The Avengers: Kree-Skrull War Box Break (Upper Deck, 2011)
Product Rating: ***
Box Rating: ****
What's the price of original artwork? That's the debate that goes with Upper Deck's The Avengers: Kree-Skrull War, a set that uses trading cards to present a new comic book story. Most everything in the release is new, unlike a lot of modern comic-themed sets that utilize the more cost effective method of using previously released artwork. The big thing that's the same is the suggested retail price.
Although the concept of using cards to tell a comic story isn't new, Kree-Skrull War is the most ambitious example. It hinges everything in the release on the concept. And it's a great concept that I think has a lot of potential. The new stories take place amidst the events that happen in The Avengers #89 through 97.
Written by Sean McKeever, who has worked on Captain America, with artwork from Manuel Garcia (Iron Man Noir) and Bob McLeod (The Amazing Spider-man), the main story has the Avengers trying to save the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as the Krees and the Skrulls go at it. Not being a regular reader of The Avengers, and having not followed the main storyline, I didn't feel totally in-the-know with the story. While it's largely self-contained, even within the bigger context, I still felt a little bit lost as there's not much in the way of background.
The cards are arranged as such that they're meant to be placed in nine-pocket pages to be read. Panels often expand beyond one card and need to fit together like a puzzle. Although it makes for a more dynamic look, it was also the source of my biggest frustration with the set. Trading cards are a different format than a traditional comic book. Therefore, the way the story's told should change. Instead, this feels more like a comic book that's been cut up to fit perfectly into those $0.20 pages.
A couple problems arise from that. The first, pages leave gaps. They don't make for perfect puzzles. Since there's little consistency with how the puzzles go, it creates some confusion when reading the story. Also, the reason for panels in comics is to create gaps. Gaps signify the passage of time. Because every card has a natural break, it further disrupts the storytelling technique.
While it may seem I'm being down on Kree-Skrull War, I don't mind it. I really appreciate the attempt to try something new. My frustrations come just as much as how I'd like to see the format used in the future as it offers some neat possibilities. But this set feels like its breaking convention before the conventions have been firmly established. I'd much rather prefer such a release that uses cards to create comics stick largely with a nine-panel page.
Retailing for more than $50, a box of Kree-Skrull War gives collectors a 90-card base set and a handful of "chase" comics and plain inserts. If you're really lucky, sketch cards fall 1:432 packs. There's also rare press plates. Going for similar amounts, although they're starting to take off now, Marvel Beginnings gives collectors a stack of base cards, some common inserts that use such technologies as die-cuts and foil and at least two hits like sketch cards, holograms, press plates and autographs. There's a huge imbalance here for collectors as far as value goes.
Or is there? On the one hand you're getting something completely new and original. That costs overhead. On the other, you're getting a lot of recycled content. But you're also getting more cards with bang, creating much more collectible value.
The box I opened was a solid one. I got a complete base set, Cover, Character set and Retro set. The odds for the chase stories were convoluted but I seemed to get a couple in every pack. What I would have preferred was that the Character and Retro cards be made a little tougher. By all means, keeping them common is fine, but there's no need for so many extras. I'd venture to say that most of those going after the set are buying boxes. If this is indeed the case, it'll be tough to trade a lot of these extras away.
A nice bonus in the boxes is an order form for a free limited edition binder for the set. All that needs to be done is fill it in and pop it in the mail - no postage required. This is probably the best bit of value from the box, however only a limited number of collectors will be able to take advantage of the offer. The postage has to be costing Upper Deck a good chunk. I wonder if it might have been easier for both them and collectors if they looked at a way of bundling the box and binder for the time of purchase.
In the future, there has to be a little something more (and I hope there is). Yes, Kree-Skrull War does have a chase element, but there's a major issue besides not being shiny or traditionally insert-like. Unless I have the entire story, I can't enjoy them. Although the box yielded the entire main story, I've got tons of empty gaps throughout the rest of my pages for the set. Even if I end up tracking down all but one card for each of the chase stories, I still don't have the whole thing. This set is all about finishing the story. Perhaps Upper Deck might want to consider following Breygent's model of putting the story out as a box set and offering a couple of extra hits to entice multiple purchases.
As an experiment, Kree-Skrull War is a fresh spin for the hobby. It's got a good like and it's unlike anything that's been made in years. It's not perfect, but it's a decent starting point. However, in these times of tight budgets, it also comes with a big price tag. Big price tag. And while some will hit the jackpot with a sketch card, there's so many sketch cards out there from all the many recent Marvel sets that even those don't carry a lot of clout. Hopefully Kree-Skrull War finds an audience because I'd love to see the experiment continue.
Packs per box: 20
Cards per pack: 9
"Sacrifice" (90 cards): 90
Triples +: 0
"The Debt" (36 cards): 13
Triples +: 0
"The Fall" (27 cards): 12
"Power" (18 cards): 6
"Soldiers' Honor" (18 cards): 8
Cover (9 cards): 9
Triples +: 0
Alternate Cover (9 cards): 5
Black and White Cover (9 cards): 2
Character (9 cards): 9
Triples +: 0
Retro Characters (27 cards): 27
Triples +: 0
Sketch Cards (1:432): 0
Press Plates: 0
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