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Trading Card Set of the Week – X-Men (1992, Impel)

November 28, 2014

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In the 1990s Impel brought class and quality to comic book trading cards, a subgenre that until their arrival had often felt more than a tad slapdash. Both the 1990 and 1991 iterations of their Marvel Universe cards were spectacular, joys to have and behold for any comics-loving kid with a little extra spending money. But by 1992 that horseman of the apocalypse that heralds the end of every boom — Glut — was starting to take hold. Not only would that year see the third edition of the Marvel cards — one that, as we’ll see at some point in the not too distant future, suffered a mild decline in quality — but also a specialized set for one corner of that overall universe. Jim Lee, at the absolute apex of his X-Men fame, provided the pillar to post art for a set focused on those same mutants. If there was ever a gottahaveit thingamajig for Marvel zombie kids of the early 1990s, especially those with every variant copy of X-Men #1, this was it. X-celsior!

This wasn’t the first time that there were Lee X-Men cards: Comic Images had some the previous year, though like most of their products those cards recycled art from the comics (hence the name of the company, one supposed). Impel’s were all new, which made them much more appealing — not steamed leftovers, an appropriate metaphor this day after Thanksgiving.

The cards were distributed in boxes of 36 packs of six cards each, a sharp reduction in cards per pack than what had been seen previously, but more acceptable considering the smaller 100 card base set. It should be noted that there were two different boxes: one featuring Wolverine and the other Magneto, seen above, in repurposed art from the aforementioned X-Men #1 cover. (Okay, so not all the art was new.) There were five gold hologram chase cards which usually came three to a box, as well as rare Lee autographed cards to be had for the luckier among us. And Lee was a big selling point, make no mistake — please note his signature on the box itself.

The design of the cards was a bit more showy than previous releases, with border coloring that verged dangerously close to pastels and subtle X logos within that had a polka-dot effect. Which sounds dreadful. But they were still attractive, mainly due to the Lee artwork that was the centerpiece of each and every one of them. A nice additional touch in the first 40 hero cards was that the X emblem in the lower right hand corner changed color depending on the team affiliation of the character depicted: yellow and blue for the gold and blue X-Men teams, black for X-Force, purple for X-Factor and red for Excalibur. (Yes, Captain Britain and Excalibur, not necessarily closely affiliated with their American mutant cousins, were included here. Which isn’t unwelcome or improper, but feels a tad like Impel and Marvel struggled to fill out 100 cards without repetition.)

Here’s the Wolverine card — if you’re going to have a primary example, why not make it the most famous X-Man of all?:

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Card backs once more had power ratings for each character, as well as vital statistics and some trivia:

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Here’s Psylocke, a character who in Lee’s hands was all legs, ass and boobs, and couldn’t ever stand straight but had to jut at all times (When the moon hits your eye, like Psylocke’s half-naked thigh, that’s amore…):

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And poor straight man Cyclops, always the stiff to Logan’s edgy cool, was at this point in his career stuck in 1990s de rigeuer leg and shoulder belts:

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What exactly is he carrying in those pouches around his waist? Eye-drops?

The border color pattern changes when we get to the villain cards, as it does for all the subsets. I was going to scan the card for Stryfe, Cable’s future-clone-whatever, and accidentally pulled out Shiva:

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When you compare the two, I think you’ll forgive my mistake:

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Here’s Apocalypse, soon to be menacing Charles Xavier’s gifted students in a theater near you (and he’s recently been cast):

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All the teams get cards, as well as villain groups like the Mutant Liberation Front and the Hellfire Club. You’ll be excused if you’re a more casual X-fan and have to consult internet encyclopedias to refresh your memory on who the hell Technet is/are/were/was:

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The character cards close with “Ex-X-Men” (ha!) and allies, among them Shi’ar Empire royalty: Lilandra. Shiny Shi’ar space-bewbs, men!:

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The base set ends with nine puzzle cards, which when joined together show mutant reps from all the good guy teams engaging in some preposterous Danger Room training:

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The chase holograms aren’t bad-looking, and a nice consideration this time around is that the art used is reproduced on the back in non-holo form. Here’s Gambit and his kinetically-charged playing cards of death:

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The value of these cards is a bit higher than it would be without the Lee element. Unopened boxes, still fairly plentiful, routinely sell in the mid-thirty dollar range, though through diligence you can occasionally find them for less. (It seems that the Wolverine boxes sell for more than the Magnetos, but that could just be my imagination.) Some of this price inflation is certainly due to people still searching for the Lee autograph cards. Sets are priced accordingly, often on par with the larger Marvel Universe sets. Again — the Lee effect.

This wouldn’t be the last time Lee provided extensive original art for a set of cards centered around a team with which he was closely associated. WildC.A.T.S, the Image pet project that dragged him away from the X-verse and Marvel, had a set from Topps a couple of years later, and he artified most of those as well. But WildC.A.T.S. was never as popular as Marvel’s preeminent team, and certainly never as white-hot as they were at this time. This set stands as a prime example of corporate partners listening to demand, and putting out a product that fans will gladly gobble up — a win-win for everyone involved. Cards were by this point beginning to proliferate to their detriment (mutate, even?), but this X-Men set, though a harbinger of overextended doom, wasn’t that doom in and of itself. It was something that X-aficionados craved. Still do, in fact.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2014 3:12 pm

    Hmmm, my memory must be playing tricks on me. For some reason I thought that a few other artists besides Jim Lee worked on this trading card set. Or maybe I’m getting confused with a follow-up set that was released after he left Marvel to form Image? Anyway, cool profile piece on this.

  2. Austin Gorton permalink
    January 23, 2015 11:03 am

    Yes, Captain Britain and Excalibur, not necessarily closely affiliated with their American mutant cousins, were included here. Which isn’t unwelcome or improper, but feels a tad like Impel and Marvel struggled to fill out 100 cards without repetition.

    I also wouldn’t surprised if someone wanted to be sure Phoenix, Shadowcat and (especially) Nightcrawler made it into the set, and once that door was open, the rest of Excalibur followed (though of course, that did indeed pad out the count).

    Great write-up. This set arrived at just the right time for me. The earlier Marvel sets had led me to comics, and from there, I got into the X-Men just as this set hit the stands, and I loved it.

    Also, sadly, I didn’t realize until now that the X logo changed color for each team, which is a neat detail I really should have noticed before…

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