Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Under the Man-croscope: the Dubious Merit of Trading Cards.

Imagine the mighty Man-croscope! A highly technical device whose stern gaze turns upon all that you loved and accepted as a child, and heavily scrutinizes it with the steely, unwavering, eyes of a man! Everything you thought you knew will crumble to bitter, nostalgic dust - powerless under the Man-croscope's adult glare!

This week I recklessly turn the Man-croscope on trading cards! You know, those small rectangular pieces of cardboard, randomly packed with a stick of rubbery gum, that you would obsessively and bewilderingly collect as a kid. You couldn't get enough of them! You had to have the whole set! You wasted all your pocket money! You crazy shit!

I collected a ton of trading cards as a kid and a young teen. So while we deconstruct this odd phenomenon, let's take a look at some of the few remaining cards I have left, from my own personal "collection". Like this highly-prized collector's item that I photographed earlier:

I think this card is insinuating that he crapped himself.
I'm not even joking with you. These are all photos of my cards, that I own right now. Check out more of my startling collection after the jump and we'll nitpick things until they're no fun any more!

Let's look at movie cards first because they really are the worst. You are essentially paying for random, sometimes difficult-to-determine, stills from a film you saw. Did you like Batman '89? Then why not collect a small cardboard picture of the back of Bob the Goon's weathered head? Unfathomable now, but goddamned if we didn't have to have them all!

And this isn't like the later Pokemon phase where there was actually some sort of game attached. You could do absolutely nothing with these movie trading cards. You couldn't hang them on the wall, or display them on a shelf, or impress a potential mate. No. All you had at the end, for all your troubles, was a sad stack of nondescript movie stills - kind of like the lamest, most stilted, flipbook in the world!

I think I had full sets (or close to full sets) of Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gremlins 2, and Ghostbusters 2. Luckily, I no longer have any of them now, but I do have a few rare gems up my sleeve!

Like this packet of original Star Wars movie cards from 1977! (The first set that Topps produced!):

But this is the best part. Seriously, this is going to blow your mind. It's killer!...

I still have the gum!

Folks, that right there is 34-year-old bubblegum! It's a mere year younger than I am! And there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH IT! It is made of serious stuff - there's not a blemish on it at all and it still smells great! You could eat this gum right now. In fact I will post it to you if you would like to eat it. You should buy a ton of this gum and build a fallout shelter out of it. Nothing can harm this gum. It's impenetrable. Also: "Facing the deadly chasm". Kind of sounds like a euphemism.

This is my favourite card of the pack...

See? That's an original 1977 practical dewback lizard, before they replaced them 20 years later with CGI. I just showed you something total OLD SKOOL, so you can momentarily pause your purist bitching about the Blu-rays. 

Most cardbacks in movie sets have summaries of the depicted scene, usually hastily written by someone who hates themselves. These cards were actually quite good because they gave you little known facts about the making of the movie! In 1977 these cards were practically your Internet!:

But what about the no-so-great to kind-of-embarrassing movie cards? Let's turn our attention to my single pack of stills from the under-rated eighties classic Howard the Duck

(I feel like I shouldn't have to explain what Howard the Duck is, but I'm around young people a lot and none of them have ever heard of it. OK... it's a live-action movie, based on a Marvel comic from the seventies, produced by George Lucas, and it's about a duck from space that gets stranded on earth and nearly bangs Leah Thompson. And she's in an all-girl band called Cherry Bomb. And then they get attacked by a monster. Does that make sense now?).

These cards are a little sleazy. Lots of innuendo in the titles:

And why not allude to "swingers" when one of the other cards is this:

Yes, look closely in the bottom right-hand corner. Howard the Duck is delivering towels to a couple who are banging in a hot tub. What a movie! Sadly the summary on the back fails to mention that:

And I should note that the author of this card clearly hasn't bothered to watch the movie because Phil and Beverly certainly aren't even remotely in this scene and don't save him from drowning. I'm hoping said author looked at the front of the card and thought, "Couple banging in the hot tub... I bet that's Phil and Beverly. I'm guessing Phil fashions a makeshift life-raft out of his junk".

Oh! And not just cards, kids! Who wants a sticker of alleged pervert Jeffrey Jones?:

So it's probably safe to conclude that trading cards from movies actually kind of suck. 

But the best cards were always character cards. One of my first collections ever was a vintage Transformers set that had beautiful character art cards with stats on the back. All the boys in my class would collect them and we all flip our shit if anyone got Soundwave. 

Those cards have also been lost to the annals of time, but I do have quite a few old Marvel character cards from a solid range of sets. I have never had the heart to throw these out and they have inexplicably travelled with me, despite moving house many, many times. They're probably pretty much at the end of their life now, so why not give them one last (first) showing! I will release them from their dusty tomb!

Actually, what I love about these cards is that they were my first introduction to a lot of Marvel characters. I would read about them on the back and my imagination would fill in the rest, and they always seemed far cooler to me than they actually were. I also started reading Jim Lee's X-Men and loved the art he drew for some of these sets. I probably collected these until I was about 15 which explains why I didn't have a girlfriend in high school. If kids today saw these they wouldn't know whether to double over laughing or punch me in the grill.

This 1991 set was my first (I had an artist friend who would post me random cards) and I still love how quaint some of these cards are. This was just before everything went EXTREEEEEME and BAAADAAASSSS!

Sue Storm, you are one stand up gal! And I like the layout on the back as well...

Look at Sue's stats! What a lightweight! Despite the explosion of alliteration in her description she is clearly a useless waste of space. Intelligence 3. You go girl! And how's the creepy fact at the bottom. She met her husband when she was 12. And tender. Please. Call the police! (Look at that headshot... does it look like she has a blackeye to you?)

Let's look at how certain characters changed over the next couple of years, as did the art styles that depicted them... First is Marvel Girl, or Jean Grey...

An ugly costume is quickly trumped by an even uglier costume!

Geri Halliwell Jean Grey goes up against some classic Jim Lee!

And now everything is super extreme, and has shiny parts, and Jean is about to be hit in the face with two missiles!

Also see Psylocke who actually hasn't changed that much:

And I'd be remiss if I didn't include the baffling disco X-Man, Dazzler!

I think I've never thrown them out because I feel like I should do something with them. Like decoupage something with them. Yeah! I said decoupage! It's very manly!

Although it's been a very long time since I've bought a pack of trading cards I have to admit that they still kind of give me a buzz. There's something I love about that format and it makes me kind of want to make my own set. And I love the border designs and presentation almost as much as I love the images.


I'm going to get you serviced.


  1. I remember the second series of Batman movie cards having heaps of behind the scenes stuff like Burton's sketches and some storyboards. This was before DVDs and such so I loved the heck out of them.

  2. Right, so I just typed out a comically oversized essay of a comment, posted it and got a "404".

    This is why I don't interact with the online world.. hearbreaking. :)

    Anyway - the important part was "Thanks for sharing the treasures of your archives, Luke."

  3. I had (and still have) tons of trading cards. Some favorites were The Goonies, Dinosaurs Attack!, and Marvel Masterpieces. Looking back, Marvel Masterpieces are probably my least favorite now because they have very little style in the card layout.

    I love what Sucklord is doing today with trading cards. Other than that, it's just games (which I'm also a sucker for).

  4. HAHA I have ALL of those marvel and X-men trading cards....full sets for like, 3 years worth. AND my friends and I took the stats from the backs of the cards and made a rudimentary RPG out of them with a big city map we made out of graph paper and packing tape. Good times. Oh and intelligence 3 isn't that bad. I think 3 was the highest stat anyone could have if they were un-augmented. Like, the BEST human in the world would have 3 in all of the stats.

    Hmmm. Then, I turned 16 and got laid and discovered the magic of alcohol. Suddenly a holographic wolverine card just wasn't as important to me....

  5. This is all great, guys, but who's going to eat my gum?