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Mars Attacks is a science fiction-themed trading card series released in 1962 by Topps. The cards feature artwork by science fiction artists Wally Wood and Norman Saunders. The cards form a story arc, which tell of the invasion of Earth by cruel, hideous Martians, under the command of a corrupt Martian government who conceal the fact from the Martian populace that Mars is doomed to explode (due to internal pressure in the planet's core) and therefore proposes a colonization of Earth to turn it into their new homeworld. The cards depict futuristic battle scenes and bizarre methods of Martian attack, torture and slaughter of humans, as well as various Earth nations being attacked and the Martians turning several Earth insects and arachnids into giants by unknown means and controlling the minds of the monstrous arthropods so that they will assist them in their plan for conquest. The story concludes with an expeditionary force of humans volunteering to embark on a counterattack on Mars, in which the Earth force attacks the Martians in their manner (bayoneting and bullets). This necessitates the Martians that are still on Mars to defend their homeworld. The Earth attack forces, after destroying the Martian cities and killing the Martians, depart just before Mars is destroyed in the predicted cataclysm, thus ensuring the peace and safety of Earth as the Martian race is seemingly doomed to extinction (but see "Adaptations and merchandising" below).
The cards proved popular with children, but depictions of explicit gore and implied sexual content caused an outcry among concerned parents and schoolteachers, leading the company to halt production. The cards have since become collectors' items, with certain cards commanding over $3,500 at auction.
In the 1980s Topps began developing merchandise based on the Mars Attacks storyline, including mini-comic books and card reprints. An expanded set of 100 cards called Mars Attacks Archives was issued in 1994 by Topps and spawned a second round of merchandising. Director Tim Burton released a film called Mars Attacks! in 1996 based on the series, spawning a third round of merchandising. In 2012, Topps released a 50th anniversary expanded set of 75 cards called Mars Attacks Heritage, leading to a fourth round of merchandising that continued into 2017 with the release of a sequel series, Mars Attacks: The Revenge!
The Mars Attacks trading card series was created by Topps in 1962. Product developer Len Brown, inspired by Wally Wood's cover for EC Comics' Weird Science #16, pitched the idea to Woody Gelman. Gelman and Brown created the story—with Brown writing the copy—and created rough sketches. They enlisted Wood to flesh out the sketches and Bob Powell to finish them. Norman Saunders painted the 55-card set.
The cards, which sold for five cents per pack of five, were test marketed by Topps through the dummy corporation Bubbles, Inc. under the name Attack from Space. Sales were sufficient to expand the marketing and the name was changed to Mars Attacks. The cards sparked parental and community outrage over their graphic violence and implied sexuality. Topps responded initially by repainting 13 of the cards to reduce the gore and sexuality. However, inquiries from a Connecticut district attorney caused Topps to halt production of the series altogether before the replacements could be printed.
Adaptations and merchandising
In 1984, Rosem Enterprises issued a set of the 13 repainted cards from the original series and Renata Galasso issued a full reprint. Four years later, Topps, with Pocket Comics, issued a planned 54-issue mini-comic book serialization of the card series, each issue to have been based on 54 of the 55 cards (the exception was the checklist card (#55)). It was canceled after four issues due to poor sales and equally poor distribution, although the next four issues were announced on a dealer's sheet. Four new trading cards were made with the mini-comics, with a fifth one announced on the back of the fourth card which was never released.
In 1994, Topps re-released the cards as the expanded Mars Attacks Archives, with the original 55 cards and 45 "New Visions" cards. The new cards are further divided into a #0 card, three subsets ("The Unpublished 11" (with 11 cards), "Mars Attacks: The Comics" (with 10 cards) and "Visions: New and Original" (with 22 cards)) and one card called "Norm Saunders: A Self-Portrait". 21 artists collaborated on the new cards, including Zina Saunders, daughter of the original artist Norman Saunders. In addition, several promo cards were released for this series. Topps Comics, in conjunction with the trading cards, issued a five-issue comic book miniseries based on the original 55 cards written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Charles Adlard. Topps Comics continued the story in an ongoing series that lasted seven issues, a one-shot special and three more miniseries, one of them a crossover with the Martians battling the Image Comics superhero the Savage Dragon and another one a crossover with the Martians battling other characters from the Image Comics universe. Wizard magazine and Topps Comics also published a 1/2 issue and an Ace Edition issue (#65).
In 1995, one year after the Archives series, Screamin' Productions and Topps released a tie-in set of eight Mars Attacks vinyl model kits with an accompanying series of eight new trading cards, each one inside one of the kits. Bonus items that could be acquired by sending in proof-of-purchase certificates from all eight of the kits were two new nearly identical bonus cards (one oversized with the Mars Attacks logo on it and one regular-sized without it) and a limited edition 9th model kit.
In 1996, Warner Bros. released Tim Burton's film Mars Attacks! In conjunction, two hardcover novels were released: Mars Attacks: Martian Deathtrap by Nathan Archer; and Mars Attacks: War Dogs of the Golden Horde by Ray W. Murrill. Each contained two new trading cards in the middle of each book. A paperback movie tie-in novelization by the film's screenwriter was also published. Trendmasters also produced a series of toy figures based on the film.
In 2012, to commemorate the franchise's 50th anniversary, Topps partnered with a variety of companies on comic books (via IDW Publishing), bobbleheads and vinyl dolls (Funko), action figures and plush toys (Mezco Toyz), costumes (Incogneato), statues and busts (Quarantine Studio), electronics skins (Gelaskins) and a commemorative hardcover book and 2013 calendar, both with nearly identical sets of four new trading cards (the only difference being that the book's cards had white borders on the front of the cards and the calendar's cards had green borders) (Abrams Books). Topps also re-released the original 55-card series again as the expanded Mars Attacks Heritage, including two subsets ("Deleted Scenes" (with 10 cards) and "Guide to the New Universe" (with 15 cards)). Like Archives before it, several promo cards were also released for this series, nine of them being a nine-card puzzle whose individual pieces could only be found at nine of the dealer booths at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con.
In 2013, Topps issued Mars Attacks: Invasion, a reboot series of 95 trading cards featuring a new story (Mars Attacks: Invasion (cards #1-58, plus a #0 promo card from the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con)) with new artwork cards (divided into "Mars Invades IDW" (cards #59-77 and #91-92) and "Art of Mars Attacks" (cards #78-90 and #93-95)) and including four new subsets ("Mars Attacks: Early Missions" (with six cards), "Mars Attacks Masterpieces" (with five cards), "Join the Fight!" (with four cards) and "Anatomy of a Martian" (also with six cards)). Similar to the Archives and Heritage reprint series, several promo cards were again released, including another nine-card puzzle whose individual pieces were again found at only nine of the dealer booths at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. This was the last Mars Attacks trading card series to be sold in stores to date; all other series since 2013 have been sold online.
A second series of 81 trading cards, Mars Attacks: Occupation, also featuring a second new story that picked up where Mars Attacks: Invasion left off (Mars Attacks: Occupation (cards #1-45) with new artwork cards (divided into "Art of Mars Attacks" (cards #46-63), "Factions" (cards #64-72), "Occupation Profiles" (cards #73-78) and "The Kickstarter Video" (cards #79-81)) and included six new subsets ("Mars Attacks Superstars", Mars Attacks: Then and Now!", "Mars Attacks All-Star Art" and "Dinosaurs Attack! vs. Mars Attacks" (each with nine cards (the last one of which was also available as a foil card set)), "Attacky Packages" (with 13 cards; the last three cards were titled "Attacky Packages Old School" (like "Dinosaurs Attack! vs. Mars Attacks", this one, too, was also available as a foil card set)) and "Mars Attacks/Judge Dredd" (with 18 cards)) was funded by Topps on Kickstarter in 2015 and released in 2016. Whether or not any new series in this reboot version of the original story will be released in the future is unknown at this time.
On October 27, 2016, "Day 10" of 13 Days of ERMA-Ween, an annual series of comic strips from the Brandon J. Santiago webcomic Erma, focuses on the Martians of the Mars Attacks franchise, showing Erma Williams, the series' titular character, wearing a nurse's cap, preparing to dissect a living Martian with a buzz saw.
In 2017, to commemorate the franchise's 55th anniversary, Topps released a sequel series to the original 1962 55-card series called Mars Attacks: The Revenge!, which takes place five years after the events in the original series and chronicles a second invasion by the Martians that escaped the explosion of Mars simply due to the fact that they were not there when it happened, but instead were still on, and above, Earth. Using a giant ray gun, Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon is pulled into Mars' former orbit (Mars is now a second asteroid belt that was made by its destruction) and renamed Mars II in order to restore balance to the Solar System which had been disrupted by the explosion of Mars. The surviving Martians, after discovering that the new planet's atmosphere is breathable to them, colonize Mars II secretly and, unknown to the humans, for the next five years prepare to wage a second Martian war against Earth for revenge. Five years later, the second Martian war begins, with the Martians just as cruel and sadistic as they were before. In the end the humans win this war as well and again defeat the Martians, who flee back to Mars II in order to fight another day. It contains 110 cards-the story itself (cards #1-55) and rough pencil art for the story cards (cards #P-1-P-55). No promo cards were released for this series. It was sold as a complete boxed set containing only the unwrapped 110 cards.
- "1962 Topps Mars Attacks Set – Martians Still Have Hobby Appeal". psacard.com. Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- Stewart, et al., p. 150
- Rice, David T. "Mars Attacks: The Original Invasion Begins Again!". Outré (#7). pp. 44–9.
- "Mars Attacks Gets Major Relaunch". icv2.com. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
- Mars Attacks – Topps Heads to Kickstarter for New Series
- 13 Days of ERMA-WEEN: Day 10
- Stewart, Bhob, Bill Pearson, Roger Hill, Greg Sadowski and Wallace Wood (2003). Against the Grain: MAD Artist Wallace Wood. TwoMorrows Publishing. ISBN 1-893905-23-3
- Pocket Comics Publisher, Mario A. Bruni. https://web.archive.org/web/20120810235004/http://www.marsattackscomics.com/