Posted By Art Baxter


First Series - Card #9


First Series - Card #10


First Series - Card #11

For our finale I'd like to offer up a three card Joker sequence from the First Series. Now, as I mentioned before, the bulk of the First Series is one long story. The criminals are after a "top secret formula." A portion of the formula is missing and the Joker wants to know which member of his gang took it. So, what does he do but gives each one a lie detector test. When the traitor is revealed, the low level thug takes a poison pill rather than to be tortured by the Joker. It's an odd plot for a Joker sequence but there you go.

One of the things I like about the cards is that the supporting cast, namely the henchmen. These men may be thugs but they wear suits and hats. These middle aged men have a career in thuggery and hire out their services to crime kingpins like the Joker: a criminal mastermind dressed as a clown. They most likely work on commission, ie: "a piece of the action." Do these men have wives and families or do they live in a flophouse. Take that poor slob strapped into lie detector. He looks like a "one last big score before retirement" kind of guy. He's sweatin' like a pig as you would if the Joker had you strapped into one of those. (I took a lie detector test a long time ago and let me tell you...they are NO FUN!)

Obviously guilty as sin, the low level thug (more likely the accountant) takes a poison pill rather than being killed by the Joker. Why the Joker is enjoying the scene rather than stopping him to get the information he needs is anyone guess. Joker, his henchman and Batman all seem to be enjoying the scene. Tell you the truth, it is pretty funny.

The Joker depicted here is clearly the Caesar Romero version. Note that his ears and hands are flesh colored and his hair is blue. Apocryphal!

Here are a few links for further reading:
You can find out about Norm Saunders here and here.
You can read about the Topps Batman Cards here.
You can see the sets in there totality here: First Series, Second Series and Third Series.

Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Riddler and the Catwoman are all © DC Comics

Posted By Art Baxter


First Series - Card #25


First Series - Card #27


First Series - Card #35

Here we have an edit out of the Catwoman sequence of the first series. These are all prime Norm Saunders. Unfortunately it isn't the Julie Newmar Catwoman in her skintight spangly black catsuit. We have a Catwoman that is wearing a costume that is closer to her comic book appearance, abet in black. The Catwoman portrayed here seems like some kind of fetishist. (Hah, like Batman isn't!) That outfit of hers, wouldn't be made out of black leather, would it?

Now take that first card. The dynamic duo have a nice little glamor shot of the feline fugitive in their Bat computer. Their body language is interesting. The boy wonder has an eager grin on his glowing face. His right arm juts out at a 90 degree angle from his body. Oh, he's ready for some action. "Crime stopping" action that is. Now check out Bats. He's shown in profile, generally a positioning signifying something to hide. In this case his left side; his sinister side. He has the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. His arms are crossed over his chest. Hmmm. Protection, eh Batman? Protecting your "heart" or are you holding something in? Now look at that yellow dial thing with the arrow. Looks like Catwoman scores at least a 95 on the WOW meter.

Two cards later we come to the Catwoman head shot. No wonder Enid picked out one of these cat masks in GHOST WORLD the comic and the movie. It's been a favorite in the fetish world for years. (Not that I would know firsthand, mind you.) I don't know if thats a "sinister smile." It looks like more of a "come hither." Her chin is tipped down and her gaze is upward. Now, if only she could "bat" those lashes.

The last card in the series is the inevitable obligatory capture. Batman reserves the pleasure of slapping the cuffs on his prey himself. Catwoman is aghast. Naturally, she's usually the one to do the slapping and cuffing. Look at Batman's expression. He is having a good time. A damn good time. Too much of a good time. His expression is almost demonic. He isn't even facing her. It's like he swooped in behind her. I don't think he ever had this much fun snagging the Penguin.

There you have our penultimate Bat-post. Come back tomorrow for a mini sequence with the Joker.

Note: While Series Two and Three have either Batman, Robin or both in each card, Series One often features cards without them and just feature the villains. You will also notice these First Series cards are painted with more skill and attention to detail than Series Two and especially Three.

Posted By Art Baxter


First Series - Card #42


Third Series - Card #4

Riddle me this: what's more fun than torture and sadism?

We finally come to an actual villain in Batman's rogue's gallery. The riddler was never a particularly interesting villain in the comics but he was electrifying as portrayed by Frank Gorshin on the TV show. Even though Julie Newmar's Catwoman and Burgess Meredith's Penguin were great for different reasons, no other character on that show was as alive as Gorshin's Riddler. It is clearly this characterization of the Riddler that is pictured here although he seems to resemble Jim Carrey even more.

There's nothing particularly interesting about these cards illustration or design wise. However they have all the spades for their "lurid" factor. The matching quilted mitts are a nice touch on the "Branded" but "Robin in Peril" takes the cake. That whirring saw blade is millimeters from Robin's scalp. This is one of the most violent cards in the series. The horror of the situation is palpable. Yet, what can we say psychologically, about the Boy Wonder recoiling at the sight of the Riddler's "red hot poker!"

There are quite a number of cards that have Robin in captive and bondage situations. A significant amount of Batman's time and energy is invested in bailing him out. You begin to wonder if he is worth all the aggravation!

Note: The first series of Topps Batman cards feature a black bat logo and no border.

Posted By Art Baxter


Third Series - Card #10


Third Series - Card #38

Here we have Batman facing two crazy improbable monsters. By the third series they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. I really don't have much to say about these cards. I just like the monsters especially the red dragon! That dragon is just nuts.

What I don't understand is: why are Robin's gloves off in card #38?

I'll finish up Topps Batman Card Week with some actual villians from Batman's rogues gallery.

Stay tuned.

Posted By Art Baxter


Second Series - Card #3


Third Series - Card #39

How about Batman going up against some kind of menace. Here we have two cards similar in theme but different in execution. What is perhaps the most prominent similarity is that toxic glowing green color. It seems to indicate the unnatural. Mysticism in the mummy card and radioactivity from the android (yes...that's what it is) card.

The mummy card seems to be taking place in the moments just before the action. The staging is classic and posed. Batman is in close-up while Robin is in action. The mummy has just awoke. There are lots of horizontals and verticals. Robin is at a 45 degree angle. The card is second series so Norm Saunders was still producing art with some degree of polish. Notice the detail on the sarcophagus and the hieroglyphics on the wall. Check out the mummy's beard!

The android card appears to be the climax of the story as the android is almost upon an apparently exhausted caped crusader (Hmmm. No cape again! Norm hates to paint 'em I guess). The whole composition is at a 45 degree angle. This is a third series card and you can see the lack of polish on the figures and the anemic background. Saunders doesn't even bother to paint any reflected green highlight on Batman's costume as he does on the mummy card.

While the mummy card is a solid piece of work with a lot of eerie mood, the android card is genuinely terrifying. Look at the horrifying expression on the face of that thing. Even the tear in its side is strangely off-putting. It may have been hastily painted but it sure packs a punch. I found this image particularly scary as a kid and I confess it still is. It's mostly the anguish, agony and horror in the android's face that is affecting.

Note: the red bat logo and border in the second series are blue in the third. I must say, I prefer the contrast of the second series red. The blue seems to dampen the overall effect of the art by blending in too much.

Posted By Art Baxter

batman - flood rescue

This is card #23 from the second series. A thrilling scene of Batman rescuing a child from a raging flood. A great card until you ask yourself: what is Batman doing in a flood? The answer is: who cares? The Topps gang created 143 painted cards over a very short period of time and they had to fill them with something. A lot of them were pretty dull. This one is exciting!

This one has very strong staging at a key moment. There are a lot of triangles in this composition. Will he scoop that girl up? Look at that look of determination in Batman's lower jaw. That house is floating away for cryin' out loud. Hey, check out that dog too. Also note the absence of Batman's cape. It was also missing in yesterday's card. Did you miss it until I brought it up? A wet cape or a cape on fire would simply get in the way of the rescue and the overall design. I also like the overall blue and red color scheme with yellow accents.

This could have been a mediocre card but instead it's a triumph of style over content.

Posted By Art Baxter

batman - fire rescue

Here we have card #15 from the second series. It's a thrilling scene in which the dynamic duo attempt to rescue a cute blonde (in high heels, 'natch!) from a burning building. Contrary from yesterday's card, which takes place after the action, this card is at the dramatic peak of the event. Batman is precariously balanced on a thin line at least a half dozen stories above the ground with the girl in his arms. One more step and the girl is passed to Robin yet the line behind Batman is on fire and seems ready to go.

This was one of the first Batman cards I got back in 1966 and it certainly whet my appetite for more. This card is a standout for more than just the staging. I really like the brightness of the mid day sun and the glow of the fire on the two figures. I also like the powerful use of the perspective and the rendering of the action on the city street.  One can often tell a Norm Saunders painting from those of other artists is that he often paints flesh with a highlight that resembles a slick sheen of sweat. Here it is most notable on Robin's arms and cheek. I'll also mention that Saunders' originals were only  a half size bigger than the printed piece. His originals weren't larger than 4" x 5" and were cranked out one painting per day.

Posted By Art Baxter

batman - beaten to a pulp

This is a Batman card from Topps from the peak of Batmania in the summer of 1966. There were 3 series of painted cards followed by two series of photo cards. The first series had 55 cards but the subsequent two series had 44 each. The first two series are all pretty great while the third set is so-so. The photo cards are, y'know, photo cards. The first series was mostly one story featuring appearances of the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman and the Riddler. The following two painted series had one-off scenes. There are captions on the backs of the cards explaining the action. The second series had a puzzle piece. They measure 3.5" x 2.5" This card #28 from the second series (indicated by the red bat insignia and red border).

The cards were laid out by veteran comic book artist Bob Powell (who died the following year). They were pained by a few different artists. The most prominent was Norm Saunders, a prolific 1930s and '40s pulp magazine illustrator. It is Mr. Saunders work you see above. Saunders was really grinding these things out. The first series art was polished but Saunders was clearly bored and hacking it out by the third series.  The second series struck a good balance. The cards didn't look like they took place in 1966 in 1966. They harken back to an earlier era.

Allright. LOOK at this thing! This image still shocks and appalls me. The dynamic duo beat those guys to a pulp and then congratulate themselves on a job well done. I'm appalled but also strangely attracted by how lurid it is. It's this lurid dimension that gave the Batman cards their appeal over the sanitized adventures on TV or the comics. These cards practically ruined my taste forever.

NOTE: My postings have been meager in the month of April (I felt beaten up like those thugs in the card most of the month). So, for May, I'm kicking off with a week of these vintage Batman cards to be followed by a series of my sketchbook drawings. There'll be a lot more stuff up this month.




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