Good morning, and welcome back to Masterpiece Theater on Hipsters of the Coast in 2021 as we continue exploring Dave Palumbo’s artwork from the 2020 Marvel Masterpieces trading card set. This is Volume VII, so if this is your first time here there’s a bit of catching up to do. You can find Volumes 1-6 below:

Volume IVolume II | Volume III | Volume IV | Volume V | Volume VI

Marvel Masterpieces 2020 is the latest iteration in the bi-annual Marvel Masterpieces series, following in the footsteps of the 2016 set by Joe Jusko and the 2018 set by Simone Bianchi. What makes the Marvel Masterpieces line special is they are illustrated by a single artist, and this year Dave Palumbo was tapped for the immense undertaking.

Palumbo announced that he would be the featured artist for the set in July of last year via Instagram, and his contribution is the largest artistic project to date for the artist. Just this single set is comprised of more pieces than his decade long catalog of work for Magic: the Gathering. The physical cards became available to collectors in September, and an online “e-Pack” release (more on those here) is due out in the coming months.

This column will cover each of Palumbo’s Marvel Masterpieces illustrations individually, and for each article Dave and I will look at fifteen or so illustrations until we’ve gone through all 135. I’ll include artist commentary, bits of collecting information, tidbits from the back of the cards themselves, and as always, a ton of stellar artwork. We even get to look at the piece that graced both the booster pack and booster box in particular edition.

Each entry will include the published artwork as well as the song Dave used while he was painting. Each painting has its own musical cue from Palumbo’s personal music catalog, and the work wasn’t complete until he felt it fully reflective of the song he chose. As in previous volumes, there are no songs for the Battle Spectra scenes; duplicate appearances of the same character have the same song, in case you’ve heard it before. In order to replicate Dave’s headspace, I also listened to the song as I wrote each entry, 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 VII. Let’s begin!

Captain America (Holofoil)

Captain America (Holofoi) by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Song: Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti

We pick up today’s article with the same character as we left off, but in stark contrast. What was full solemnity is now full steam ahead, and this song is the most Cap song there could possibly be. It’s another brilliant example of how many of Palumbo’s characters come literally bursting through the frame, and it’s also filled with the fire I’ve gushed about previous editions; Dave’s rendering of fire is wildly unique, and just fantastic.

Palumbo did a Muddy Color blog post about the actual art execution of this painting, and it’s thirteen minutes of technical wet media goodness. He takes us from the preliminary oil sketch forward, with artist commentary the entire way. It’s a must watch:

Colossus (Base)

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

Song: Princes of the Universe by Queen

“This was something of an homage to cheesy 80s action movies, which feels appropriate to me, while also connecting threads to Colossus’s origin as a simple Russian farmer. I wanted a piece that captured ‘strong’ and ‘noble’.”

Again we get a perfect song cue: imagine this anthem blasting as Colossus emerges over the snowy countryside: strong, powerful, and undoubtedly a hero. The gigantic tree he’s holding juxtaposed against the tiny cabin in the background give us a sense of scale for the massive mutant, and the stark white of the snow makes his steel body shine all the brighter. This is as much a classic portrait that could hang over Colossus’ own fireplace, as a piece of comic art. Being able to serve both artistic functions is something you just don’t find.

Colossus (Holofoil)

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

Song: Princes of the Universe by Queen

We’re going back to back Colossi with the other version of this character found in the set, this one the holofoil insert and in fitting chromatic splendor. We’re zoomed all the way in tight, and get a full frontal exposition on how to paint metal and the precise lighting it takes to make it appear as if real. As Dave describes it, this was “a really fun study in texture and simplicity,” and is one of his favorites. It’s even one of the paintings he kept in his personal collection.

Black Panther (Canvas Gallery)

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

Song: Mombasa by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe

I love this song choice for Black Panther: it’s as much Wakandan as it is contemporary cinema. The last time we found our King dashing through the forest, knives glimmering in the jungle sun. But here he descends from the rooftop on an urban prowl, with the updated costume and cowl and his weapons still out and at the ready. You can feel him falling through the sky as he drops to meet his enemy, a billowing cape perpetuating that great sense of motion and eyes focused directly at you as the viewer.


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

Song: Battle of the Mounds Pt1 by Basil Poledouris

It sounds silly, but as I was wholly unfamiliar with the Marvel Hercules prior to his inclusion in this set; I had no idea that it was literally a fictional representation of the hero from Greek mythology. We have a Classic depiction of a hero of might as opposed to magic, set amongst topped capitals and columns, somewhere far off in the Mediterranean sun. The soundtrack evokes those epic movies of the 1950s and 60s that tell these age-old stories of ancient history (even through it’s actually Conan the Barbarian), and is again a spot on match for making Hercules appear the hero of legend he is.

Namor (Base)

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

Song: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes

“I feel like Namor vs battleships and destroyers are a classic combination, so I wanted to see him surging up from the sea with these massive weapons left behind like small toys.”

Namor is one of the OG Marvel heroes, created in 1939 for Timely Comics before these stories were even known under the Marvel name. This setting places the character at a concrete point in the history of the real world, as well as their personal history in WWII, and we come to the Sub Mariner as he springs from the sea and prepares to plummet towards the battle below. I’ll again draw your attention to the capturing of the salt spray as he emerges; that’s tough stuff to do in oils, but gives Namor the feeling of motion he needs to blend the imaginative with the real.

This painting is one of a very few left available for purchase, and is one of those that this character will be remembered by for years to come. It’s certainly worth a look.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Song: Anarchy X by Queensryche

“This one really wanted to feel optimistic and exciting while creating a connection to her Air Force backstory. I think this is one of my favorite song cue matches; it really perfectly embodied the tone.”

A great song match indeed, that when set amongst those very planes she used to fly, and a perfect mirroring pose, pays perfect homage to her Air Force history. It’s easy to miss at card size but make sure you look close at the top and bottom of this work. In the bottom left a co-pilot’s helmet furthers the narrative, and at the top a rainbow, to reinforce those vibes of positivity. This is a great piece of multi-sensory storytelling.


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

Song: Gun Shop/Reese in the Alley (Brad Fiedel)

“I wanted this to feel scary in the way that running is only going to buy you time, but there’s no real escape. The floating sentinels feel almost like sharks to me, calmly drifting and searching.”

Ominous and otherworldly, the floating Sentinels are massive and almost suffocating, the denizens of a police state, Big Brother incarnate. The distress can be seen from the figures in the foreground, and the work gives even the stoutest of audiences a feeling of unease. The yellow of their tractor beams contrast perfectly to the blue of the night sky, making this work one of the most visually stimulating images in the series, and it’s as beautiful as it is frightening. It could be a sci-fi cover straight out of the 1950s, and in doing so is one of my favorite What If variants seen below:

The “What If?” version of the Sentinels.


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

Song: Raining Blood by Slayer

The newest addition to the Marvel Universe from this selection is the son of Hulk, Skaar, and was another character I wasn’t yet familiar with. Resembling his Big Green Machine father, Palumbo has given us a very metal action shot, supported by an equally metal song, as our character fights a metal . . . whatever that thing is. It sure looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Thor (Canvas Gallery)

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

Song: Through the Fire and the Flames by Dragonforce

Thor’s second character card comes as a Canvas Gallery variant, where the physical card is done in a matte finish as if to emulate a canvas oil painting. To suit, we see a much calmer and more serene Odinson, set against what’s either a sunrise or sunset, heroically looking off into the distance. We see almost his entire body, and the choice facilitates the larger than life heroism of the God of Thunder. This is another example of classic portraiture meets comic art, and you just love to see it.

Phoenix Force

Phoenix Force by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: No Time for Caution by Hans Zimmer

This Zimmer soundtrack sets the stage for an unprecedented rising, noted on the preliminary art card as what could be an early or even the first appearance of Dark Phoenix to the X-Men. And even beyond, this is a painting that is much more than meets the eye. We get fantastic fire again, yes, but look closer, in the foreground. Dave explains exactly what is going on:

“Originally I planned this as a view from an alien planet just before being consumed by the Phoenix (I half-correctly remembered this scene from the Dark Phoenix saga) but switched to a smaller scale after feedback from my art director Sam. You can just pick out details in the silhouettes to identify them as 70s era X-Men. Nightcrawler is featured in the original but had to be changed to Banshee as the request of Upper Deck.”

You can see the subtle change in the final card, all but unnoticeable unless you know what you’re looking for

Nick Fury

Nick Fury by Dave Palumbo, oil on panel, 12” x 16”

Song: Run Fay Run by Isaac Hayes

MCU fans know him as Director Fury, but Palumbo has given us full-on Howling Commando Nick Fury, mid-jump and right in the thick of the action all set to a groovy 1970s musical backdrop that would’ve played as someone was reading his appearance for the first time. Dave told me a bit more about this work, and some of the challenges it created.

“I felt unsure about this one when I was finishing it but it’s grown on me. I really wanted to see Nick Fury throwing himself into the action but looking super in control at the same time. Compositionally, this one was trickier than I’d anticipated trying to place the supporting figures and their ropes in just the right places.”

Man Wolf

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

Song: All Hell Breaks Loose by The Misfits

Every good universe has a werewolf (think about it), and Marvel’s comes as John Jameson’s Man-Wolf. Palumbo has included a lot of classic werewolf tropes in this piece, from a full moon to the gothic architecture in the background, up to the howl you can hear even over the musical cue for this artwork.


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

Song: Pusherman by Curtis Mayfield

“I know it’s been done to death showing a tight portrait of Kingpin, but I’m only human and I could not resist.”

Can you blame him? Kingpin is shown fireside in an opulent and luxurious living space, perhaps a grand ballroom, or an opera box, or a secret lair deep within the city. His face is shrouded in shadow, cold and brooding, but unmistakable all the same. He’s one of my favorite villains, and I’m not the least bit sad that Dave went with this classic capture. It gives you the shivers, and that’s a good thing.

Venom (Holofoil)

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

Song: Blinded by Fear by At The Gates

As hinted in the introduction, this is one of the most important pieces in the entire set, as it was used for both the box artwork and the booster pack wrapping on the entire physical 2020 Marvel Masterpieces product.

Just as in his other depiction of Venom, this is an ambush, the hunter finding the hunted. Only this time an attack from above, within the city, and it’s already too late. Army and legs splayed, he’s right on top of you, and you don’t stand a chance. It’s a perfect image for the box and pack.

I was fortunate to be able to grab each of the process photos from Dave’s interview with the Marvel Card Collector Podcast. We can watch Venom transform before our very eyes, from initial sketch to preliminary artwork, to his final appearance on a pack of cards.

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Wrapping Up

And that’s that on Volume VII, our first of 2021. This edition is really a highlight reel of those musical cues Dave has used to reinforce his artwork and ensure each evokes the appropriate emotions of the stories he trying to tell. As I mentioned I listen to each song as I write each section, and it’s incredible how words and thoughts flow from my fingertips once that headspace is created. The songs are just an amazing addition to an already incredible body of work, and so very powerful when it comes to the final product.

You can see all 135 works in a single three page gallery, if you’re interested, 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 a fair few finals are still available.

Don’t forget that Dave recently announced his SmArt School mentorship class that begins Spring 2021. Entitled “Showcasing Your Style While Working With Established Characters,” it will give artists a behind the scenes look into exactly how he made these Marvel characters his very own. Signups are still open, so if this is something you’re interested in, don’t delay.

There are only two articles left before we’ve seen all of the pieces in the 135 card set. I do have a fun few appendices to follow the set review, and have just started outlining the next large project for this column that will take this set and place it alongside its predecessors—stay tuned for more on that as it comes together. 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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