Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Season In Dark Territory, A Card Release Better Than The Source: Enterprise Season 3!

The Good: Excellent image quality, Good writing, Generally good chase
The Bad: Vastly inconsistent autograph quality, Checklists as chase, Context of prior sets, Quality control on foils
The Basics: A nice looking card set that has a great divide between the very common and very hard-to-find cards. Better than the program!

I do not envy Brannon Braga. Poor guy, he wanted to stretch his wings and create a show that was all his own, but he wanted it to have the popularity of Star Trek, without riding on the coattails of Gene Roddenberry and the franchise whose beginning he never liked. Braga was granted a half-measure before he was given his wish (the utter failure Threshold which Braga got on television during the War Of The Worlds craze) and the half-measure was Enterprise, a Star Trek prequel that allowed Braga to completely gut the thirty-five years of stories and lore that came prior. The reason I start with "poor Braga" is that with the third season of the show, Braga's last before he was replaced with a Star Trek purist, Braga was compelled to make two huge concessions that seemed to go against his prior formula. First, in a desperate attempt to get back the Star Trek fan base that the series had been mortgaging for two years, the show was renamed Star Trek: Enterprise. Second, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was compelled to follow the successful serialized format of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (the only modern Star Trek series Braga did not have his hands in) and the entire season formed one long arc inside an area of space created just for the season. And poor Braga, his efforts did not net the fans' return (it turns out Star Trek fans are not sheep!) and the season was cut down from twenty-six to twenty-four episodes and Braga was (finally) shown the door.

Poor Steve Cherendoff, too. Who, you might be asking, is Steve Cherendoff? Steve Cherendoff is the president and CEO of a little company in Pennsylvania that worked very hard to establish itself by offering a level of quality to trading cards and illustrated a strong desire to make cards that were collectible and intriguing. After a few years of plugging away with oversized Star Trek cards, Cherendoff and his little startup managed to wrest the Star Trek trading card license from SkyBox and they have been doing the card sets ever since. Cherendoff is an incredibly nice guy and he and his company, Rittenhouse Archives, have a reputation for working hard to satisfy dealers and collectors by creating quality products. For the most part he has succeeded.

But here, we have "Poor Steve Cherendoff" for a simple reason; bound to the license, Cherendoff was compelled to produce trading card sets from Star Trek: Enterprise and when the Season 1 and Season 2 releases were not instant sellouts (the company's first Star Trek non-sellouts since the very first product they released!) that Rittenhouse was used to from the Trek product, one has to imagine that Cherendoff was getting nervous about his company's future. It's a testament to the integrity of Rittenhouse Archives, then, that the company put so much effort, care and quality into their Star Trek: Enterprise Season Three trading card set.

Basics/Set Composition

Continuing in numbering and general chase composition, Star Trek: Enterprise Season Three was the fourth release of Enterprise trading cards from Rittenhouse Archives. Properly assembled, the set is a collection of 133 trading cards and the official Season Three binder from Rittenhouse. All but seven of the cards are available in boxes of Star Trek: Enterprise Season Three cards, making it one of the sets with enduring collectibility. The cards were originally released in boxes that contained forty packs of five cards each. Boxes tended to run in the $60 - $75 range and guaranteed one common set and two autographs per box.

Collation in the "Season Three" set was remarkably good. Whatwith the number of episodes being less than some prior releases, often collectors could get three entire common sets out of a box! To complete a true master set of "Season Three" cards, collectors had to purchase at least two cases of the cards, as there was a multi-case incentive card.

Common Cards

The common card set consists of 72 trading cards, which are printed on standard cardstock and have a glossy UV resistant coating. This causes cards to stick together occasionally, but this is a moot issue as the vast majority of trading card collectors keep their cards in binders these days to protect and display their cards. The seventy-two card set focuses exclusively on the episodes in the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise and there are three cards per episode, detailing the plot of each episode.

The common cards look wonderful, following in the same format that made Enterprise Season Two trading cards popular. The landscape format is held through the entire common set and it is distinguished from the "Season Two" set by having a red border framing the top and bottom of the front image and framing the text on the back. 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 51 cards devoted to shots featuring characters and 21 images of special effects shots. This makes the set a good one for fans to get autographed at conventions. There are three images per card, with the front being dominated by a single image and the backs sandwiching two windows of images in next to the text. It's nice to see that Rittenhouse Archives sought to uses as many images as possible while maintaining image integrity and collectibility. The images on the back tend to have more special effects shots.

The format is one that was pioneered back when SkyBox was producing "Episode Collection" series' of Star Trek: The Next Generation trading cards. The cards are numbered 163 - 234, continuing the numbering begun with "Season One" and "Season Two." The backs are well written, adequately detailing the plot of each episode over the course of the three trading cards. Indeed, the "Season Three" trading card set makes it seem like the show was worth watching, so well written are the cards!

Collation on this set was excellent, so the common sets averaged three per box, which was good for collectors, but generally devalued the common sets (common sets almost never hold their value these days).

Chase Cards

There are 61 chase cards in the "Season Three" set, with 54 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 checklist cards, M.A.C.O.S. In Action cards, First Contact cards, Crew cards, The Ultimate Jolene Cards and two sets of autographs. For some baffling reason, the checklists were considered bonus cards and inserted one in every thirteen packs, so most boxes only yielded a single set of cards with all three checklists. This is rather annoying and one wonders why Rittenhouse did not make them more plentiful and add them to the common card set, especially considering that they used decent images (culled from the opening credit sequence) to garnish the front of each Checklist card.

The most common bonus cards in this set were the M.A.C.O.S. In Action cards. These cards were fairly banal foil cards illustrating the new soldiers Enterprise took on in order to go combat within the Expanse. The cards had no writing on the back so those unfamiliar with the characters and actors were lost as to the significance of these people. Moreover, many of these cards, which were slightly thicker than usual and were silver foil cards, came out of the packs chipped at the edges and along the sides.

Similarly, many of the First Contacts cards came out of the packs chipped and somewhat ruined, I discovered (I've opened more than ten cases - 120 boxes - of these cards). The First Contacts continue the series of chase cards begun in "Season One" and continued in "Season Two" detailing new alien races the NX Enterprise encountered for the first time. This set focuses on the various forms of Xindi, which makes sense as the entire season was a whole arc designed to learn about and thwart them. The irksome thing about the nine First Contacts cards in this set (numbered F22 - F30) is that the odds of pulling them was altered making them far more rare than the prior releases. At one First Contacts card in every twenty packs, this netted only two per box, making them twice as rare as the same type card in the "Season Two" release. This was a problem for many dealers as customers who were used to paying $3.00 for a card now felt like they were being jerked around when the price averaged $5.00 a "First Contact" card with this release.

The rarity continued with the Enterprise Crew Cards. These are beautiful acetate cards with images of each crew member silkscreened onto them. They have a wonderful primary image of the character and a background image of the set. These are essentially the third season publicity stills made into acetate cards, but they still look wonderful and are very popular with card collectors and fans of the series alike. The back of each card has the name of the actor and the character, making these cards reminiscent of the Casting Call cards from the Star Trek: Nemesis release. These cards were only one per box, meaning that with ideal collation it took seven boxes to complete this set! These cards went in the portrait orientation (along with the autographs and sketch cards), which ruined the unified look of the set. It's worth it for the quality of these cards, though!

Also one per box were the die-cut "Ultimate Jolene" cards, a series of cards that featured quotes from Jolene Blalock on season three, being a Vulcan and following in Leonard Nimoy's shoes. Rather bafflingly, these uniquely shaped cards (they are contoured on the sides, following the lines of the images of T'Pol that frame the central image of each card) which seem to be capitalizing on the sex-symbol of Star Trek: Enterprise do not all feature Jolene Blalock's image as the primary shot of the card! Two of them have the Enterprise and it's a somewhat ridiculous set. Moreover, almost no one wants to pay what these are worth given that they are only one per box and it takes (with ideal collation) nine boxes to complete a set!

This brings us to the autograph cards. The Season Three set has seventeen autograph cards available in the packs, divided into two sets. The primary autograph set continues the numbering started in "Season One" and continued in "Season Two" and includes A7 and A23 - A31. A7, Connor Trinneer as Charles Tucker, III was withheld from the "Season Two" set to increase the possibility that people would actually purchase this set. It was a limited autograph, meaning Trinneer signed 500 or less of the card. People purchasing the "Season Three" set was virtually guaranteed by A23, though. A23 is the Jolene Blalock as T'Pol autograph card and given that she signed only 250 -300 of the autograph cards, it is THE card to pull in the boxes. Other autographs in this set that are bound to please Star Trek fans (though not likely the collectors given that they are all common autographs) include Casey Biggs, Randy Oglesby and Emily Bergl (who went on to do Men In Trees!). Rather baffling is that autograph card A26 has Scott MacDonald's character referred to as "Reptilian Commander" when the common set acknowledges the character by his proper name, Dolim. The checklist also has the A29 Nikita Ager autograph still listed as TBA.

Also listed as TBA is the MA3 autograph. The MA cards are M.A.C.O.S. autographs, featuring select M.A.C.O.S. characters, most of whom were supporting characters. The notable signers in this set include Noa Tishby (a fan favorite as her character created some sexual tension with Tucker), Steven Culp (who went from Enterprise to Desperate Housewives and appears as the new first officer to the U.S.S. Enterprise-E in the deleted scenes to Star Trek: Nemesis, reviewed here!), and MA3 which is none other than Daniel Dae Kim who played Corporal Chang (and now delights audiences as Jin on Lost, reviewed here, and Hawaii 5-0)! All of these autographs are rather common and the other four in the set, like the majority of the primary autograph set signers, are basically filler that only appeal to the most diehard Star Trek Enterprise fan or similarly obsessed trading card collector.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

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 are two cards exclusive to the "Season Three" trading card binder, the binder promotional card (P3) and a costume card of Captain Archer's costume! This is the only costume card in the set and it's a nice - if bland - addition to it. The P2 card is a promotional card available only through Non-Sports Update Magazine and it might take a little work to track down (though the magazine offers back issues pretty readily).

The remaining three cards are the two casetoppers and the multicase incentive card. The casetoppers are two different sketch cards (only one per case!) that were drawn by artist John Czop and one features T'Pol, the other (slightly less common) featured Ensign Hoshi Sato. They are fair likenesses of both characters and they have held their value nominally in the secondary market.

The grail of the set - outside the A23 - is the multicase incentive autograph. The Autograph is a Legends Of Star Trek format Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer autograph! It, like the casetopper sketch cards, comes sealed in a toploader with the gold Rittenhouse Archives seal. This card was given to dealers every time they purchased two cases (24 boxes) of the product and they are only available in the secondary market. Given how hard it is to track down Scott Bakula for conventions (he never really does them) this is one of only two fully licensed, guaranteed authentic autographs one may purchase of Scott Bakula! It's a keeper.


Overall, the set looks nice, but it begins the trend from Rittenhouse Archives into the territory of filler autograph cards (only two in the boxes are actually actively hunted by fans and collectors, the rest can usually be found depressingly cheap on eBay) with extremely limited, but not terribly special sets of chase cards (like the Ultimate Jolene set which underwhelms but is one per box!). The result is that Rittenhouse Archives does the best they can with the material and makes a decent set, but one that might take quite a long time to appreciate for investors.

The collectibility of the set is lessened by the prevalence of the common card sets, the damage to many of the lower level chase cards and the lackluster signatories filling out the autograph set. Does it look good? Absolutely. Rittenhouse did a great job with that. But it's not one of the strongest trading card releases and unfortunately, it hasn't illustrated that collectors are willing to buy what they need to finish their sets at a price that justifies the box price.

This set culls images from Star Trek: Enterprise Season Three, reviewed here!

For reviews of other Enterprise trading cards, please check out my reviews of:
Preview Set
Season One
Season Two
Legends Of Star Trek: T’Pol

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store! Check out my current inventory at: Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3 Inventory Page!


For other trading card reviews, be sure to check out my Trading Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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