Trading Card Set of the Week – Batman Forever (1995, Fleer Ultra)
Jim Carrey is returning to his big screen comedic roots this weekend, as he and Jeff Daniels reprise their respective roles of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne in Dumb & Dumber To. Carrey’s been at the top of the Hollywood pay flow chart since he rocketed to super-stardom back in the 1990s, hot on the heels of the original Dumber, Ace Ventura, The Mask, et al. But returning to an old role might signal something: that perhaps his career has cooled to the degree that going backwards and mining hits of yore makes a bit of career sense. Or maybe it was simply a nice payday and reuniting with the Farrellys for another comedy would be fun. Take your pick — no one is holding a bake sale for him either way.
There’s one 1990s role he probably won’t be returning to anytime soon, though. Hey, remember Batman Forever?
Forever gets the short shrift when reflecting back on the Batman movie franchise of the previous millennium, as if the two Tim Burton/Michael Keaton films came, delighted audiences, and then things rocketed right to hell with the abominable Batman and Robin. But yeah, Batman Forever happened, with two villain stars whose careers exploded — in a good way — right around this time: the aforementioned Carrey and the post-Fugitive, Oscar-winning, “hard target search” Tommy Lee Jones. Wattage, people. And it had Nicole Kidman as the love interest. And Robin. And Val Kilmer as Batman, long before he tacked on roughly two hundred pounds and became more Hutt than Crusader. (It’s hard to believe that, with Ben Affleck, we’re on our fifth movie Batman in 25 years.)
Forever wasn’t terrible — though, to be fair, its successor set the bar so low almost anything looks good by comparison. (Batman and Robin may have actually dug a hole in the ground to get said bar even closer to the Earth’s core.) It’s almost a model of restraint when compared with the excesses of the George Clooney Bat-turn, script, visual and otherwise. But it never quite clicked. Carrey and Jones were perfect casting as the Riddler and Two-Face, but they didn’t gel in this milieu, though they tried their playing-to-the-rafters damnedest. (This failing was more the case with Jones, who’s over the top turn was a bit much for a performer who does more with restraint — his performance in Captain America: The First Avenger was a comic book role up his alley.) Forever made money and was a success at the box office, though the critical reception was tepid at best. The movie was certainly more colorful and kid-friendly than the dark and sometimes grotesque Batman Returns, but there was a clear decline in auteur quality in service of merchandizing Mammon.
Like all these Batman movies, the marketing machine was in overdrive for Forever, and trading cards were part and parcel. Fleer had the Bat-license now, replacing Topps, who had produced sets for the Burton movies. Recall that with Returns Topps had put out not one but two sets: a standard edition and one under their prestige Stadium Club banner — necessitating queries of just what the hell Batman had to do with stadiums. (There was a set of cards from the Zellers department store chain, too, but that’s another post for another time.) Fleer, not to be outdone, had three. Yes, three. Which is overkill in the extreme. You had the regular, no bells, no whistles Fleer Set. You had the Fleer Ultra set, Fleer’s premium brand — and home to the Beavis and Butt-Head cards. And you had the super-duper premium set, the Metal cards. We’ll get to that last one in the not too distant future, as it was a microcosm of mid-90s trading card excess. For today we’ll stick to the one in the middle: Fleer Ultra.
Like the movie, it’s not bad, but it’s not so great either.
Cards were distributed in multiple ways, the predominant being regular boxes of 36 packs with 8 cards and one hologram per. The base set consisted of 120 cards, which were the exact same as the regular Fleer set, but with silver foil to spruce things up. (Said silver foil doesn’t scan well, so apologies if some of the text in the following images is illegible.) Let’s have a look at a few.
The Batman costume had now shifted from the sculpted body armor of the Burton movies fully into Gigerish, cod-pieced and benippled BDSM wear:
This was a pattern which migrated over to the new Robin costume, which incorporated both the red/yellow/green colors of the comic original, and a prominent Chris O’Donnell dick-bulge:
Carrey’s Edward Nygma/Riddler persona went through a number of different looks throughout the movie, as he progressed from a mousey mad scientist all the way to a megalomaniacal super-genius with a fondness for brain-teasers. The middle stage most closely resembles the funny pages villain of yore:
Before looking through these cards I had completely forgotten that Drew Barrymore was in this, paired with Debi Mazar as Sugar and Spice, Two-Face’s good and bad henchwomen:
And then there’s Kidman, in the full flower of her famous marriage to Tom Cruise. Her bountifully bosomed and improbably named psychiatrist character, Chase Meridian, always seemed to be shot with a flattering angelic glow — probably a rider in her contract:
(Note: Her wardrobe appears to be made from the same material as Telly Savalas’s “If” jacket.)
And providing continuity glue with the two predecessor films were Pat Hingle and Michael Gough as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth. Here’s the latter, glimpsed on a wrist video phone that was somehow omitted from those Galaxy Gear commercials:
As far as aesthetic quality goes, the cards are rather nice — slightly glossy, on good stock, and with a decent full-bleed design. And the question mark encircling the bat-symbol is an appreciated flourish. Quibbles would be that all too often the photography gets blurry, a phenomenon we’ve glimpsed before in the roughly contemporaneous Independence Day cards, and a mortal sin in our spoiled HD age:
And the green numbers on the card backs, printed in a squashed font, are a strain on the eyes and just plain hard to read (akin to the Shaq-infused Deathwatch 2000 cards):
There are three tiers of chase sets. Most appealing are the ten chromium character cards — a bit gaudy, but de rigueur for the time period. Here’s the pre-transformation Carrey with his Blender of Knowledge or whatever:
Most insipid are the two video game preview cards, which offer up tips for playing it and murky screenshots:
And then there’s the 36 holograms — ideally you could get all 36 in one box, but that kind of perfect collation only exists in theory. (It should also be noted that the box tops, one of which can be seen at the top of this post, had different holograms on them, creating another challenge for the OCD collector.) They reproduce images from the base set, and we’ll finish, fittingly, with the last one, featuring Arkham-imprisoned Nygma in his “I am the Batman!” dementia:
Batman Forever wasn’t the first or last comic book movie that Carrey did. The Mask preceded it, and Kick-Ass 2 followed fairly recently, complete with his refusal to promote the film because of his sudden opposition to gun violence. (One wonders if John Romita, Jr. still has a hit out on him.) He wasn’t a bad Riddler, and Jones wasn’t a terrible Two-Face — though you’re left wondering what they could have done in a Bat-movie that had a bit more Nolan and/or Burton in it. On the whole the project, though initially quite successful, has drifted into more of a “Meh” status for posterity, a movie that generates a shrug of the shoulders, and not a lot of feeling for good or ill. Sort of like its Fleer Ultra cards.