In a spending frenzy supported by junk bonds, Marvel had acquired Fleer (in 1992) and Skybox (in 1995). For a few brief years, Fleer produced a flurry of ambitious, extravagant Spider-Man trading sets. But Marvel's declaration of bankruptcy in 1996 signaled the beginning of the end.
Clearly in the desperate end-game, Fleer produced three Spider-Man sets in 1997. Two of them (1997 Fleer Spider-Man Pre-Priced and 1997 Fleer Spider-Man Reprint) were clearly just quick money grabs. But this "1997 Fleer Ultra" set was their only attempt at creating a "real" Spider-Man trading card set for the year, and it was to be the last ever Spider-Man set that Fleer/Skybox would produce.
Marvel exited bankruptcy in 1998, and sold Fleer/Skybox in 1999. In 2005, Fleer/Skybox closed up as a going concern, and sold the rights to the name "Fleer" to Upper Deck for a fraction of their peak value. After 120 years, thus sadly ended the world's first successful bubble gum manufacturer.
This set sold as 8 cards per pack, and 24 packs per box. No variant art for pack or boxes. The base set has just 81 base cards, and no chase sets. Each 9-card subset is by an assigned artist (or pair of artists) and features a strikingly different art-style to the other subsets.
The effect of this variety when you open your first pack is a rather off-putting mess of incompatible styles, but when the subsets start to come together, the final result is quite powerful. As well as a common art style, the subsets each share a common theme focused on the comics of the time.
Despite offering no actual "chase sets", Fleer did make a cheap attempt to try and wring an extra fifty bucks out of their target market. Each card was released as a "Blue" and "Red" foil variants (with the blue being slightly less common). The difference is trivial, but addicted collectors like myself will naturally need to acquire a complete set of each color in order to satisfy their OCD. Thanks for nothing, Fleer.
[TODO: Puzzle images to be added once I get my hands on the last few cards].
In a throw-back to the original Spidey card sets, the back of the cards don't have a great deal of text — just a single sentence, the card number, and the artist credits. The remainder of the back is a part-image for a puzzle, and the 81 cards assemble to create a giant color image. There are two images, for the Red and Blue variant card backs.
Finally, there are also some unique hand-drawn "Sketchagraph" cards in this set, inserted with very low rarity indeed (one per box, or less?).
The following artists are known to have contributed sketch 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.
Note: SpiderFan does not track the Sketchagraph cards.
Note: A couple of spelling errors demonstrate the lack of care in this title. Norman Osborn is titled Norman Osborne, and artist Liam Sharp is credited as Liam Sharpe.