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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Unstacking the Deck: X-Men Series I

Impel 1992

Vital Statistics
100 cards (including one checklist card), with five hologram chase cards featuring original art.

Categorically Speaking
Heroes, Villains, Teams, Ex-X-Men, Allies, the Danger Room

Firsts and Other Notables
After releasing two full sets of Marvel Universe cards (with a third following shortly behind this one), this is the first set of trading cards to exclusively feature Marvel's cash cow X-Men, with the added conceit that every card is drawn by Jim Lee, arguably the most popular of Marvel's artists at the time. Lee provides not only the central image on the front of the card, but the headshots on the back, as well five additional, original images for the hologram chase cards.

While this is the only official Lee-exclusive set of X-Men cards (an earlier set was released by a different company that featured reprints of images from comics he drew), this set does mark the beginning of an entire new sub-line of trading cards, with an X-Men-specific set released every year, alongside a full Marvel Universe set and (shortly) a Marvel Masterpieces set, for the duration of the trading card boom into the mid-90s.

Unlike the previous Marvel Universe sets, this series is only 100 cards, presumably because it's drawing on a smaller pool of characters. But really, the set is lean mostly because it jettisons card categories like Famous Battles, Arch-Enemies, Rookies, etc. It's pretty much just the characters and their teams, with former members and allies who aren't officially part of team rounding out the set.

The card backs feature real name, height, weight, group affiliation (with the Blue and Gold X-Men teams differentiated) and first appearance (with "Uncanny" used for all issues of the original series to differentiate it from Adjectiveless) next to a head shot of the character. Below that is a bar graph charting the characters relative attributes in Energy Projection, Mental Powers, Strength, Fighting Ability and Intelligence. Beneath that is biographical information and an "X-Tra Fact". Each card back is presented as being a "Cerebro Scan" of the character.

The hero cards are bordered principally in blue, the villain and team cards a reddish purple, and the Ex X-Men & Allies cards a light green.

The first ten cards of the set are all presented in landscape format, rather than portrait.

The final nine cards of the set (not counting the checklist card at the very end) feature an assortment of characters from all the teams save X-Factor training in the Danger Room, which form one large image when put together.


For characters who first appeared in Marvel UK series (like Psylocke & Meggan), the card backs specify their first American appearance.

Cable's X-tra Fact cites his mutant power as telekinesis, something not yet confirmed in X-Force (it was unclear when he first used his power in X-Force #1 whether it was telekinesis, magnetism, or something else).

While the respective members of the Blue and Gold squads get listed as such on their cardbacks, Professor X, Forge and Banshee are just listed as being members of the X-Men.

Wolfsbane is described as having a crush on Havok; we'll eventually learn it's something far more than that.

Whomever wrote the biographical information apparently wasn't aware of Mr. Sinister's recent return in X-Factor, as his card questions whether he's truly gone for good following "Inferno". Also, the idea that Sinister is only harmed by Cyclops' optic blasts gets codified here via his X-tra Fact, though it has yet to be established definitively in the comics.

Other tibbits of note - Caliban is described as being able to generate fear in others (I don't remember that particular facet of his power being used before), while Toad is described as being deeply in love with Scarlet Witch (he certainly lusted after her in his early appearances, but it's been awhile since anything was done with that notion).

Of Their Time
Alan Davis' recent changes to Excalibur are well represented, with Kylun and Cerise both warranting their own cards, along with a Widget card featuring his new body (that he has yet to do anything with in contemporaneous issues of the series). Incidentally, Gatecrasher, Saturnyne, and Technet represent Excalibur on the villain side of things, and while the expanded roster of characters merit their own cards, the Excalibur team card features only the original five.


Maverick, fresh off his Lee-penned debut, gets his own card, as does Sabretooth in his new Lee-designed costume.


Mojo II, a character who has yet to make his first appearance in a comic book (it comes in X-Men Annual #1, and he then features in Lee's final X-Men story) gets his own card, as do the Brood, despite not appearing since the pre-"Inferno" Brood story, due to their role in Lee's next X-Men story (it also looks like Gambit is fighting them on his card). Shiva, at this point having only appeared in the one issue of Wolverine, gets its own card too.


The Upstarts, of course, get their own card in the team section. Including amongst them is Sienna Blaze, who won't make her first comic book appearance until X-Men Unlimited #1 in 1993, well after Jim Lee has left the series, and Graydon Creed, who won't appear until the Sabretooth limited series that same year (Blaze is the woman on the card; presumably the guy next to her is Creed, though he looks nothing like his later appearances. Really, only Fitzroy and Cortez look like themselves, assuming the guy with an armored/cybernetic chest is supposed to be Shinobi Shaw). The X-Tra Fact on that card also cites "immortality" as the ultimate prize of the Upstarts contest.


The new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that debuted in X-Force gets its own card. Neither nor Masque nor Thorrn are pictured on it, but Thornn is listed as a member on the card back.

Despite being more or less obliterated by the Upstarts at this point, the Hellfire Club gets its own card, listing Shaw, Selene, Emma Frost & Magneto as members. Magneto & Frost get their own cards as well; Selene & Shaw do not (despite Selene showing up recently in Uncanny).

Favorite Cards

Havok


One of my favorite images of the character - Lee really captures the raw fury of his power.

Iceman


I've always liked Lee's Iceman, and appreciate that he adopted Portacio's "ring of ice around his hands" way of depicting his power in action.

Cable


A rare for the time less-nonsensical look at a primary Liefeldian character.

Jean Grey


One of my favorite images of this character, as well. Not sure why. This card has always just entranced me.

Captain Britain


A classic hero shot of the character.

Multiple Man


Nice depiction of his power.

Magneto


An iconic image for the X-Men's #1 baddie.

Masque


Captures the essence of the character by being suitably creepy.

Black Tom


Not the most dynamics image, but I like the detail in his face, and the overall image gives him some gravitas.

White Queen


Partially responsible for kickstarting my adolescence.

Mastermind


I like the way the card both displays his power, and references his most famous storyline.

Dark Phoenix


Like the Magneto card, just a really solid, iconic image for a character that loomed large over the franchise, even in 1992.

Austin's Analysis 
This is the first set of comic book trading cards I bought at the same time I was reading comics (with Marvel Universe Series II transitioning me into comics, I acquired the first series after the fact via stores that still had stock of that series), and it remains probably my favorite of all the various Marvel trading card sets. Part of that is certainly due to the Jim Lee art - of all the future Image founders, he probably has the most raw talent, but he certainly also has his flaws as an artist. However, the static, pin-up-y images used on trading cards pretty much eliminate all those flaws, leaving a product that is simply Lee at his best (and for Marvel, a set of Jim Lee-drawn X-Men cards released in 1992 had to have been like printing money), forever immortalizing his versions of these characters.

But beyond the solid art, including some of my all-time favorite images of certain characters, I love this set just for being a snapshot of a very specific time in my collecting life, when most of these characters were still relatively new to me, their backstories (mentioned in brief on their cardbacks) still vast, unexplored stories for me to discover. This set represents my first encounter with several characters, specifically from the Excalibur side of the universe (heck, I still, as of this writing, haven't read a comic where Widget does something in his new body, but I've known about the character thanks to this set since 1992), as well as several of the villains.

This isn't an era of comics that is fondly remembered by many these days, but this set perfectly captures that brief post-relaunch, pre-Image Exodus Blue/Gold Era of the X-Men that was my introduction to comics, and every time I look at these cards, I'm immediately transported back to that time, of running out of Shinders, a thin brown paper bag containing a few comics and a couple-three packs of cards tucked under my arm, then climbing into the back seat of my mom's car and tearing into those packs in the back seat on the drive home, thumbing through card after card as the radio blared and the air conditioner battled the warm summer air.

19 comments:

  1. Holy crap, I didn't realize until now that these images were from cards. I knew them from some printed comics put out around the same time that had all the images from the cards blown up to standard comic size. I figured it was just a Jim Lee sketchbook. I used to look through them all the time as a kid and would steal from the images to try and copy Jim Lee's style in my drawings.

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  2. I love this set. I mentioned over on my site that the X-MEN BY CLAREMONT & LEE OMNIBUS volume 2 reprints the entire set, front and back, which is a really cool bonus feature.

    "Partially responsible for kickstarting my adolescence."

    Same here! Emma was probably my favorite card in the set when I was thirteen.

    Others I liked were Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Cable, Jubilee, Cyclops, Rogue, Bishop, Cerise (I had no idea who she was; I just liked her visual), Mister Sinister, Stryfe, and the two X-Men team cards (plus the big nine-part Danger Room subset).

    Whew!

    So weird that Siena Blaze and Graydon Creed were conceptualized so long before they debuted. I guess Lobdell & Co. continued to follow some of Lee's and Portacio's concepts well after they left.

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  3. I have more than a few of these cards, and two of the three issues of the miniseries that reprinted the card set...and still, this post is the first time I've seen many of these images.

    That off-model version of Graydon Creed also showed up in STRYFE'S STRYKE FILE, as I recall.

    Hilarious that Maverick's powers on the back of his card are described as “the amazing ability to see into all the various immediate futures of his foes, so he is able to choose the course of action that allows him to come out on top!” Did Jim Lee ever let Bob Harras in on this secret?

    By the way, the series that reprinted these cards in full-size comic format...it's a bit of a disappointment. Jim Lee clearly didn't draw these cards at standard comic book size (I suspect he took a page of original art and split it in two.) With the art blown up to an exaggerated size, you start to notice things like Meggan's tadpole feet.

    As a card set, though, it's great. Not only is Lee at his Marvel peak, but the colors are lush and vivid. Possibly the finest comics card set ever.

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    1. While I really like this set, it may be runner-up for me in terms of "finest comics card set ever" I'd probably give that award to the first series of Marvel Masterpieces. I think that was the only card set I went out of my way to collect in its entirety, even buying singles at the local shop. I loved all those Joe Jusko paintings, and the cards were nice and thick, too. I still have my full set in a binder someplace.

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    2. You're right, the original art for these cards was done a little larger than print size, 2 to a standard size 11"x17" piece of paper (Along with character headshots). An example of this is here: http://art.cafimg.com/images/Category_614/subcat_22461/RvaQtpkR_2401151334471.jpg

      This explains why the lines in the collection books they put out were so thick.

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  4. “the amazing ability to see into all the various immediate futures of his foes, so he is able to choose the course of action that allows him to come out on top!”

    So he shot Cornelius into head well knowing that he would have Wolverine killed on his next appearance!

    That's two you owe me, Jim Lee.

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  5. As nice as this card set still holds up (Jim Lee's somewhat tacky cheesecake leanings aside), some of it certainly is the product of it's era. Cards for Shiva? Maverick? Mojo II? The Upstarts? I'm guessing Omega Red had a card too?

    As for the Upstarts and anything else Lee and Portacio developed before they bolted, I wonder what plans they may have had for Graydon Creed and Sienna Blaze.

    Overall, this series holds up well, though for me, the first two Marvel Universe series are still my favorites.

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  6. Oh that Magneto picture is great until you look at his thighs and you see that his thighs are bigger than any other part of his body. It really throws me off and has ruined the image for me.

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  7. I started collecting comics a little later on so my introductory set was the 1994 Fleer Ultra cards. Still love those cards. I mainly remember these and the 1993 series for being included with the ToyBiz figures.

    Maverick's never-used precognition power was even mentioned in the 1994 card set. I wonder if there's a story behind that? Stuff that pops up in other media that's never used in the comics is always interesting to me. I remember Meggan had a card where she was called "Tapestry" and I don't remember her ever using that name. I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting...

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    1. Worded as his power description is, it sounds pretty much exactly like Irene "Destiny" Adler always used her powers in a combat situation. Maybe the editorial nixed it because any distinction would have been hard to make, his too having a face-plate and everything. Bad comparison to be in for Mav; he got guns but she got actual character.

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    2. X-Men 94 Flair Ultra was also *my* card series, and I have the same memories regarding Maverick's power and Meggan's unused codename.

      "I've always liked Lee's Iceman, and appreciate that he adopted Portacio's "ring of ice around his hands" way of depicting his power in action."

      I believe Walt Simonson established this first?

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    3. I find it hilarious that so many mutant characters were popping up that didn't use their powers at all, they just used guns. Cable was the perfect example of this, and now Maverick (Had his powers been seen up to this point?). I still don't know what Shatterstar's powers are either, is he just super agile?

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  8. Man, this set is so great. The only complete card set I've ever owned. I knew I'd have to have it, so I just ordered a box of them when they were released, which allotted me nearly 2 full sets--I think I just had to do a trade for one missing hologram. I still have the complete set in a binder, only recently having finally sold off all the duplicates.

    While I like the "time capsule" element of it, I have to admit, there are a few details I'm less fond of--mostly the new looks for classic characters, used instead of their "classic" ones. Havok, Dazzler, Longshot, etc., just look weird when not in their "Outback era" costumes. Still, that's quibbling. It's still remarkable that this set was so closely followed by the Image exodus, and my own as well.

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  10. Does anyone know who the goober in the green glasses is on the Hellfire Club card? He's on the front with the core four of Shaw, Frost, Selene and Magneto, but unamed on the back.

    http://www.uncannyxmen.net/sites/default/files/images/cards/xmen92/76-f.jpg

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    1. My guess would be Empath, who alone survived the re-launch Hellion slaughter and could be conceived to have been associated like this at this time by Jim Lee. Maybe something was in the works for him but got shunted by the X-odus.

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    2. I think his survival owes more to the fact that someone in the X-office (Nicieza?), after Lee and Portacio left, remembered that Empath was supposed to be somewhere in South America/Nova Roma with Magma. Basically, he wasn't supposed to be in Portacio's opening storyline. Unless, of course, he ditched Magma prior to Uncanny #281 and it was supposed to be addressed at a later date.

      This is Lee and Portacio, so I'd go with stupid fuck-up on their parts for including Empath and then never mentioning him after #281. Had there been more plans for him, he would have been included, possibly with the Upstarts or Selene and the Gamemaster in #283. I mean, these are the same people who gave us the Hellion death scene with over a dozen Hellions; Empath could have easily been included among those slaughtered.

      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-M0JLCmxlVXY/VpJO-c8WMcI/AAAAAAAAwZg/bwZx7l5rjH8/s1600/xmen282_13a.gif

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  11. "Other tibbits of note - Caliban is described as being able to generate fear in others (I don't remember that particular facet of his power being used before), while Toad is described as being deeply in love with Scarlet Witch (he certainly lusted after her in his early appearances, but it's been awhile since anything was done with that notion)."
    Caliban was able to use his powers to generate fear in others in X-Factor 51 and 53. As for Toad, during the 1985-1986 Vision and Scarlet Witch series, 3 of the issues were devoted to the Toad's plans to kill the Vision and make the Scarlet Witch his bride.

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  12. I got a complete set of these — minus the hologram chase cards and maybe even the Danger Room mosaic — on vacation in the summer of 1992. We stopped at a small comics/cards/collectibles shop, of the kind that boomed and busted quickly in that era, which had assembled sets on sale in small plastic bins for like $5. My sister got a Disney Beauty and the Beast set and I got these, curious about the state of the X-Teams after my brief check-in during the 1991 relaunch; I only took them out of the box like once.

    // every time I look at these cards //

    What great memories. My equivalent with trading cards specifically is packs of the Empire Strikes Back set from the Woolworth’s catty-corner from my grandparents store the summer of 1980, or more generally comics from the spinner rack and “penny” candy from a small newsagent the next block down. I remember how frustrating it was that the card packs were marked at 25¢ and so 26¢ with tax. Comics jumped to 50¢ that summer too. 8^(

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