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 V, so if this is your first time here, you can find Volumes 1-4 below:

Volume IVolume II | Volume III | Volume IV

Marvel Masterpieces 2020 is the third set in the Masterpieces line since it was reborn in 2016 and has become a sensation for old and new collectors alike. The bi-annual Marvel Masterpieces series is Palumbo’s largest artistic project to date compromised of more pieces even than his decade long catalog of work for Magic: the Gathering. It’s an incredible accomplishment.

Palumbo announced that he would be the featured artist for the set in July of this year via Instagram, and the physical cards became available to collectors in September. An online “e-Pack” release (more on those here is due out within the next few months, completing the product release for the 2020 run.

This column will cover each of Palumbo’s Marvel Masterpieces illustrations individually, and include artist commentary, bits of collecting information, tidbits 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.

Character Research. Photo: Dave Palumbo

Each 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, in case you’ve heard it before. I wanted to try and replicate Dave’s headspace, so I also listened to the associated song as I wrote each section. 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 V. Let’s begin!


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

Song: Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio

I mentioned earlier that these articles include some notes from the cards themselves, and Dave gives some wonderful insight about his process for Lizard right on the back of the preliminary art card:

“I was thinking about how reptiles like to sunbathe on rocks and felt that was a great scenario for The Lizard. His pose is coiled like a spring, which makes him feel dangerous despite his stillness”

First, I love that Upper Deck has included notes about art and composition directly within the set, and having Dave be able to share these artistic insights with the world really elevates this Masterpiece set beyond that of just trading cards.

Now back to Lizard: we know he is not real, but by bringing in elements of nature from the real world, it helps to make Lizard believable, as if we could find him exactly as we see him here. The Lizard would certainly have reptilian characteristics and habits, but is so often portrayed just destroying things or thrashing about. Showing him as such is a moment of Zen, just in true Lizard style.

Punisher (Base)

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

Song: Bring the Pain by Method Man

“I decided to make the symbol be the focal point of the piece and let his actual face disappear into silhouette.  The myth eclipses the man, which I find accurate to the character. I think the result is very ambiguous as to if he’s hero or villain”

The famed Punisher symbol is the only thing you can see clearly here: not the man, not the weapon, not the surrounding destruction. It’s a perfect encapsulation of Dave’s intention to allow the myth, to literally in shadow, eclipse the man. The reddened and sooty palette suggests surrounding catastrophic destruction, and yet the Punisher continues forward, knowing there is always another fight to be fought. We truly don’t know if he is hero, or villain, or both. Though subtle, this is one of the strongest narrative artworks among all 135 cards.


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

Song: Deeper River by Dusted

Purple is the color most often associated with lightning, and we have that on full display here as Storm harnesses the electric salvo overhead. She’s shown with incredible poise in an almost power stance, triangulated with outstretched arm and cape as her eyes glow with energy. We can’t quite be sure, but it looks like she’s about to send that lightning through the card, and right at us, the viewer.


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

Song: Fortune Days by Glitch Mob

This is one of those paintings you have to keep looking at to pluck out the details, and Dave has given us quite a bit to look at as Magneto rises into the card frame. It was one of those pieces of discovery for him, finding a bit of folly in the furor we see depicted:

“This was more fun than I expected, bending and twisting these girders and supports and cars in the background”

You can almost hear the writhing of the metal in the background, and this jam that goes along provides a supersonic backdrop as Magneto exercises his incredible ability.

Hulk (Canvas Gallery)

Hulk (Canvas Gallery) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Song: Brand New God by Danzig

Dave included three different depictions of Hulk going SMASH throughout the set, and here we catch him in mid-air and mid-disassembly of the plane he’s landed on. It’s a bit hard to see at card size, but here we see the classic Hulk angry-grimace, and a resolute focus to bring that plane down. This is a great action shot that brings a bit of MCU cinematics into the two-dimensions of trading cards.


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

Song: One Slip by Pink Floyd

The intro to the Pink Floyd song Dave chose mimics the sounds of a city asleep at night, and as it breaks into rhythm, our hero takes to the sky. It’s like the opening sequence to a television show. Of course showing a superhero in flight is not atypical, but there’s something different here; he’s made Nighthawk hang in mid-air, as if a snapshot, but with a sense of impending motion, as if he could take off at any second. It’s an emotional back and forth, but in a piece with only one character

Arcade (Base)

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

Song: Joker and the Thief by Wolfmother

** For your safety,  remain seated with the doors closed—keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside while the tram is moving—and please enjoy your day at Murderworld**

That’s right, Dave has given us one of Marvel’s greatest side-story supervillains, and it’s one of his very favorites:

Arcade is inviting us to have a seat in one of his murder rides.  I always loved when Arcade showed up in old X-Men comics because his deathtrap amusement park rides were so fun.

You heard that correctly: fun, deathtrap, murder ride, all in the same sentence. For those unfamiliar, Arcade’s villainous ways are through elaborate deathtrap amusement rides and dangerous games of chance, and we’ve been given a personal invitation and front row seat to our very own. Only thing to do now is turn up that awesome anxiety inducing soundtrack and hold on for dear life.

Mysterio (Base)

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

Song: The Horror by RJD2

“If Mysterio is all about special effects and illusion, I wanted this piece to have an abundance of studio lights as if we’re seeing behind the curtain.  It’s all smoke and mirrors (mostly smoke really)”

This is one of my favorite pieces for exactly the reason Dave explains: it’s an incredible piece of storytelling. Believe it or not this painting gives us the narrative of this character’s backstory, his fall into crime, and his ascension to supervillain, all in a single artwork and to a super soundtrack that is just a perfect fit.

You’ll be seeing and hearing much more about this work in a later article, as this is one of the two pieces I bought for my personal collection. Stay tuned for that in a few months:

Thanos (Canvas Gallery)

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

Song: Genesis by Justice

The second iteration of Thanos in this set is his Canvas Gallery rendition, and what a cool effect Dave has created to accentuate the Infinity Gauntlet. His glowing eyes match the stones set within, and their shine spread out across the work, blindingly bright. Is this is the last thing you see before the Snap? Or perhaps the first thing after.

Daredevil vs. Typhoid Mary

Daredevil vs. Typhoid Mary by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: N/A (Battle Spectra)

Does anyone have a more complicated romantic life than Daredevil?

That’s a fantastic question, and the tension Palumbo has created in this piece is to die for. Are they gonna kiss, or is Daredevil about to get stabbed? Or both? Could be both. Anyway, we’ve been made an intimate observer of this face to face encounter, and I for one can’t wait to see how it plays out.

This is one of the few remaining originals Dave still has available. I really can’t believe this one didn’t get picked up, so if you’re reading this and you like it even more now, head over to the gallery page to make it your own.

Namor (Holofoil)

Namor (Holofoil) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes

Namor is one of the original Golden Age superheroes who predates Marvel comics themselves, appearing in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939) while the publishing company was still Timely Comics. There isn’t a whole lot of water present within this set, but Palumbo captures this breach of the Sub-Mariner beautifully, and his rendering of the salt spray surrounding the superhero is just fantastic.

Again, another original art alert. Both the original painting and preliminary oil sketch (the only one left directly from Dave) are still available for purchase. They can be found here and here if you’d like to add him to you wall.

Namor (Preliminary), oil on board, 5” x 7”

Jack Flag

Jack Flag by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Gary O’Kane by Gluecifer

This was another fairly new character for me that required some homework. Flag is a patriotic hero in the same vein as Captain America, first appearing in 1994 as a part of the Super Soldier’s larger network of crime prevention. I love the dynamic pose Palumbo has created, and against a minimalist background it forces focus onto Flag. As he turns to face the viewer, the dust surrounding his legs grounds him squarely in his hometown of the Arizona desert.

Captain Marvel vs. Supreme Intelligence

Captain Marvel vs. Supreme Intelligence by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: N/A (Battle Spectra)

This enlivened artificial intelligence and leader of the Kree alien race has been tormenting Captain Marvel since the late 1960s, and has most recently appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2019’s Captain Marvel. Dave has made the otherworldly being larger than life as it encompasses the entire background of the card, and you can see the absolute anguish on the face of Captain Marvel as the mental attack ensures. This work is jam-packed full of drama, as she literally hangs in the balance of this battle.

Man Thing

Man Thing by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel 12” x 16”

Song: Orion by Zombi

Just look at those eyes.

Physically Palumbo’s depiction of the Man Thing leans more man than monster, seen as it emerges from the swamps of the Florida Everglades. But he’s taken the character’s signature solid red eyes and steeped with so much emotion they’re the first thing you see. You’re locked in and can’t look away, even as the creature draws nearer with every step. The Zombi song playing off in the distance is the perfect pair of alien music, driving home that otherworldly feeling of angst.

Ego, the Living Planet

Ego, The Living Planet by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Dream is Collapsing by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe

My Dad (the model for this piece) was a huge Marvel collector and his collection got me started reading comics.  I had to find a way to bring him into my set.

When the initial checklist came out for the 2020 Marvel Masterpieces set, the inclusion of Ego was one of the most curious, and I absolutely love that it was because Dave wanted to dedicate a card in this set to his Dad. As far as I can tell Ego has never appeared in a Masterpieces set, and that makes it a little extra special. It’s another exceptional depiction of space from Palumbo, and an image we’ll associate with this character for a long time, if not forever.

Wrapping Up

And so ends Volume V. Be those heroes, villains, beasts or battles, the artworks above hold some of the best stories of the entire set. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these Marvel Masterpieces, when coupled with their associated songs and artist anecdotes, become so much more than trading card art. It’s a rare moment of transcendence and is something the like I’ve never seen before. It’s special.

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 are still available, plus the single preliminary I mentioned earlier. If you’re thinking about one, or on the fence, I wouldn’t wait too much longer.

Additionally, you can follow along as Dave posts these artworks on both his Instagram page as well as within his ongoing “Playlist” Instagram story. And for you aspiring artists, he just announced his SmArt School mentorship class that begins Spring 2021.

We’ve got four articles to go following this one before we’ve looked at the entire 135 card set, and I’ve got a fun few appedices to keep this column going well into next year. 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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