June 8, 2020

Monster Trading Cards: Special Accidental Monsters of the ‘50s Edition, Part Three

Sample trading card, Topps' Mars Attacks series
Another monster trading card set that I recall from childhood is Topps’ Mars Attacks series that was first launched in 1962. The series depicted the Martians blitz-invading the earth in an attempt to colonize it before their own planet blew up. Unlike H.G. Wells’ Martians who hid inside their war machines, Topps’ invaders were out in the open and in humanity's face. They were weird-looking humanoid creatures with skull-like faces, bug-eyes and exposed brains under their clear space helmets. Veteran comic artist Wally Wood contributed many of the designs and pulp magazine illustrator Norman Saunders painted the first set of cards.

In comparison to the Spook theater and Outer Limits sets, Mars Attacks was pretty rough stuff for an eight year old kid. Many of the cards depicted the Martians blasting, crushing, vaporizing and siccing giant insects on men, women, children and even family pets.

I didn’t collect the cards myself, because they wouldn’t have gone down well with my parents, but I remember some of my bolder friends sharing them with me -- either their parents were more laissez-faire or they were better at hiding their dubious treasures. I didn’t keep any, but they sure made an impression.

Still, Mars Attacks! (1996)

I saw Tim Burton’s film tribute, Mars Attacks! (1996), when it first came out, and apparently was one of only a handful of people who thoroughly enjoyed the gross-out humor -- critics and moviegoers were not kind. You had to have experienced the original cards to really get the movie.

Speaking of dubious treasures and tributes, here are the last two entries in the Accidental Monsters of the ‘50s virtual card set. Enjoy!

Accidental Monsters of the '50s trading card #5: Teenage Monster (1958)
Teenage Monster (1958). In 1880, a young boy is helping his father mine for gold when suddenly a meteor (portrayed by a 4th of July sparkler) shoots out of the sky and crashes nearby, killing the father and grievously wounding and disfiguring the boy. Seven years later, the “boy” has grown into a powerful, towering hairy beast with the mind of a child. Charles (Gil Perkins) lives with his mother Ruth (Anne Gwynne) in a remote cabin near the mine. Ruth is still trying to find gold, but also has to reprimand Charles periodically for killing unfortunate strangers who happen to cross his path.

When Ruth finally strikes gold and becomes wealthy, she makes the mistake of buying a house close to town, thinking she can still keep Charles hidden and pacified. With his teenage hormones raging, Charles kidnaps a young woman, Kathy (Gloria Castillo) and takes her back to his room. Ruth rescues her, but when she offers Kathy a sizable sum of money to keep quiet, the young woman realizes she has her own “gold mine” in the form of a loyal, harried mother who can be endlessly blackmailed. Kathy doubles down on her sinister scheme by befriending Charles and getting the impressionable brute to kill some of the townspeople who have done her wrong.

Fun facts: Teenage Monster has several connections to the classic Universal monsters: 1.) the Teenage Monster’s make-up was done by Jack Pierce, creator of the immortal make-ups for Universal’s Frankenstein monster, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man; 2.) Anne Gwynne started out as a contract player for Universal in the 1940s, most notably appearing in Weird Woman (1944) as Lon Chaney Jr.’s wife, and in House of Frankenstein (1944); Gil Perkins doubled for Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster in the fight scenes for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).

4 out of 5 Pathos Points for Charles, who is severely let down by the two women in his life -- his loyal but feckless mother, and his sociopathic “girlfriend” Kathy.

Accidental Monsters of the '50s trading card #6: First Man Into Space (1959)
First Man Into Space (1959). Lt. Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) is a cocky, hotshot Navy pilot who lives life to the fullest and often flouts the rules. His brother, Cmdr. Charles Prescott (Marshall Thompson), runs the Navy’s experimental rocket plane program designed to test the limits of man and machine in earth’s upper atmosphere. Charles is leery of sending his brother on another flight, but is ordered by his superiors to let him fly, as he’s considered the Navy’s best test pilot.

Charles’ reservations are confirmed when Dan disobeys orders, turns on the afterburners of his rocket plane, and blasts through the upper atmosphere into outer space. After getting pounded by some sort of mysterious space dust, Dan loses control of the plane. Charles and a rescue crew find the wreckage in a remote part of New Mexico, but Dan is missing. The wrecked plane is encrusted with something that is impervious to X-rays. Charles’ alarm grows as strange reports come in -- first of cows with their throats slashed open and drained of blood, then of a blood-bank nurse killed in the same bizarre way. Charles soon realizes that Dan has paid a heavy price by becoming the first man into space.

Fun fact: This story of an American aerospace program was actually a UK production, originally released in the U.S. by MGM. For the special effects, the producers used the German-Austrian team of Karl Ludwig-Ruppel and Flo Nordhoff, who had teamed up for the previous year’s Fiend Without a Face.

3 out 5 Pathos Points to test pilot Dan for being the first man to test the cosmic Shake ‘n Bake coating, with less than optimal results.


  1. I finally caught up with Teenage Monster in 2019 and enjoyed it very much. A couple of weeks later, the new Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opened, and there Teenage Monster was, on a TV set in one of the scenes. I guess Quentin is a fan too.

    1. I just watched Teenage Monster for the first time in over 50 years. While I found it somewhat plodding in pace and direction, the female leads are strong and it has its share of poignant moments. By the way, you're far more observant than I -- I completely missed it playing in the background in Once Upon a Time!