Trading Card Set of the Week – Spider-Man (2002, Topps)
That Marvel is getting the Spider-Man movie rights back — or at least the creative direction of said movies — is good news all around. Sony has managed to augur two trilogies into the ground, the second not even getting to the third installment, and some fresh faces in the world of Peter Parker are most welcome. We’ve pretty much run the gamut of every permutation of the Mary Jane/Gwen Stacy romance angles, and it’s about time New York’s spindly, teenage hero found himself in some costumed company.
I’ve made no secret of my indifference/disdain for the Amazing Spider-Man films — the first was mediocre, the second was fairly dreadful — but not that long ago we had a genuine, viable Spider-Man franchise on our hands. One that, wonder of wonders, managed to capture the sunny joy of the wall-crawling world, the bright primary colors that made the original 1960s comic book run such a sensation. Well, at least until we had to suffer through the emo Spider-Man 3. But as Meatloaf taught us, two out of three ain’t bad.
Today we look back at the first Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, through the medium of its trading cards. But before we dig elbow deep into the cardboard collectible adjunct, a word about the movie itself.
I’m somewhat against the grain in that I see the summer of 2002’s biggest hit as the best of the trilogy. Like the Christopher Reeve Superman series, the consensus seems to be that the second edition is superior, yet in each instance I find there’s more to like in the maiden voyage. Yes, the first Spider-Man has flaws: it unleashed James Franco onto an unsuspecting audience (an unpardonable sin), Kirsten Dunst was the most wan Mary Jane Watson imaginable, and the Green Goblin armor was far too Power Rangers for most. (Perhaps this last shortfall would have been easier to take in our Iron Man saturated world.) But several of the supporting players were excellent, Maguire was adequate, and Raimi did a fine job of translating the vertiginous Manhattan adventures of the web-slinger to the big screen. The movie had a good feel, and didn’t wallow/drown in the sappy romance as the next two installments did. And by God, this Peter didn’t ride a skateboard and wear fingerless gloves. GET OFF MY LAWN.
Now, the cards. Topps had the concession for them, and put out a pretty decent product. Though they annoyingly came only seven cards to a pack and twenty-four packs to a box, meaning you very likely would be a few short of a full set after tearing through one, they were glossy and sharp and well put together. The photography isn’t noticeably grainy like some rough contemporaries (we’re looking at you, Independence Day), and at 100 cards in total for the base set, it’s neither too short nor too long. You get the feeling that Topps actually tried in this instance, which isn’t always the case.
After opening with a title card (captioned “A MOVIE AT LAST!” — indicating the long, torturous road to get Spider-Man to screen), it moves right into character cards, for everyone from Peter right down to blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Flash Thompson. And of course that includes the scene-stealing J. Jonah Jameson. J. K. Simmons just won an Oscar for his performance in Whiplash, but I think we all know the role for which he should have taken home the gold, right?:
Man, he was good. Can’t they bring him back in the newest reboot? Please?
The bulk of the set recounts the blow-by-blow of the plot. As I dug into these cards I was wondering if there was one guy who’d be included: “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was the very embodiment of Spider-Man’s wrestling opponent, Bone Saw McGraw. Sadly, he’s nowhere to be found, despite several cards devoted to Parker’s money-making sojourn in the squared circle. Possibly a likeness rights issue? Anyway, Evil Dead aficionados will be happy, as Bruce Campbell makes a cameo:
For all the horny young boys out there, Mary Jane’s nippletastic upside-down kiss with Spider-Man was a takeaway. Alas, its commemoration here is shoulders up:
Willem Dafoe hasn’t ever received enough credit for being one of the better comic book screen villains, as it seems that people can’t get past Goblin costume and its frozen face. But he was so great as Norman Osborn, bringing formidable chops and a piercing stare to Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis. And, improbably enough, it was at a Thanksgiving dinner that he was his most menacing — who can forget that look he gave Aunt May when she slapped his greedy hand?:
After going through the entire plot of the film there are a couple of subsets to be had. The first offers some behind-the-scenes looks at its making. Here’s Raimi and Dafoe at work — “Please, Sam, tell me more…”:
After that are nine white-bordered cards that show some of Peter Parker’s impossibly good shots of Spider-Man in action:
On the backs of these photog cards there are Post-its from Jameson. The text isn’t that scintillating, but reading it in Simmons’s voice perks them up, no?:
He’s a menace!
And then there are the chase cards. There are four different kinds and twenty-five in total — mercifully, they’re fairly plentiful, so amassing them all isn’t a Herculean labor. Here’s one of the “Clear Cards,” showing the armored Goblin on his glider (the background is transparent, and the white you see is from the scanner):
Here’s one of the “Web Tech Foil Cards”:
Here’s one of the “Spider Hologram Cards”:
And here’s one of the glow-in-the-dark sticker cards (its glow-in-the-dark-ness is unconfirmed as we go to press), featuring our two foes locked in mortal combat (the backs of these cards formed the traditional Topps puzzle):
And there you have it. Spider-Man was a smash hit, lest we forget, besting Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones: Wasn’t Very Good to be the box office champeen of 2002 — the first time a Star Wars film had ever failed to snatch that crown. While some of that is surely do to the wooden acting and icky “romance” of Clones, the successful appeal of the wall-crawler can’t be denied. The movie was a lot of fun, and one can still make the case that it’s the best of all his screen adventures. (Yes, even better than the Electric Company Spider-Mime.) The cards lived up to it.
Anyway, as we ramp up to yet another Spider-Reboot, it might be good for the honchos to keep in mind that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Raimi and co. got it right the first time around, with what remains a viable template going forward. Look no further than the cards.