Welcome back to CBR’s ongoing look at Marvel’s trading cards of yesteryear! After kicking things off last time with a look at 1990’s Marvel Universe I series, we’re taking a step forward and looking at the series’ followup set: 1991’s Marvel Universe II. These are the cards with the flashiest art, the kookiest stats, the most random lineups, and even a few film stars decades before their big break! If you’re a comic book fan with roots in the halcyon, pre-bubble bursting days of the ’90s, this ongoing series of nostalgic lists will be your bread and butter. So kick back, grab your trusty Trapper-Keeper and an ice-cold can of JOLT cola as we refresh your memory with the best superhero trading cards the ’90s had to offer!
As one of Marvel’s perennially critically acclaimed series, you can rarely go wrong with Daredevil. And when it comes to trading cards, you can’t really go wrong with a Daredevil that’s drawn by John Romita Jr. himself. At this point in 1991, the legendary artist had already turned in game-changing runs on “Iron Man,” “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Uncanny X-Men.” He’d also just completed a hellacious run on “Daredevil” with writer Ann Nocenti. Romita Jr. ended his epic, three-year run just a little while before this card came out.
A look at the back of Daredevil’s card reveals that a lot has changed from Marvel Universe I. For one thing, all of those totally made up battle stats are gone. Instead, they’ve been replaced with something that will become a standard for pretty much every one of these sets moving forward: power ratings. As the name implies, these ratings measured how powerful each character really was, thus spurring plenty of debate about whether or not X could beat Y. And while DD here is normal in the strength and speed department (garnering a measly score of “2”), he’s way more agile than your average man. Of course, one has to wonder how Murdock’s holding down a 2 in intelligence with that Columbia law degree.
Ah yes, when you think of Namor the Sub-Mariner, this is how you imagine him — riding a mythological beast like a bucking mechanized bronco in a honky tonk. In reality, that’s the character cleverly known as the Griffin, who at this time in the early ’90s had been reduced to a simple-minded beast. Rather than showing off an evergreen, glamorous hero shot of Namor, this card instead shows a very specific status quo for the King of Atlantis. Yep, for a very brief period of time, Namor rode the Griffin around like a flying horse.
Here is where you see some of those power rankings really show off. Namor’s one of the strongest and most durable heroes in the MU, even if — as his bio states — his strength fades the longer he’s out of the water. The card also documents his early ’90s status quo as an environmental warrior with the power of a massive corporation behind him. Don’t worry about that “Did You Know” fact, by the way, the ankle wings did grow back.
The X-Men dominated the sales charts for most of the ’80s, but the early ’90s — specifically 1991 — is when the franchise really broke out. This trading card set documents that by including the first cards for characters like Cable, Gambit, Psylocke and Jubilee (among many others). This Tom Morgan-illustrated card shows an iconic Cable look: gritted teeth, big shoulder pads and a totally impractical gun. Seriously, does that thing double as a deadly dust-buster or something?
As Cable had only debuted a few months prior to this set’s release, little was known about him, which you can tell from the lack of real stats. His name is unknown and the card doesn’t even mention the fact that he’s from the future. In its defense, those bits of information were still a year or so away from being revealed. This is also where it’s worth pointing out that the initial “power rankings” failed to include “fighting ability,” a decision that makes some heroes seem downright weak. Not Cable, though; dude’s still got mad stamina. Oh, and he’s smarter than Daredevil!
Considering just how big of a role they both played in the X-Men in the early ’90s, it’s hard to separate Jim Lee from Gambit. This badass card, illustrated by Lee, proves that these two were made for each other. Here’s the thing: Gambit’s costume is ridiculous. A metallic blue bib over a hot pink armored top, a blue pipe for a belt all topped off with a trench coat and faceless mask? It’s preposterous. And yet, Jim Lee makes it work. This is Gambit’s debut in the trading card game and, honestly, it might be his best card ever.
Like Cable, Gambit just debuted a few months — if even that — before this trading card set went into production. That’s why his real name (Remy LeBeau) is not listed, and why his bio is a quick three sentences long. At this time in the comics, Gambit had joined a makeshift team of X-Men and traveled to the far reaches of the universe to get involved in a cosmic battle. The X-Men easily put his agility (3) to work, but definitely didn’t rely on him to lift anything. He was probably too busy carrying the entire team’s style.
It’s only appropriate after that last entry that we now show the X-Man most tied to Gambit — Rogue — in a card created before the two had even met! This is another Art Adams classic, packed with more detail and texture than nearly every other card in the set. Art Adams knows how to do a lot with a very small canvas. The card depicts Rogue in one of her Outback-era outfits from a few years prior; at this time in the comics, she was basically flying around the Savage Land in a makeshift bikini.
You can’t hurt Rogue. That’s a helluva durability rating, and the rest of her stats aren’t too shabby either. Her extensive bio mainly covers her general status quo at the time, touching on the fact that she possesses the powers of Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) in addition to her own power/life sucking abilities. The card could have gotten into how she turned over control of her body to Ms. Marvel for a while, or how she hooked up with Magneto in the Savage Land, but at least we got the little tidbit about Mystique!
This series also marked the trading card debut of Mojo, a character portrait that you’re probably glad is only the size of a small trading card (and probably annoyed that we’ve blown it up to laptop-monitor size). A member of the spineless ones, this other-dimensional entertainment mogul/slavedriver rules his own entertainment-obsessed realm and has an incredibly… confusing aesthetic. Spindly spider legs and electrical cable “hair” and a robot scorpion tail? Pick one, Mojo! Sheesh!
Mojo made the cut for this list of notable Marvel Universe II cards because of his power ratings: he’s the least powerful character in the entire set. Sure he’s smarter than average (and Daredevil), but he’s weak, slow and clumsy. He’s also about as durable as you or me; a sharp jab to his enormous matter will make him flinch at best and bruise him at worst. And no wonder his height and weight are unknown; who’d want to get close enough to this evil jerk to find out either of those?
Over 20 years before Nebula got the biggest exposure of her life in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” she got her very first trading card. The ruthless blue-hued space pirate is shown here piloting her own ship, in a very casual manner. If this doesn’t exactly look like the character Karen Gillan played in the Marvel movie, don’t worry; she shaved her head and got even more cybernetic upgrades later, because… well, because it was the ’90s, let’s be honest.
Move over Mojo, there’s a new smarty in town — and her name is Nebula! Around this time, Nebula had just finished a multi-issue assault on the Avengers and had a more-than-supporting role in a little story called “Infinity Gauntlet.” The information on this card also drops the little tidbit about Nebula believing herself to be the granddaughter of Thanos; the film would take that a step further and establish Karen Gillan’s Nebula as the Mad Titan’s adopted daughter.
Speak of the devil — here’s Thanos himself. As you’ll note, this isn’t the typical cackling-with-a-fist-or-palm-raised-in-the-air post you so often see on super-villain trading cards. Instead, Thanos stands still, a slight smile on his face and his arms casually behind him. Next to him is his lady love, Death, decked out in her best robe, looking pretty nervous about her would-be suitor. Thanos is depicted here in what can only be described as a horrifying promo photo from hell.
With “Infinity Gauntlet” sweeping through comic book shops in 1991, its no wonder why this set seems so cosmic-heavy. That’s one reason why Thanos’ card made the cut. Then there’s the other reason: just look at those power rankings! Thanos is by far the most powerful character in the entire set. Dude’s rocking three 7s here. Who cares if he can’t flip around like Daredevil? He can’t be hurt! If you’re wondering why the movies are building up Thanos as the biggest bad of them all, this is why.
7. Dr. Strange vs. Baron Mordo
SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen “Doctor Strange” yet, but this card right here demonstrates what fans have known ever since Chiwetel Ejiofor was cast in the role of Mordo in the feature film. Baron Mordo is one bad dude. While the two spend the film as buddies, the post-credits scene sets them up for an adversarial relationship way more familiar to people who have read the comics… or are familiar with this trading card.
The run through of Strange and Mordo’s first encounter and ensuing battle reads like an alternate version of the script for the “Doctor Strange” film. Almost all of that takes place in the movie, except the Baron Mordo role in the comics is divided up into Ejiofor’s Mordo and Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). And while the comic book movies are rarely strictly based on the source material, it’s very likely that you’ll see a battle between Strange and Mordo in the still-unannounced “Doctor Strange” sequel.
6. Spider-Man vs. J. Jonah Jameson
The previous Marvel Universe set was packed with jokes, as we discovered in the previous entry. There were cards for Aunt May and Stan Lee, and even a subset of cards dedicated to comic-strip style jokes starring Spider-Man. This set is way more serious; there aren’t any real outright comedy cards this time around — although the site of J. Jonah Jameson with a webbed over mouth is pretty funny. Still, this card depicting the wall-crawler fighting against the media man is about as lighthearted as this set gets.
As slightly humorous as the front may be, this one is all business on the back. Yeah, Spider-Man and Jameson hate each other, and this card lays out that beef in a pretty straightforward manner. No matter how hard Spidey tries, nothing he does can convince JJJ that he’s an good guy. Of course, Spidey has the last laugh here, seeing as how he’s really Daily Bugle photographer Peter Parker and it’s Jameson that’s really paying to keep Spidey in web fluid and new suits.
5. Infinity Gauntlet
How are you gonna have a “Weapons” subset in 1991 and not include the Infinity Gauntlet? Also included were Spidey’s web-shooters, Captain America’s suit, Wolverine’s claws, Punisher’s arsenal, Iron Man’s armor and more. But the Infinity Gauntlet, as it was at the center of a blockbuster limited series at the time, was the real star of this series. The card even features art from “Infinity Gauntlet” artist Ron Lim! Talk about synergy.
Okay, so, the Infinity Gauntlet isn’t just a glove you put on. Before you even think about wearing this cosmic accessory, you gotta ask yourself if you even lift, bro. The Infinity Gauntlet weighs over two hundred pounds. That might be why there’s not one for the right hand, too. That’d be four hundred pounds of glove right there, which would make doing pretty much anything an Olympic-level feat. Can you imagine shaking hands with someone wearing the Infinity Gauntlet? You’d gotta be the Hulk to pound it.
The Marvel Universe II series also included a subset called “Legends,” which featured cards for deceased characters like Dark Phoenix, the original Ghost Rider, Kraven and yes, Bucky. This card, illustrated by Mark Bagley, features the young and optimistic sidekick leaping into the fray, fists clenched and a smile on his face.
Possibly because these stats reflect a highly-trained teenager, Bucky’s power rankings aren’t that impressive. Yeah, he could take on Mojo but… well, that’s about it. Of course, this is another reminder that the series doesn’t include the fighting ability stat that will come in handy in the next Marvel Universe set. It should also be mentioned that this card came out a good 15 years before Bucky would ditch his “legend” status and return to the land of the living as the Winter Soldier.
3. New Fantastic Four
How’s that for a team? It’s appropriate that Art Adams knocked this card out of the park, as he’s the artist that illustrated this team’s only appearance as the Fantastic Four. This interim crew starred four super unlikely heroes: Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider. The card depicts a super specific lineup and event that happened in early 1991, starting in “Fantastic Four” #347 and running through issue #349.
The back of the card runs through the short-lived team’s lone mission (hence, why this is a rookie card), which saw the team form in the wake of the original Fantastic Four’s apparent death. The quartet battled the shape-shifting Skrulls and prevented their invasion of Earth. Unfortunately, this specific configuration of heroes hasn’t worked together as the FF since this one mission (apart from a few alternate universe tales here and there). Then again, with the ’90s back in style again, never say never…
As with the previous Marvel Universe I team card for the X-Men, this card also depicts a team that never existed. What’s going on behind the scenes, here? At least this one is closer to being a team that actually came together in the comics; for the first half of 1991, this lineup (excluding Havok) was featured in “Uncanny X-Men.” However, the team didn’t look like this, literally. Instead, they all wore matching X-Men team uniforms, which you can see Storm, Banshee and Forge wearing in this illustration.
One has to wonder just how in-flux the X-Men line was in the early ’90s. The bio info for the team just touches on the most generic of information regarding the team, giving a rundown of what could be literally any roster of the X-Men. Of course, it’s possible that this was left so inaccurate/vague to keep the upcoming “Mutant Genesis” relaunch of 1991 a big secret. That initiative launched in the fall, so probably after this card set came out; it was subsequently relaunched in X-Men with parallel “blue” and “gold” teams. It’s always possible that this was a for real roster, one that was nixed after the cards were made and before the comics came out. With the next Marvel Universe series, the X-teams will finally reflect the comics.
Along with the new power rankings, Marvel felt it necessary to explain what each of those levels meant. To do that, they produced three cards each running through the levels of each power. The card featured here measures “strength” and “speed.” So when it comes to strength, we now know that Rogue can lift up to 10 tons, while Gambit can basically just lift just under his own body weight.
You never really think of Thanos as a speedster, do you? Well, according to this chart, Thanos is capable of traveling at light speed. Okay! On the other hand, most heroes tend to hover around the “normal” range. Then there’s Mojo, whose creepy little spider-legged carrier can’t even get him up to 15 miles an hour. Mojo, you gotta look into getting yourself a jet engine strapped to that thing… or maybe take up jogging? Baby steps, Mojo. Baby steps.
That’s our look at 1991’s Marvel Universe Series II. Which cards from this set were among your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
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