David Betancourt: All I Want For Christmas Are 1991 Impel Marvel Trading Cards
Comics journalist and 'Marvel's Voices #1' writer David Betancourt remembers the very first Marvel trading cards he ever received!
You never forget your first mighty Marvel Christmas.
Sadly, I am not referring to the arrival of the A Very Spidey Christmas Album of the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse fame. The newfound and now constant joy of streaming that holiday classic would come much later in life.
The Marvel Universe as a whole, Spidey’s section of it included, took over my universe in December of 1991. A couple of months earlier, Chris Claremont and Jim Lee had just dropped X-MEN #1 on the world. A comic that you’ve perhaps heard of if you’re anything of a comic book historian. The impact of that first issue was instant and long lasting.
For many young Marvel fans in the early '90s, myself included, X-MEN #1 was the transition of being the kid who picked up a random Spider-Man comic book when you saw them on a spinner rack at a grocery store to the young collector begging your parents to find a specialty comic book shop so that you would never miss an issue of your favorite series.
Frequent visits to my local comic book shop in search of Claremont and Lee’s next X-chapter in the fall of 1991 would lead to the discovery of what remains, an all-time Christmas gift received.
The 1991 Impel Marvel trading card series.
Every visit to the shop came with the same request—I’d point out to whoever was tasked with giving me a ride there, usually either my father or my uncle, that the complete set of those trading cards was already collected in a nice fancy case behind the cashier. I made it clear that I’d likely never forget Christmas that year (boy was I right), and that such a feeling was riding on that set being in my hands. Whether Santa was real or not, I believed in the spirt of him, just as much as I did the architectural integrity of Cyclop’s ruby quartz visor. And just like Cyclops needed his visor, I needed those cards.
Well, Santa came through.
I was lucky enough to receive a Nintendo Gameboy for Christmas in 1991, but I’ll be the first to tell you, that 1991 trading card series spent just as much time in my hands. It was the ultimate Marvel education. There was the fantastic art on the front (the Mark Bagley and Art Adams cards always stood out) and most importantly, a treasure trove of information on the back that including a biography of each character and their attributes: strength, speed, agility, stamina, durability, and intelligence (ranked from 1 to 7), that let you know if you were dealing with someone who was human, superhuman or supernatural (here’s looking at you Doc Strange).
To read through that complete set of cards was to permanently download the power of the Marvel Universe into your brain. Every character. Each key battle. It was all there. I still know that the Hulk and Silver Surfer are two of the few heroes with a strength of 7 (ability to lift over 100 tons). With information like that being common knowledge since I was 11 years old, it’s no wonder I grew up to be a comic book culture reporter.
Being a biracial child of color you can’t help but be drawn to the characters that look like you. Those Storm and Night Thrasher cards really stood out back then. One, for being the characters whose skin was the same color as mine, and two, for being the few and the proud when it came to being big-name Super Heroes of color.
Now here in the present, from the never out of style high royalty of the Black Panther to the new kids, Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Cindy Moon, Sam Alexander and Amadeus Cho, the expansive inclusiveness of Marvel Comics has never been more visible.
It’s enough to make you want to go back in time and tell your younger self, "Hey kid, guess what? It gets even better down the road. Just you wait."
I guess you could say my Marvel fandom has always been in the cards. Wouldn’t Gambit be proud?
They should totally bring those cards back by the way. If they do, you know what to get me for Christmas.
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