Image Comics helped define the 1990s: everything was screaming, on fire and covered in pouches. So of COURSE they teamed up with Upper Deck to make some sports cards.
Welcome back to Sports Cards for Insane People! Whew, it's been a while! Jon Bois has graciously agreed to let me come in here and knock some cobwebs down with this handy and cleverly-named Webster duster. Let's take a look at what we've got over here in his big dusty box marked "1990s! (EXTREME!!!!)!"
Hoo boy. Looks like what we're dealing with today is the synergistic masterstroke of pairing Upper Deck trading cards with the creative
hacks weirdos lazy millionaires geniuses at Image Comics.
Image Comics, as you may remember, was pretty much the hottest thing ever in 1990s comic books (for about a year). A band of disgruntled artists left Marvel Comics to found their own company, one that would allow them to exert control over their own creations. Unfortunately, their creations all seemed to involve scarred gun-wielding half-cyborg mystic government agents who ripped people's hearts out with guns. Still though; for a while there, associating with the Image Comics guys was a license to print money.
Upper Deck (already flush with success by riding the crest of the wave that would eventually make trading cards worthless again) decided to work the teats of this cash cow by getting Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld to create some cards depicting sports stars as superheroes. Well, not as existing superheroes, because that would involve paying someone. Rather, these artists were tasked with re-imagining real-life athletes as if they had superpowers. Or, more often than not, just going WHAT IF THIS GUY WAS A SPACE-ROBOT?!?
If you're familiar with the Internet, you may already know my stance on the work of Rob Liefeld. Thankfully, he only drew three of the cards we'll be looking at today. The bad news is that the rest of the cards aren't much better.
Most images in this post were supplied by the 1990s comics blog Deathshot Bloodmate.
And we're off and running! Or should I say ... flying? This here is supposed to be Michael Jordan, whose super-power appears to be "cheating," seeing as how he has a jet-pack and none of the helpless gold-plated robot defenders below has opted to go the "fly above the court" route.
This appears to be a sanctioned basketball event in space, judging by the scoreboard above the court preemptively going "WOW" as Jordan is about to go up by 80 points on these hapless bots. Maybe the "WOW" just stays up there the whole game? They should probably start doing that during Team USA games, too.
Oh whoops, it turns out that was actually Michael Jordan's alter-ego, Agent 23. I guess he needs an alter-ego because he's ... an agent of ... basketball? The text makes it seem as though this is still the NBA, but he is allowed to use "Super High-Performance I-Sky-n-Fly Footwear," which I guess is what that jet-pack is on the front of the card because his thruster jets are either coming out of his back or his butthole. But maybe they've changed where "footwear" is worn in the NBA's robo-future. Who knows?
Wait so he can use his footwear and "Ball-Control Forearm Pads" to fly and literally keep control of the ball, while trying to evade the "evil Droids," but he ALSO has a switch that will just shut off and/or violently explode them? Yikes; and you thought his relationship with David Stern was bad. Just wait until cyborg Jordan (CyJord) and the sinister future space-commish start to collude.
As everyone knows, Larry Bird was most famous for his expansive, muscular chest, enormous shoulders, 24-inch pythons and a fearsome lat spread. In basketball, as in life, he was always a rippling hulk of a man. And of course, Larry Bird's face was always a spitting image of Dauber from Coach.
Here, as you will notice, Bird (despite actually being equipped with some black, Archangel-like wing ... things) chooses to play basketball without flying around through the air like an idiot, instead mixing it up with the "evil Droids" and using robot arms and jazz-hands to infuse the basketball with purple energy.
Doesn't ... doesn't it seem like there should be a better use for these super powers? And if these Droids are so evil (check out extendo-arm Droid there sending a fearsome punch straight to the ribcage), why do they consent to a game of basketball? If these super-powered basketball men beat the Droids, do the Droids just go away until the next game? WE NEED ANSWERS DAMMIT. Maybe the back of the card will supply some.
This paragraph may as well just say, "Welp, we didn't really think this shit through, but here's some words!" So he has "The Claw," which is a TOP-SECRET device. We won't tell you what it does and we won't show it to you on the actual art of the card -- WHICH IS THE ONLY PLACE IN HISTORY THAT IT WOULD EVER APPEAR -- but oh brother is that thing cool!
This is ... this is just silly. So while the Birdman and Agent 23 are battling evil Droids in actual basketball games, Karl Malone is forced to play out some sort of nightmare literal interpretation of his nickname in a far-flung future, in front of a massive crowd ravenous for human blood.
Malone must clearly be the only human(?) player in this game, as they have changed every aspect of basketball to play off the fact that in the (at this point) distant past, someone thought "The Mailman" would be a cute nickname for the guy. Malone is compelled to evade razor-toothed horror hounds -- WHILE CARRYING A MAIL SATCHEL -- and deposit a stamp-covered basketball into a literal mailbox mounted onto a backboard.
I don't think those dogs can even score points. They don't have arms or hands or anything. So what this means is that Malone has to try to dunk this ball into this mailbox (it doesn't appear as though it would be conducive to jump-shots) again and again while evading robot canines that are attempting to tear him to ribbons. If this were anyone other than Karl Malone, this would be unusually cruel. But then again, Malone kind of deserves this future punishment.
Also worth noting:
- "NBA" belt buckle
- Skin-tight, golden hip-armor that accentuates Malone's perfectly smooth crotch
- One of the dogs is wearing No. 28. This card set came out prior to the 1993 season. The only player in all of basketball who wore No. 28 in the years 1989-92 was Andrew Lang of the Phoenix Suns. You think he looked at this card and was like "HEY WAIT A MINUTE YOU DICKS"? Just kidding, no basketball players ever gave these cards more than a cursory glance. Still though, it's fun to think that Marc Silvestri was drawing this card and was just like I'MMA TAKE A JAB AT THAT ASSHOLE LANG.
He makes the play "on time, every time"? So these death-runs are timed, as well? Heavens. Still though; he kinda deserves it. Also, if you wanted to know what basketball prose would look like coming from someone who had never seen a basketball game before, it would be a sentence ending with "constantly striving for the timely delivery of game-winning points."
Whereas on previous cards, people are still clearly playing basketball, here we have a man wielding a morningstar that has been fashioned out of a basketball. For the first time, we have someone actually going into physical battle against these so-called "evil Droids." Finally! But ... hang on here ... but there is still a basketball hoop. What in the
So I guess Dikembe Mutombo is the only person in this futuristic basketball league who is not allowed to play offense? Although I guess if he uses his "Hi-Tech Medieval Mace" (lol) and "Droid-Shredding Shield" to "clear the lanes," what's the point of even having offense? Just send Mutombo in; he'll kill all those droids and then they forfeit. Or something.
Also there is talk in this card text of a robot trying an "intentional foul." I guess Mutombo bashing a Droid's (hopefully) unfeeling circuitry out of his head with a basketball-mace doesn't count as a foul, intentional or otherwise. But you better pray to your Droid God if you should try for a reach-in while this dude is savagely murdering your brethren.
Oh no, they're teaming up! RUN YOU POOR DROIDS THEY ARE GOING TO DROID-GENOCIDE YOU
Let's move onto something more civil, shall we? Are you ready for some nice FaniMation football?
Yep that's Junior Seau punching a Droid-quarterback to absolute smithereens. He doesn't even seem concerned about the loose football. (Wait, is that loose? If you punch a quarterback so hard that his arms fly off and one of those arms falls to the ground still holding the football, is that a fumble? Or is that just a loss of yardage? It seems like it's a fumble, because his knee isn't down or anything. Well, it is down, but it's way up there in the stands. BECAUSE JUNIOR SEAU JUST PUNCHED YOU APART.)
Worth noting: Dikembe Mutombo didn't even warrant a new nickname. They just recycled Seau's nickname from this 1992 set.
Seau has a Titanium Neutron Dismantler that "destroys any on-coming offensive lineman." DESTROYS ANY LINEMAN. Why do the Droids keep signing up for this? Even if they ARE evil, at this point, wouldn't the Droids just be like, "Okay, whatever dudes, go ahead and have the Earth. We'll just keep to ourselves."
Our human 1990s future athletes are so wantonly cruel that it boggles the mind.
These last three cards are spectacularly context-free, but since the backs of the cards haven't really been all that illuminating, we'll just have to use our imagination here. This Troy Aikman card features the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback with glow-hands, the one white guy face that Jim Lee draws, one leg and an enormous bulge.
This is the first card that features a direct standoff and/or the athlete in any sort of realistic danger. Aikman is surrounded on all sides by football Droid guys and he sure is grimace-y about it! This is also the first card that doesn't contain any semblance of a sport being represented. Even that Mutombo card had a basketball net on it. I guess Lee couldn't find a way to shoehorn in a goalpost. Or he doesn't understand that "football." I DREW A 1970s PUNTER FACEMASK ON HIM LAY OFF.
oh hey what's up rob liefeld
BEHOOOOOLLLLD DAN MARINO AND HIS FANTASTIC LEVITATING BALLS
It seems like what ol' Robby L. was going for here was to depict a RoboCop version of Dan Marino going RAAARRRGGGHH so hard that footballs fire out of his shoulder-bazookas all willy-nilly. But what is actually happening is that Marino is just screaming in pain and horror at having been turned into a cyborg while footballs are being thrown AT him. The other team is like IT'S A MONSTER KILL IT and Marino is like I WAS ONCE A MAAAANNNNN and that is pretty exciting. I'd watch that game.
Seriously though those football are supposed to be coming out of those cannons but at least one of the footballs is BEHIND the cannon. Rob Liefeld in "being bad at art" shocker.
I guess it's hard to draw someone being good at being a wide receiver. It's easier to draw someone just lunging forward and vaguely pointing. That's pretty close to what football, right?
Fun fact: Jerry Rice had a severely deformed right hand, with a big fleshy mound for a palm with some vague sticks and nubs jutting out of it all higgledy-piggledy. He also had one tiny foot, with a dislocated ankle that caused it to flop around all crazy. Good of Liefeld to capture those unique characteristics for this "Jerry Rice" card.
Okay! I think we've done a lot of good work here today. Let's all never forget again how terrible the world of comic books was in the early-1990s. If you still have any Image Comics left, you should probably burn them. Then mail the ashes to Rob Liefeld. He'll know what it means.
Additional cards were found via the indispensable website Check Out My Cards.
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