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Marvel Beginnings Box Break (Upper Deck, 2011)

Product Rating: ****1/2
Box Rating: ***1/2

Marvel Comics has been well represented in the hobby over the years. While I wouldn't define myself as a big-time chaser of the crossover products, I've put a few sets together and have my eye on one day going after a couple of the vintage sets. That being said, since I first heard about Upper Deck's Marvel Beginnings, I've been intrigued. The plans for the set is ambitious: three different 180-card series to make up one massive 540-card master set. So you've not just getting Spider-man, Captain America and the Fantastic Four here. There was also the promise of holograms, something I freely admit to having a bit of a fanboy glee for (although this later turned to dismay when further details were released and the combination of tough odds and a massive hologram checklist made it clear I wasn't going to be building the set). A handful of other fun inserts and sketch cards only confirmed my interest in the set. And now that I've busted a box, I can say that although I encountered a couple of quirks, my thoughts of this being an ambitious release were certainly confirmed.

The Marvel Beginnings series is a trading card encyclopedia of Marvel characters. All 180 cards in the base set are focused on the heroes, villains and personalities that populate the comic books. While there's plenty of big names, there's also a lot of B- and C-list characters as well. Although some of the bigger names aren't here (the classic Spider-man comes to mind), it shows Upper Deck's planned the thing out.

Card fronts have two different pictures of the highlighted character. The first is a bold modern incarnation, while the smaller inset picture shows them as they first appeared. For most, this offers a cool balance between modern comics and nostalgia. Card backs are cleanly laid out with a cover picture from the character's first issue, key "stats" and a short bio. All the essentials are here. At 180 cards, it's impossible to get a full base set out of a box. But there's enough going on with the overall release that multi-box purchases are fun. Plus, it might help the set hold a bit of value and encourage trading.

As great as the base set is, it's the huge mix of great insert sets that really makes Marvel Beginnings stand out. The combination of tough odds and huge checklists have made some rather pricey. From a collecting standpoint, I'm partial to a couple of the easier inserts.

Falling one per pack, Breakthrough Issues highlights some of the most important comics in Marvel's long history. I'm not a big fan of the borders on the front the anchor the cover shot, but the card backs give the perfect amount of the issues' stats and a brief synopsis. At 45 cards in the set, it'll take a couple boxes and a little luck to finish a set. Many of the cards in the set also have an autographed parallel with the signatures from different creators. The autograph cards come in a penny sleeve with an additional card that acts as a certificate of authenticity, complete with matching hologram.

My two favorite insert sets were also two of the easiest ones to get. Every pack contains either an X-Men Die Cut or a Micromotion card. Both sets look great and both are huge. So even with the easy insertion rates, they're difficult to put together. At 45 cards, the X-Men set would take four boxes without any extras, while the 60-card Micromotion set would take five boxes.

As I've already mentioned, I'm a sucker for the hologram. They're what grabbed my attention when they were first announced. That said, at 42 cards in the set falling one in three boxes, I was expecting something pretty special. Instead you get a standard character shot with a generic tiled Marvel Beginnings background. The look all right, but not something I'm about to gush over. And for those handful brave enough to go after the set, you've got my respect.

Besides the Breakthrough Issues Autographs, other hits include sketch cards, printing plates and Ultimate Panel cards, featuring actual panels from historic issues. Think of them as the comic card equivalent of a game-used jersey card in baseball. I didn't get one, nor did I get a printing plate, but I did get a sketch card. It's a nice sketch card with a penciled Havok done by Jake Minor. It's a standout card with one problem. A major problem. It's from the wrong set. The card stock is from one of Upper Deck's earlier Marvel Masterpieces sets. Sure, a character's a character, but it's a bit deflating on a couple of fronts. First, how did it make its way into packs. Yes, cards are held back for replacement purposes. But it's a different thing to have it put into packs. It brings the limited nature of cards into question, even if official numbers aren't released. Hopefully this was an isolated incident and I haven't heard of it happening elsewhere. So while it's a great card, I'd just have preferred it be from the set I busted the box of.

Completists are bound to be completely frustrated by Marvel Beginnings. Me, I love it. I'm not a huge Marvel collector and normally wouldn't buy a full box of one set, let alone consider a second or even third. The combination of a set that's a challenge to put together, yet attainable, and a big mix of insert attractive sets make this one of the most value-laden entertainment card releases in some time. With so many Marvel-themed sets battling it out for shelf space right now, Marvel Beginnings is a definite standout.

Box Breakdown:

Base Set (180 cards): 118
Doubles: 0


Breakthrough Issues (45 cards, 1:1): 24
Breakthrough Issues Autographs (45 cards, 1:72): 0
Holograms (42 cards, 1:72): 1
Micromotion (60 cards, 1:2): 12
Printing Plates: 0
Sketch Cards (1:72 packs): 1 (although it's not from this set)
Ultimate Panel Cards (1:72 packs): 0
X-Men Die Cuts (45 cards, 1:2): 12

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