The Good: Excellent image quality, Good writing, Generally good chase, Fairly decent collectibility.
The Bad: Unremarkable parallel set, Missed opportunities on autograph set, Odd quality issue with the common set.
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. transitions surprisingly well to trading cards with the Season 1 set from Rittenhouse Archives!
It has been a pretty packed week of Marvel Cinematic Universe stuff for me. With Netflix releasing Daredevil, a new episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., spoilers abounding about The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (thanks to the world premiere of the film), and the release of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards. The last four days of mine have been dominated by breaking cases of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards and it is a surprisingly good release. In fact, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards are one of the rare trading card products I've reviewed where I thought the subject matter was a bit of a risk (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a fairly erratic television series) and the more I encountered the product, the more impressed I was by it.
In fact, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards are an interesting product in that it has a really high initial "wow" factor. Indeed, it was only when I really focused on the cards after opening nine cases (and an archive box) that I found any real detractions with the set. Perhaps most interesting about the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set is that the subject matter was nowhere near as problematic as I anticipated it might be; but the set marks an odd departure from Rittenhouse Archives's longest-held quality standard for the common set. Unlike virtually every other product from Rittenhouse Archives, the common card set has a slight satin finish instead of an obvious glossy, UV-protective coating. While that might seem like a nitpick, the lack of a UV protective coating actually reduces the overall quality in that it makes the cards more vulnerable to wear, damage and have a lighter feel to them that is noticeable.
The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One was the first release of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. trading cards from Rittenhouse Archives and one of their few Marvel Cinematic Universe releases (unlike Star Trek, which licenses exclusively for their trading card products, elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe seem to be licensed on a release by release basis - i.e. Rittenhouse Archives produced Iron Man trading cards, Upper Deck produced Iron Man 3 trading cards, etc.). Properly assembled, the set is a collection of 244 trading cards and the official Season One binder from Rittenhouse. All but seven of the cards are available in boxes or cases of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One cards, making it one of the sets that actually has fairly decent collectibility. The cards were originally released in boxes that contained twenty-four packs of five cards each. Boxes tended to run in the $75 - $90 range and guaranteed one common set, one costume card and at least one autograph per box.
Collation in the "Season One" set was remarkably good. In order to get the multicase incentives, one has to buy nine cases (and an Archive Box) and from such a purchase, a master set is actually attainable (which, shockingly, cannot be said of many modern trading card releases!).
The common card set consists of 72 trading cards, which are printed on standard cardstock, but do not have a glossy UV resistant coating. Instead, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set is similar in quality to the Cryptozoic DC Comics Women Of Legend set (reviewed here!), which was riddled with occasional scratches or indents from the machines which collate the cards. While Cryptozoic had the credible excuse that it was still a comparatively new company on the trading card market, Rittenhouse Archives has been a powerhouse in the non-sport card market for over a decade. The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One cards represent a strange departure from the longest-held baseline standard the company has had for its trading cards. The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set features three cards per episode, detailing the plot of each episode, along with two three-card cast murals that detail the contents of the season and have a checklist of (most) of the cards in the set.
The common cards look wonderful, outside physically, and establish well the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. cards in a format similar to the Star Trek: Enterprise Season Two trading cards (reviewed here!). The landscape format is held through the entire common set and has a nice border at the bottom that states the episode the card is detailing. This set is a wonderful mix of character and special effects shots. As far as the primary images (the large picture on the front of each common card) are concerned, the set looks good with the bulk of the cards focusing more on characters than special effects. This makes the set a good one for fans to get autographed, should Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever do anything like conventions. There are two images per card, with the front being dominated by a single image and the back featuring a single window image next to the text.
The backs of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 cards are well written, adequately detailing the plot of each episode over the course of the three trading cards. Indeed, outside not referencing how the episodes tie-in to the two features that were released during the season and influenced some important plotlines, the cards are exceptionally well-written and fairly thorough.
Collation on this set was excellent, so the common sets averaged one and a third per box, which was good for collectors (I consistently managed to assemble four sets from every three boxes I opened).
There are 172 chase cards in the "Season One" set, with 165 found in the boxes of cards and the remaining seven available outside the boxes and packs. The bonus cards that can be found within the boxes were the parallel cards, S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D. cards, Art Of Level 7 cards, Allegiance cards, Advanced Technology Cards, Costume cards and two sets of autographs. Most of the chase cards are limited to only one of the style per box, which enhances the value of the boxes. The most basic bonus card in the set are the 72 gold parallel cards. The parallel cards are a strange standard in recent releases from Rittenhouse Archives and other card companies. The gold parallel cards are rather unimaginative. The parallel cards are a higher-quality version of the common cards and include a gold foil ribbon on the front of each card's title bar. Instead of doing a full foil card or doing any sort of imaginative parallel set, the gold parallel cards are somewhat boring, though each one is strictly limited to 100 and individually numbered on the back of each card. These may not be the best or most imaginative parallel cards, but they do look pretty wonderful and have good collectible value.
Arguably, the coolest bonus card in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set are the six S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D. cards. The S.H.I.E.L.D. I.D. cards are plastic representations of the S.H.I.E.L.D. identification cards for the main six cast members from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. As a plot point in the first season Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. , Skye earns her clearance badge to join S.H.I.E.L.D. and Rittenhouse Archives appears to have replicated that incredibly well! These cards look like functional swipe cards on both front and back, which is pretty impressive.
The other six card chase set is the Art Of Level 7 chase set. Those cards are foil cards that feature artwork based on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The Art Of Level 7 was a promotional project Marvel did to promote Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in comic book shops and Rittenhouse Archives replicated those posters as foil cards. That was pretty cool and most of them look pretty awesome as foil cards.
One of the conceptually neatest cards in the set are the Allegiance cards. The eighteen card, portrait-oriented character cards feature decent images of all the main characters and most important guest characters (save Nick Fury). The backs simply state the actor and character names. The fronts feature a small black circle; when one puts a finger on the circle and squeezes, the body heat reveals a S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA or "?" for unaffiliated (rogue) characters! This is an inventive chase card.
The Advanced Technology set is landscape-oriented and foil accented. The nine-card chase set shows various instruments used by S.H.I.E.L.D. The artwork is all right, but not extraordinary and the writing is not as impressive as the common set. For example, the Strobe Disc describes what the S.H.I.E.L.D. equipment is, but not anything about the mission in which it was used (and it's a pretty obscure piece of S.H.I.E.L.D. technology). Traditionally, cards like this have not held their value relative to their rarity, so it will be interesting to see if the Technology cards in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. cards become an exception to that rule.
Also one per box are the costume cards. The costume cards are thicker cards, all landscape oriented, feature an image of the character whose costume piece is embedded in the card and an opening that exposes a piece of fabric from a set worn costume from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The glossy costume cards are predominantly dark and most of the fabric swatches are also dark. Notable exceptions are the dress Skye wore in "The Asset," Agent Simmons's shirt and Ian Quinn's pocket square. Most of the costume cards are limited and individually numbered (with foil stamped numbers on the back) to 350. The rarest costume card is Ian Quinn's pocket square, which was limited to 120 cards. The problem with the costume card set - other than a number of incredibly unremarkable fabric swatches - are that a lot of the pictures on the cards do not feature prominently the costumes from which the swatches are from. For example, the Agent Coulson card which features his pants has a picture where Coulson is sitting and very little of his pants are actually in the picture! That said, the costume set is consistent, cool-looking and hits most of the major characters. It is pretty neat that Rittenhouse Archives managed to get so many costume pieces from the show. There are nineteen costume cards, which means - with absolutely ideal collation - it requires two cases to assemble a set.
Interestingly found in greater proportion than the rest of the chase cards are the autograph cards. The Season One set has thirty-four autograph cards available in the packs, divided into two sets. The primary autograph set are full-bleed autograph cards, the secondary set are nine bordered autograph cards which duplicate signers from the full-bleed set. The autographs are an interesting blend of essential and disappointing signers. It is easy to understand the business reason behind breaking the main cast signers up into multiple sets. Sadly, Chloe Bennet was originally scheduled to sign, but had an unforeseeable on-set accident which prevented her from signing in time for this set. Beyond that, the only main cast member who did not sign was Ian De Caestecker as Agent Fitz. Given that "Fitzsimmons" is introduced (and frequently treated) as a single character, it seems strange that Rittenhouse Archives did not release Elizabeth Henstridge and De Caestecker's autographs in the same set (and/or with a dual autograph card!). The fact that Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Elizabeth Henstridge, Saffron Burrows, Titus Welliver, J. August Richards and Bill Paxton all signed cards for the set is impressive. Cobie Smulders had a silver series autograph card added at the last minute and it is very rare and looks amazing.
Like most autograph card sets, there is a balance between main stars and entirely obscure actors who had unremarkable roles. In this case, the signers seem pretty out of balance between wonderful and Any time one has to check out the IMDB to figure out what episode the signer even appeared in, it is hard to justify the signer. The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set has some notable oversights (or actors who Rittenhouse Archives was unable to get as signers). While Ruth Negga (Raina) signed cards for this set, David Conrad (Ian Quinn) did not. That Ron Glass (Dr. Streiten, the doctor who resurrected Agent Coulson, and made Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. possible) did not sign is unfortunate, though it is unsurprising Samuel Jackson could not be enticed into signing for the set. And for a set that includes 2 Agent Sitwell costume cards, it seems odd that there are no autograph cards from the actor who played him! Yet, Rittenhouse Archives included cards signed by Dayo Ade, James MacDonald, and two versions signed by Robert Belushi. The real disappointment for the two cards signed by the same person is the J. August Richards card. Richards plays Mike Peterson and Deathlok. The artwork on both autograph cards is clearly Deathlok, but the cards both call him Mike Peterson and the photographs are not terribly different. Instead of signing as Deathlok and (with cleaner character artwork indicative of half his time in the first season) another as Mike Peterson, the J. August Richards cards are both "Mike Peterson."
In addition to the Silver Series autograph that is the rarest of the ones found in the packs, in the Archive Box, there is a bordered version of the Bill Paxton as John Garrett autograph card.
As with most "modern" trading card releases - certainly the ones from Rittenhouse Archives - not all of the cards needed to make a true master set are available in the boxes of these trading cards. In this set, there are seven cards that cannot be found in the boxes. There is the usual promo card which foreshadowed the series release which is common enough to find (P1). There is also a card exclusive to the "Season One" trading card binder, the binder promotional card (P2), which is a portrait-oriented card of Coulson and May together.
The remaining five cards are the two casetoppers, the multicase incentive cards and the Rittenhouse Rewards card. The casetoppers are two different embossed cards (only one per case!) featuring the logos of S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA symbols. These are unremarkable casetoppers as the embossed cards are not numbered with individual collector's numbers, feature nothing extraordinary and are not even sealed into their toploaders by Rittenhouse Archives (which is problematic in that these cards get scuffed remarkably easily!).
The multicase incentive autographs are highly coveted and very cool. There is a full-bleed autograph card from Stan Lee (6-case incentive autograph) and a 9-case incentive full-bleed Cobie Smulders autograph card. These are very cool and collectible.
The final card for the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set is a Rittenhouse Rewards card. Available only by redeeming wrappers with Rittenhouse Archives, there is an AT10 card which extends the Advanced Technology card set from nine to ten cards. Given that most sets of cards try to be nine-card sets because that is how card pages are manufactured, extending the set to a tenth card makes the set awkward. The lock-pick device is an unremarkable card needed by die-hard fans to complete the set, but will not wow anyone.
Despite issues with the physical quality of the common cards, the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading card set, this is a pretty remarkable trading card set. The set is not so limited as to be unobtainable, the set looks surprisingly good when assembled (even the preponderance of black fabric swatches in black costume cards) and it manages to present the neglected element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a very cool way. The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 set is worth investing in!
This set culls images from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One, reviewed here!
For reviews of other television-themed trading cards, please check out my reviews of:
True Blood Premiere Edition
The Walking Dead Season 2 M16 Rick Grimes Costume Card
Star Trek Aliens
This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store! Check out my current inventory at: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 Inventory Page!
For other trading card reviews, be sure to check out my Trading Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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