ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Comic Book Trading Cards: A Look Back

Updated on June 24, 2017

Comic Book Trading Cards: The Gateway to Comic Books

Don’t tell anyone, but Superhero trading cards were my drug. No, they didn’t get me high or make me cough my lungs out inside a haze of smoke, nor were they laced with any kind of synthetic chemical (Well, maybe the glossy stock cards). What I mean is that comic cards were an effective entry tool to lead new fans to a company’s universe and a fun introduction to the characters and the world(s) they inhabit.

As a child of the 80s, I shamefully missed out on that decade’s four-color milestones as they occurred, such as Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and many others that have inspired a generation of comic fans. I was too involved with my "Optimus Prime" toy, watching Saturday morning cartoons, and begging my parents to purchase the next video game for my Nintendo Entertainment System. It wasn’t until the early 90s did I become more acquainted with Marvel and DC and their respective universes. And the root of my new comic addiction started when I first took a hit of those ever-tempting comic book cards.

In addition to appealing to my childish, pseudo-compulsive “gotta collect ‘em all” personality, comic book trading cards also stoked my curiosity of the unknown by keeping me in suspense of what the next pack would hold. Would I complete my card collection with the next purchase? Might that special, highly sought after hologram/prismatic/foil card turn up in the next pack? The anticipation wreaked havoc on my young mind. Willy Wonka and his golden ticket had nothing on these.

Anatomy of a Comic Card Set

Spider-Man. Batman. X-Men. Spawn. Lady Death. Heck, even the Warriors of Plasm. If you were a comics publisher at the dawn of the 90’s, chances are you had your characters licensed for a card set in an effort to gain new readership for you creative properties.

Popular card manufacturers of non-sports card sets included Topps, Skybox, Comic Images, and Fleer. Each company produced sets that generally followed the same formula. A set would consist of a collection of sequentially numbered base cards. The face of the basic cards would depict characters, battles or scenes from comic books with text on the back describing the heroes or villains, providing an account of their origins, offering details on power levels or giving a back story based on the front image.

Unwrapping Nostalgia

Over the years, I’ve bought many packs of various comic card series, with a handful of sets holding a special place in my fanboy heart. The following is a list of some of those cherished comic card sets.

Spider-Man 30th Anniversary Trading Cards
Comic Images (1992)
90-Card Base Set
6-Card Prism Set

My first intro to Spidey’s comics history. Sure, I’d loved Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and wore the Underoos like any good child of the 80’s, but this card series helped me become more familiar with the friends, enemies and events that shaped the web-slinger’s canon. The cards celebrate 30 years of the wall-crawler by depicting an important first appearance or key moment in Spider-Man’s career. (One wonders if the ubiquitous Todd McFarlane art used for the series was Comic Images way of milking the cow before the realization of McFarlane’s departure from Marvel set in with fandom.)

Marvel Universe (Series 3)
Skybox (1992)
200-Card Base Set
5-Card Hologram Set

Bought as a whole set from a flea market, this particular series was essentially my first exposure to the Marvel Universe. I poured over each individual card, studying the text on the back and hoping I could learn more about these intriguing characters in their four-color format. The series is distinguished from others by having a “universe” pattern as a border around the front facing image on the cards.

Marvel Universe (Series 4)
Skybox (1993)
180-Card Base Set
9-Card Foil Set
Spider-Man vs. Venom Hologram Card

The cool feature about this set of cards is the 9-card grid panorama that is made when you complete a page for your card binder. As for the special Chase Cards, the foil set showcases Marvel’s 2099 characters, and the Spider-Man vs. Venom hologram card was a Holy Grail among card collectors of the time.

Marvel Universe
Fleer (1994)
200-Card Base Set
4-Card Hologram Set
9-Card Power Blast Set
10-Card Suspended Animation Set

Once Fleer took over Marvel’s license from Skybox, production values noticeably increased. Glossier and shinier cards, as well as an overdose of chase cards. Fleer included all of the normal iconic characters such as Spider-Man, Wolverine and Iron Man, but also incorporated as many “New Nineties” heroes and villains as they could—gotta move all those Sleepwalker comics, y’know. One misstep, however, was the omission of Captain America in the Suspended Animation Chase set. What were they thinking?!?

DC Cosmic Cards
Impel/Skybox (1992)
180-Card Base Set
10-Card Hologram Set

While Marvel’s characters and universe dominated the card market, DC attempted to take a piece of the pie themselves with a few series focusing on their comic characters. When compared to Marvel’s card output, it’s clear that DC, for some reason unknown to me (possibly a diabolical plan by Lex Luthor), never had a clear direction for their card sets; they were always playing catch-up in a marathon led by Marvel. This set, the first to feature DC’s entire universe, holds the most memories for me since it’s the first time I’d learned about there being a Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis DC, thanks to the Hero Heritage cards located in this series.

A Dying Hobby

Sadly, the popularity of comic book cards has declined significantly in the past decade. The rise of CCGs (Competitive Card Games) played a role in phasing comic cards, as I knew them, out of the consciousness of fans and non-sports card consumers. Unlike their sports counterparts, superhero comic cards have become a moribund market, rarely striking a cord with today’s collecting consumer. Maybe the staggering success of superheroes in Hollywood movies has, in a way, succeeded and surpassed the gateway role comic cards once had. While I’m all for increasing the audience for comics as a whole, no matter where it comes from – man, I just miss opening those individually packed cards of heroes and villains and getting a hit of that good stuff.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      2 years ago

      i always loved part of someting wherm i go thowe the up and



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)