Trading Card Set of the Week: Special KNEEL BEFORE ZOD Edition – Superman II (Topps, 1980)
With Man of Steel opening in two months, now’s the perfect time to look back at a bit of paraphernalia from that film’s central villain. Superman II was the second and last appearance of General Zod on the big screen, after his opening cameo in the first picture, when Marlon Brando’s Jor-El waved a New Age quartz crystal and banished him and his cronies to the Phantom Zone. Some might have thought that his demise at the end of part deux spelled the end of the good (bad) general’s big-screen shenanigans, but apparently there’s some unwritten rule in Hollywood that only Zod and Lex Luthor can be used as foils in live-action Superman movies. (Even Robert Vaughn’s Superman III turn was little more than a Luthor proxy.) So here we are again. Bracing to kneel before Zod. Zod Redux.
Superman II has long been ranked as the superior of the four Christopher Reeve Superman pictures, though I’d beg to differ about that. While the detached disdain of Terence Stamp’s Zod was a welcome respite from Ned Beatty tripping over himself, the Kryptonian vs. Kryptonian fights were dicey, fully exposing the primitive wire-work that two years before had made us believe that a man could fly. It was one thing to have Superman gently soar up into the night sky, maybe catching a falling newswoman and helicopter along the way. It was another to have him kicking and punching co-equals (who wore outfits that made them look like wrestlers struggling to make weight). The physics looked odd, and they age the sequel more than the predecessor. And that Superman surrendered his powers to lead a normal life was a decision that the Superman we know, the one that had been around and solidified for close to fifty years at that point, would never have made. It made no sense, and undermined the entire plot — at least for this viewer.
But it was a good movie, with an iconic star and a solid villain, and it certainly outpaced what would be barfed out two films later, when a film worthy of nothing less than full-throated MST3K mockery was unleashed upon the world.
And yes, there were cards to go along with it.
The Topps trading card set for the film followed along with other movie sets from that company in that time period: cards and stickers. After opening with a header card, the 88 card base set starts off with ten character cards from the “Krypton Crystal Bank Archives,” which have borders modeled off the Fortress of Solitude template. Here’s the titular Man of Steel himself:
Now for the icy stare of General Zod:
Right off that bat, you notice something wrong with the set. You start looking through the cards, and you think there’s something missing here. It’s the same feeling you get while going through the Batman-less DC Cosmic Cards. And then it hits you: no Lex Luthor. Nothing. Nada. Otis gets a Crystal Bank card, but no Lex. (Nor Miss Teschmacher and her glorious rack, for that matter. Perhaps a more glaring omission.) The reason for this? Recall that much of the footage for Superman II was shot at the same time as the first movie, but director Richard Donner, because of a dispute with the producers (the Salkinds), was canned while the sequel was only half done. Richard Lester was brought in to finish the job, but Gene Hackman declined to return to complete the film — solidarity and all that. This leads one to believe that either his withdrawal from the project interfered with showing his likeness, or he refused to let it show up in marketing. (Same difference, I guess.)
Either way, no Lex.
Well, there are plenty of other cards to keep you satisfied. THIS ONE IS FOR THE LADIES:
Really, what woman could resist?
The backs of the cards have trivia and puzzle pieces for pictures of several of the Kryptonian principles. Here’s one that shows what the Superman puzzle will be when assembled:
You want Superman fighting Zod? SUPERMAN FIGHTING ZOD:
Note the Marlboro advertising on the truck in the background. Nothing dates this movie more than that — though the prevalence of cigarettes in the film was controversial even back then. What happened to the simple box of Cheerios on the Kent breakfast table? (Little factoid: Cigarette companies didn’t have their company names on trucks they used to ship their products — for fear of hijacking. So the trucks were specially made for the movie. Amaze your dweeby friends and bore dates insensate with this knowledge!)
The stickers (22 of them) reproduce a number of the card images. Here’s dorky Clark Kent to sate your sticker hunger:
And there you have it.
There’s nothing inherent that elevates these cards beyond their cardboard contemporaries, but the association with the Reeve Superverse gives them greater charm. Oh, and Zod. Though it’s bewildering that we’re thirty-plus years into live-action Superman movies and still mining two characters — one of whom isn’t even from the first tier of Kal-El’s rogues gallery (Brainiac? Hello?) — Terence Stamp’s brief, bemused tenure as ruler of planet Houston is nothing if not memorable. These cards are part and parcel of that.