Hey kids, gather round and let me tell you a story about my youth. Back in my day, we didn’t have these crazy iPhones and Netflixes. If we were bored, we had to stare at the TV and it chose for us what we watched. If we wanted to hang out with a friend, we had to call up their house and ask their parents if they were home. I tell yah, it was a nightmare for the introverts of the world like myself.
One of the many ways we entertained ourselves was to go down to the ol’ comic book shop to spend our pennies. But since we were kids, we didn’t always have a lot of pennies, so often we just ogled1 the various comics and other memorabilia we would never own.
One of the hot items of the day was trading cards. While it might sound crazy to you youngsters, there was quite the hopping market for pieces of cardboard with pictures on them. Us kids would go crazy over that shit. And while sports cards were the most popular item on the menu, for comic book nerds like myself, it was all about superhero trading cards.
Superhero trading cards in the 90s was a fucking gold mine and there were a lot of killer sets out there to collect. The Fleer Ultra X-Men and Spider-Man sets were especially noteworthy in their high quality and collectability. But one set held a special place in my heart: the 1993 SkyBox Marvel Universe Series 4.
Marvel Universe Series 4 is a snapshot of the comic book world in 1993. And let me tell yah, that was a crazy time. Combine the comic book world absurdity with some interlocking artwork and baby, you’ve got a stew going! I ate it up.
Looking back on it, I love how silly it all was. The set is the perfect encapsulation of Marvel in the 90s. You had your great characters represented, like Spider-Man and the X-Men. And of course you had the Avengers and Fantastic Four, except in their weird perverted 90s forms.
Like, seriously, poor Sue Storm:
And Mr. Fantastic with his cargo pockets:
Each card-back came with various statistical attributes on the character. I can only imagine the meetings that took place to rank the entire Marvel Universe on a scale of 7. Like, I get the Hulk is one of the strongest characters out there, but is he as strong as Galactus, the world eater himself?! Apparently so.
It wouldn’t be a complete comic book product without pushing the hot properties at the time. Looking back on the set, I am shocked at how prominently Darkhawk is featured. Darkhawk! The great “Unsolved Mysteries” card puts “The Face of Darkhawk” up there with “The Origin of Wolverine”. DARKHAWK.
I love how every page of characters has at least one I don’t recognize. I like to think I’m a pretty big nerd when it comes to comic books, but there are some real oddballs in this set. For example, who is Goddess??
She is 7s across the board, as in, the highest possible ranking. She is a literal god, so much so that she doesn’t even have a name. Only in the Marvel universe can a character so powerful be so quickly relegated into obscurity. I love it.
Here is another one: Micromax
It’s unclear what exactly his powers are, other than that his powers hide that he is fat. I don’t even know what to add to that. What the hell?
Overall, I love the art in this set. It’s colorful and dynamic. It’s so wonderfully 90s in design but still timeless in style. Look at this 9 card spread of the X-Men and tell me it isn’t awesome.
But there are a few clunkers that crack me up. Here is Luke Cage. Instead of looking like a strong black man, he looks like a distorted clown.
And speaking about characters I’ve never heard of combined with questionable art, here comes Proctor! Watch out kids, he’s looking over your shoulder while you take entrance exams!
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the last 9 card spread which involves not a single character I’ve ever heard of. Based on the first appearances of these characters, I can only assume this was another attempt in the 90s to launch something new. Since I have literally no knowledge of this, I can only assume it was wildly successful.
Although I joke around about the set, I truly love it. When I sit down and crack open the binder of cards, I am instantly transported back to my childhood. These cards remind me of simpler times, when I could argue with friends over power levels of our favorite characters and make up stories about the ones we’ve never heard of. And while it makes perfect sense that sets like these aren’t made any more, they provided great entertainment in an era before the internet. Nostalgia, absolutely. I don’t care. It was awesome.