The Best of Norman Saunders’ Amazing Batman Trading Cards
Norman Saunders is undoubtedly best known for his work as the artist on the infamous Mars Attacks trading cards, but in the mid-’60s, he had more on his plate than just a ludicrously violent alien invasion. With Batman on television and Batmania reaching a fever pitch as a result, Saunders and Topps produced multiple sets of trading cards featuring the Caped Crusader — and as you can probably tell by the fact that they involve Batman and Robin fighting a dinosaur in the image above, they are amazing.
Sadly, they’re a little difficult to track down these days, although to be honest, I would gladly pay good money for an art book that collected them. Until then, we can take a look back at some of the best, focusing on the ten standouts from Saunders’ Blue Series, in which Robin is nearly branded, and the Riddler performs the amazing feat of trying to steal from a rainbow.
Branded Boy Wonder
On the Card: “Trapped by the Riddler, Robin saved himself by using his wits. He managed to stump his costumed captor with a riddle of his own, till Batman located him with a Bat-Tracer.”
You’d think that after a call from a district attorney made him tone down a few of the Mars Attacks cards, Saunders would’ve used his Batman sets as a good excuse to rein things in a little. I mean, this is the Batman of the Silver Age, after all, and while there are usually deathtraps involved in his adventures, they tend to be things like giant printing presses or deadly coffeepots. Nope.
Instead, Saunders doesn’t waste much time before the Riddler, in what I have to say is a very surprising move, busts out a red hot question mark-shaped branding iron with the intention of torturing Robin the Boy Wonder, and some poor copywriter has to make sure that the back of the card explains why it didn’t happen.
The Grim Gladiator
On the Card: “It was Batarang against trident as the Caped Crusader faced this fierce foe. There would be a chance for only one hurried shot — and then he would face the Gladiator unarmed!“
One of the best things about Saunders’ trading cards is that they’re less about telling a story and more about showing you Batman doing something awesome. As a result, Batman seems to bounce around through time quite a bit, just throwing down with whatever historical figures seem to be making trouble.
Which, you have to admit, is a pretty great way to go about it if you’re just trying to think up cool stuff for Batman to do.
A Fatal Joust
On the Card: “It was mace versus axe as Batman battled the Nefarious Knight! Though the knight fought fiercely, he proved no match for the medieval might of the Caped Crusader!”
Case in point, this card, in which Batman and his lavishly painted six-pack are either a) swinging by Medieval Times for a bite to eat when his sense of justice drives him to enter the show, b) hitting up the Gotham City Renaissance Faire, which has finally recovered from last year’s 53 cases of near-fatal Jester Poisonings, or c) definitely traveling through time in order to clean up Camelot once and for all.
Either way, there’s one big thing that sets this one apart from the Gladiator card: In that one, Batman had his Batarang. Here, he’s just straight up swinging around an iron ball with spikes on it, very clearly aiming for another man’s head. That dude is a menace to the time stream.
On the Card: “Robin’s sudden cry for help brought a startled Batman to the scene. Could the Caped Crusader save the Boy Wonder — or was Robin doomed to be dinner for a dinosaur?“
There is nothing i can add to this. It is too beautiful, too good for this fallen world.
Bashed On A Billboard
On the Card: “High above the teeming crowds of Gotham Square, Batman stalked the mysterious Masked Marauder. Then, swinging from the arm of the wooden ‘Robin,’ he felled his fearful foe.”
Let’s talk for a minute about the Masked Marauder — or as I like to call him, Probably the Riddler — and just what exactly he’s trying to do here. If all you’re going to do is try to bash Batman’s head in with a rock — yes, yes, it’s a big rock — then do you really need to stand on top of a billboard to do it?
Joker Wishes Robin Well
On the Card: “‘Stay back, Caped Crusader,’ shouted the jubilant Joker. ‘Or else your Boy Wonder buddy gets lowered into this well full of alligators!’ Only Batman’s wits could help him now!”
Speaking of dubious plans, here we have the Joker. First of all, a well full of alligators just isn’t going to work as well as you want it to. No, it’s not going to be pleasant, but look at that well! One alligator would have trouble moving in there, let alone the multiple alligators that it would take to necessitate the word “filled.” Odds are, Robin falls like two feet and ends up just standing on some very cramped, very uncomfortable gators, and nobody‘s happy with that.
Secondly, Batman’s face is displaying less concern for his crimefighting partner and more the expression of someone who just walked in on a weird sex thing and is not at all cool with it. He looks like he’s backing out of the room muttering, “Sorry, I… sorry.”
The Penguin’s Prey
On the Card: “Batman and Robin had trailed the Pudgy Plunderer across the sea to Holland. But now the tables were turned — and the wind was carrying them right into the Penguin’s gunsights!“
I gotta tell you, this deathtrap makes a well full of alligators look like a question-mark branding iron. Here’s the sequence of events that the Penguin has to go through to make this work:
1: Go to Holland
2. Wait for Batman and Robin to arrive, and then wait some more for them to mysteriously decide that they should climb a windmill.
3. Shoot them with an umbrella.
It’s just… It’s just very inefficient. Also: “Pudgy Plunderer?” Ouch.
On the Card: “When a giant, radioactive rat rose from the river, only Batman and Robin could hope to save Gotham City from the wrath of the rampaging Rodent!“
I don’t know why I’m surprised that the Gotham River is in such bad shape that it’s producing eight-foot rats. When you think about it, though, all of that Joker gas, fear toxin, Poison Ivy poison, Man-Bat serum and whatever else is going on in that city has to drain off somewhere.
I guess I should be surprised that it’s only a giant rat.
On the Card: “A European friend told Bruce Wayne his castle was menaced by vampires. They were actually only human beings wearing disguises , but they still nearly proved the death of Batman!“
I love this card so much that its hard to figure out exactly what the best thing about it really is. If I was pressed, though, I think I’d have to say that the fact that this is clearly supposed to be the Joker is just narrowly edged out by the reference to Bruce Wayne’s European friend. That could not possibly sound more like something that Batman made up to make himself sound cooler.
“What are you talking about, Alfred? I have plenty of friends. You just don’t know them because they’re… they’re in Europe. But yeah, they have castles. What? Well, I’ve never taken you there because there were vampires, Alfred, that’s why.”
Riddler Robs A Rainbow
On the Card: “When the Riddler decided to rob rainbow’s end, he didn’t count on finding Robin instead of a Leprechaun! The Boy Wonder had done it again!“
This card is amazing. I’ve been staring at it for ten full minutes now and I’m no closer to understanding what’s happening than when I started. The Riddler has decided to rob a rainbow, because apparently there actually is a pot of gold at the end of it, and he can only be stopped by Robin sliding down a rainbow onto him.
He expected a Leprechaun.