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Spotlight On 1965 Topps Battle
from Mickey's Sportscards Inc. article written by Bill Bengen

In the first half of the 1960's Topps produced a triumvirate of classic non-sports cards sets: "Civil War News" (1962), "Mars Attacks" (1962), and "Battle" (1965). These sets broke new ground in the gore, violence, and sexual content they depicted. Although "Horrors of War" had featured similar themes decades earlier (1938), the outraged reactions of parents at that time had forestalled any repeat appearance of this subject matter in non-sports cards until the free-wheeling decade of the 1960's arrived. In a sense, non-sports cards were just paralleling developments in the new popular medium of TV.

Of the three series, "Battle" receives the least attention among collectors. That is unfortunate, as the artwork in "Battle" is at least as good, and as provocative, as those in its two sister series.

The similarities are no surprise, as the same artist, Norm Saunders, was responsible for much of the artwork in all three series of cards. Saunders was a highly respected illustrator whose work would later show up in the "Batman" and "Wacky Packages" series. Saunders contributed heavily to both "Civil War News" and "Mars Attacks", although other artists supplied artwork to those series. However, "Battle", according to the Les Davis article referenced below, may have been the product solely of his own fertile and brilliant imagination. As such, "Battle" is a special tribute to that great illustrative artist.

The "Battle" series provokes you from the very first card, "Fight to the Death", which features Hitler sending his Nazi hordes off to war, emboldened by bold Nazi swastikas in the background, and chaperoned by a multitude of Luftwaffe aircraft overhead. The spectre of death hovers above all, wielding its fearsome sword. The irony of death’s appearance is not lost on the viewer, who knows how badly the war turned out for the Nazis. Good riddance!

As you browse through the series, card by card, there is no letup in the drama and shock value of the artwork. Card #5, "Collision in the Sky" shows the outcome of a Greman suicide attack on an American plane. Card #19, "Hand-to-Hand Combat", is a mano-a-mano confrontation between an American and Japanese soldier, in which the American soldier performs non-plastic surgery on the mouth of the Japanese, using his only convenient tool - his gun butt. In #35, "Terror From the Sky", one of my favorite cards, a soldier shields two children from the arms fire of a Nazi plane swooping down on them.

Despite the more permissive environment of the 1960's, Topps feared for parental reaction to these cards. Instead of identifying the company by its proper name, on the "Mars Attacks" cards, it used "Bubbles Inc" as a subterfuge. This fear was well-founded, as reportedly parental reaction forced the withdrawal and replacement of several of the cards in that series. But by the time 1965 rolled around, Topps apparently felt confident enough in its audience to use the ubiquitous "T.C.G." identifier on the backs of the Battle cards. Perhaps the daily media images from Vietnam, including monks setting themselves on fire, were starting to make the Battle cards look tame by comparison.

As with "Civil War News", many of the incidents depicted in "Battle" are fictitious, although they are intended to convey the flavor of World War II. They do so very effectively. Was Belle Byrd, depicted in Card #53, a real-life spy for the Americans? Who cares? She’s gorgeous!

The "Battle" series curiously ends with some tame, if attractive, cards. Cards #54 through #59 depict armed combatants of the warring sides, and cards #60 through #64 feature famous leaders of the war, including DeGaulle, Churchill and Eisenhower. The series concludes with two rare checklist cards, #66 for the cards in the series, and #65 for the cloth military emblems which accompanied the cards. I don’t have a picture of a cloth emblem because they are so rare, I have never seen one. Neither have most other collectors!

Apparently the "Battle" series was not widely distributed by Topps, which accounts for the lack of familiarity of the series among collectors. "Battle" cards are rarely seen on ebay or elsewhere. Prices also reflect the current lack of collector knowledge. "Mars Attacks" sets in the NM-MT range have sold for $30,000 or more in recent auctions, but in 2003 the #1 PSA Registry "Battle" set sold for only $4,800. This is a disparity which I suspect will be redressed in coming years!

     - Bill Bengen

"Topps Battle 1965". Les Davis et al, The Wrapper #87, 11/15-1/1/1990.

"The Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards", Christopher Benjamin and Dennis W. Eckes, Number 3, Part Two,1988

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