Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Good Concept Over And Over And Over And Over Again: 2014 Marvel Universe Trading Cards!

The Good: Excellent artwork, Good writing, Some awesome sketches
The Bad: Unremarkable parallel sets, Some lesser sketch cards, Collectible value
The Basics: The 2014 Marvel Universe trading card set is an interesting blend of incredible and mundane, making for a set that ends up as average as opposed to exceptional.

Like many people, I wear many (metaphorical) hats. And, like many people, I sometimes find the different roles I take on in conflict with one another. I try to balance them, but sometimes the different roles I have fall dramatically out of balance. Three roles I have that come into conflict with each other are my job as a reviewer of many things I encounter, my love of collectible trading cards, and my business selling the same. I seldom feel a sense of conflict, even when the aspects of my life do contradict. I started my business selling trading cards because I had my own collection and it grew out of hand; I started reviewing trading cards because I love reviewing and I wanted to try reviewing things outside movies, music, toys, and food. But, sometimes, I encounter a trading card set that using my own objective standards, I cannot rate very highly. Such reviews, naturally, have the potential to hurt my business selling the trading cards and they have the potential to harm the relationships I have with the manufacturers of the trading cards (which could both hurt my business and my own collecting!). Fortunately, the manufacturers of trading cards either don't know me, don't care about my reviews or, in the case of the wonderful Rittenhouse Archives, are very patient with me (and have pretty thick skins!). The reason I keep reviewing trading cards is because Non-Sport Update (reviewed here!) has "reviews" which are completely non-discriminatory and read more like sell sheets for the various manufacturers. Objective reviewers can help guide collectors far better than their reviews.

In the case of the 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards, an objective review reveals that the set is a weird contradiction of excellent and dull. The set has a very cool common set and some truly amazing sketch cards, as well as fairly decent bonus cards. But the set is fleshed out by parallel sets that repeat over and over the basic common and chase sets . . . in fairly unremarkable ways.

Basics/Set Composition

The 2014 Marvel Universe trading card set followed a content format similar to Rittenhouse Archives impressive Marvel Universe set from 2011, in that it focused on big story arcs within the Marvel Comics Universe. The format was such a winning one that Cryptozoic aped it with their Epic Battles trading card set (reviewed here!) for the DC Comic Universe. Properly assembled, the set is a collection of 703 trading cards and the official binder from Rittenhouse Archives. All but ninety-seven of the cards are available in boxes or cases of 2014 Marvel Universe cards and ninety-one of those cards are available in an archive box from thje set. The cards were originally released in boxes that contained twenty-four packs of five cards each. Boxes tended to run in the $75 - $90 range and guaranteed one common set and one sketch card per box.

Collation in the 2014 Marvel Universe set was remarkably good, but the set is oppressive to attempt to collect. In order to get the multicase incentives, one has to buy eighteen cases to get an Archive Box, but to assemble a true master set, it would take 90 CASES of the trading cards with absolutely ideal collation to complete the Diamond Parallel set and, presumable, the whole set. Given how unremarkable the Diamond Parallel set is, it seems far too high a price to be a genuine collector of the Marvel 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards.

Common Cards

The common card set consists of 90 trading cards, which are printed on beautiful foil cardstock and have a glossy UV resistant coating. The 2014 Marvel Universe cards do not seem to warp or curl the way most foil cards do, which gives one the impression that these will be more durable for collectors in perpetuity. The 2014 Marvel Universe set features nine cards per major Marvel Comics crossover event, detailing the plot of each storyline.

The common cards look wonderful, featuring as they do a solid character image with a gold background depicting the cover of an issue of the book from the storyline the card represents. The cards are universally in portrait format, though most of the cards feature full-body artwork of the character they depict.

The backs of the 2014 Marvel Universe cards are well written, detailing the plot of each major crossover story. In fact, these trading cards were so compellingly written that they inspired me to read the crossover story The House Of M (reviewed here!). This set of trading cards includes cards focused on the Avengers/Defenders War, Mutant Masscre, Evolutionary War, Operation: Galactic Storm, the Onslaught Saga, House Of M, Annihilation Conquest, Dark Reign, Chaos War and Age Of Ultron. These stories are massive crossovers and the card set does a decent job of including characters from many of the disparate books they represent, like including cards for the Age Of Ultron storyline that feature Wolverine, Spider-Man and Invisible Woman. Those only familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be pleasantly surprised by the variations in the book versions of the stories included on the 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards!

Collation on this set was excellent, so the common sets averaged one and almost a half per box, which was good for collectors (I consistently managed to assemble four sets from every three boxes I opened).

Chase Cards

There are 613 chase cards in the 2014 Marvel Universe set, with 516 found in the boxes of cards and the remaining ninety-seven available outside the boxes and packs. The bonus cards that can be found within the boxes were the sapphire, emerald, and diamond parallel cards, Marvel Greatest Battles Thor Expansion (and the two parallel sets of these cards), Marvel Greatest Battles Captain America Expansion (and the two parallel sets of these cards), Artist Drafts, Shadowbox, Avengers Origins, Heroes and Villains Expansion, Marvel 75th Anniversary and sketch cards. Most of the chase cards are limited to only one of the style per box and some of the parallels were found only one per case, which enhances the value of the boxes and cases.

The most basic bonus card in the set are the 90 sapphire parallel cards. The parallel cards are a strange standard in recent releases from Rittenhouse Archives and other card companies. The sapphire parallel cards are rather unimaginative. The parallel cards are essentially the common cards reprinted with a blue background to replace the gold rendition of the comic book covers on each card. The sapphire parallel cards play well for some of the covers, offering greater contrast with the foreground subjects and they are found about four per box, so collectors would take almost two cases to complete a single set of these cards!

The parallel cards did not stop there, though, with the 2014 Marvel Universe set. One per box there is an emerald parallel card (individually numbered to 100) and one per case there is a diamond parallel card (individually numbered to 10). The emerald parallel cards feature the background comic book covers rendered in green and the "diamond" is a washed-out silver background. None of the parallel cards render the background comic book covers with all of the original colors they possessed, which is a little disappointing (though it would have been worse had the common cards been rendered with the "pure" comic book covers and then the parallels had diluted, single-color versions of them!). While the one-per-box emerald parallel cards are not oppressive to collect (especially given that more boxes are required to complete the sketch card set), the one-per-case Diamond parallel cards are harder to find and very expensive. As a collector, the Diamond parallels represent an interesting collector's conundrum: to collect a complete set of 2014 Marvel Universe cards makes one an elite collector in the industry. As a dealer, the Diamond parallel cards represent a problematic toss-up: the Diamond Parallels represent a potential high-value card to help justify the investment in a case of these cards, but the parallel cards of less popular characters or less well-rendered characters fail to yield the same enthusiasm in the marketplace as main characters. So, for example, a case that has a parallel card of 24 featuring one of the New Mutants (a character line that did not survive very long with readers!) is inherently worth less than a case with a diamond parallel card of card 82, which features the very popular Captain America. Regardless, in the many boxes and cases, collectors are asked to shell out a lot of money to just keep assembling the common set over and over again.

Two per box are cards from the nine-card Artist Draft set. The Artist Draft cards are replicas of the original, uncolored, artwork for important covers from various storylines, like House Of M, Dark Avengers and Nova. The backs, not wasting more text on the crossover events, illustrate the finished version of each cover. These are pretty neat, albeit very basic, trading cards. There is nothing inherently special about them - they are not foil or printed on acetate, etc. - but they look very cool and afford card collectors and comic book fans a wonderful, uncommon, view of their favorite books!

There are two expansion sets for the popular Marvel Greatest Battles trading cards - one nine-card set that focuses on Thor, another that focuses on Captain America. These cards nicely expand the prior set's common cards with new artwork and fans of James Bond cards are very familiar with the concept. Both nine-card expansions take nine boxes (with ideal collation) to assemble the sets. The expansion cards are replicated with parallels (red and gold, found two and one per case, respectively) and they are very average parallel cards. The parallels are individually numbered, which is nice, but it does not make them "pop" any more than the original cards.

There are three bonus card sets where the components are found one in every other box: 6 Shadowbox cards, 5 Avengers Origins cards, and 9 Heroes & Villains Expansion cards. While the Shadowbox cards are incredible, overthick trading cards with a beautiful three-dimensional quality to them, the other two chase sets are somewhat unextraordinary. Here, however, is an excellent place to stop and take note of one of the wonderful aspects of the 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards. Virtually every box of the 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards has exceptional inherent value to it. While Rittenhouse Archives only guarantees a common set and a sketch card in each box, every box I opened also included two of the chase cards that were found one in every other box or a chase card with higher rarity (like the parallels to the chase cards or the Diamond parallel).

The 2014 Marvel Universe set is the first of three Marvel Comics trading card sets from Rittenhouse Archives released in 2014 to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Marvel Comics. In the 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards, there are twenty-five Marvel 75th Anniversary cards. These cards are reminiscent of the Marvel Comics trading cards from the 1990s with big, full-bleed artwork featuring character "paintings" of major Marvel Comics characters. Each of these cards is limited to 75 (and individually numbered on the back) and they were found two per case in the 2014 Marvel Universe set. They look amazing!

The grail of comic book based trading cards these days are the sketch cards and the 2014 Marvel Universe cards are no exception. 138 artists contributed unique, hand-drawn sketch cards for the 2014 Marvel Universe trading card set and they are, as one might expect, a truly mixed bag, based on the artist and their choice of subject. While fan favorite artists like Rhiannon Owens, Mick Glebe, Jomar Bulda, Jofel B. Cube, and Elvin A. Hernandez contributed, there has been a surprising lack of interest in the collector's market for sketch cards from this set. After opening a couple of cases, I was surprised by how few exciting, high-quality sketch cards were in the set. It was as if the artists who contributed were experiencing sketch card fatigue and the market responded with indifference. To be fair, Out of three cases, I pulled sketched from none of the "a-list" sketch card artists who contributed to the set. That said, in researching the set, there were no sketch cards I saw that made me actually say "wow." I was most impressed by a Marcio Cabreira sketch I pulled featuring Ultron's army; the level of detail was exceptional. Rittenhouse Archives has not provided any data on the rarity of each artist's sketch cards, so fans who are trying to complete the set would seem to have a fairly good chance at completing their sets even now.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

As with most "modern" trading card releases - certainly the ones from Rittenhouse Archives - not all of the cards needed to make a true master set are available in the boxes of these trading cards. In this set, there are ninety-one cards exclusive to the archive box and an additional six cards that cannot be found in the boxes. The archive boxes possess a ninety-card Ruby parallel set that yet again recreates the common set, this time with a red background for the comic book card. Each card in this set is numbered to 50, though archive boxes do not contain matching number sets. Also in the archive box is an exclusive oversized sketch card by popular sketch card artist Meghan Hetrick.

There is the usual promo card which foreshadowed the series release which is common enough to find (P1). There is also a card exclusive to the 2014 Marvel Universe trading card binder. Both promotional cards remain fairly well-available in the secondary market.

The remaining four cards are the casetopper, the multicase incentive cards and the Rittenhouse Rewards card. The casetopper is a simple lenticular card of Bishop and Apocalypse. This is a surprisingly lackluster casetopper, which might explain why it has depreciated significantly in the secondary market.

The multicase incentive sketch cards, however, are highly coveted and very cool, having generally high value even now. Artist Anthony Tan contributed a sketch card that was given to dealers with every 6-case purchase and comic book artist Melike Acar had the nine-case incentive card. Every one of the incentive cards I've seen has featured incredible artwork, though some of the subjects of the sketch cards are more obscure than popular.

The final card for the 2014 Marvel Universe set is a Rittenhouse Rewards card. Available only by redeeming wrappers with Rittenhouse Archives, there is the AD19 Artist Draft card. It adds a tenth card to the nine-card set (which is irksome from a collector's perspective as trading card pages are nine-card pages) and follows the format to the Artist Draft set perfectly with the cover of Dark Avengers #1. It is not a terribly exciting card, but the wrapper "cost" is not very high, so it tends to leave collectors generally pleased with it.


The 2014 Marvel Universe trading card set is nice, but repetitive. It's a tough sell as it relies upon so many other sets for understanding and appreciating its full value - whatwith so many of the bonus cards simply continuing or expanding prior sets. The set is oppressive to try to collect, but it looks beautiful when it is collected. In other words, it is an out-of-balance set that, rather miraculously, balances out . . . at least for the ten collectors who can make an absolute master set of them!

For reviews of other Marvel or comic book-themed trading cards, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards
DC Comics Super-Villains trading cards
Spider-Man Archives SD09 Promotional Card


For other trading card reviews, be sure to check out my Trading Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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