NEW YORK – Soon, kids in schoolyards across the country will be trading cards with each other – but the heroes pictured won't be Derek Jeter or Randy Johnson. Instead, images of diplomatic honchos and the 82nd Airborne will be on the collectibles.
Topps, the New York-based baseball-card company, has shipped out its "Enduring Freedom" series, a collection of 90 glossy cards that chronicle the war on terrorism, its actors, its paraphernalia and its major events.
"Kids are very aware that something significant is going on, but they need to understand this in their own terms," Topps CEO Arthur Shorin said. "They need to understand that they’re going to be safe, that the president and his team are going to be safe. The cards deliver this message in a form they're familiar with and can deal with."
The cards, which retail for 99 cents for a pack of seven plus one sticker, feature profiles of such people as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton, and scenes from the days after Sept. 11, such as the re-opening of Wall Street.
But a good number of them focus on the hardware of the war, from the B-2 "Spirit" Stealth bomber and the KC-135 refueling plane to the U.S.S. George Washington.
And whereas the back of a traditional baseball card would be dotted with a player's batting, pitching and fielding averages, the "Enduring Freedom" cards detail things like the Stealth fighter's combat and flight capabilities.
"Designed to avoid radar detection, the twin-engine, single-seat (F-117A) Nighthawk can fire a variety of weapons. It can be refueled in the air so its flying range is limitless."
There's even a card about Usama bin Laden, whom the U.S. suspects of helping to fund and inspire the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I think it will be used by kids to act out their disdain for the evildoers," Shorin said. "Maybe they'll rip it up, stomp on it. If it helps them act out aggression, all the better."
What kids won't see are scenes of the carnage of the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. The closest is an ethereal picture that includes a shard of the Twin Towers in the background, but the card’s focus is on New York City’s firefighters.
"We went through hundreds and hundreds of photographs of rubble and didn't use any of them," Shorin said. "The cards should not be scary. Sept. 11 was terribly scary, but it would be pulling at heartstrings to publish those pictures. It's been a nightmare for everybody. Kids don’t need to see that."
The cards are printed on a heavy-duty stock that's glossy on both sides. But as collectibles, card experts said the "Enduring Freedom" series probably wouldn't endure.
"These types of cards always do well in the heat of the moment, but interest tends to die out," card expert and book buyer Gahl Buslov said at his store, Midtown Comics, in Manhattan.
That's what happened with Topps' previous wartime series on the Persian Gulf War, which was snapped up by the box at the time. Today, a full set of Operation Desert Shield or Desert Storm can be found for as little as $10.
"This might be a little different because of the scope of this thing," Buslov said, but the "Enduring Freedom" cards are unlikely to match the enthusiasm for Captain America items, which have been flying off the shelves after Sept. 11.
One collector looking for Incredible Hulk comic books was willing to buy a couple packs of the cards. Luis Urrieta, 27, of Tenafly, N.J., flipped the cards through his fingers – one of which wore a Green Lantern ring.
"I like this stuff," he said, ogling a picture of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. "It's great stuff. I'll take it."