Super Powers Guide to Collecting Cardback Variations

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For some of you, this guide may be overkill.  But for the focus collector trying to get one of every cardback for a particular figure, or even the mentally insane that is trying to get every single one of them from every character, this guide is for you.  Since I’m one I described in the previous statement as mentally insane, that is, trying to get one of every cardback variation of every character, I’ve learned quite a bit about what does exist and doesn’t exist for every cardback variation on my nearly completed journey.

On the wiki pages, I’ve outlined what cardbacks have been found for each character on the individual Figures By Character pages.  This article is to give a more in-depth look at what each of those variations listed mean, as well as give you a general guide of what to look for when variation hunting.

Subsets and Definitions

My advice to new collectors (or collectors looking to expand their collections) is to subset collect.  That is, collect different subsets that interest you.  A subset could be anything you make it, but common subsets would be to pick a single character focus and collect all of the cardback variations of that character.  Or if variety is your flavor, you could pick one cardback variation to collect all of.  A fun one is the 33-backs, of which I’ve created a separate article for entirely, or collecting one of each “Fan Club Offer” cardback, which would yield a larger subset.  In this article I’ll go over what each variation means to guide you through your subset (or completist) collections.


First series figures (1984), feature 12 characters on the back of the card.  We’ll refer to them as “12-backs”. 12back
Second series figures (1985), “23-backs”. 23back
And third series (1986), “33-back”. 33back


In the United States, some figures that were released in earlier series (1st/2nd) were re-released the following years (2nd/3rd) with the new additions, and the cardbacks were changed to match the current releases.  Superman, for example, was a first series figure so it’s debut cardback is a 12-back.  However, variations of 23-back and 33-back also exist for Superman since it was re-released both following years.

 superman_us_po superman_us_po_back
 superman_us_23fco_ superman_us_23fco_back
 superman_us_33 superman_us_33_back


This seems to only be the case for US carded figures, as Canada and other countries did not seem to re-release the figures with a different number of figures on the back.  In this guide I’ll introduce the types of cardbacks found in the US and Canada and then I’ll give examples of what distinguishes each variation.  Then I’ll show a grid-style checklist that outlines all of the different characters that are found with the different types of cardback.  I’m not covering the small-card Canadian figures since those are obvious to spot, but I will include them in the checklist below.

Identifying the different US and Canada variations

US 12-Back “Steppenwolf Offer” (aka “Figure Offer”)

From the front, the red text in the banner stands out immediately, especially compared to the more common Fan Club Offer banner.  This offer boasts a free Kenner bagged Steppenwolf figure, and an accompanying Darkseid Saga record.


While it’s not known for sure, some would say this is the first release since all 12 figures were released on this cardback (unlike Poster Offer), however the figure offer expires June 1st, 1985 which postdates the expiration date on the Poster Offer.  Since not all Poster Offer figures were released (or have been found) then I guess technically some of the Figure Offer cardbacks were initial release either way.  The Figure Offer seems to be more difficult to track down than Poster Offer, and is very difficult compared to the Fan Club Offer.


Canada 12-Back Figure Offer

From the front, the first thing to notice to determine if it’s a Canadian or US figure is the speech balloon.  The Canadian cards feature a bilingual chat bubble featuring both English and French.


Also from the front on a Canadian Figure Offer you’ll notice the banner has very bold text left justified, which makes it easy to spot at a quick glance compared to the Canada Poster Offer banner.


Looking at the back of the card to determine variation is a bit more tricky, since both Figure Offer and Poster Offer feature a picture of the same poster on the back of the card.  You’ll have to read the first line to see if it’s offering a Steppenwolf figure or a poster.  This offer expired September 1st, 1985.  The Canadian Figure Offer tends to be harder to find than it’s Poster Offer counterpart.  In some instances (Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Joker, and Green Lantern) the variation is very hard to come across.


US 12-Back Poster Offer

From the front, the Free Poster Offer banner is easy to overlook since it looks very similar to the more common Fan Club Offer at first glance, especially at a distance (or while quickly browsing auction listings, etc).


The back of the card features a preview of the poster and this makes the variation very easy to identify from the back of the card.  The Poster Offer expired December 31st, 1984, which predates the Figure Offer.  Even though not all of the figures were released (or have been found yet) on the Poster Offer cardback, some believe the expiration date puts this variation as the initial release.  Since the toy line was released Fall of 1984, having it expire at the end of the year only left a handful of months to fulfill this offer.  This could be why the poster itself is a little hard to find as well.  Especially when compared to the Figure Offer items.


Canada 12-Back Poster Offer

Just like the Canadian 12-Back Figure Offer, unlike the US cardback, this features a bilingual speech balloon as well.


From the front, the banner at the bottom is a lighter font than Figure Offer and is center justified.


Just like the Canadian Figure Offer, the Canadian Poster Offer also shows a picture of the Poster.  So you’ll have to read the first few lines to determine variation.  This offer expired March 31st, 1985, which predates the expiration of the figure offer, which leads me to believe the Canadian Poster Offer was released first.


US 12-Back Fan Club Offer (aka/shorthand “FCO”)

The Fan Club Offer cardbacks are when they started adding vehicles to the back of the card, replacing the previous Figure Offer and Poster Offer graphics.  This means there is no offer-related info on the back of the card, the only place it mentions the offer is in the banner on the front where it directs you to the offer details inside the mini comic.  Initially this offer expired June 30th, 1985, and then was extended during the second series shown below.


US 23-Back Fan Club Offer (FCO)

The Fan Club Offer on a second series cardback is very similar to a first series cardback.  Although the cards look similar, there are ways to tell the difference between a 12-back and a 23-back by looking at the front of the card.  First and foremost, the 12-back offer expires in 1985 and the 23-back offer expires 1986.


The other way to tell, is the 23-back often came with a Clark Kent Offer sticker as shown below.  With only 2 exceptions (Joker and Lex Luthor CK sticker found on a 12-back card) only the 23-back’s came with this sticker and is a good indicator that it’s a 23-back.


The other indicator, which is only applicable to some, is the blue arrow indicating a mini-comic is included with the figure.  All 12-back’s, no matter the variation, all say “Free Comic Book”.  Some 23-back FCO will say “Free Comic Book” and some will say “See Comic Book” – but one thing is certain, if it does say “See Comic Book” then it’s a 23-back.

arrow_free_comic_book arrow_see_comic_book

US 23-Back Superman Cape Offer (aka/shorthand “SCO”)

From the front, the big thing to notice is the iconic Superman logo embedded into the yellow offer banner at the bottom.  These can come with and without a Clark Kent Offer sticker over them, and if it does have a CK sticker, you can still tell it’s a Cape Offer underneath but it’s not as obvious.  Every SCO has the “See Comic Book” text indicating a mini-comic, there is no “Free Comic Book” variation to this.

arrow_see_comic_book  supermancapeoffer

The back of the card shows a depiction of a concept cape (the actual cape varies slightly).  This offer expired January 31st, 1986.  With only a few exceptions (Green Lantern, Darkseid) the SCO variation is harder to find than the 23-back Fan Club Offer cardbacks for the most part.


Canada 23-Back Superman Cape Offer (SCO)

Unlike the US cardbacks, only 2nd series figures were released on this 2nd series cardback (no re-releases).  And unlike the Canadian 12-backs that had 2 variations, this was the only variation of 23-back available.  Like the US SCO cardback, this one also features the Superman logo at the bottom, but unlike the US version it does not have the yellow banner, which some would say give these a slightly cleaner look.  Just like the other Canadian cardbacks, these speech bubbles feature English and French.


The back of the card features a similar graphic to that of the US cape offer cardback, but this offer expired a little later on March 31st, 1986.


US and Canada 33-Back

Both US and Canada are pretty similar so I’m covering them both at the same time.  Being able to spot a 33-back from the front of the card comes down to noticing 2 things.  First, there is no offer banner at the bottom, it simply says “Kenner” and includes no promotional offers of any kind.


It also excludes the Fan Club Offer which was previously available in the mini-comics, which brings me to the second thing to notice.  There’s no mini-comic behind the figure!


This variation is extremely collectible since it cleans up the look of the cardback as a whole, among other reasons.  I created a separate article that dives deeper into 33-back collecting, found here.


Checklist Grid

Ok, so now that we’ve covered what each variation means, now the variations shown on the checklist will make a little more sense.  I have put together a series of picture grids on my personal collector blog on that gives photographic representation of each dot shown below.  To keep it all on one page, I simplified the grid and sized it appropriately to be printed on a single sheet of paper.



International Cardbacks

In other countries the number of items on the back of the card aren’t really as important since they weren’t re-released with differing numbers.  Instead, other features are used to identify the variations.  I’ve created a section of “Figures by Country” on the main wiki that go over the different variations found in each country, which you can also find below.

I hope you found this guide useful.  Happy hunting!