The Uncanny X-Men Trading Cards Book is worthwhile Beyond Nostalgia

I think I’m addicted Marvel Snap, and that’s okay. The game is fun, easy to pick up, has some cute little touches with the map animations, and lets me impart 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 usually into mobile games and like to avoid anything easy to spend money on – but I still got married – but the inspiration came from a strange 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 again, flipping through binders of my favorite heroes and villains and reading all about them. I needed more to keep the rush going – so Marvel Snap was my best bet – but the book is what definitely rekindled that fire.

The 1990s may have been a chaotic decade for the comics industry in general, but the earlier years boomed for the popularity of the X-Men with a comic book, toys and stylish trading cards. Marvel’s mutants never looked this good until artist Jim Lee got his hands on them, and now he’s created the full set of 105 cards (99 standards, 5 holograms, and 1 checklist). Some of Lee’s original character sketches are also added here, which are fantastic 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 tired of opening them… for now, anyway.

The presentation here is top notch. The dust jacket has a great image of Magneto on the front and a few images for the cards on the back as examples, but take that off and the back of the cover is a full poster with a massive chunk of the roster that is, simply put, awesome. The actual hardback cover has a spectacular image of Wolverine who is known to appear in several cards as he was the most popular character at the time.

I love that the book is smaller with a digest style because it feels true to the topic and makes the pages easy to flip through. There are two introductory writings here, from Ed Piskor (X-Men Grand Design) and editor Bob Budiansky, as well as notes from several contributors who helped work to make these maps a reality.

These insights into the production of the cards and the choices made at the time are as enlightening as they are entertaining. I was hugely amused by the one about how Gambit smokes on the back of his card and how fans would never see that in comics today, or how they had to be vague with some of the descriptions for characters that at the time had barely been on the books for a few months. There’s a nice 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 next to more notes about what they wanted done differently with that knowledge.

This book feels like the publishers wanted to handle revisiting this collection with careā€”or as much as they could, at least. Each card has its own page, centered on a white background in the same way you would see this artwork if it were on a museum wall. The back of the card is on the next page, complete with bios, X-tra facts, and a fun graph that shows the character’s stats instead of just listing them in some boring way. It looks like a write-up that is more likely to exist in the X but universe. My favorite part might be the profile pictures on these pages. These more casual snapshots of the subject usually feel very different from the action scene or sinister posts on the front of the card as a look behind the scenes. It may seem silly, but my favorite example of this is the Blob wearing a backwards baseball cap in his shot. These feel really unique.

This set is full of style, talented work and some great choices. One of the fun things in the Marvel Snap upgrades the appearance of the cards collected, with the first change being called a Frame Break – where the character pushes past the map’s boundaries. However, Lee’s collection already did this, choosing to let characters like Beast and Nightcrawler ignore the boundaries in order to make them jump out and be noticed. Some things are just cool enough to last.

According to Ed Piskor in the foreword to the book, Lee knew how to show the X-Men at their best, and he could make even the dumbest characters look impressive. It is true. Maybe nobody cares about Widget, Gatecrasher, or Maverick, but if those depictions were anyone’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 selection, but each image has something I find captivating.

Between the team cards, holograms (of which Gambits are the best), and the nine-card Danger Room image, The Uncanny X-Men Trading Cards the book is a feast for the eyes and a treasure for most Marvel Comics fans. It’s not 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 an overall experience that offers more than the original product. It’s hard not to be biased though as someone who still owns a few of these and now the book has me playing Marvel Snap, where I continue my collection. This one will occupy a place on my shelf for a while where it belongs.

Disclosure: The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

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