Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Flairum Scarum

The last time we met (and it seems so long, long ago – oooh! I hardly recognize you, you’ve gotten so taaaalllll) we were discussing the unmitigated delight that ensues when you take a series of comic books that is completely non-essential to the war effort, the peace effort, and all efforts in between, and make an utterly unneeded series of trading cards showing characters from those comics and any – ahem! – action involving them. It certainly is unmitigated. Right down to the widdle nubbins.

Anyhow, in that last column I took on (or down, depending on your point of view) Upper Deck/Pyramid’s Valiant cards and Fleer/SkyBox’s Marvel vs. Wildstorm cards. Their putridity did not go unpunished, but I still feel like David Allan Coe in “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.” You know, my friend Kit Kiefer wrote that column, and he told me it was the perfect crappy-comics-card column. Well, I wrote him back and told him he did not write the legendary perfect crappy-comics-card column because he didn’t say anything about pickup trucks, rain, mama, prison, or getting drunk. So he wrote me back these paragraphs, and now I’m proud to say he did write the legendary perfect crappy-comics-card column, and I’m privileged to repeat it here for all of you.

Basically, I was drunk the day my ma got out of prison, and I went to pick her up in the rain. But before I could get to the station in my pickup ………………. truck, she got runned over by a damned old train carrying Fleer Flair comic-book cards.

If I had thought Marvel vs. Wildstorm was the nadir, I realize now that not only was it not the nadir, it wasn’t even the top of the bottom of the middle of the place two spaces above the nadir. Fleer Flair comic-book cards may not be the nadir, either, but I think I can see it from here – or I could, if the goldarn holoflake glitter crud wasn’t blinding me.

If, Allah be praised, you had forgotten about Fleer Flair, let me refresh your memory. For a time there was a space race going on among the major manufacturers seeing who could make the most needlessly flashy, wretchedly excessive trading card. Basically, they were in a duel to the death to create a card that could sing “Benny and the Jets” in six-inch platforms with goldfish swimming around in the heels. Now I look at that competition and wonder why companies simply didn’t include a decoupage kit and a tube of glitter in every pack, because that’s what it amounted to.

Fleer Flair’s No. 1 shtick was ... wait for it ... thickness. No other card was thicker than Fleer Flair. Fleer Flair could stop a hollow-point .38; everyone else couldn't stop a BB. Fleer Flair was the New Oxford Dictionary; everyone else was Funk & Wagnalls. Fleer Flair was Hardee's; everyone else was McDonald's. Never you mind that as product attributes go a thicker card is like a more colorful abbatoir, but it belonged to Fleer Flair and ain’t nobody touchin’ it.

Flair’s other hat-hook was holofoil – i.e., glitter – which many other cards had, but not to the extent that Fleer Flair had it. Glitter seemed to escape from the cards into the surrounding atmosphere, so that when you flipped open one of Flair’s short-lived cigarette-styled packs (still the best thing about the product by far) you expected to be greeted by a puff of glitter, like what you’d see if you were in the bathroom while Tinker Bell was taking a shower.

Okay, there was some method to this über-düber-ultra-premium madness. The ineffable logic of the trading-card business was that if Product Y (in the spirit of the moment, we’ll relabel that “Product Why?”) sells x cases the first time around, the next time around you make x-minus-5 percent. And then the next next time around you make x-minus-5 percent-minus-5 percent. Drove the Harvard Business School grads nuts, that logic. If you follow that logic all the way down the drain, eventually you get to a point where you’re making one case of a product one year and 95/100ths of a case the year after that, and so on.

I figured it would take maybe not 100 years but at least a decade to get near Zerosumville. It actually took about 20 months.

Now, I realize I'm being a bit ambiguous, but it's only because those darn facts keep messing with my recollections. I will swear to you on a stack of Heroes of the Old Testament cards that there was a Fleer Flair set showing characters from selected Malibu and Image comics. I am haunted by a Flair card of the much-more-immortal-than-inimitable Prime, though I can produce no evidence to suport my claim. There's plenty of evidence of Fleer Flair Marvel cards, if only because the half-life of those babies is north of an epoch -- about six miles north, if Google Maps can be believed.

Image or Malibu or no, one of the few redeeming qualities of Fleer Flair comic-book cards was that they came out toward the end of the zero-sum games, so there aren’t many of them around to clog up the commons bins or hang out on barbecue grills prior to being eaten by a dog.

You think I jest? My friend John B. Seals had a good thing going for the better part of a decade where he comparison-tested trading cards by flinging them at things ninja-star fashion, cooking them on a barbecue grill and having his dog, the immortal Zach Malamute, try to eat them. I daresay I’ve never seen a better test of a card’s worthiness, probably because there aren’t any.

"I remember that Fleer Flair gave Sportflics a run for their money as the most indestructible card," Seals says. "But dip it in bacon grease or cover it in barbecue sauce, and Zach would have eaten either one of them. Maybe the plastic on a Sportflic would have stopped him for a second compared to a Fleer Flair, but this was a dog who ate the aluminum siding off my house. And Fleer Flairs were superior to early every other card when put in your bicycle spokes."

Given that there aren't any of these cards around, their essential pork-barrel-project uselessness becomes easier to bear. It's hard to criticize something for being useless when there's none of it around to use, even if that means substituting for a pig ear in the eyes (and jowls) of a siding-chomping canine.

So I won't say that the Deadpool cover collection could subsitute for Rick Santorum's presidental candidacy, or that the various Spider-Man cards could replace a whole season of DC Cupcakes, because it doesn't matter. It's like that thing Superman did to Lois Lane afer she discovered his identity in Superman 2. It never happened, and you can't prove that it did.

So to wrap all this up in a bacon-scented bow, Fleer Flair comic-book cards are a needless application of unwanted technology applied in the service of a useless series of worthless comics. Zach might disagree, but he's a dog, and a non-pretend dead one at that. So the verdict stands.

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