One morning in 1966, while Robin eats his breakfast in the Batcave, Batman nervously paces the room, attempting to piece together a strategy to thwart the Riddler's latest scheme.
Robin: Holy savory cereals, Batman. Look what I found in my cereal box - it's a trading card with a drawing of us on it.
Batman: Indeed it is, old chum (taking the card from Robin and examining it). Are you eating that cereal from Australia and New Zealand again?
Robin: Yes, I am Batman. I'm addicted to these Weeties.
Batman: Well, my brainy Boy Wonder, this is certainly a crazy coincidence. For when I was brushing my teeth with that MacLeans Toothpaste that Alfred buys from the UK, I noticed an offer for some similar cards.
Robin: Sounds fishy to me, Batman. Maybe it's the Riddler shamelessly exploiting our image for money.
Batman: It wouldn't be beyond his warped, opportunistic mind, Robin. Let's enter a search into the Batcomputer and see if any information comes up.
No information comes up in the Batcomputer that day - or the next 46 years for that matter. The dynamic duo had all but forgotten about these cards until one day in August the following SMR article appeared.
With over 500 Batman products reportedly hitting the market, the Caped Crusader certainly packed a punch in 1966. Inspired by the popular TV show debuting that same year, card companies created their own Batmania by unveiling several sets featuring Gotham City's most devoted guardian.
As the brainchild of artist/writer Bob Kane, the original Batman made his debut in the 1939 comic book series entitled Detective Comics. Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask, dedicated himself to crime-fighting after witnessing the murder of his parents during a street robbery. The character clearly resonated with readers and triggered its own comic book series in 1940.
Despite lacking the traditional superpowers, Batman and his trusted sidekick, Robin, have managed to defeat a quirky cast of criminals with their keen intellect, astute detective skills and an extensive arsenal of bat gadgetry.
In North America, Topps Batman cards were available in wax packs throughout corner stores everywhere. However, if you lived in Australia or New Zealand, you could find cards in your cereal. And in the UK, you could obtain cards through a toothpaste offer.
The two latter, relatively unpublicized, 1966 Batman issues were distributed in two ways: one issue was included in Weeties and Rice Krinkles cereal boxes which were sold in both Australia and New Zealand; the other came as part of a mail-in MacLeans Toothpaste promotion in the UK that allowed collectors to send away for a 40-card game.
The composition and design of these sets is very similar, but savvy collector Dave Lemon, who owns the top set of each on the PSA Set registry, points out that the Weeties and Rice Krinkles singles (2.5" by 3.5") are larger than the MacLeans cards (2" by 3").
Both sets boast 35 singles comprised of seven, five-card subseries that feature Batman and Robin battling different villains. False-Face, the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, the Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze and Catwoman compose the list of criminals that the dynamic duo must conquer in this set.
Lemon possesses a header card from the MacLeans Toothpaste series that describes the rules of the 40-card game. The rules indicate that this was a two to four player game wherein each player had to be initially dealt five cards. The remaining cards would then be placed in a pile face down. Players would select a card from this pile and, if they wanted to keep it, they had to get rid of a card from their own hand. The disposed card would then be placed face up in a separate pile.
Each game set also included four "WHAM! POW! BANG" cards that aren't linked to any subseries. If a player had one of these cards, he/she could play it at any time in order to obtain a card from the face-up pile. The objective of the game was to collect all five cards in a villain subseries.
Card fronts flaunt colorful artwork and offer the subseries name, card number and text describing the action in the drawing. The MacLeans Toothpaste cards generally boast more vibrant colors and whiter borders than the Weeties and Rice Krinkles singles. This can probably be attributed to the fact that the Weeties and Rice Krinkles cards were individually distributed in cereal boxes.
Lemon notes that if you compare the same-numbered cards from each set, there are some subtle differences in the artwork. For example, in the Weeties and Rice Krinkles set, the first card in the Joker subseries ("Crime Card - The Joker 1") depicts the Joker wearing a burgundy suit and a red mask over his eyes. While on the same-numbered card in the MacLeans Toothpaste set, the Joker is missing the mask and sporting a red, white and green striped jacket and yellow pants with green polka dots.
Lemon also adds that there are three cards in the two sets that boast the same number but showcase different artwork. "Crime Card - The Mad Hatter 1," "False Face 2" and "The Penguin 5" all exhibit different scenes and text.
There are also other cards where the artwork is the same, but the text is different. On the MacLeans' "Crime Card - Catwoman 1" single, for example, Batman is referred to as the "Cowled Crusader" and Catwoman is deemed a "vamp," while on the Weeties and Rice Krinkles card, Batman is referred to as the "Caped Crusader" and Catwoman is dubbed a "villainess."
The white-bordered backs boast a dark blue background and showcase the Batman logo, company information (e.g. "Batman Card from Weeties and Rice Krinkles" or "Free from MacLeans Toothpaste") and copyright information (National Periodical Publications Inc., 1966).
As mentioned earlier, the Weeties and Rice Krinkles cards were individually distributed, without packaging, inside of cereal boxes.
"I've never seen a listed card packaged in cellophane," said Rob Fagan, who owns the No. 2 set on the registry and has been assembling his set for eight years. Currently, he owns about two complete sets, and he says that "[he has] never seen them in cellophane [or] heard of any reference to cellophane."
Too large to be included with the toothpaste itself, it's believed that the MacLeans singles were only available for the 40-card game as part of a promotional mail-in offer advertised on the boxes.
Significantly, these issues have become two of the toughest 1966 Batman sets to track down.
"When I started collecting the [Weeties and Rice Krinkles] cards, they were difficult to find. [Their obscurity] intrigued me, so I then started to look for them even more," noted Fagan. "For probably eight years, I've been hunting these little rascals."
Fagan rarely sees the Weeties and Rice Krinkles singles for sale, so he hasn't noticed any cards within the set generating a premium. The "WHAM! POW! BANG!" card has been submitted to PSA the most. Of the nine submitted, the highest unqualified grade has been a PSA EX-MT 6.
There has yet to be a PSA GEM-MT 10 card uncovered from either the Weeties and Rice Krinkles or MacLeans issues.
"They're really tough to find in good shape," said Fagan of the Weeties and Rice Krinkles cards. "For some reason the colorization of the cardboard changes. I've read that the [card manufacturer] used a cardboard of lesser quality and chemically treated it to make it whiter." According to Fagan, this process supposedly led to the development of "a series of little spots on the cards." And since there are many cards with this specific flaw, he says, this has made it very difficult to obtain a PSA NM-MT 8 from the series.
Some of the Weeties and Rice Krinkles cards were also stained due to their distribution method: they were included in cereal boxes without any protective packaging (i.e. cellophane).
This condition sensitivity, combined with the rarity of the set, should continue to make it a desirable offering in the future.
"I like to collect sets that are underdogs," said Fagan. "I also like the fact that this [Weeties and Rice Krinkles] series has actual drawings-artwork and not just pictures. Cards and stickers with real artwork are the best collectibles to me." Moreover, he also believes that this series is likely to procure more interest in the future due to unique features such as these.
Thank you to Dave Lemon for his efforts and for providing his cards to be scanned for this article. Thanks also to Rob Fagan for his input and for submitting his cards to be scanned. My gratitude also goes out to Mark Edmunds who contributed valuable information. Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any additional information or comments. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of May 2012.