Wild about Wild Man!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2002 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
I always liked the Wild Man card series because it was one of Bowman's most sensational and ambitious sets. According to the Benjamin guide, there is evidence the series was slated for 180 cards. Unfortunately, sales fell short during the second series (#37-72) and the series was abandoned. However, Bowman had another hit that soon followed: Jets-Rockets-Spacemen came out the next year and was a major success. So Wild Man was basically sandwiched between two other Bowman hits: Wild West (©1949) and J-R-S (©1951).
Like most sandwiches, I enjoy the stuff in the middle the most. Although I love the other two sets, Wild Man offers a special attraction to my macabre mind, because it deals with death. Here's how the back of each card identified Wild Man's theme:
"MAN'S PAST is stained with BLOOD; His FUTURE can be bright with PROMISE--If in the PRESENT he will wage PEACE." Okay, NEVER MIND all the NICE words that were CAPITALIZED to make mom and dad THINK this was a WHOLESOME series, the KEY word for KIDS was BLOOD! And there were generous helpings of it splattered across the cards to keep the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" emanating from everyone's bubble-gum insertion holes. By my count, almost 60 of the 72 cards show violent scenes where someone or some animal is in the process of being slaughtered. Pretty neat-o! Perhaps parents noticed this trend and started restricting the penny flow that funded the one card & one stick of gum for 1¢ sales. What a pity. After all, Bowman's five star trademark stood for "Child, church, home, school and community." You can't get much more patriotic than that! As if to prove it, Bowman soon released yet another classic, the red-baiting Red Menace series. Anyone who refused to buy that series was not only un-American, they were probably pink-o commie spies!
But let's stick to one sensational series at a time. Bowman introduced Wild Man in a newsletter to customers with the following hullabaloo:
"WILDER THAN WILD WEST!
"HOW WILD IS MAN? How much has his nature changed from the earliest cave-man days up to the year 1950? See the new, terrific picture-story cards in WILD MAN Picture Card Gum. Save them as each new series of 36 cards is issued every few weeks.
"Your complete collections of these exciting, full color WILD MAN cards will record the story of MAN through thousands of years. His early days; his struggles for existence; his rise and fall; his work and play; his science and arts; his inventive skills; his explorations and discoveries; his wars and conquests; his sins and crimes; his power to love; his hopes and fears; his dreams of peace.
"IS MAN yet WILD? What can TAME him? Get the answer in WILD MAN picture cards."
Like I said, pretty ambitious stuff! Perhaps even too broad. This wasn't really a war set, or a Indian set, or a rocket adventure set, it was more like all three combined into one. There were war scenes, Indian massacres, and space invaders scattered throughout the series-- plus cavemen, Vikings, crusaders, boxers, pirates, fifth columnists, and more!
Naturally, there was also an atom bomb card. (What paranoid 1950s set would be complete without one?) It was card #8. The front shows a Japanese family getting incinerated in a flash of radio-active flame. The reverse grimly states:
"The weapons of World War II surpassed even those of World War I in horror. One atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945, destroyed 60% of the city and brought frightful death to most of the people. Science can produce larger and deadlier bombs with each passing year. Their continued use may lead to the end of the World." Now that's a pleasant thought. It's cards like these that inspired countless nightmares in America's sleeping youth, assuming they could sleep at all. Forget monsters under the bed, these were real life terrors graphically portrayed to add that special little something to your cold war hysteria. Way to go Bowman!
For those not nervous enough with the nuclear threat, Bowman included provocative images to fuel terrorist anxieties, like #70, which shows crowds asphyxiating in the streets:
"The atomic bomb is not the only weapon that threatens the destruction of man. The prospect of germ and chemical warfare, scientists tell us, is equally horrible. The toxin that produces botulism (a form of ptomaine poisoning), sprayed into a rain cloud by planes, could turn a metropolis like New York or Chicago into a city of the dead." Let's hope Osama doesn't collect cards.
Wild Man also featured some of Bowman's most meticulously detailed artwork. Many of these cards are pictures of large battles with hundreds of soldiers fighting in the back ground. Ask any artist and they'll say this is one of the toughest and most time consuming subjects to paint. A favorite trick of artists is to "crowd out" some of the details by placing a large object or close-up face in the foreground. But you don't see that shortcut taken here. All the details are painstakingly inserted, soldier by soldier, corpse by corpse. Even the difficult uniforms are complete (although ripped and torn by bullets and bayonets).
This series seems to have several topics that appear woefully out of place. While most the cards feature action and excitement as men smash, bash, stab, cut, burn and blow up their enemies, a hand full of cards are remarkably tame. I'm thinking of such pacifist classics as "Falconry", "Skyliner", "Land of Promise" and "Quest for Peace". Maybe I'm missing something, but what does Falconry have to do with murdering mankind? Or commercial airliners? Or creating the nation of Israel? (Okay, so maybe that one does involve violence, but back in the 1950s, few of us realized that.) These are all boring "feel good" fluff cards! The lamest of the lame is probably the "Quest for Peace" card with nothing on it but the temporary headquarters of the United Nations (Yawnsville, USA). Of course, you can say this has to do with ending war, etc. etc., but couldn't they at least have shown a scene of what horrors the UN was trying to prevent instead of a boring building? In a set so rife with action and violence, these cards do little more than take up space. Fortunately, these fillers are few and far between.
Overall, the pros clearly outweigh the cons. For the selective cartophilist who carefully picks the sets he plans to collect, this series has two other major attractions: It has never been reprinted, although card #30 (To Siberia) was slated to be recycled in the second series of Red Menace as card #51. However, that sequel was never issued by Bowman.
The second bonus is that Wild Man doesn't have so many numbers that it's overwhelming to collect. (Especially when compared to Horror's of War, Wild West, or J-R-S.) However, it is expensive to obtain in high grade, especially the high number cards (37 - 72). Complete Ex and near mint sets go for one to two thousand dollars. But lowgrade singles have been advertised for as little as $3 each, including the high numbers.
All in all, this is one of Bowman's best sets and is a prized addition to any collection. One cannot help but wonder if missing art work for the other three series is floating around out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered and perhaps published by another company, as was much of the "lost" artwork to other Bowman sets (J-R-S #145-180 and Red Menace #49-72). That could mean up to 108 more images-- what a find that would be! Alas, it doesn't look like such a discovery is "in the cards." Fortunately, we still have two of the 36 card series to celebrate this fun series. If you like great artwork, mixed with lots of action and gore, you'll love Wild Man.
The Non-Sports Trading Card Article Index