Trading Card Set of the Week – Saga of the Dark Knight (1994, SkyBox)
As we’ve already noted, the first two major 1990s DC trading card sets had a glaring absence: Batman, in fact the entire Batman sphere, was nowhere to be found. This was because Impel had the license the broader DC world, while the Batman rights were bound up with the licensing associated with the Tim Burton film franchise. So as Impel jerry-rigged a couple of sets — Cosmic Cards and Cosmic Teams — scrubbed of the terrestrial bat-element, Topps was putting out things like the Stadium Club Batman Returns cards. To put it in all too current terms, it was a bit like Sony having the Spider-Man rights while the MCU spins along without its web-slinger frontman. And, to pilfer some of the old TV show’s alliteration, it was a baleful bifurcation.
But DC’s card output couldn’t be Batman-less forever.
As soon as they could, SkyBox, the corporate successor of Impel, slid Batman into their lineup, making him a part of their Master Series (the DC equivalent of the Marvel Masterpieces, which we’ll get too someday) and all subsequent company wide releases. And, like his World’s Finest partner, the Caped Crusader got his share of individual sets to make up for lost time. What we have before us today is the first of many.
Saga of the Dark Knight traced the evolution of the post-Crisis Batman, from his Year One origin all the way to his post-Knightfall reclaiming of the cowl. Its 100 base cards touch on all the major arcs from the Bat-books of that period, with original artwork capturing many of the seminal moments of the late-20th century Bat. It’s a set without a whole lot of frills — there’s of course a smattering of chase cards — but nevertheless one of the nicer groups of cards you’ll run across. One could make the case that it’s the best bunch of Batman-centric cards anyone has ever slapped together, and Lord knows there have been enough of them.
The set opens, as alluded, with Year One. Though the art of David Mazzucchelli isn’t featured, a fine stab is made at approximating it, as is the case here, in a card featuring an early meeting between Batman and Jim Gordon’s opaque glasses (Art: Rick Burchett):
Other tales of the early Bat are also included under this YO umbrella, including some of the mythos-expanding storytelling from Legends of the Dark Knight. The Joker “origin” from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke is also in there, as this card back will attest — please note that the backs included a cover from the book they referenced, which is handy:
There are a number of cards devoted to Robin and his doings. The most remarkable of these isn’t so because of anything to do with the Boy Wonder, but because of the Joker’s close resemblance to the Jack Nicholson iteration — “Wait’ll they get a load of me…” (Dave Dorman):
One of the great joys of the set is seeing Jim Aparo illustrate the nine cards dealing with the big “A Death in the Family” arc, i.e. the fan-dictated murder of the Jason Todd Robin. Yes, there’s a card featuring the crowbar beatdown from the Joker. Sadly, though, there’s none for the grief-stricken Batman’s punch to Superman’s indestructible mush. But we’ll settle for the Clown Prince of Crime Iranian ambassador, right?:
Towards the middle of the set there are nine villain cards, all of which feature some of the more refined painted work on display. They may not be at the apex of this particular rogue’s gallery, but the Mud Pack of Clayfaces has/have one of the more whimsical portraits (Matt Wagner):
The interminable Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend/Knightsstooges saga also gets its fair share to close things out — more than its fair share, honestly. Since it was the au courant story of the time, pimped to no end by DC, perhaps a bit too much importance was placed on it. This unique Bane’s-eye-view of the breaking of the Bat is definitely the best of this bunch (Graham Nolan and Scott Hanna):
As far as chase specials, five Spectra-Etch cards were included, which featured more artsy looks at the Batman. They came 1:18 packs, though all too often you only found one in a box. Here’s the first (Mark Chiarello):
The grand chase card poobah was the Batman SkyDisc, which came 1:240 packs. The SkyDiscs were round holographic renderings which gave you a legit 360 degree look at their subject. A number were included in DC releases over the years, and oddly enough they were numbered on their own, i.e. without any regard for what set they were in. This was actually the first one, hence its “SD1” number. Unfortunately it’s impossible to capture the effect with a scanner, but here’s the look of the card anyway — a bit like peering through a porthole at murky pond water, but whatever:
Saga of the Dark Knight was a fine first foray for Batman comic cards. A quibble might be that there’s no reference to the rich Golden and Silver Age history of the character, but you can live with that absence considering the space they had available. After all, they didn’t want this thing stretching to 800 count baseball card dimensions — though, actually, would that really be so awful? And it would have been nice to have some Norm Breyfogle art in there too, considering how important he was to the Bat-books of this era. (He didn’t even get to do the Anarky card….) Still, the art is solid, at times excellent (some of the villain cards are quite stylish), and the full-bleed design gives it all full rein. You can find base sets fairly cheap, and individual unopened boxes can be had easily in the twenty dollar range. This is a fun bunch (even the promo cards, which were affiliated with the Georgia Dome and Camden yards of all things, were off-beat) — give them a try if you’re so inclined.