Good morning everyone, and welcome to the start of a special four article mini-series here in Masterpiece Theater.

These articles will take a closer look at the brand new Marvel Unbound set from Upper Deck Entertainment that will release over the next year. Marvel Unbound is an ePack exclusive set of cards that can be redeemed for their physical counterparts. It is made up of 52 different base cards and four quarterly achievement battle cards, each featuring new original work by smash-hit artists fred.ian!

fred.ian is actually an artistic duo made up of French artist and illustrator Fred Roy and his studio assistant Ian. They work traditionally in oils and have been painting comic book characters for the past eight years. You can find their sketch cards in various Upper Deck sets since 2017, and now for the first time they’ve now been commissioned to bring an exceptionally vivid and hyper-realistic style to a full set of cards for Marvel.

Begun 13 weeks ago and continuing for a total of 52 weeks, at 9am PST every Monday one card in the series is released via Upper Deck’s online trading platform ePack. Collectors can purchase up to three of the one-card packs per transaction for as long as they are available—usually less than 15 minutes, and never more than a few hours. Each card is limited to 999 numbered copies, along with 50 Gold Autograph Parallel variants—base cards signed by the artists and included as a second card in the pack. Base Set cards can be redeemed for Quarterly Character Achievement Cards; when all four Achievement cards are earned, they can be redeemed for an exclusive 16” x 20” fred.ian signed lithograph! (And you do get to keep all the cards along the way.)

For those collectors who are die-hard or lucky enough (or both), the first 33 full sets of 52 Gold Autograph cards can be redeemed for an exclusive and highly sought after fred.ian original Sketch Card at the end of the 52 weeks.

Examples of possible fred.ian sketch card redemptions

I’ve broken this series into four articles, looking at 13 paintings plus the battle Achievement card for each quarter as the year goes along. We’ll look at each piece individually and I’ll do my best to highlight what makes each one special. Today we’ll begin with the cards that came out in the first thirteen weeks.

Quarter 1: Base #1-13

#1 Ant-Man

Ant Man by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Our journey begins with the smallest of heroes and the tallest of jobs; the artists have captured Ant-Man in mid-molecular shift. To create this effect digitally probably takes a few hours, but to do it in oil paint most likely took actual days. It’s an impressive representation in traditional media, and a strong start to this set overall. This will be one of the cards looked back on as a highlight of the set.

#2 Black Knight

Black Knight by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

The Black Knight might not be one of Marvel’s most well-known characters, but he’s seen here with all the hubris one might expect from such a role. Look at his face, and his eyes especially: confidence bordering on arrogance, and you wouldn’t want to guess exactly where this character’s loyalties lay.

#3 Black Widow

Black Widow by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

This work is a parade of symbolism: Agent Romanoff is wearing her standard skin-tight black suit, complete with bracers and buckle bearing that Black Widow symbol, a scarlet letter that warns all who see it of its danger. To continue that spider motif, look closely at the background. It’s the agent’s web, black on a red ground. You’re in her danger zone now.

#4 Blink

Blink by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Perhaps my favorite of this first group is Blink, and fred.ian’s depiction has started a character collector’s love affair that’s now bled directly into my sketch collecting. The electric green and supersonic pink work incredibly well together, and create a dynamic portrait of the wild haired warrior as she emerges battle-ready from her portal. It’s the perfect blend of sexy and serious.

#5 Bullseye

Bullseye by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Bullseye is best known for his range of weapons, and ability to turn everything into a deadly projectile at the drop of a hat. He is shown here thusly, knife in one hand and Ace of Spades, the proverbial Death card, in the other. His gaze is remorseless, and his eyes mimic the same bulls-eye found on his forehead.

#6 Cloak & Dagger

Cloak & Dagger by fred.ian, oils on paper, 41cm x 51cm (16” x 20”)

Yin and yang, Cloak and Dagger are seen here as two parts of a whole, as they often are. The artists have created a strong sense of movement, as Dagger’s hair flies upward, unbridled, and Cloak’s cape billows in the same fashion. Are they rising or falling? Or is it us, the viewer, who have been set in motion? Great capture of motion will be a continuing theme we’ll see throughout this series.

#7 Dr. Strange

Dr. Strange by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Returning to the discussion of facial expression, this is perhaps the greatest rendering of Dr. Strange’s personality in recent memory. The furrowed brow, a slightly upturned smile, and a posture that exudes confidence, his ego precedes him. He just wouldn’t be the Sorcerer Supreme without it.

#8 Ego, the Living Planet

Ego, the Living Planet by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

And speaking of Ego, I’m glad this extraterrestrial evildoer has made the return to being a regularly featured character in Marvel sets. fred.ian has done a fabulous job in making the imaginative seem truly real in this anthropomorphic planet. His gravitational pull is drawing everything closer the longer you look, and those glorious fiery eyes set to burn a hole right through us.

#9 Elektra

Elektra by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

We see the famous female assassin, sai in hand and donning her classic costume. As we’ve seen with the artist’s other female characters, Elektra embodies that perfect blend of the sultry and serpentine, the voluptuous and viperous. A beautiful badass, she’s always ready for a fight.

#10 Fin Fang Foom

Fin Fang Foom by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

It’s once again the background that captures my attention here, as the alien known as Fin Fang Foom strides across a psychedelic backdrop of smoke and steam, almost as if arriving as a hallucination. The oversized hands and shrunken wings of the dragon create a sense of dichotomous scale to keep the viewer off guard, creating enchantment and entrancement while gazing upon the creature.

#11 Gambit

Gambit by fred.ian, oils on paper, 41cm x 51cm (16” x 20”)

Gambit has joined the Unbound series with his two signature weapons: a selection of Aces in his left and his bo staff in his right. The pink background compliments the color of the kinetic energy he’s often seen controlling, and the spiraling lines reinforce that sense of motion he controls.

#12 Groot

Groot by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

For those readers of my Marvel Masterpieces series, you know I am a sucker for space painted in oils, and fred.ian has created a breathtaking spacescape for this flora colossi from another world. Even without normal facial features, there is a humanizing aspect present here. It’s reminiscent of the relationship fans built with him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and yet unique to how we’ve seen him shown, often more alien and without feeling, in trading card sets before.

(And for the record, I was so tempted to do 100 words of I and Am and Groot, specifically in that order. Y’all are welcome.)

#13 Hulk

Hulk by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

This is not a Hulk we’re used to seeing, and I love that. fred.ian has given us a more contemporary Hulk, that of Amadeus Cho, who made his first appearance only in 2005 in Amazing Fantasy Vol. 2 #15. This is a more youthful Hulk (not to mention a bit more hair), but with all the power and destructive aftermath we expect from the jolly Green Giant of the Golden Age. This artwork has provided the opportunity to explore a character and storyline I’ve literally never heard about, and I appreciate this rare divergence from the Bruce Banner Hulk that’s often included in trading card sets.

Character Quarterly Achievement #1

Achievement Card #1: Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin

Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

At the end of every quarter, a collector can redeem one of each of the thirteen weekly cards for an Achievement card showcasing a signature superhero battle.

Spider-Man has met his old foe the Green Goblin high among the city streets, and we get just a peek in order to exacerbate just how high (and just how precarious) this situation is! As the Green Goblin grins and pumpkin bombs burst into laughter in the background, you best not look down, lest you lose your lunch.

Wrapping Up

This snapshot of work accounts for only 25% of the entirety of fred.ian’s Marvel Unbound set, and we’ve got three more quarters of incredible artwork to look forward to over the coming weeks and months. This hyper-realistic style is something we’ve not quite seen before in a base set, and I’ve begun to look forward to it every week. It’s fresh and entrancing, and is once again another brilliantly unique artistic take on the Marvel universe we know and love.

I’ll be back in another thirteen weeks for Unbound #2, but stay tuned to Masterpiece Theater here on Hipsters of the Coast for more Marvel original artwork from Upper Deck Entertainment Marvel trading card and sketch card sets!

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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