Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Marvel Universe Trading Cards - Series 2 (1991) Revisited

Much like my post last week, today we're revisiting my collection of Marvel Universe Trading Cards Series 2! Here's the video from the old post. I'll say again, this is a long vid of me going through each and every card, so make sure you've got your popcorn ready.

Series 2 has always been one of my favourites. I loved the vibrant colours of the borders, which were a big level up from Series 1 and their white borders around the cards artwork. It has a very 80s vibe to it, which make sense since the hangover of the 80s lasted well into the 90s.

The biggest improvement in this series were the Power Ratings, which picked six different attributes and ranked all of the character cards accordingly. There was Strength, Speed, Agility, Stamina, Durability, and Intelligence. This rating system would continue after Series 2 and became my favourite thing about collecting these cards.

Ever argue with your buddy about who would win in a fight: Spider-Man versus Daredevil? Well just compare the Power Ratings! My friends and I would pore over these cards and ratings and practically memorize all of them, so we could throw them out on the fly whenever one of these arguments reared its ugly head.

We also used to often "play Marvel", which meant we'd each pick a character and we'd act out our own scenes. So if we were playing and Ultron was facing up against Wolverine, knowing these Power Ratings and special abilities could mean life or death to an 8 year old.

As I mentioned with Series 1, there were different subsets in each series. In Series 2 we had Weapons, Legends, and Arch-Enemies. Arch-Enemies is really just a re-brand of Famous Battles,  Legends would essentially feature old and (at the time) dead characters within the Marvel U, and Weapons would give you the low-down on the different "tools of the trade", like Wolverine's claws or the Infinity Gauntlet.

There were five holograms in this set, as well. I managed to snag two this time: Doctor Doom and Fanastic Four vs. Mole Man. The foil on these cards actually went all the way to the border, as well, which makes them look even more impressive when you manage to snag one.

I hope these old trading cards are getting you amped up for the upcoming release of Avengers: Endgame. I know they're having that affect on me! Stay tuned for more! Next up we'll finally get caught up with Series 3, which I affectionately call "the cosmic set".


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Marvel Universe Trading Cards - Series 1 (1990) Revisited

Waaaaay back in 2014, around when I first launched Retro-Def, I figured a great feature for the site would be a look back at my Marvel Universe trading card collection. I ended up making two videos fairly quickly and then getting busy and forgetting to continue on with the series.

That's a real shame, because not only were these cards incredibly important to 7-year old me, but I think they're a really cool slice of the Marvel Universe in the 90s. With the recent passing of Stan Lee I've found myself flipping through my old card binders and I felt the need to share!

Let's start by revisiting Marvel Universe Trading Cards Series 1. The video I made in 2014 still stands, and some of the reminiscing you'll find here is in the video, but I'd say only the most hardcore fan would be interested in watching the whole thing. It clocks in at around 25 minutes and I go through each and every card.

Excuse the old website branding!

The Marvel Universe Trading Card series was launched by Impel in 1990. You might not remember the name Impel, especially if you weren't into trading cards in the 90s, but you may recall SkyBox, which was a re-brand of Impel in 1992.

The base set was 162 cards. The subsets included Super Heroes, Super Villains, Rookies, Famous Battles, Team Pictures, Most Valuable Comics, and Spider-Man Presents.

Wolverine as "Patch"

Most of these are self-explanatory, except for Spider-Man Presents. This particular subset featured Spider-Man attempting to interview some of the heavy-hitters in the Marvel U. They were like little mini-comics and I thought they were hysterical. I remember thinking the Spider-Man Presents: Wolverine card was one of the funniest things I'd ever read.

Each of the super hero and villain cards would feature a drawing of the character on the front with a unique backdrop like it had been pulled right from the pages of a comic. On the back you'd find all kinds of cool information about the character, like their aliases, how many battles they'd had, their win/loss ratio, some information about the character, and finally some trivia.

I have no idea who "Roughhouse" is...

One neat thing that was only featured in this particular set was that certain characters could appear multiple times, like Wolverine, who appeared in the super hero subset three times; once in his brown and tan costume, again in his blue and gold costume, and finally as "Patch", his secret alter-ego.

Features of this set that didn't carry forward are the Spider-Man Presents cards and the Most Valuable Comics. Each set would feature something unique from the others, but you could always expect to see super heroes, super villains, special teams, and cards that somehow featured big events and battles from Marvel's storied history.

See, it's hilarious!

This was my first foray into trading card collecting and I was only 7, so some of the cards in my set are a little roughed up on the corners, but they hold so much nostalgia and importance to me, it's hard to state. This was my gateway vehicle into comic books and super heroes. Growing up on an island, it wasn't difficult to get comics, but it certainly wasn't easy to get them all in order each and every month. Also, without any sort of archive of Marvel Comics, this was the only way to really dig into the historical events in the Universe and learn all the backstory for the characters.

I started buying these cards in a corner store in the summer of 1990, but eventually had to start going to a hobby store as I worked at getting the whole set. Every red cent of my allowance went into these cards. Each pack would contain 12 cards, so over time you'd amass a stack of what we called "traders". The hobby store would keep a box of their own traders so you could swap out your extra cards for a card you still hadn't found in a pack. They'd usually do a 2:1 trade to keep their stock high and some cards, which were harder to come by, would require more traders or you'd just have to buy them outright.

Danny Ketch Ghost Rider's rookie card - one of the rougher cards in my set

As I mentioned, there were 162 cards in the base set, but there were also five hologram cards, which were the holy grails. There was only one hologram per box, as far as I know, so they were hard to come by. I never did collect all the holograms for each set. I managed to get a few here and there, but buying them at the card store was usually highway robbery and not something my parents were interested in funding, so I would shoot for the base set and hope to get a few holograms along the way.

It was a crazy summer when I first found these cards and little did I know that I would spend at least the next four or five years collecting the different sets of Marvel Universe Trading Cards. I have some of my fondest memories buying, trading, and most importantly, poring over these cards and gleaning as much information as I could about the amazing characters and stories they represented. My friends and I would commit so much of the information on the cards to memory and have classic conversations about who would defeat who in a fight or who the most powerful bad guy was.

My lone hologram from Series 1: Cosmic Spider-Man

Well, that's it for Series 1. Next time we'll revisit Series 2 and then hopefully I won't forget and we can finally take a look back at Series 3 and onward!

I hope you enjoy this trek down memory lane as much as I did.

Make Mine Marvel,

Friday, April 5, 2019

Memory, Blog: The Unsolved Mysteries Book Cover

Since I know you've been waiting on baited breath for this, let's get nuts and dig even deeper into my sleep-shattering fear of those junky alien TV shows from yesteryear. This next one is a doozy (do the kids still say doozy?).

I don't know where I got the gumption (do the kids still say gumption? damnit...) but one night I decided it was a great idea to try and watch an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I had an idea of what I was getting into - everyone was talking about the show - but I had no clue just how much of an effect it would have on me personally to this day.

Perhaps you can solve a mystery...

I'm still not sure how I made it through Robert Stack's introduction or the theme music (likely judicious use of hiding under the blankets), but I can still remember the content of the episode like it was yesterday. Much like with E.T. several years before, I think my pulse dropped to zero, like I was in some kind of TV-induced hibernation. I stared at the set in rapt fear.

Although I was initially creeped out, it wasn't until Robert Stack presented the story of Bob Matthews that things really went south. Matthews was in the United States Air Force and in 1966, while en route to a posting in Massachusetts, was dropped off at a local market at night. He called the base for someone to come pick him up when he realized he was in the middle of nowhere. It's at this time that he claims he saw a strange ship flying through the night sky. When his ride came to get him he was totally AWOL, before calling back hours later asking where his ride was. Matthews claims that he experienced missing time and later, through hypnosis, recalled that the ship he saw in the night sky touched down outside the market and that he was abducted by the beings inside.


This story on its own was enough to raise my hackles, but it was during this clip that I was disturbed even further than seeing Elliot's squat little alien buddy with the glowy fingers (I'm not gonna drop it, ET's still creepy). As Matthews recounted his story, he spoke about finding a paperback book at a supermarket aisle by author Budd Hopkins called Missing Time. In the clip on Unsolved Mysteries the book he actually picks up is entitled Intruders. Here's a close-up:

From the moment I saw this clip my greatest fears had a new visage. Whatever creature this was on the cover of this book would haunt me for years and years to come, but also drive me to face those fears and watch any and all paranormal films and TV programs I could lock my eyeballs onto.

What's interesting is that I always considered Unsolved Mysteries to be a show about the paranormal, but as I've been re-watching it recently on Amazon Prime (I've recently discovered it's on YouTube, as well) I've realized that it rarely featured segments about the topics of aliens or UFOs, and usually with a few derisive words from Robert Stack, who seemingly didn't want to report on it at all. The show was mostly about true crime and helping people find their long-lost loved ones, with a smattering of ghost stories or aliens here and there for us weirdos.

All it took was this one episode, however, and I was forever changed. The thing is, I was bound to see the image of the "grey" alien at some point. It's ubiquitous in our culture now, much like the Bela Lugosi-inspired vampire or a bed sheet ghost. I kind of believe that no matter where I first saw it that those huge black eyes and enormous great skull would have the same affect, but it certainly didn't hurt that I saw it while watching Unsolved Mysteries in my parent's basement with no lights on that sealed the deal.

As an adult, I want to say that I'm mostly over it, but if I'm being honest grey aliens still give me the heebie-jeebies (do the kids... ah, nevermind) I remember when the found footage film The Fourth Kind came out back in 2009 I was immediately engaged and wanted to see the movie, but the only way I could bring myself to watch it alone in my apartment was in the middle of the day with all the lights on. As it turns out, it wasn't so bad, but those scenes with the owl eyes? Uuuuugh.

I'll try and summon up the courage to write another one of these soon, but from now on I don't think this will be a chronological account. I'll just jump back and forth to different shows and films on the subject. Ya know, for the whole one of you that actually reads this stuff! (Thank you by the way, you're the best!)


Friday, March 29, 2019

VHyesterdayS Trailers: The Films That Time Forgot

A while back I decided to kick off the VHyesterdayS series with a tape that kept calling my name, Communion. I had fun watching the movie again, even if I was petrified, but do you know what really stuck with me? The trailers at the start of the tape! I'm a guy that watches and is aware of a lot of films, but I hadn't heard of a single one of the movies featured in these trailers!

It got me thinking about all the films that were direct-to-video or had a very short life span in the theatre and have been left to rot, considered too weak to eke even the smallest profit. These movies may have had a limited VHS release and aren't likely to hit DVD, Blu-ray, or even a streaming service.

So here are three of those "lost films" and because I'm so lazy, it's actually the exact three that were featured on my M.C.E.G./Virgin release of Communion from 1989!

Limit Up

Limit Up is a comedy film starring Nancy Allen, Dean Stockwell, Danitra Vance, and Ray Charles. It was written (co-written with Luana Anders) and directed by Richard Martini. From what I can tell the film had a premiere in Chicago - where it is prominently set - in 1989 before being released direct-to-video in 1990.

The film follows Nancy Allen's character, Casey Falls, as she makes a deal with the Devil (portrayed by Danitra Vance of SNL fame) in order to make it big in soybean stocks. INB4 all those non-fat soy lattes!

Does it look like a by-the-numbers 80s comedy movie? Yes. Is that a problem. Absolutely not!

As is the case with all of the films I'll be featuring today I have not seen Limit Up, so I can't speak to it. A VHS copy would only cost around $6 CAD, but to have it shipped to My-Neck-of-the-Woods, Canada would be an additional $25 or so, so I haven't made the purchase. A quick search showed me that some individuals actually got their hands on a DVD copy of the film from Amazon, but my best deduction is that these were VHS ripped copies that were illegally distributed through the platform and are no longer available. I can't find any information that the film saw anything outside of its original VHS release.

That said, it appears that Limit Up is available on Amazon Prime Video in the US! It means I can't watch it in my region, but hopefully someday it'll be available in the Great White North and I'll be able to give this movie a watch. It looks like a fun little comedy/fantasy that I'd definitely like to check out.

Trust Me

Next up is Trust Me, starring Adam Ant, David Packer, and Talia Balsam. It was written and directed by Robert Houston, who is probably best known for this role of Bobby in The Hills Have Eyes

It's a crime movie in which Adam Ant's character, James Callendar, may or may not kill off Sam Brown (David Packer) in order to make his art more salable in the cutthroat art market. It could be a fun comedy romp based on the music and visual cues of the trailer or it could be a straight-forward drama. The trailer is so bad I can't even tell. I somehow gleaned as much as I did amidst the sea of shoulder-padded blazers and neon colours.

This is certainly not a movie I'd like to see, but you can score a VHS copy of the film from $7 to $10 CAD, plus shipping and handling. I couldn't find any streaming services that carry Trust Me, but I did find the entire film uploaded to YouTube, if you're so inclined!

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts is a feel-good drama directed by Jon Amiel, starring Vittorio Duse, Joseph Long, and Anita Zagaria.

It was the first film directed by Jon Amiel, who worked in TV for the BBC for several years prior. He would go on to have a solid career in Hollywood with films like Sombersby, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Entrapment, and The Core, as well as successful TV shows like The Borgias.

This is more of a teaser than a trailer, with a run-time of about a minute, so it's difficult to get more than the feel of the movie from it, but it is about a family of Italians who live a whimsical life running a café in London.

Look at that title card! It stands out like a sore thumb. It looks like it was created by a local TV station or something. I sure hope it didn't make it into the final cut of the film.

Queen of Hearts is another movie I won't seek out personally, but not for the same reasons as Trust Me. The teaser coupled with the accolades of the director speak to the film being just fine, but it doesn't look like my cup o' tea. That said, you can find a VHS copy of the film at auction for around $13 CAD plus, I'm sure, some hefty shipping and handling on top.

Or just skip that and get the DVD! That's right, MGM owns distribution rights of the film and a DVD can be purchased through Turner Classic Movies for around $30 CAD. Sorry, from what I can tell, there are no streaming options available.

So that's it! I have to say, I was surprised to find that Limit Up was available for streaming and that Queen of Hearts actually landed a limited and expensive DVD release. For that reason it's hard to call them "lost", but I think they still remain films you likely never even heard of regardless of their availability.

I hope you enjoyed this (probably) boring trip through the films that time forgot and if you actually read the whole thing... I have nothing for you, but regret!


Friday, March 22, 2019

Memory, Blog: Those Creepy Alien Shows

For one reason or another throughout my life I've found myself drawn to TV shows and films about the paranormal and I'm not talking about those reality shows, like Ghost Hunters. Specifically, for me, it is anything to do with aliens and UFOs. It's a contributing reason for my obsession with The X-Files, but it goes much deeper than that.

I want to preface this by saying that I don't believe in aliens. I don't think there's some grand conspiracy that a group of intergalactic beings from another planet/dimension/reality/whatever are visiting earth in ships, abducting people for experimentation, and screwing around with livestock.

I think my fascination with the subject is three-fold.

One reason is that I'm captivated with the idea that there are people out there that whole-heartedly believe in it all. And I don't mean this as a condescension, like, "How could someone believe in this crap!?" It's more akin to wanting to understand why they believe what they believe. It's probably like a secular philosopher trying to better understand religion.

The second reason is that I find alien and UFO stories to be like the ghost stories of our generation. We live in a world driven by science, so of course our fireside stories are that of science fiction. It kind of just makes sense.

The third and most major reason is that the idea of aliens scares the ever-loving shit out of me.

I have zero context to offer you as to why, but when I was really little I had nightmares that the Martians from Sesame Street were going to take me from my bed at night. I had to be the only kid on the planet petrified of Muppets.

They're still creepy.

This fear was exacerbated one fateful day by my unwitting mother who picked up a new video for me to watch: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. And why woudn't she? It was an international family-friendly hit! As soon as I saw E.T. for the first time, plodding around the forest with his freaky glowing heart, I was instantly traumatized. I can't recall so much as breathing throughout the rest of the viewing, but I somehow survived it. I had a new face for my fear and it was the dough-eyed alien that every other kid at school had on their bed sheets.

See, it's petrifying!

Considering I was so afraid of the subject I have no idea why, but I would try and watch anything that featured aliens, which in the late-80s and early-90s was no problem. The paranormal was a hot topic and one could simply flip to any channel on a Friday night and find a program featuring unexplained phenomena.

The result was a fascination with those hokey paranormal TV shows that used to cover the pages of the TV Guide. For me, it all started in the early 90s when A&E began airing re-runs of In Search Of..., which was one of my favourite TV shows ever. The ideas and topics were so interesting and they would often feature the crazy stories of aliens or UFOs that I was craving, but presented in a way that wasn't all that scary.

Okay, that's BS, I was still scared to death, but I could make it through an episode, so long as all the lights were on. I think this is why I found the courage one night to watch a relatively new show called Unsolved Mysteries, which although it wasn't strictly a paranormal show had the occasional alien/UFO-related topics. In fact, it was an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that spurred on my fear in a big way, but we'll feature that story another time.

There were all sorts of paranormal shows that cropped up in the wake of Unsolved Mysteries, like Sightings and Encounters, both of which tried to employ the trappings of a real news magazine show to make the topics at hand seem that much more credible. And lets not forget the myriad of one-off specials, like Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction or Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.

My obsession continues to this day, so this is just the beginning for this topic on the site. I already have some related posts in the works, but I thought it made sense that I outline my fear and fascination with aliens and UFOs in films and television before we really begin to scan these starry skis... I mean skies.