Good morning, and welcome back to Masterpiece Theater, a new column on Hipsters of the Coast exploring Dave Palumbo’s artwork from the 2020 Marvel Masterpieces trading card set. This is Volume IV, so if you’re joining us for the first time, you can find Volumes 1-3 below:

Volume IVolume II | Volume III

Marvel Masterpieces 2020 is the third set since Upper Deck reignited the now bi-annual Marvel Masterpieces series, and this was a project for Palumbo two years in the making. He worked on the 135 illustrations from 2018-2020, and managed to eclipse the volume of even his most prolific ten year career with Magic: the Gathering.

One by one he checked them off on his mirror. Photo: Dave Palumbo.

Palumbo first announced the set in July of this year via Instagram, and the cards became available to collectors in September, rising quickly to being perhaps the most popular Masterpieces set of all time. This column will cover each of Palumbo’s Marvel Masterpieces illustrations individually, and include artist commentary, bits of collecting information and information from the back of the cards themselves—and as always, a ton of stellar artwork. For each article Dave and I will look at fifteen or so illustrations until we’ve gone through all 135.

As I’ve been doing, each following entry will include the full artwork, as well as the song Dave used while he was painting. Each painting was paired with a song from Palumbo’s extensive music catalog, and the work wasn’t complete until he felt it fully reflective of the song he chose. I should note there are no songs for the Battle Spectra scenes, and duplicate appearances of the same character have the same song. For full immersion, I also listened to the associated song as I wrote each section, and I highly encourage you to do the same: hit play and then look back at the artwork and read the caption for full effect.

It’s time for Volume IV. Let’s begin!

Thanos (Base)

Thanos (Base) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Genesis by Justice

We begin today with an ominous tune for perhaps the greatest of all villains in both the Marvel comic and cinematic universes (more on that here—the skulls you see are not unfounded). Dave took extra special care in making this worst of all bad guys larger than life, a true menace of imposing stature:

When I think of Thanos, it seems he’s just cloaked in mass destruction and death. Showing him in this landscape of skulls felt right, but to be looking up from among the skulls to really exaggerate his strength and presence. The energy portal behind him shifts through the colors of the Infinity Stones.

From the in your face skull socket in the bottom right to the rainbow of Infinity behind, Thanos is indeed the worst, and this is one of the best artworks in the entire set.

Grey Gargoyle

Grey Gargoyle by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Can’t Tell Me Nothin’  by Kanye West

We talked about pinup depictions in regard to Spider Queen last time, but when I asked Dave about this work, he said this is probably the most “cheesecake” of them all. He’s just a bad guy enjoying his spoils, listening to some Kanye, and not giving two flips about what might be happening outside those windows.

Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel 12” x 16”

Song: Love Theme from Chinatown by Jerry Goldsmith

“I’ve always felt Howard was under-appreciated. There are a lot of nods to classic noir and detective here, in particular Howard’s coat and pose mimicking Bogart (minus the cigarette).”

This character and song combination was one of the driving forces behind this article series. When I heard this play as a part of Dave’s Instagram Story playlist, I was immediately transported into the scene, where Howard becomes the 1940s private eye and evokes all that noir nostalgia goodness from those days gone by. You can see how Bogart was the historical model for this piece below, and this is one of my favorite paintings of the entire set.

Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon (1941)

Legion vs. Shadowking

Legion vs. Shadowking by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: N/A (Battle Spectra)

These are both characters I was largely unfamiliar with, so I had to hit the (comic) books here first. We see Legion in the foreground, the son of Charles Xavier (Professor X), who is often the antihero suffering from a form of dissociative identity disorder. He’s locked in marionette-esque telepathic battle with the supervillain Shadow King. Legion has become a literal puppet of this gargantuan bad guy, and Palumbo’s color palette suggests we are witness to this scene within that very same telepathic realm.

Thor (Base)

Thor (Base) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Song: Through the Fire and the Flames by Dragon Force

We catch Thor flying in between the edges of the card, and this is another Palumbo painting where the song starts this work in motion. The shredding guitar is the wind, blinding stage lights are lightning, and the pounding base is the thunder. Imagine Dave in his studio with this cranked up to 11, painting wildly. What a perfect song for the God of Thunder, and another brilliant representation of how this process creates such a cool artistic package once complete.


Deadpool by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Song: Is That All There Is? by Peggy Lee

“Deadpool was such a tricky tone to capture. It feels to me like a weird mix of childishness and dangerousness and just enough wholesomeness, all through a humorous lens. After a long time mulling, I ended up with making s’mores on the middle of an apocalypse.”

I’m not sure what sort of hoops Palumbo’s mind had to jump through to arrive at apocalypse s’mores, but I’m really glad he did. This painting keeps giving the closer you look. A skull. Graham cracker box. Another skull. Boom box. He’s wearing a backpack. Something just exploded. Crisscross applesauce. Another explosion.

While this all may seem simplistic, remember these elements were all created and assembled from nothing. This is a brilliant mix of exactly what Dave describes, and a fun composition for such a complex character.


Bullseye by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Time is Running Out by Elliot Goldenthal

We’ve caught up with Bullseye in what appears in mid-chase: notice the lighting on his right side, almost as if a helicopter spotlight, as he dashes across the rooftop. The tilted perspective throws the viewer off balance as the bad guy gets ready to change direction, and most likely let loose that lethal projectile in his hand.

Cable (Base)

Cable (Base) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Lockdown by Paul Leonard Morgan

This is the Palumbo’s other depiction of Cable, (we saw the first in Volume I, and it’s become a fan favorite piece of the entire group. I love the harsh lighting on his gun and mechanical arm, accentuating the very things that make Cable who he is, all while shrouded in smoke from whatever he just annihilated in the background.

Luke Cage

Luke Cage by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Who Did That To You by John Legend

This is a fighting song for a character with a whole lot of fight. Known in the early comics as the “Hero for Hire,” we get Cage squared up and ready to brawl—even after it appears something may have just fell on him, or been broken over his head. (He’s got superhuman strength and unbreakable skin though, don’t worry.) I really like how this painting works as the What If comic cover variant you can find in packs; it’s both subtle and seamless, and just plain fits.

Luke Cage’s “What If?” variant.


Jigsaw by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Hell Is Round The Corner by Tricky

“I wanted a fade to white initially because I was kind of taken with the white suit, but as the piece developed it took on a feeling like being on an operating table. Jigsaw stands over us with a knife and everything else washes out to white, which felt appropriately scary.”

This is a scary work indeed, and that’s actually Dave’s face you see rearranged to create the longtime villain of the Punisher and Spider Man. The white on white fade makes this one of the starkest pieces of the set, and the work immediately jumps out of the pack as you open it. The original art was still available for purchase as of the writing of this article, meaning you could have Jigsaw standing over you all the time. You know, if you wanted.

Jigsaw on Palumbo’s ease

Green Goblin (Holofoil)

Green Goblin (Holofoil) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Song: Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne

All aboard the Crazy Train once again! This is Green Goblin’s holofoil appearance in the 2020 set. Compositionally it’s as if we’re in a 4D theme park ride, and Gobby is about to break that card frame and go soaring over our heads. Once again we get that great sense of motion, seen in the smoke trail from the ever-recognizable Goblin Glider and accelerated by the song choice. Heads up!

The Hood

The Hood by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Narcos by Migos

The Hood is a fairly recent addition to the Marvel catalog, appearing for the first time less than twenty years ago in The Hood #1 (2002). A mystic and marksmen, the cloak he wears also grants him invisibility. Palumbo has translated each of these elements into a clean, minimalistic depiction of the criminal mastermind. Sometimes simpler is better, and this is a super clean painting of a new, contemporary villain.


Graviton by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Conquest of Spaces by Woodkid

“I was just starting to discover how fun color shifting my background is with this piece and I love the result it gave.”

This was one of the first pieces Dave created when he began the commission back in 2018, and the color shifting he’s talking about has created that feeling of those rocks being lifted into zero gravity. The gradient spectrum figuratively lifts the entire work, and at the same time harmonizes with the costume, tying the whole piece together. This might not be an A list character, but it’s an A+ painting.

Baron Zemo

Baron Zemo by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel 12” x 16”

Song: Iron by Woodkid

It’s easy to miss at card size, but I want to draw your attention below Baron’s sword. Those are figures, subjects with offerings of fire as they are mimicking the flame themselves. With this metal song playing in the background, we see and feel the literal rising of royalty, a new chapter in the line of Zemo. This work is beautiful and ominous, just like any supervillain story should be.


Kraven by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Honey Bee Let’s Fly To Mars by Grinderman

“My model for this piece (Pat King) had some Marvel cosplay outfits and we actually shot reference using his Kraven costume, which added a real cool extra layer.”

Our last entry is a bit of an art departure. Dave shot reference photos for all of these 135 pieces, and actor, model and stuntman Pat King sat for more than twenty of them in total. You can see him as the Deadpool, Baron Zemo, and Hood characters we looked at earlier, as well as the Sinister Six hunter Kraven we have here. Having a professional like Pat was instrumental in capturing appropriate reference, and helped Dave create the realism masterpieces we get in this set.

And in serendipitous fashion, when Pat opened up his own box of Marvel Masterpieces 2020, wearing his Kraven vest and sitting below the original painting, he opened a rare Metallurgy version of the card.

Wrapping Up

And so ends Volume IV. This was a wildly varied group, and we got a little bit of everything that makes this set what it is: great reference (both live and historical), songs that set still life in motion, and once again those elemental details that you might miss at card size, but that make these works exemplary as full-size illustrations.

If you’d like to see all 135 works in a single three page gallery, you can find that here, along with information on which pieces are available for purchase and those that have already been sold. As of the writing of this article, only ten or so paintings remain available for purchase, along with a handful of preliminary works offered for the first time yesterday. More on those in a future article.

Additionally, you can follow along as Dave posts these artworks on both his Instagram as well as within his ongoing “Playlist” Instagram story.

This being the fourth article puts us almost halfway through the 135 artworks. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey thus far, and you can keep up with all things Marvel Masterpieces 2020 by following me on Twitter. Feel free to ask questions or retweet to continue the conversation. Thanks and see you next time!

Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic art since 2017. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums, and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!

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