Cards : 1997 Fleer UltraThere were three Spider-Man card sets released in 1997, and all of them were a little out of the ordinary. There was a cut-down reprint of the 1995 set, which isn't a standard thing to do. The pre-priced set was a really weird set (and very disappointing). This set is the most "conventional" of all the 1997 sets, although even this one's a bit odd, as you'll see.
Firstly, there are no chase sets, which is a striking contrast to the series released in the preceding couple of years. Secondly, the regular subsets have an extra-ordinary amount of variety. Each subset is by a different artist (or pair of artists) and features a different media. The effect when you open your first pack is rather off-putting, but when the subsets start to come together, the final result is quite powerful.
The cards are nicely focussed on the Spider-Man comics from 1997, with work from some of the talent from the Spidey titles. They complement the comics very nicely, and this adds to the overall feeling that what you're buying really is a well-planned and worthwhile set, despite the somewhat unusual nature.
Each card was released with a Blue and Red writing variant, with the blue being notably less common. There really is no difference visually, but addicted collectors like myself will naturally want to acquire a complete set of each color. Sigh.
There are also some unique hand-drawn "Sketchagraph" cards in this set. The following artists are known to have contributed cards: Chris Bachalo, Ed Benes, Joe Bennett, Sal Buscema, Steven Butler, Bernard Chang, Gene Colan, Roger Cruz, Shannon Denton, Mike Deodato Jr., Terry Dodson, Steve Epting, Ron Frenz, Tom Grummett, Mark Irwin, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Stan Lee, Ron Lim, Bob McLeod, Tom McWeeney, Al Milgrom, Tom Morgan, Carlos Mota, Pat Olliffe, Tom Palmer, John Romita Sr., Luke Ross, Michael Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Bill Sienkiewicz, Joe Sinnott, Steve Skroce, Mike Wieringo, Mike Zeck.
The Sketchagraph cards were randomly inserted at a very low ratio. Naturally, these cards are rather valuable.
Subset 1: Spider-Man by Greg and Tim Hildebrant (9 Cards)
The first subset is "Spider-Man". Detailed shaded pencil work is by the Hildebrant brothers. Very nice. Featuring characters who appeared in "Adjectiveless Spider-Man" that year. Note that Spidey features in every subset.
Subset 2: One-Shots by Ewen and Batts (9 Cards)
The one-shots feature mixed-media, with collage, real-life photo, and computer enhancements applied to to some effect. Actually, the overall effect is kind of wierd. This isn't my favourite subset, but there's no denying that it's unlike anything you've seen before in a Spider-Man card set.
Subset 3: Untold Tales of Spider-Man by Joe Kubert (9 Cards)
Classic "Untold Tales" art, just like the comics of the same name, and featuring characters from that comic.
Subset 4: Sensational Spider-Man by Mike Wieringo and Nathan Massengill (9 Cards)
The art on this subset is in Wieringo's semi-manga style, just like in Sensational that year.
Subset 5: Amazing Spider-Man by Joe Quesada (9 Cards)
This is a great subset. The art is a more polished version of the art and characters we saw in Amazing Spider-Man that year - but the comic characters in the foreground are laid over a live photograph background of scenes from Manhattan. It works very well.
Subset 6: Spider-Man Team-Up by Liam Sharpe (9 Cards)
Pencil and ink from Liam Sharpe. Inconsistent work, sometimes heavy-handed, and sometimes unfinished. The low point of the set. I didn't like the series either!
Subset 7: Spider-Man Unlimited by Raul Cruz Figueroa (9 Cards)
Extreme perspective pencil and air-brush work with some heavy metallic-effect brushing. Placed on plain white backgrounds. Very stylised, and it would certainly start to grate on you if you read a whole comic in this style. That said, however, the single set is very attractive. I like the Silver-Sable card!
Subset 8: Spider-Man Adventures by Greg and Tim Hildebrant (9 Cards)
Very light and saturated colours are deliberately used to make this set look young to suit the title it represents. Minimal pencil work, and painstaking colouring make this set a lot of fun to look through.
Subset 9: Spectacular Spider-Man by Nelson (8 Cards)
Good poses, good pencils, subtle inking, and well-balanced colouring make this another great subset. I like the one where Mary-Jane is just about to bean Chameleon with a baseball bat! It's a shame that the checklist card has to come out of this set, leaving only 8 of these great cards.