A Brief History of Superman Trading Cards
Most people connect Superman with comics and movies. And while there are tons of collectibles centered on the Man of Steel, Superman trading cards are among the most popular. Because he has been around so long and in so many formats, the variety of sets is tremendous. Superman comics, TV shows and movies all have dedicated sets.
No matter what types of cards you prefer or what your budget is, Superman can fit into any collection. Early sets can be extremely pricey for those who venture into professionally graded cards. But for those perfectly content with dinged corners and the occasional crease, prices are much more reasonable. The 1990s had dedicated sets to specific storylines from the time. In these sets, the inserts often shine, especially those with long odds.
Recent Superman trading cards have introduced more collectible elements like autographs, memorabilia cards and sketch cards that have original artwork drawn directly on them.
We've outlined the most popular sets of Superman trading cards. Use the tabs at the top to navigate between different types of cards.
Early Superman Trading Cards
The first set of Superman trading cards, this set focuses on the early comic styles. The set has a total of 72 cards, the final 24 of which are believed to be short printed. Putting together a full set can get very expensive as even moderately conditioned cards can sell for a fair bit. Click here for a more detailed look at the set, including a full checklist.
Based on the 1950s television show starring George Reeves, this set shows how goofy the series looks by today's standards. While the characters are definitely human, the costumes, sets and captions all lend themselves to something much more comic book-like. And that was the point. A complete set of 1966 Topps Superman trading cards has 66 cards. You can get a more in-depth look at the set and a full checklist here.
1968 Topps Superman in the Jungle is perhaps the iconic hero's rarest set of trading cards, at least the Topps version. Consisting of 66 cards, the set also had a 16-piece puzzle that was painted by Norm Saunders, a hobby legend for such sets as Mars Attacks and Civil War News. A near set of 59 cards sold for $5,975 in February, 2013. There is a much more common version of the set though released through A&BC in Britain.
Superman Trading Cards Go to the Movies
Throughout the early part of the 1970s, there weren't a lot of Superman trading cards for people to collect. This changed in a big way in 1978 with the release of Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeve. The set had two different series, each focusing largely on the set's action as well as some publicity shots. A complete set of both series has 165 base cards, 16 stickers and 12 foil stickers. Click here for a detailed look at the set.
Drake's Cakes also produced trading cards for Superman: The Movie. The set has 24 cards. You could find one in specially marked Drake's family packs of baked goods and cakes. Images in the set overlap with those used in the Topps set.
For the blockbuster sequel, Topps opted for a single series of 88 cards and 22 stickers. This is very much in line with other entertainment sets the card maker was doing at the time. Widely available, these are among the most affordable Superman trading cards on the market.
1983 Topps Superman III brought Christopher Reeve back to the hobby for a third time. This time he's joined by late comedy legend Richard Pryor. The checklist has 99 cards and 22 stickers, up slightly from Superman II. Like the previous film's set, these remain very cheap, likely due to a large supply and the overall lack of popularity of the film.
After taking a long break from the big screen, Superman Returns was intended to be his big comeback following the disastrous Superman IV (which didn't even get a set of cards). While the movie brought mediocre results, both at the box office and critically, 2006 Topps Superman Returns is a very solid set for a modern audience. Hobby boxes have a pair of costume cards. Memorabilia from the set include swatches of Superman's cape, his outfit and Clark Kent's trademark trench coat. However, the big hits are autographs. Brandon Routh, who played Superman, signed as did Kate Bosworth. But the biggest signature in the set is, by far, Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey who played Lex Luthor in the film.
Of the modern Superman films, Man of Steel is just the second without a set of trading cards.
Tuning in to Superman Trading Cards
Ever since George Reeves donned the iconic cape, Superman television shows have been well represented on trading cards. When Superman was rebooted for modern audiences in the mid-90s with Lois & Clark, the ensuing trading card release got an equally modern take. The base set has 90 cards and six tattoos. Nine Diffuser Chip Foil cards (1:7 packs) showcase stars Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in what can best be described as intimate poses. Six Holochip Prismatic Foil cards (1:15 packs) feature the artwork of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.
1996 Fleer/SkyBox Superman Action Packs is a low-end set based on the cartoon that aired in the 1990s. The checklist includes basic cards, coloring cards, pop-outs and puzzle cards, making it very hands-on for young collectors. Packs also come with a piece of gum, although it's likely to be dubbed Gum of Steel by now.
Inkworks produced separate sets for each of the first six seasons of Smallville. While each did a nice job of recapping the episodes, the big draws for many were the costume cards and autographs. While lead star Tom Welling never had an autograph in any of the sets, the majority of the main cast did at some point. These include Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor), Erica Durance (Lois Lane) and Allison Mack (Chloe). So too did many key guest stars such as Margot Kidder and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Dukes of Hazzard fans can look for separate autographs of John Schneider and Tom Wopat.
2012 Cryptozoic Smallville Seasons 7-10
When Inkworks went out of business, they left the Smallville line in limbo. Cryptozoic stepped in and finished off the series with one final set. It was also one of their first. Every box has an autograph and two costume cards. Signers for the set include Laura Vandervoort, James Marsters and Tori Spelling. There are also a handful of prominent signers from other Superman film and TV projects, such as Terence Stamp and Dean Cain. Here's a more detailed look at the set and checklist.
It was big news when DC decided to kill Superman. So big that the story got its own trading card set. 1992 SkyBox Doomsday: The Death of Superman has a 100-card set consisting of 90 base cards, nine puzzle cards and a checklist. Inserts include four different Memorial Tribute Spectra cards (1:18 packs) and a pair of foil puzzle cards (1:36 packs).
You didn't think Superman would stay dead, did you? A compliment to the Doomsday set, 1993 SkyBox Return of Superman charts the story surrounding the Man of Steel rising once again. He's joined alongside a handful of wannabe Supermen. The 100-card base set is complimented by four Embossed Foil cards (1:36 packs). Another foil card was offered via a special redemption card that was found in every other box.
This over-sized, tall boy-style set has slightly different hobby and retail versions. The more upscale hobby edition has silver embossed foil borders. Retail cards do not. All 90 base cards feature painted artwork. Retail packs have six Spectra-Etch Foil card (1:7 packs). Hobby inserts include four Forged in Steel cards (1:18 packs). These distinct cards are done entirely in embossed foil. A Man of Steel holographic SkyDisc is included 1:120 packs.
Like holograms? As the name suggests, 1996 Fleer/SkyBox Superman Holo Series is filled with them, even the base set. Base cards are silver. Depending on where the packs came from, there are Gold, Bronze and Red parallel versions. Inserts include four HoloAction cards and one HoloCel.
2013 Cryptozoic Superman: The Legend looks at the broad universe Superman inhabits. The base set breaks down the many characters and places Superman interacts with. It features all-new artwork and a sketch card in every box. One of the most comprehensive sets of Superman trading cards, there are also other basic inserts as well. Click here for a comprehensive look at the set including a full checklist.
Besides these sets of Superman trading cards, the hero also appears in several sets that focus on the broader DC Universe and the Justice League. However, in these sets, he plays a small part in something much bigger. 2012 Cryptozoic DC Comics the New 52, 2009 Rittenhouse Justice League Archives and 2003 Inkworks Justice League are some of the more recent examples.