Super Powers Highlight – The 33-Back Production Set
May 9, 2011

Hello, and welcome to another week of me sprouting off about Super Powers awesomeness to no one in particular!  Today the Super Powers Highlight focuses on all the figures released at retail on the offer-less, comic-less 33-back card design. 

To many SP collectors, the 3rd series card back redesign is known as both a step back for the overall line and a huge step forward as far as visual presentation.  No included mini-comics, no artwork behind the figure and no special offers meant that cost-cutting was taking place behind the scenes, and as a result the line would not be long of this Earth.  However, it also meant a wonderfully crisp and clean card design that showcased the amazing sculpts of the figures and the industry-leading artistry of The Masters…Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, George Perez and Jack "The King" Kirby.

For the bulk of those brave enough to take on a carded Super Powers collection, the 10-character populated 3rd series is the final hurdle…usually more of a financial strain than even a full set of 12-backs.   It’s also something not instantaneously achieved, since carded examples of all 10 pieces aren’t usually available at the same time even when haunting eBay.  Factor in a somewhat nice condition desired and you have a true challenge before you.

One of the things that seems nigh-impossible to find on some figures are entirely clear bubbles and trays.  Kenner was at that point in its production of action figures where they were switching to a different (read: lesser-quality) plastic that seemingly is more susceptible to yellowing as the years go by.  A lot of their other lines bear witness to this, most notably Star Wars.  A large percentage of Return of the Jedi and Power of the Force examples that remain carded have yellowed (and sometimes even browned) bubbles.  Not all of them, but most.  Those figures were released during the same period as the Super Powers 33-backs.

Before I get to the pictures of the ten 3rd series characters, let me address something I’ve figured out about rarity in today’s collector market.  First off, Cyborg is NOT the rarest character overall to find carded…nor is he even the rarest from the 3rd series.  I would put Shazam ahead of him, and possibly even Cyclotron as far as series three.  Overall?  Don’t get me started on that damn 23-back Flash.  Also keep in mind I’m talking about United States releases only (the less said about Kenner Canada the better…heh).

Here are the 10 characters who had their initial release in Super Powers series three :











For those hardcore (read: obsessive) Super Powers collectors that desire more…there’s no need to stop there.  As most people delving into this line may know, it was canceled while still in production and greater things were on the horizon.  Every character that was previously released was planned to be put in a "transition" type dual case pack assortment on a 33-back card.  Proofs have turned up for all characters not accounted for here, but production was stopped before those assortments could be produced and sent to retailers.  One new addition to one of those two case packs was to be the former mail-in Clark Kent, released carded for the first time.

As such, that leaves what was actually produced incomplete.  The characters that only made it to hand-carded 33-back samples and never to retail are : Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Penguin, Flash, Green Lantern, Joker, Aquaman, Mantis, Parademon, and Dr. Fate (kinda…read on). Dr. Fate is the oddball of this group, since less than a handful of 33-back Dr. Fate production quality (read: not carded samples) card backs have surfaced with Golden Pharaoh figures attached to them.  What purpose they served is unknown as of this time.

Of the figures actually released, the rarest is Red Tornado.  Three have shown up, all originating from the same seller in Spain.   Batman is next with seven examples doumented, and then Firestorm.  I’d put Kalibak next, then Superman and Green Arrow.  The rest turn up somewhat often on eBay, and Darkseid leads the pack there…he’s easily the most common.  Again, yellow bubbles and trays seem to plague a few of these.

Here are the 11 characters that were re-released on 33-back cards.  Will others surface?  Only time will tell!












Here’s the Dr. Fate I was referencing earlier.  I did a blog on this piece when I acquired it, and you can read that here if you’d like more (vague) information an

d hypothesis.



Lots of light box maneuvering, lots of writing and lots of wine consumed.  Thanks for reading my blog…I appreciate you taking the time.  Any questions, comments or insults…feel free!  Until next time!



Read other articles by ChipCataldo.





  • Joe G. says:

    23-back Flash will be mine!

    Also, nice 33-back set, man 🙂

  • Erik superfriend says:

    Your treks into unique aspects of this line – like packaging variations – are truly a joy to behold. Love seeing these.

    • Wesley says:

      I am proud to say I snagged a 33 back Green Arrow about three years ago on Ebay, a seller was selling his entire collection, i managed to get it for 30 bucks. The card is pristine, looks like it was pulled right from the case. I had my hands on a 33 back Wonder Woman, but it was lost in the mail, lost to flood waters :(.

  • demoncat says:

    interesting information for always assumed cyborg was the rarest of the third wave. due to his metalic look. and interesting to know some of the earlier waves were suppose to be rereleased including the mail away clark but kenner pulled the plug before they could get produced. plus still can not beleive golden pharoh is in a doctor fate package. red tornado on 33 back replacing cyborg as the rarest super powers. that is the first i heard of the idea.

    • The Penguin says:

      I believe that Cyborg was considered rare because he was very difficult to find, perhaps short-packed, not because he was metallic…unless it is because he was metallic that he was produced in limited quantities? I don’t know. Had you heard that? I used to go on toy-runs daily back then and never ever came across Cyborg at retail. I was still a senior in High School when I got most of Wave 3, perhaps in May or June, at TRU in Massapequa, but it wasn’t until September or October that I finally got Cyborg. I hunted him all Summer long! Finally, I had to order him from the Sears Wish Book catalogue. Cyborg happened to be one of a handful of Super Powers characters they were offering that year (1986).

  • Harry Moore says:

    I love old toy packaging! It’s amazing that this line had so many variations, in such a short time frame. I really enjoy whenever you post about this line.
    The Dr. Fate switch-ero looks reminiscent of the Mego Aquamans(men)? that showed up on whatever was available…

  • Sector1014 says:

    Good stuff. Great pics! Best card art around!

  • krohlf24 says:

    I’d say that a 33-back WW is almost as common as the Darkseid, but not as common. Great looking set Chip! I didn’t think that 23-back Flash was hard to find 😉

  • The Penguin says:

    Does anyone know which artist was responsible for which characters with regard to the card art? I always assumed that they were all done by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Many of them clearly were. Particularly in Wave 1.

    • Sector1014 says:

      My guesses: Kirby = Darkseid, Desaad, Steppenwolf, Kalibak; Perez = Cyborg (it’s either someone trying to look like Perez, or maybe it was Perez inked by someone else, IMO); Everyone else = Jose Garcia Lopez. ??? Chip?

      • The Penguin says:

        I don’t think any of them are by Kirby. His art has a very disctinctive style that is not represented here. Same goes for Perez actually, although I guess it’s possible that he did some of these.

  • Lightso says:

    Kirby for sure did the art for Mantis, Kalibak, the Parademons, and I bet Firestorm as well, but Cyborg’s art, I don’t think is Perez. A lot of times the source artwork was retraced to fit designs, and it’s not as clean as Perez’s other work at the time. Artists other than Perez, tended to be lazy with his design. Kirby worked with Kenner to redesign the New Gods into toys so whether it’s retraced or not, it’s definitely later-style Kirby. Jose Garcia-Lopez was DC’s main Neal Adams-styled posterboy for all DC cross-sell product at the time, so there’s no doubt which are his.
    As to the rarity. I disagree, with Cyclotron being rare. At the time, I saw loads of him on clearance time after time and never once found Shazam or Cyborg. I would bet Plastic Man is rarer than Cyclotron also. Despite Ebay sightings, and perhaps stores or consumers tossing out unsellable Cyclotrons, I stand by that.

    • Chip Cataldo says:

      When I refer to something as “rare” it’s in reference to the carded figure in today’s market. A nice condition 12-back Flash or 23-back Darkseid clogged the pegs to no end in the late 1980’s, yet it’s very difficult to find a nice condition MOC today. Hell they shipped entire 24-count cases of only Superman and Batman…yet they are more difficult to find NMOMC than not. I’ve paid close attention to eBay and e-tailers for 4 years now. Plastic Man is not rarer than Cyclotron, and it’s far more difficult to find a nice condition MOC Cyclotron or Shazam than a Cyborg.

      • Mario says:

        I’m nowhere near the authority that Mr. Cataldo is, but I can vouch for his stance (& disdain) on so-called Super Powers “rarity”. I’ve been collectiing this line since it’s inception. I have owned a full collection of U.S. carded figures, & I’ve scoured the internet, as well as local & non-local sellers enough to know what rare is in this great toyline. Personally, I’d even throw in a 23-back Desaad in acceptable, “collector’s grade”, as pretty darn scarce too. Would you agree Chip?

  • hey Chip,

    I’ve been looking for you.


  • HappyGeek says:

    Hi Chip,

    Thanks for this post! It helps me out with my pet project…
    I’ve almost finished my collection of loose SP figures (only Cyborg, Mister Miracle and Samurai to go!). I’m hoping to build a custom case for them to be displayed in similar to Brad Rader’s. What I would like to do is have the character’s logo and comic image displayed behind them. The images in this post are really helpful – except for the fact that there’s a few missing like Penguin, etc… (I know these weren’t on the 33 back set so your list is ‘complete’ just not for my purposes). Also some of the larger figures like Darkseid cover the comic image.

    Here’s my request: Any chance of scanning in or photographing the figures in high res from their Proof Cards that I’m sure you own?

    That way I could get the logos as well as the background comic image.

    Does that make sense?

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