me) and I really like the idea. It's a card that unfolds to make a really LONG card — even longer than those WIDE VISION trading cards they were experimenting with in the early nineties. The idea is a good one (more card equals more art on the card), but the subject matter is not something I'm interested in collecting. DC Comics Bombshells is an idea that became relatively popular in the last five years: current DC heroines re-imagined as World War II pin-up girls (all fully-clothed) and sold as variant covers, sculptures, action figures,... you name it. I know there's a market out there for the DC Bombshell stuff (since the merch keeps selling), so I can see how they'd really appreciate this chase card set. I hope that Cryptozoic re-uses this idea again, but for subject matter I'd want to collect.

Epic Battles trading card - B4 Poison Ivy

Totally Fabricated Costume chase cards

I love gimmick cards, and a "piece of a costume" on a trading card is as gimmicky as it gets. Unfortunately, with a '1-in-160' chance of pulling one of these, I don't think I'll ever get a chance to touch one, let alone see one, in real life.

Epic Battles trading card - TF-05 Green Lantern

Artist Sketch chase cards

This is another area Cryptozoic truly excels at. Eighty (80) talented artists contributed to the Artist Sketch chase card set, and there's lots of different styles showcased in this chase set. You can see the entire collection at Non-Sports Update Card Talk. However, just in case this link is no longer available after posting this review, I'm going to post some of the sketch artists that really stood out to me, just for future reference: [click to enlarge]

Sketch artist Todd Aaron Smith, whether intentional or not, did a really great job of channeling José Luis García-López into his artwork. He's now on my 'to watch' list:

And last (but not least), I was extremely impressed with Sketch Artist Mitch Ballard's choice of characters/teams to illustrate: Batman and the Outsiders, Wolfman/Perez-era Teen Titans, the late eighties Green Lantern Corps,... I would love to see this collected in a regular trading card set. Ballard really takes advantage of the two-card puzzle option being featured in this set:

Other than the randomly inserted copper, gold and metal variants of the first 75 cards, I think we've covered everything about this set. Oh wait, one last point of interest... twelve Redemption Cards were included in this set. Redemption cards netted you a page of original art from one of the storylines featured in this card set. As of this writing (check date at top), one page of original art from 1994's Zero Hour #2 (1994) pencilled by Dan Jurgens (and I'm assuming inked by Jerry Ordway) remains unclaimed. Happy hunting. ;)

Distribution as follows:

Base set copper parallel (1:5)
Base set gold parallel (1:10)
Base set metal parallel (1:20)
BAM! chase cards (1:10)
BAM! sticker parallel (1:20)
BAM! copper parallel (1:5)
BAM! gold parallel (1:10)
BAM! metal parallel (1:20)
Make Believe chase cards (1:10)
Make Believe chase card copper parallel (1:5)
Make Believe chase card gold parallel (1:10)
Make Believe chase card metal parallel (1:20)
DC Bombshells Bi-Fold chase cards (1:10)
Artist Sketch chase cards (1:20)
Totally Fabricated cards (1:160)
Original Art Redemption cards (1:5000)


1 comment:

  1. Great article. I had no idea these were coming out. Thank you Justin.