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Trading Card Set of the Week – Batman Returns (Topps Stadium Club, 1991)

March 10, 2013


A major part of the sports card arms race referenced here two weeks ago was Topps’ Stadium Club brand. It made its debut in 1991 with baseball cards, issuing a premium, glossy set with no borders, excellent photography and an incredibly high price point. I recall seeing packs of this beautiful merchandise and marvelling at the (sometimes) $4.00 per pack (!!!) price point, all the while cursing my own poverty — there just weren’t enough lawns to gin up sufficient cash to make Stadium Club affordable. The brand was an early brick on the road to post-boom hell, and left kids like me, long the bicycle spokes backbone of the market, out in the cold. The Public Park Club, as it were. And soon — as in next year — Topps had spread this beautiful virus (totally gorgeous, totally out of a juvenile’s financial reach) to all four major American sports: Baseball, Basketball, Football and Hockey.

Oh, and Batman. Can’t forget Batman.

Yes, Topps had the license to produce cards for Batman Returns, the much-anticipated sequel to the runaway train that was 1989’s Jack Nicholson-infused Batman. (Remember, it was this proprietary interest in Trading Card Batman that kept the Caped Crusader from appearing in the first company-wide set of DC cards from Impel.) And, not only did they put out a run of the mill regular set, they also decided to issue an extra 100 card Stadium Club parallel series. Which was overkill in the extremis, and a nightmare for the velcro wallet of my youth. Why? Because I loved comic books and I loved cards, and putting the two together made any product irresistible. And the Stadium Club cards, despite being way out of my league, were still — like the hot girl who wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot cattle prod — all the more desirable because of their unattainability. I couldn’t rationalize spending too much on them, and only managed to scrounge together a few packs before the summer of 1992 was over and everything to do with the Tim Burton Batman vanished from convenience store shelves forever.

So a couple of months ago, I had my revenge, like Daniel Day-Lewis smashing Paul Dano’s head with a bowling ball in There Will Be Blood. I bought a box of the vile temptresses on eBay, both chagrined and amused that what was once as out of reach as Fort Knox gold new sells in single dollar digits. (Glut exhibit 14Z, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.) And I tore that box open, and made myself MULTIPLE sets. It was a psychic Up Yours to what had once had once vexed me so greatly, what had once pushed me away from two hobbies at once.

And now for the post-mortem on Batman Returns: The Senses-Shattering Stadium Club Edition.

The packaging and card design carried over the simplicity of the sports offerings. As you can see from the box top above, Topps wasn’t relying on flashy packaging to catch buyers’ eyes. It was the ultimate in cool, catch-me-if-you-can showmanship. “See, we don’t even need bright colors and pictures and all that jazz to put asses in the seats.” That sort of thing. And the design of the cards followed the same understated pattern. Full bleed fronts, foil stamping and Kodak photography were the name of the game, as card #1, of the stern Michael Keaton Batman, will attest:


The card backs featured another pic with a bit of text on the production and plot goings on. An aside: the oval border around the card number gave me clammy-skin flashbacks to interminable standardized tests — I can’t be alone in that. Here’s the back of the second card, focused on Danny DeVito’s Penguin, with a special Burton cameo:


This is off topic, but seeing Throw Momma from the Train mentioned up there reminds me of that quick bit where DeVito wallops Billy Crystal over the head with a frying pan, which makes me laugh every time I even think about it. I’m laughing right now, in fact.

If there’s one complaint about the set, it’s that the gloss, which gives the cards their pretty shininess, gets lost amongst the dark palette that made the film feel like it was shot in black and white. Batman’s List. An exception is the Selina Kyle card, which features Michell Pfeiffer in all her fire-lit glory, and makes her tresses look like Ghost Rider’s:


And yes, she was a much more convincing Catwoman than Anne “I’m Wonderful” Hathaway.

It’s unfortunate that the human experience doesn’t offer up many chances to see Christopher Walken in a tux with a gigantic Carnac the Magnificent turban on his head. I’m happy to report that this set preserves just such a moment for future generations:


I hid this uncomfortable hunk of fabric up my ass two years…

You get the (full bleed) picture. The cards still look great, but nothing will ever wash away how extraneous they were. How expensively extraneous. Indeed, Batman Returns would be the only non-sport product to ever come from the brand, and the number of unopened boxes readily available online provide a good reason why.

And, once more, in case they didn’t hear me the first time: UP YOURS, STADIUM CLUB. I WIN.

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