Mars Attacks

I didn’t grow up with MARS ATTACKS trading cards; I was peripherally aware of them. I liked the 1996 Tim Burton movie; I didn’t love it. But this hardback is a fantastic book!

SEE: THE INVASION BEGINS!

Released in a limited edition back in 1962, the famed bubble-gum set was pulled from shelves before it even got nationally distributed. It was denounced by British politicians (for showing Martians attacking a parliamentary session and pulverizing members of the House of Lords). Infuriated school boards pushed unwilling kids to demand more “educational” trading cards, not this gory garbage. 

SEE: CRUSHING THE MARTIANS!

So before it even truly got out, MARS ATTACKS was shut down. No trial was needed, as this pop phenom was charged, threatened, criticized, reviled and otherwise castigated by the media, parents, educators and anyone who had a soapbox to stand on. 

Fortunately, the kids knew what they had, and they loved it. 

SEE: HIGH VOLTAGE EXECUTION!

So what about this book, released on the 50th anniversary of the original 55 Topps trading cards? Whether you know and love them in their various incarnations or not, whether you’re a pop-culture fiend or an EC comics fanatic, it doesn’t matter: Resistance is futile.

The Abrams ComicArts book’s cover emulates the original packaging. The beastly yellow dust jacket is printed on uninviting wax paper, and the neon-green hardcover features a pink, rectangular piece of bubble gum on the front and (broken) on the back. Genius.

The bulk of the book allows the cards themselves be showcased with ample clear space. Not only are they slightly larger than the actual cards, but the Norman Saunders paintings have been photographed from the original transparencies for spectacular detail. 

SEE: THE NAKED AND THE DEAD!

On the opposing pages, you can read the descriptive storyline as seen on the reverse side of each card. It oddly enhances the admittedly tame (by today’s standards) savagery depicted. The clinical summaries of mayhem are funny in their casually brutal detail: 

“Once the Martians amused themselves by trapping a number of men and women in the powerful steel shovels. The people were pushed through the city streets, receiving bruises and gashes despite their cries of pain. The unfortunates were finally crushed against the walls of brick buildings.”

SEE: BURNING FLESH!

MARS ATTACKS is bookended with an intro by one of the set originators, Len Brown, and an afterword by Saunders’ daughter, Zina. They both give inside information of the project, its creators, its demise and refusal to die, and its eventual re-animation. 

All the cards from various incarnations are present, as well as numerous original concept illustrations by Wally Wood and Bob Powell. The book even features some sanitized cards Topps considered marketing after the big debacle. It’s amusing to see the revisionist “Beast and the Beauty” card, which skips the distressed damsel in favor of her presumed husband! The beefcake “beauty” is now dragged out of bed by a big-brained, bug-eyed Martian invader.

So now it’s your turn to keep this piece of prescient pop-culture perfection alive. And given that MARS ATTACKS comes with a pack of four brand-new trading cards glued into the inside back cover, how can you possibly resist?  —JT Lindroos

Buy it at Amazon.

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