By Nick Authenrieth and Ryan Penagos; cards provided by Greg Draudt; hologram scans by Jori Bolton
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
After the first series of Marvel Universe Trading Cards caught on like wildfire, Marvel went back to the well, adding in a few new features and more detailed art, significantly stepping up the care and quality of the cards. Like the first set, Series 2 gave us the skinny on everything Marvel, but offered a little more meat in an already sweet meal.
Replacing the Famous Battles section from Series 1 with a section called Arch-Enemies, collectors were treated to cards awash in drama such as Punisher vs. Kingpin and Silver Surfer vs. Galactus. Whole teams also faced off in this section. X-Men vs. the Marauders and Fantastic Four vs. the Skrulls are just a couple of the squads who spotlighted for the second series.
The first set of Marvel Universe cards to feature a powers rating system, this highly ambitious 162 card set gave collectors an opportunity to see how their favorite heroes and villains measured up against one another. There were six categories on which each character was judged: strength, speed, agility, stamina, durability and intelligence. With a nifty bar graph on the reverse side of the card that measured each trait on a scale of 1-7, which could then be cross-referenced with the attribute cards, #159-#161. This system, much like the one currently used on the Marvel Universe and in the Official Handbooks fueled the fires for many debates. Seriously, just how smart can Reed Richards be?
In retrospect, Wolverine's durability does seem a bit low at a 5 out of 7. Over the past 16 years—since Series 2 was released—Wolverine has, among many massive injuries, had his skeleton ripped out by Magneto, been shot in the face, the groin and crushed under a steamroller by the Punisher and been blown up by Nitro, only to brush these injuries off like a scrape on the knee. Jubilee, on the other hand, receives a paltry 1 out of 7 for her intelligence and 2 out of 7 for everything else. Her rating of a 1 on intelligence may be a bit alarming, seeing that the checklist card describing the criteria lists a one as "below normal (mentally deficient)." Ouch, but we guess that sounds about right.
But we digress. The true appeal of the second series of Marvel Universe cards was their sheer scope. Even the individual gadgets and weapons of various Marvel characters got their own cards, complete with the object's history on the reverse side, offering collectors even more information about their favorite characters. Thor's Hammer, Iron-Man's armor and Doctor Octopus's arms all made appearances. Maybe the most informative was the Mandarin's Rings card, in which all of his rings (and he's got enough to make the late, great Liberace jealous—10 to be exact) and their powers received their just due.
Reed Richards, otherwise know as Mr. Fantastic had a card dedicated to his use of the Ultimate Nullifier, which as we're sure you already knew, is composed of a Lithium-Boron-Osmium alloy. The Nullifier, the only object that's ever put fear into the heart of Galactus, is a nice weapon to study up on. You never know when Galactus will come to your town, but at least you'll be ready.
Also, there are two cards which should be solemnly placed on the mantelpiece of comic fana—Quasar's Quantum Bands and Captain America's Shield—the instruments wielded by the two deceased heroes, may they rest in peace. These cards can serve as nice reminders of brighter days.
These cards, if nothing else, are a product of their decade, a snapshot in time. They provide viewers with an excellent sense of the evolution of Marvel Comics over the past 15 years. Some characters have dropped from the pages of Marvel altogether. Take Saracen (Card #77), for instance. On the back of his card, this "terrorist for hire" is called the Punisher's "greatest foe," yet his is a name that has close to zero relevance in today's comic world.
Following the tradition begun by the first series, Marvel Universe Series 2 featured team cards as well as individual characters. A team such as the New Fantastic Four, comprised of Wolverine, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and the Hulk, makes their only appearance in Series 2, a by-product of their short-lived existence. Not quite the team you'd see these days. X-Force also made their first trading card appearance in Series 2, and while they still linger upon the pages of some recent issues, their star, much like that of countless grunge bands, has undoubtedly faded since the '90s.
There are a few characters however, who have enjoyed revitalization since their '90s heyday. Speedball, now going by the moniker Penance, due to the lingering guilt he feels over the loss of innocent lives during the CIVIL WAR saga, is almost completely different than the blonde, bouncing bundle of joy that graced the front of his Series 2 card. He's now relying on pain to activate his powers and has traded teal spandex for an iron maiden-like outfit. Go figure.
But the crown jewel of this series is probably the all star crew of artists who turned in absolutely stunning work throughout the set. You can't go wrong with an artistic roster that includes Jim Lee, Erik Larson, Arthur Adams, John Romita Jr., Mark Bagley, Steve Lightle, Ron Lim and more.
The Marvel Universe has evolved quite a bit since this series first slammed its way into fans' hands, and sure some of Marvel's go-to artists are different and many characters have come and gone, but the spirit remains the same. The Marvel U. is a vivid, amorphous, exciting beast and as a snapshot of the world circa 1991, these cards can't be beat.
Huzzah! Thanks to Marvel superfan Jori Bolton, we have scans of all five holograms! Thanks, Jori!