I think I’m addicted to Marvel Snap, and that’s alright. The game is fun, easy to pick up, has some sweet small touches with the card animations, and lets me flex my comics knowledge to friends who aren’t as deep as I am — but I almost didn’t give this game a chance. I’m not normally into mobile gaming and like to avoid anything that’s easy to spend money on — yet I still got married — but the inspiration came from an odd place this time. After receiving a copy of The Uncanny X-Men Trading Cards: The Complete Series and flipping through it, a rush of nostalgia hit me. Suddenly I was a kid all over again, thumbing through binders of my favorite heroes and villains and reading all about them. I needed more to have that rush continue — so Marvel Snap was my best bet – but the book is what re-ignited that fire for sure.
The 1990s may have been a chaotic decade for the comic book industry overall, but those earlier years were booming for the X-Men’s popularity with a cartoon, toys, and stylish collectible trading cards. Marvel’s mutants never looked so good before artist Jim Lee got hold of them, and now he was doing the entire 105-card set (99 standards, 5 holograms, and 1 checklist). Some of Lee’s original character sketches are added in here as well, which are great and will be seen for the first time by many readers. The book also comes with three fresh bonus cards in the back, but I’m weary of opening them … for now, at least.
The presentation here is top-notch. The dust jacket has a fantastic image of Magneto on the front and a couple of images for the cards on the back as examples, but take it off, and the back of the cover is a full poster featuring a massive chunk of the roster that is, simply put, awesome. The actual hardback front has a spectacular picture of Wolverine, who is noted as appearing in multiple cards since he was the most popular character at the time.
I love that the book is smaller with a digest style because it feels right for the subject matter and makes the pages easy to thumb through. There are two introductory pieces of writing here, from Ed Piskor (X-Men Grand Design) and editor Bob Budiansky, as well as notes from several contributors who helped work on making these cards a reality.
These insights into the production of the cards and choices made at that time are as enlightening as they are entertaining. I was immensely amused by the one about how Gambit is smoking on the back of his card and that fans would never see that in comics today, or how they had to be vague with some of the descriptions for characters who, at that time, had barely been in the books for a few months. There’s a pleasant element to reading the information here and knowing how much these characters changed, seeing who stayed popular in the fandom and who didn’t, right alongside several notes of what they would have done differently with that knowledge.
This book feels like the publishers wanted to handle revisiting this collection with care — or as much as they could, at least. Each card has its own page, centered on a white background in the same way one might view this artwork if it were on a museum wall. The backs of the card are on the next page, complete with bios, X-tra facts, and a fun graph that shows the character’s stats rather than just listing them in some boring fashion. It looks like a write-up that is more likely to exist in the X-Men universe. My favorite part might be the profile pictures on these pages. Usually very different from the action scene or sinister post for the front of the card, these more casual snapshots of the subject feel like a peek behind the scenes. It may seem silly, but my favorite example of this is Blob wearing a backward baseball cap in his shot. These truly feel unique.
This set is full of style, talented work, and some great choices. One of the fun things in Marvel Snap is upgrading the look of the collected cards, with the first alteration being called a Frame Break — where the character pushes past the boundaries of the card. Lee’s collection was doing this already though, choosing to have characters like Beast and Nightcrawler ignore the borders to make them pop out and be noticed. Some things are just cool enough to last.
According to Ed Piskor in the foreword for the book, Lee knew how to show the X-Men at their coolest, and he could make even the dumbest characters look impressive. It’s true. Maybe no one cares about Widget, Gatecrasher, or Maverick, but if these depictions were someone’s first impression of them, they’d think differently. Personally, my favorite cards are simple: Cable, White Queen, Bishop, Mastermind, and Omega Red. An odd assortment, but each image has something I find captivating.
Between the team cards, holograms (of which Gambit’s is the best), and the nine-card Danger Room image, The Uncanny X-Men Trading Cards book is a feast for the eyes and a treasure for most Marvel Comics fans. It isn’t just a kick of nostalgia, or a way to own the set without buying the cards for the second time in my life, but more of a journey. Something like a collected experience that offers more than the original product. It’s hard not to be biased as someone who still owns a few of these, however, and now the book has me playing Marvel Snap, where I’m continuing my collection. This will occupy a spot on my shelf for quite some time, where it belongs.
Disclosure: The critic received a copy of the book from the publisher.