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Growing Up Geek: Remembering Marvel Trading Cards of the 90’s

In our first installment of our nostalgia articles CL Varner takes a look at Marvel’s Masterpieces and Spider-Man trading cards of the 1990’s. Head on in for more Chromium and hologram action than you can believe.

Ah the 90’s. The last decade of the 20th century saw a lot of geek things get huge in the mainstream. Most importantly was what has been called the “comics explosion” with the creation of Image comics, DC’s Vertigo line, all piggybacking off of the sudden rise in awareness caused by DC’s Death of Superman, the X-Men animated series being a hit on saturday morning as well as Spider-Man cartoons. Hell, even Iron Man and the Hulk had their own saturday morning shows in the late 90s. Oh, and that Batman The Animated Series, we hear that was pretty good too. This sudden rise in interest in comic books created a new market though, another form of collector wanted in on the action. The trading card market has always been the domain of a type of geek that I will never understand, the sports geek. Whereas I can rattle off first appearance issues and the line up of multiple super-hero teams, the sports geek can tell you…I dunno, sports stuff about sportsball players?

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?
I dunno, all I know is that at one point in my young life, probably around 6 or 7 years old, I bought some packs of baseball cards, (without knowing a damn thing about baseball), and there were a bunch of numbers on the back that I didn’t know what they meant. Also that gum is TERRIBLE. What is wrong with you people?

I think no publisher jumped on this wagon harder than Marvel. Releasing 5 different Marvel Masterpieces sets, no less than EIGHT Spider-Man sets, and 5 X-Men sets! Each set usually had between 50-150 cards, and then a number of “chase” cards which, it being the 90s usually involved holograms or holofoil or chromium or some other such nonsense to make them “rare”. Some sets, like the Spider-Man Fleer Ultra series actually had an identical set that all had foil signatures of the artist.

Be still my 10 year old heart!
My first experience with them was Christmas of 1992 when I unwrapped a small box, containing a complete Marvel Masterpieces set. I had started getting into Spider-Man a few years before, picking up Amazing whenever I was given the chance. I also regularly watched the X-Men animated series like it was my job on Saturday mornings. I don’t ever even remember seeing the Masterpieces cards in our local comic shop, but I guess my mother did while doing her Christmas shopping and thought I would like them. I don’t know how much she paid for them, but I was pretty shocked when I saw a similar set at another store a few years, deep in the comics explosion, going for around $100! This set featured 105 cards, the first 100 cards featuring a different character of the Marvel Universe, and the last 5 being team-ups or versus images. The back of the cards told you the character’s real name, their team affiliation (if any), and what comic was their first appearance. The complete set was painted by Joe Jusko, and I have to say the artwork really stands out on these cards. They’re all full-bleed, with an identical line border and title color and font. Albeit some of the colors harken back to the garish brightness of the 80’s, but they’re kind of endearing in that way. As this was right before the “Chromium Age” there aren’t any of those bizarre materials used in any chase cards. Marvel released a Masterpieces set from 92-96. I only had the 92 series, as well as a ton of the 94 Hildebrandt set. I learned just about everything I used to know about Marvel through them, considering there are characters featured that I had never heard of back then, and hell, I haven’t heard of in years. How many of you remember Captain Omega? Namorita? Quasar? Yeah, exactly. Me neither. I still have most of this set SOMEWHERE, I think. They’re probably someplace in my grandmother’s basement, a few of them were stolen from my binder in middle school, but there’s still almost a complete set there.
Never Forget.
If you can find a cheap set on eBay, and you’re a total Marvel fan, pick them up. I really enjoy the Jusko 92 series over the 94 Hildebrandt’s. Both of the series have great art, but overall Jusko nails it. My favorite cards in the set are Spider-Man, Hobgoblin, and Morbius. Yes I realize I just named all Spider-Man characters, deal with it.

Continue to page two for more trading card action than you can lift with the proportionate strength of a spider!

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