Welcome back to CBR’s ongoing look at Marvel’s trading cards of the 1990s! After kicking things off with a look at the first two Marvel Universe series, including the debut of the iconic “Power Rankings,” it’s time to switch gears with Impel’s very first set of X-Men trading cards.
These are the cards with the flashiest Jim Lee art, the most impressive stats, the most unusual costumes and the weirdest facts! If you’re a comic book fan who came of age when “U Can’t Touch This” ruled radio, then this ongoing series of nostalgic lists is for you. So kick back, grab some Hi-C and enjoy the best superhero trading cards the ’90s had to offer! Here are 15 great cards from X-Men Series I, presented in numerical order.
The first nine cards in Jim Lee’s set of X-Men trading cards were all presented in a horizontal fashion, allowing characters like Wolverine, Cannonball, Siryn and others to leap and fly across the card’s canvas. Beast here’s no exception, as Lee depicted him bounding out of the very borders of his own trading card. While Beast’s costume of blue briefs pretty much stayed the same from the time of his blue, furry transformation in the mid-’70s through the ’80s, Lee added the “X” belt that ties this Hank McCoy look to this specific era.
The backs of the X-Men set are quite similar to what we saw in Marvel Universe II: plenty of stats on top, power rankings in the middle and a bio and quirky fact at the bottom. The card also includes a tiny close-up of a bespectacled Beast reading a book titled “Grounded.” Maybe that’s ironic, considering how often Hank McCoy spends bouncing around? Or maybe it’s a reference to his own ego and intellect and his desire to remain grounded. After all, this card confirms that Beast has the largest vocabulary of any super hero.
Check out all the detail crammed into Domino’s trading card! Jim Lee and colorist Paul Mounts have created a real sense of atmosphere, tension and foreboding just with the lighting and body language. With that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that Jim Lee drew these cards really small. The original art for every card in this set, including this one, comes in at just slightly larger than the finished card itself. That’s the opposite of how Art Adams worked; we learned during our look at Marvel Universe I that he liked to draw cards big and shrink them down to cram in more details.
This bio really cuts to the chase, because the one question you have to ask about Domino is “Who is she?” At this point, this character isn’t even really Domino; the shapeshifter Vanessa debuted in “New Mutants” #98 posing as Domino and infiltrated X-Force when Cable created the team. The real Domino wouldn’t debut until “X-Force” #11 in the summer of 1992. Considering that this card was probably drawn in late 1991 or early 1992, this is actually Vanessa — because no one knew at the time that this wasn’t really Domino. The ’90s, right? There’s another fun fact on this card: the mercenary group mentioned in Dom’s “X-Tra Fact” would have to change their name from Wild Pack to Six Pack because Silver Sable already had a team using that name.
Whether or not you think Cyclops is cool or even a good person, you gotta admit that this is a badass card. Jim Lee debuted his iconic Cyclops redesign in 1991’s “X-Men” #1, which hit newsstands a few months before this card arrived. Since the ’90s “X-Men” cartoon series used all of Jim Lee’s redesigns, these looks would become permanently tied to these characters — and Cyclops’ is super rad. Yes, he’s wearing belts around his thighs and wrists and has more pockets than anyone would ever need. Still, the way Lee draws this design makes it eye-catching (in all the right ways) and heroic looking.
If you don’t think Cyclops is cool, then his bio would like to have a word with you. See? It’s written right there: “Cyclops has grown from a sullen, withdrawn loner into the cool, confident, capable leader of the X-Men’s Blue Strike Force.” If the card says he’s cool, he’s cool. Just look at the way he’s popped his collar in that headshot? That’s cool. The card also lists him as a member of the “Blue Strike Force,” which was a new conceit at the time. After almost 30 years of publication, the X-Men finally created a second headlining X-team. The heroes used the designations “Blue” and “Gold” to tell them apart. This card set was the first one to capture this new moment in X-history.
12. Strong Guy
Strong Guy’s card is a two-for-one! Not only do you get a goofy, grinning, posing Guido Carosella flexing his disproportionately muscular body in your face, you also get a cool, calm and collected Polaris perched on his bulging bicep. Exactly where Lorna Dane is resting her hands on the other side of that arm remains a mystery, but these two sure look cool while striking this pose.
Aside from an erroneous appearance on the 1990 X-Men team card, this is Strong Guy’s first real trading card. This card came just as Strong Guy really entered the spotlight; he spent most all of the ’80s in the background serving as Lila Cheney’s bodyguard (see this card’s X-Tra Fact). With the relaunch of “X-Factor” in 1991 as a government-sponsored super team, Strong Guy finally joined an X-team and got to show off his weird sense of humor. This card also makes the point that Guido just joined X-Factor for the paycheck — which is pretty spot on. Guido isn’t just good for laughs, though, as his 6-level strength makes Strong Guy a pretty good guy to have in fight.
11. Multiple Man
Multiple Man’s mutant power has to be a pain to draw. Artists can capture Cyclops’ optic blast by drawing two lines erupting from his visor and Storm just requires some wind gusts or lightning bolts, but Multiple Man? To show him using his power, you have to just keep drawing more Madroxes. Jim Lee’s depiction of Jamie Madrox for this set gets across his power perfectly in a simple and aesthetically appealing manner: Madrox prime stands at the front while his dupes flank him in a pyramid formation. This was also before the age of digital manipulation, too, meaning that Lee drew every one of these Multiple Men.
It’s too bad “prank ability” and “joking powers” aren’t listed amongst the power rankings, because then Multiple Man would have some impressive stats. As it is, he’s mostly as capable as the average, well-trained human — he just wins battles by overwhelming his foes with tons of dupes. At this time, Madrox had gone from being a lab assistant on Muir Island to being a full-fledged member of X-Factor (along with the aforementioned Strong Guy). Madrox’s X-Tra Fact — the bit about his mutant power being active right at birth — would go on to be a major plot point during Peter David’s ’00s volume of “X-Factor.” Turns out, Madrox is actually part of a subset of mutants called Homo Killcrop, or “changelings.”
Between this card and the Arthur Adams masterpiece we saw in Marvel Universe II, it’s clear that Rogue really inspires artists — at least when it comes time to draw a memorable trading card. This is the first trading card to capture Jim Lee’s Rogue design, a look that incorporates a headband, hip belt and bomber jacket. Instead of going the powerhouse route like Art Adams did last time, Lee plays up Rogue’s carefree sass as she soars through the skies with a smile on her face all in front of Paul Mounts’ watercolor sky.
You might have noticed that there are a few new categories in the power rankings. Gone are speed, durability, stamina and ability; they’ve been replaced with energy projection, mental powers and fighting ability. Rogue’s strength on this card is the same as the one from Marvel Universe II, but for some reason she’s gotten even less intelligent in-between sets. The information in Rogue’s bio and X-Tra Fact is the same as what we’ve seen before. These cards just can’t get enough of Rogue’s powers and her relationship with Mystique!
Widget’s card shows off another bit of early ’90s style that popped up on a few cards in this set. Just check out that background! It looks like the kind of pixelated computer artwork that you’d find on a Soundgarden cassingle, doesn’t it? Well, there it is, forming Widget’s “body” and the background of this card.
There’s one more incredibly confusing X-character that deserves to be held in the same regard as Cable, Psylocke, Shatterstar and Jean Grey. That character is Excalibur’s Widget, a little floating metallic head that’s so much more. At this time, Widget was just a mysterious floating head with dimensional manipulation powers, and Widget’s body — as seen on the front of the card — came from the dimension-hopping train Excalibur used during their cross-time caper. It would be revealed a year later that Widget’s consciousness was actually the elder Kitty Pryde from the 1981 “Days of Future Past” storyline propelled backwards in time and rendered amnesiac. To be honest, that’s the short version of Widget’s origin. Also, Widget’s included here because her stats make her the weakest character in the set — an honor Widget wouldn’t receive if “origin confusion level” was included in the power rankings.
If you appeared in the first dozen issues of Jim Lee’s adjective-less “X-Men” run, then you got a card. Maverick, Mojo II, Omega Red, the Brood — you get a card and you get a card! Like Omega Red and the oddly named Mojo II, Maverick was also an entirely new character — and he really fits in with the early ’90s, doesn’t he? He’s got a cool mask, a big gun and tons of metallic armor that makes him look like a cyborg (he isn’t).
You can tell just how new Maverick is by the back of his card. Neither of his real names (David North, Christoph Nord) are included. He also has a crazy-high fighting ability that puts him on par with Wolverine and Sabretooth. His bio is either speculation or completely false; “it is believed” he’s a Weapon X grad, and that power of his is totally inaccurate. Once Maverick debuted in the comics, his “ability to see into all the various immediate futures of his foes” was scrapped in favor of kinetic absorption. This just proves that you shouldn’t always trust what you read on the backs of trading cards.
As the premier X-villain, Magneto’s card is noticeably imposing. His face is cast in shadow, his eyes are blood red and his fist is clenched tight. He’s also almost all thighs, which is actually not one of his mutant powers. Still, this is a striking visual of the Master of Magnetism — especially considering that he was newly presumed dead when this card was released.
Honestly, “goes by ‘Magnus'” is the quickest answer you can give when it comes to Magneto’s real name. He’s used a number of aliases and “real names” over the years; the films have stuck with Erik Lehnsherr while the comics have moved on to Max Eisenhardt. Magneto’s power levels are also nuts; his energy projection and intelligence ratings make him one of the most formidable foes around (or allies, depending on how Mags feels at the time). As mentioned before, this card came out right after the opening arc of Jim Lee and Chris Claremont’s “X-Men,” which saw Magneto return to his villainous ways and wage war against the Blue and Gold X-Men teams. That “colossal space station” mentioned in the X-Tra Fact? It was totally destroyed in that very storyline.
Whether or not Deadpool is still an X-character nowadays is a hotly-debated topic, but there was no denying it back in 1992. Wade Wilson got his very first trading card as part of the X-Men’s debut set, and with good reason. The guy was well on his way to becoming one of X-Force’s most notable threats. He’d already attacked the team once at the tail end of their New Mutants days and popped up to annoy X-Force a few times early on in their run.
Deadpool’s card follows in Maverick’s super vague footsteps. At this point, so early in DP’s career, his real name was a mystery and it was also only “rumored” that he came out of the Weapon X program. Also like Maverick, Wade’s got a 7 fighting ability — which doesn’t come as a surprise to readers that know the current iteration of the deadly mercenary. The real surprise here, though, is that intelligence rating. Deadpool is smarter than Cyclops?! That’s a stat that had to cause a number of arguments on the playground. That is, if there were any kids that were super passionate about Cyclops’ intelligence rating… or Deadpool’s for that matter.
This trading card set included a number of Jim Lee’s redesigns for the X-Men, as well as a few of his revamped supervillains. After running around in the same fur-lined orange and black number for 15 years, Victor Creed got a costume upgrade courtesy of Lee — complete with elbow spikes, fur collar and headgear! This is the costume Sabretooth would rock in the ’90s “X-Men” animated series, albeit with a much more flesh-colored bodysuit. Really, how a seemingly buck naked dude got past the censors is a mystery for the ages.
Speaking of Vic’s fashion sense, check out that headshot! Nothing compliments beautiful blond muttonchops like a big cowboy hat and sheepskin jacket. Sabretooth gets a 7 in “fashion sense,” for sure. The rest of Sabretooth’s card hits all the usual notes: he’s Wolverine’s archenemy, is a killer fighter and a professional assassin. The big surprise here, though, is that despite having muscles on muscles, his strength is only a 2. Are those muscles even real? Does Creed stuff his bodysuit?
Whereas Sabretooth got a new look, Jim Lee didn’t mess with the simple perfection of Mystique’s classic, no-nonsense white suit. Mystique must have imparted her amazing taste in accessories to her foster daughter, Rogue. Just look at the assortment of jewelry Mystique’s rocking in this image. If being a supervillain doesn’t pan out, Raven Darkholme could always launch a jewelry line and sell it on QVC. That would definitely make for interesting television.
This card came out at a troubled time for Mystique. As her bio states, she formerly led the super-teams known as Freedom Force and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In 1992, though, Mystique was going through a bit of a personality/emotional/mental crisis. Following the death of her partner Destiny, Mystique suffered a nervous breakdown and lost herself in her shape-shifting powers. She had to turn to one of her sworn enemies, Forge, for help and support during this trying time. Twenty-four years later, Mystique would finally get her peace of mind back thanks to the X-Man Psylocke. What she’ll do with it remains to be seen.
Finally. After a trading card in 1990 that seemingly pulled mutant names from a hat and a 1991 card that was *this close* to being accurate, X-Men Series I finally gets the roster right. This is the first trading card set to take place totally after the line-wide “Mutant Genesis” revamp that saw “New Mutants” become “X-Force,” “X-Factor” change its entire lineup and the two lead X-Books firm up rosters for two X-Men teams. The card for the Blue Team, above, is so up to date that it includes Jubilee — a member not initially included in the lineup.
Okay, well, Jubilee’s on the front but her name’s not on the back. Still, this is more accurate than we’ve seen so far! The team’s bio understandably skips a few decades’ worth of story in-between sentences. It jumps from the team’s formation in 1963 to the formation of the Blue Strike Force in 1991. There’s a lot more to the story of the Blue and Gold team, including a battle with an island that walks like a man and a stint in the Australian Outback.
When you think of Dazzler, odds are you think of disco and rollerskates. If you’re a fan of the the classic X-Men arcade game or animated “Pryde of the X-Men” pilot, then your definitive Dazzler might rock a blue bodysuit, headband and bomber jacket. Well, there’s another Dazzler: Freedom Fighter Dazzler! Jim Lee’s Dazzler redesign could have taken the mutant musician totally grunge, but instead she went full “Universal Soldier.”
Dazzler’s one of a few “Ex-X-Men” included in the set, a group devoted to characters — like Magik and Sunspot — who had recently left their X-teams. This card actually coincided with the debut of this rough-and-ready version of Dazzler. As her bio states, Dazzler’s whereabouts were unknown prior to her return in summer 1992’s “X-Men” #10. This is the version of Dazzler — a freedom fighter commanding troops alongside Longshot in the Mojoverse — that debuted in that storyarc. Fans wouldn’t get all that much of Dazzler in the ’90s, though, and once she returned in the ’00s, this period of her history was mostly forgotten.
Roma might seem like an odd choice for inclusion in an X-Men trading card set (and therefore this list). The daughter of Merlin, Roma started out as a supporting character in Marvel UK’s “Captain Britain.” She became inextricably tied to the X-Men in the mid ’80s when she pulled the team from the grip of death and gave them a new lease on life. Roma gifted the team with a fresh start, allowing them to operate out of Australia while the rest of the world believed them dead.
And this right here is why Roma’s included in this rundown: look at her stats. So far, Roma is the most powerful being we’ve seen in any of these sets. Yep, she’s even more powerful than Thanos (sorry, Thanos). It’s a good thing for evildoers everywhere that Roma tends to hang back and let others do all the fighting for her. No bad guys would ever stand a chance against her!
That’s our look at X-Men Series I. Which cards from this set were among your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
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