The early 1990s were all about lenticular covers, bagged promos, and rampant speculation. But they were also about trading cards. Upper Deck reigned supreme and we finally said goodbye to buying cards with super hard chewing gum. Traditionally we had purchased sports cards, but Marvel Comics had given us another option by issuing a series of collectible cards featuring their spandex clad characters.
The first series was released in 1990 and featured short biographies of heroes and villains along with battle statistics on the back of the cards. So now we all could know what Spider-Man’s win percentage was (a burning question for everyone involved). There were even hard to get hologram cards! The art was provided by some of Marvel’s top talent (including Walt Simonson and Art Adams) and no trip to the convince store was complete without grabbing a pack or two.
I never had the entire set, but grabbing packs here and there whetted my appetite for Series II. And, to borrow a phrase from the time, Series II was da bomb. The art and production was upped even more. The stats on the back of the cards was replaced with power levels so now we could compare the strength, intelligence, and energy output of each hero. There was a 7-11 right beside my local comic book shop, so I was able to grab my comics and have some change left over for Big Feet and some Marvel cards. Of course there were a lot of doubles, but trading at school helped me get closer to a completed set and a final purchase of a Namor card (for $1) at a comic convention completed the entire 167 card set. It remains one of my great accomplishments in life.
For Series III there was no fooling around. My brother and I saved up and bought an entire box. Unbeknownst to us there were a lot of sets in a box. Or there were almost a lot of sets. I think we got one full set each and split the holograms. It was a foolproof plan, but I did rob myself of the joy of actually collecting the cards.
What was great about the Marvel cards was that they taught me more about the Marvel Universe and inspired me to read more comics. I would have never known every character just by reading comics; there were far too many and I didn’t have enough cash to buy every comic book Marvel issued. But by collecting these cards my knowledge of the wonderful Marvel U grew and I became a lifelong fan. I think that today kids have the same collector’s encyclopaedia of awesomeness, but I see the Lego Marvel video game fulfilling a similar role. Anyone who plays that game gets to learn about the Abomination and MODOK in addition to Spider-Man and Wolverine.
Marvel Cards were fun, had great art, and were iconic examples of 1990s collecting excess. I wonder how much my Ghost Rider rookie card is worth?