Category: Con Culture


After another day of Star Wars news via Star Wars Celebration 2019, including the teaser for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and leaked footage of Jon Favreau’s November series The Mandalorian on YouTube, Topps, the trading card company, has rolled out the first tie-in product for Episode IX, but you’ll need to act quickly if you want to get it.

Topps is the company that first issued Star Wars trading cards in 1977, eventually to include five different series of cards showcasing scenes from the film, puzzles, behind the scenes images, concept art, marketing images, stickers, and bubble gum.  In case you missed it, take a look at our past coverage of the history of Topps and the Star Wars franchise via our reviews at borg of these Abrams books: The Original Topps Trading Card Series books for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, plus Star Wars: Topps Classic Stickers, and Star Wars Galaxy.  We also looked at the great Rogue One Sketch Art Cards, The Force Awakens trading cards (similar to this set), and Mark Hamill′s creative autographs on Star Wars Topps trading cards across the years here.  Notably the first trading card series for Star Wars wasn’t issued by Topps at all, but via a Wonder Bread premium–a small set of 16 cards, available in marked loaves of the bread and via mail request.

A must for Topps Star Wars trading card collector completists, the first series for the final entry in the nine episodic Star Wars films is here: The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Set is the first look at the last installment of the Skywalker saga via Topps cards, and it includes ten cards featuring images from the film’s teaser trailer.  Collectors of Topps’ 1977 series will notice the homage design to that series on both the front and reverse of the cards.

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The latest volume from the partnership of Abrams ComicArts and Topps Trading Cards as they document some of the greatest non-sports trading cards ever released is now available.  Star Wars: Return of the Jedi–The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume Three reproduces–for the first time–all 220 cards and 55 stickers in a single deluxe hardcover volume.  And like the first two volumes in the series, it includes the image of the classic bubble gum stick inside the classic wax pack style cover jacket.

It’s the next book in the now long line of great trading card books from Abrams.  It includes four bonus trading cards made exclusively for this edition, including both title cards for the two Return of the Jedi card series, and is similar in design to the previous trading card reference books Bazooka Joe and His Gang reviewed here at borg.com, Mars Attacks 50th Anniversary Collection reviewed here, and Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series reviewed here.  Abrams ComicArts and Topps released the first compilation of Star Wars trading cards last December–Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume One, reviewed here at borg.com, and this April we reviewed the second volume, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Two, here.

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Star Wars insider and trading card editor Gary Gerani returns to give fascinating insight and a behind-the-scenes look at Topps as it coordinated with Lucasfilm to create and market these licensed images.  Gerani was the original editor of the three Star Wars Topps series who worked with Lucasfilm to select the photographs for the card sets and wrote the card titles.

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Topps Empire Strikes Back Abrams

Coming next week is the latest volume from the partnership of Abrams ComicArts and Topps Trading Cards as they document some of the greatest non-sports trading cards ever released.  Complete with a photo of the famous stick of bubble gum on the cover, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back–The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume Two reproduces–for the first time–all 352 cards and 88 stickers in a single deluxe hardcover volume.

It’s the next book in the now long line of great trading card books from Abrams.  It includes four bonus trading cards made exclusively for this edition, and a wax pack-style book jacket like the similar excellent releases Bazooka Joe and His Gang reviewed here at borg.com, Mars Attacks 50th Anniversary Collection reviewed here, and Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series reviewed here.  Abrams ComicArts and Topps released the first compilation of Star Wars trading cards just last year–Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume One, reviewed here at borg.com.  An introduction and commentary throughout Volume Two is provided by Gary Gerani, the original editor of the Star Wars Topps series who worked with Lucasfilm to select the photographs for the sets and wrote the card titles for The Empire Strikes Back series, too.

Yoda Topps card    ESB Topps title 2 card

Gerani recounts reading the script for Empire in advance of the release, and learning the real #1 secret that Lucasfilm was trying to keep under wraps.  And it wasn’t about Luke Skywalker’s parentage or a bounty hunter with little actual screentime.  Hint: It may be related to a certain spectacular new “muppet from space”.

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Ten years after Return of the Jedi, Topps trading cards editor and writer Gary Gerani was tasked once again to meet fan demand for more Star Wars trading cards.  Many years before he would create photo cards for a new trilogy of prequels, he would team up with Lucasfilm’s Steve Sansweet to showcase Star Wars as interpreted by some of the best artists that contributed to the films or would re-imagine the “Star Wars Galaxy” in their own styles.

The three resulting trading card series have been released in the 2016 addition to Abrams ComicArts successful hardbound series featured here previously at borg.comStar Wars Galaxy: The Original Topps Trading Card Series includes the works of more than 170 artists in more than 200 card reproductions, plus commentary by Gerani and an afterword by notable poster artist Drew Struzan.  Unlike the prior volumes in the series, only the obverse image from the cards, which featured the artwork, is included.

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You’ll find an incredible array of imagery by a surprising combination of artists, including rare images you will have seen only if you collected the original cards.  So you’ll find the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Ralph McQuarrie, Moebius, Drew Struzan, Dave Dorman, Al Williamson, Howard Chaykin, Mike Grell, John Eaves, Mike Zeck, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Dave Stevens, Walter Simonson, Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Schultz, P. Craig Russell, Dave Gibbons, Sergio Aragones, Boris Vallejo, Charles Vess, and Gil Kane.

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The volume includes the entire run of portraits created for Star Wars Galaxy specifically for the Topps cards by Joseph Smith–the original art was later bought by George Lucas for his personal collection.

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Arnold Terminator Genisys

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and as with last year we’re certain we reviewed more content this year than ever before.  This year was a big year for borgs in TV and film, so we had some difficult decisions to make.  All year long we sifted through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre TV, films, comics, and other books we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list.

Today we reveal the entire list–the best genre content of 2015–with our top categories Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero FixBest Animated Fix,  and Best Borg selected regardless of medium.  A dozen properties garnered multiple mentions.

We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2016!

Killjoys

Best Sci-Fi Fix – Killjoys (Syfy).  Surprised?  Killjoys pulled together great worldbuilding, characters and actors in a year of a dozen new sci-fi shows to provide us the closest thing to the next Firefly we’ve seen in a long time.

Galavant

Best Fantasy Fix – Galavant (ABC); Runner-up The Librarians (TNT).  It aired early in 2015 but nothing surpassed Galavant’s medieval high adventure and all-out Princess Bride-style fun.

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Best Superhero Fix – The Flash (CW).  Of all the Marvel movies and TV series from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Agent Carter and from Arrow to Supergirl, nothing had us coming back for more each week like the superhero world in The Flash.

Rebels season 2

Best Animated Fix – Star Wars Rebels (DisneyXD).  Compare it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and see if you think this animated Star Wars galaxy had an even better story and characterization, along with the return of its own group of original trilogy actors, compelling visuals and rousing music.

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Best Borg – Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from Terminator Genisys (Paramount).  Schwarzenegger created yet another borg that could stand up against his prior successful characters from the series.  A cool, moving character in a big year for borgs on screen!

Ava from Ex Machina - borg

Best Borg Movie –  Ex Machina (DNA Films).  Incredible storytelling and a small cast of talented actors provided a classic science fiction story and Oscar-worthy film about our favorite subject.

Humans series

Best Borg TV SeriesHumans (AMC).  On television the most in-depth look at life as a borg and among borgs has never been portrayed more dramatically than on this year’s surprise sci-fi hit series from AMC.

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Best Kickass Genre Movie Heroine – Rey (Daisy Ridley), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney); Honorable Mentions: Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), Terminator Genisys (Paramount); Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Mad Max: Fury Road (Village Roadshow)

Liv Moore

Best Kickass Genre TV Heroine – Liv Moore (Rose McIver), iZombie (CW); Honorable Mentions: Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), Killjoys (Syfy); Helena (Tatiana Maslany), Orphan Black (BBC)

Want to know who we picked for best villain and best comic books of the year?  Take a look after the cut…

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Topps retro cards 2015

I began collecting my first “non-sports” trading cards back in 1976 with presidents cards produced by local bread companies such as Colonial Bread.  I then moved on to Star Wars cards thanks to a very small run of cards released in Wonder Bread loaves.  Hooked on images of Star Wars in an age before VHS, in 1978 I moved to the Topps series with their red and then gold series of Star Wars cards.  Thanks to collecting dimes that fell out of my older brother’s pockets I was able to pick up a pack per week from the Kwik Shop down the street.  At the age of seven, I learned more than you might think from these cards.  I learned vocabulary words.  Words like “peril,” “chasm,” “evacuate” and “triumph,” and I can point to those individual cards that formed part of my education, much like kids today probably credit the Harry Potter series with similar learning experiences.  (I also learned great words from Marvel’s Star Wars comic books, like “armageddon” and “behemoth”).  Star Wars as teaching tool?  Who knew?

Only later I learned I had missed an entire series of Star Wars cards, the original blue cards with a white star field.  None of these Topps series ever got very expensive so I picked up a complete set of the original blue series cards for $10 in college.  Here is what all five of the original series look like:

Original Topps cards Star Wars

As part of the lead-in to Episode VII, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Topps has produced a new series of 110 cards called “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  They are made to match the style of the original blue series, but also come with rarer background color cards and stores like Target, Toys R Us, WalMart and Walgreens have even more variants by store.  You’d go crazy finding them all, so don’t.  Just pick up the complete sets from eBay card retailers who do the sorting for you.  Or take your chances by the pack.  But don’t look for the bubble gum or classic bubble gum scent of the cards.  You’ll need to find an original set for that.

Here are the checklists of what you will find (click to enlarge):

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Mars Attacks 50th anniversary book

You’ve heard of Mars Attacks, but do you know the origin of Mars Attacks?  A 1950s serial?  A pulp magazine series?  Strangely enough, Mars Attacks was an idea created by Len Brown and Woody Gelman for a 1962 set of 54 Topps trading cards.  Those oversized-brain Martians first conquered Earth with a piece of pink bubble gum, and bridged sci-fi and horror like never before.  One of my favorite areas of collecting as a kid were trading cards, what collectors today categorize as “non-sports trading cards.”  I collected any card that came in a loaf of bread, cards that came on the backs of boxes of cereal, and cards given away at Burger King.

It’s not likely that many people actually got their hands on the 1962 of Topps trading cards, as explained in Mars Attacks 50th Anniversary Collection, the latest in Abrams Comicarts’ series of bubble gum-inspired books including Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, and Bazooka Joe and His Gang 60th Anniversary Collection, both reviewed previously here at borg.com.  The original Topps card set was not well-received by parents and teachers because of its graphic depictions of burning bodies, exploding, mutilated, and sliced-up people and animals by the vile Martian invaders.  So the card set had a limited run.  The result is a collectible that would cost you $25,000 in order to acquire a complete card set.  Which makes this new book a great way to see what we missed.

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Creators Brown and Gelman were surprised by the backlash against the cards.  According to Brown, “Our Civil War set was just as gory as Mars Attacks.  I suspect because it was historical, people just felt that kids were learning, so the violence was okay.”  Brown, Gelman, and artist Norm Saunders were told to go back to the drawing board several times even before the series was released, to correct women who were too scantily dressed, and update skeletal remains with some flesh.

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Bazooka Joe 60th Anniversary

Review by C.J. Bunce

Until only a few years ago every gas station across the country and every local supermarket had Bazooka bubble gum on the counter as a point-of-sale purchase item and at last look three cents was a pretty fair price for the flavor packed into that loud pink rectangle of gum.  And until last year each of those pieces of gum was wrapped in a mini-comic wrapper featuring Bazooka Joe.  As nostalgia goes, what single item compares to the smell and flavor of Bazooka gum—that same smell and flavor tied to baseball cards.  Topps, the gum and trading card company, and Abrams Publishing have released a celebration of the gum and its mini-comic art with Bazooka Joe and His Gang 60th Anniversary.

On first look it’s the design that really hits this new collectible book out of the park—the book jacket has the appearance of a piece of Bazooka gum, complete with the see-through wax paper where you can almost peek at the comic on the back side.  The edge of the paper is all bubble gum pink, creating a perfect package for this coffee table look back at 60 years of the small “throwaway” comics that everyone eyed before wadding ‘em up and throwing them into the trash.  How many if these did you go through in your lifetime?  Literally thousands of the mini-comics were created, most by artist Wesley Morse, including so many in inventory that new comics were being wrapped around gum decades after Morse created them, and decades after he passed away.  This explains why kids in the 1970s were exposed to the 1950s style of artwork on the wrappers.

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