Trading Card Set of the Week – Marvel Universe Series II (1991, Impel)
The first spectacular set of Marvel cards produced by Impel back in 199o has already been covered here. The hosannas for that product can’t be overstated: they were crisp, clean, and beautiful, and a dream come true for a young kid of that era who loved comics and cards. That they remain a gold standard to this day, trumping almost anything produced in the intervening decades, is a testament to their quality. Hell, even ads for them still elicit pangs of nostalgia, if not a full-blown GIMMEGIMMEGOTTAHAVEIT fever. Magnificent — that’s the only word you need for description.
Their rollicking success necessitated that there would be a sequel, and that follow-up is the subject of today’s Trading Card Set of the Week feature: Marvel Universe Series II — not quite as good, but better in some vital ways.
The overall dimensions in 1991 were the same as the first time around, with 162 cards in the base set and five hologram chase cards, 12 cards to a pack, 36 packs to a box. The biggest difference is in the card layout. The clean white frames are replaced by differently colored borders, denoting what portion of the set the card is in (Super Heroes, Villains, etc.). While this is a downgrade, it’s not as bad as it could be. The design is still concise, and not as distracting as all the bells and whistles would be in products to come. The biggest plus is that the artwork took a step up in the sequel. Many of the cards feature work by Art Adams and Ron Lim — the latter a major selling point for young Silver-Surfer-loving me — and on the whole the artwork feels a bit more fun. If there was one complaint about the first series, it was that they were a tad too clinical.
The set opens, of course, with Super Heroes. And, doubly of course, with Spider-Man (Captain America got the champagne-to-the-bow duties previously):
Who better to represent the Villains than the star of next summer’s sure to be colossal blockbuster, The Avengers: Age of Ultron (his foot coming over the border adds a threatening element of dimensionality):
The backs of the individual character cards once more have a head shot and brief bios, but the dopey Wins/Losses tabulations are replaced by power meters, which give you an idea of each characters relative capabilities, whether strength, stamina, intellect, what have you. How mighty is Thanos, how formidable a foe? Very:
Aside: Thanos has a hell of a chin under normal circumstances, but under the lantern-jawed ministrations of Art Adams, it’s of positively Leno-esque proportions.
One of the major highlights of the set is a section devoted to great enmities in Marvel history — or at least Marvel history up until 1991. Daredevil vs. Kingpin. Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin. Captain America vs. Red Skull. All there. As stated above, I was quite enamored of the early 1990s Ron Lim Surfer, so two stood out for me. First, the Surfer exchanging Power Cosmic fire with arch-foe/twisted father figure Galactus:
And then against the the Mad Titan himself:
An honorable mention goes to the Fantastic Four vs. Galactus card, which has a great front, but it’s the art on the back that’s worthy of an album cover:
Next up are a dozen cards highlighting heroes’ and villains’ accoutrements. Yes, Iron Man’s armor is in there. Of course it is. (Along with weaponry as diverse as the Infinity Gauntlet, Wolverine’s claws and Daredevil’s club, amongst others.) But 215 pounds seems a little light to me — or too heavy, if Tony Stark is carrying it around in a briefcase:
The dear departed of the Marvel U. get some love in the Legends section, including the cancer-stricken Kree, Captain Marvel:
There are also a few cards for Marvel “Rookies.” X-Force? Yeah, they had some staying power, for better or worse. Sleepwalker? Not so much:
After a perfunctory series of team cards (you know that when we get a West Coast Avengers flick comic book movies will be played out and the apocalypse will be upon us), the set proper closes with three cards that explain and illustrate the various power ratings included on the backs. Handy. The funny thing about these is that Aunt May — who doesn’t have a card in the set, mind you — is used to illustrate the rock-bottom of three categories: Speed, Agility and Durability. Here’s Agility:
“Clumsy.” Kind of an elbow off the top rope out of nowhere, you know? (I’m reminded of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, when the crew watched Overdrawn at the Memory Bank and were struck by how many times “anteater” was used in the film as some manner of epithet. Why anteaters? Why?)
The chase cards are once more five holograms, though this time they aren’t just space age reproductions of artwork used in the base set. A note on collation: Over the past year and a half I’ve opened two boxes. In the first I got one full set of the base cards and four holograms, and with the second I was able to fill out three extra sets and got two more holograms — so there’s no set number of holograms found in each box. I was down to the last two packs from the second box, and I still hadn’t found a Doctor Doom hologram, which was the one holdout I needed to finish the whole thing off. Then, with one pack to spare, I pulled one. This wasn’t a great highlight of my life, but I admit that I broke out into a spontaneous Daniel Bryan “YES” chant. It’s the happiest anyone has ever been to have Victor Von Doom staring back at them. Here he/it is:
And there you have it. These cards are a great deal of fun twenty-plus years on, and they still hold undiscovered delights. While forging this post I was looking through them, and noticed for the first time that the cards Art Adams did for arch-foes Adam Warlock and Thanos mirror one another: while the former stands in front of a cloudy background and before a sea of aliens, the latter stands in front of a cloudy background and before a sea of skulls. It’s a neat little touch that sums up the care and joy that went into the production of these old gems, something that shines through even into these jaded old eyes. They don’t have the advent thrill of their predecessors, but many of the first time kinks were worked out with them. They’re a more consistent pillar-to-post experience.
You can still find unopened boxes on eBay for non-outrageous prices — which is where I got mine, as my old cards are buried somewhere in a closet in my parents’ house — and much cheaper than they used to be if you adjust for inflation. You could spend a lot more on worse. Good times.