Sunday, May 27, 2012

Upper Deck Assembles The Avengers for New Entertainment Trading Card Set

As only the 4th film to reach the 500 million mark in the United States, the Avengers has been the hit of the year and it is going to take something bigger than the Hulk to take it down as the 2012 box office champion. Globally, the film is speeding towards the $1.3 Billion mark and its legacy will only grow with the upcoming Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Captain America 2 films building up to an Avengers sequel.

As far as trading cards go, Upper Deck has been doing a fantastic job delivering quality sets for the founding fathers of Earth's Mightiest Heroes in their solo films, and they got their chance to play Nick Fury by assembling the Avengers for one autograph, sketch card, and memorabilia-filled collection.

Priced at $125-135, it is a huge hit, selling out at the Upper Deck store and many other online retailers. One of the gripes that collectors have had with previous UD movie sets is that they didn't nail the lead actors for autographs. That's been a gripe about this collection too, but it hasn't hindered sales. That's because Upper Deck loaded it with other interesting and collectible items including a guarantee of one sketch card per box. The sketch cards involve all of the Avengers too, they go far beyond the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Iron Man.

Avengers Assemble also differs from previous releases in the sheer amount of cards that are on the base set checklist. Where many movie sets come in at 72 or 90 cards, this one goes to 11.. er, wrong movie... this one contains a mighty 180 cards.

You didn't necessarily have to have seen Iron Man, Thor or Captain America to enjoy the Avengers, but those fine films sure did lay the groundwork for the team to assemble and defend, no avenge the earth against Loki, the Chitauri and their leader who you don't see until midway through the end credits. If you left, shame on you, if you didn't, you'd know I was talking about the the Mad Titan -- Thanos.

Upper Deck wanted to assure that collectors got the whole story. They included key moments from all of the films leading up to the Avengers. These recap cards make up card numbers 1-90. You'll learn how Tony Stark became Iron Man, see the troubles of Dr. Bruce Banner as he struggles to control the beast within known as the Hulk, discover how Thor -- the God of Thunder came to be a defender of the Earth, and the birth of America's first super soldier -- Captain America. You will also learn about the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division and its key agents Nick Fury, Phil Coulson and Maria Hill. All three factor into the formation of the team most people never thought would grace the big screen.

Cards 91-180 chronicle the grand spectacle that Joss Whedon gave the world. You'll get a glimpse of what the Avengers will face when Loki, the evil half-brother of Thor, steals the cosmic cube that was last seen at the end of Captain America The First Avenger.

Three hobby-only insert sets provide even more backstory for collectors. With Classic Covers you will see years of Avengers comics from the very early days to the West Coast Avengers, and the more modern New Avengers. Enjoy 36 vintage covers from the Marvel vault. The team has gone through more members than the NY Yankees over the years, more name changes, more incarnations to keep them relevant with comic book fans. There isn't a major character in the Marvel Universe that hasn't had some kind of run in with the team fighting either with or against them. Believe me when I say that this movie only scratches the surface on what is possible to put on screen. But you know the saying, too many cooks spoil the broth? It happened with the X-Men franchise and no one wants to see it happen to the Avengers.

A 60-card set titled Heroes & Villains Evolve is a fantastic foil expedition that provides a look at your favorite heroes and villains and how they have morphed from their inception in comics to their larger than life realistic presence on film.  

If you'd like to get a feel for the behind-the-scenes work on costumes and storyboards for the film, you will no doubt enjoy the 9-card Concept Series cards. These black and white artist renderings are placed within a blueprint design and really pay homage to the people that did the grunt work for the Avengers Initiative.

All this and we've really only hit the tip of the iceberg. We still have autographs, sketch cards and memorabilia to discuss. Let's start with memorabilia. You will most probably find these more so than autos or sketches. There are single, double, triple and quad memorabilia cards. So far, anything with a swatch of fabric that touched the flesh of Scarlett Johansson are hot while the others, not so much. Her single swatch cards are closing at about $50-75 and her dual swatches hit upwards of $225. You'll find gear from actors Sam L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Clark Gregg, Coby Smulders, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Hiddleston. This, Upper Deck did right.

The autographs are a whole different animal. You will find autos from several Marvel movies including Thor cast members Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Fiore (King Laufey - Frost Giant) and Jamie Alexander (Sif). Captain America is represented by Bruno Ricci (Jacques Dernier). The only new autos from the Avengers movie cast are Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill). That hasn't stopped collectors from paying, and sellers demanding top dollar for the autographs. That's where UD has done it right. There aren't 5 per box and they aren't common. The rarity of the signatures is fueling large secondary market prices and demand.

While the collection is sans Evans, Scarlett, Sam L., Downey, Gregg, Ruffalo, and director Whedon, it certainly still packs a punch. Why they are missing remains to be seen. It could have been cost per autograph, it could have been timing, or it could have been the fact that because the movie was going to be huge, they didn't need the big names to push the product. Whatever the case, it still doesn't justify the absence of some or all of them on the checklist. Scarlett was actually supposed to be a part of the set albeit on a sell sheet or in someone in the product development area's dreams. Why didn't she make the cut? That's a question to ask directly to Upper Deck and I'll take care of that either via email or the next time someone from the company appears on my radio show.

The real drivers of Avengers Assemble are the sketch cards. You'll find a mix of pencil sketches mixed in with some colorfully complete images. Some are selling for over $300. You'll find single sketches, 2-card panels and 4-card puzzle cards with amazing art from the talents of Rhiannon Owens, Optic Nerve, Elvin Hernandez, Tom Hodges, Joe Rubinstein, Jim Cheung, Edward Cherniga, Charles Hall and many, many others.

Other items to be on the lookout for include Printing Plates. These rare 1/1 collectibles add a whole different dimension to collecting an entertainment set. UD doesn't even list the odds of finding the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow or Black plates, but they are fetching $50-100 in many auctions. It's not just the base cards either, look for these rarities of the insert collections too.

Like the film, there are very few flaws with the set. You know UD is always going to deliver a good looking design, they did just that with all of the cards included. They fell short with the auto checklist, but what they did put in is red-hot, showing that while collectors want the big names, a set like this doesn't necessarily need them to sell out. The only element that's missing in action? Where in the world are the vintage Captain America cards? You know, the ones Agent Coulson carries around to show he's not just an agent of Shield, but a fanboy just like you and me. UD missed a golden opportunity to put in a subset of clean, fake Captain America cards with a vintage design, along with a chase set with Coulson's blood, sweat and tears on them as it is his sacrifice that eventually forges the bond between the heroes.

A hobby box provided 131 of the 180 card set with 2 duplicates. Yes! Finally an entertainment set building option. You will need more than one box to compile the set. There were 10 of the 36 Classic Covers, 12 of the 60 Heroes & Villains Evolve set, and 2 Concept Series.

The hits were a single swatch of Tony Stark's blazer worn by Robert Downey Jr, a triple swatch card featuring movie costumes from Agent Coulson, Nick Fury and Tony Stark, and the final hit was an Optic Nerve sketch card of Spider Woman.

Avengers Assemble the trading card set is fun, much like the movie. It will leave you satisfied, but wanting more, much more. Luckily a sequel has already been announced and I for one can't wait to collect Thanos trading cards. Here's to hoping for Infinity Gems memorabilia cards!

That's it for this issue, as Stan Lee would say, "Excelsior!"

Tune in to Cardboard Connection Radio on Wednesday, May 30 for some discussion about the collection and be on the lookout for a video of the box break on YouTube!

I have received a box of Upper Deck's Avengers Assemble trading cards for the purpose of this review.


  1. To me, not having those big names in the autograph checklist is still rough. I mean, RDJ, Scar-Jo, Samuel L, etc. would make this product perfect. Instead, it still looks like a pretty good product. But there is no denying the thought of "what could have been" with more of the bigger names.

  2. No doubt they would have made the set, the end all be all of movie sets. Perhaps they will work harder to secure some of them for the sequel. Regardless, for fans that collect cards, it is still a very, very strong product. But to have the chance to compile that autograph set would rival most sports card products.