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Friday, December 1, 2017

CAPTAIN ACTION: THE FIRST AND GREATEST SUPER HERO ACTION FIGURE


TALES FROM THE TOY CHEST

Stories of Childhood Toy Triumph and Tragedy



By
John "THE MEGO STRETCH HULK" Cimino
with special guests:
Michael Eury
Joe Ahearn
Ed Catto
and
Wes McCue

CASE NUMBER #19681969
CAPTAIN ACTION:
THE FIRST AND GREATEST SUPER HERO ACTION FIGURE
 


In 1964, Stanley Weston (1933-2017) went to Hasbro with the idea of an articulated doll in the form of a soldier with accessories. Hasbro took his concept and came up with G.I. Joe, the first modern action figure for boys and the first to carry the action figure moniker, which was an attempt to remove the term "doll" from a boy's toy. Being well school in the importance of licensing fan favorite properties based on television and comic characters, Weston founded his own company called American Leisure Concepts (ALC). He was so good at licensing big names in pop culture, that he would come to represent an impressive list of clients and properties including DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and King Features Syndicate.


The late-great Stanley Weston with his creation; a G.I. Joe "action figure" that started it all.

Weston couldn't have predicted a better time to capture the license to the DC and Marvel heroes because beginning in January of 1966, the live-action Adam West Batman series hit television and nearly every kid in America wanted to be a costumed crime-fighter. Weston (who was a big comic fan) took note and brought the idea of a new, articulated, twelve-inch action figure to Ideal executive (and G.I. Joe co-conspirator) Larry Reiner. Weston first proposed Captain Magic, a many-in-one hero, who could adopt the guise of several heroes. The name was eventually changed to Captain Action, and Ideal released the first super hero action figure to retailers in 1966, just in time to cash in on the super hero craze.


Captain Action 1966 comic ad

The original Ideal base figure for the line was Captain Action that came with a blue and black uniform, lightning sword, belt, ray gun and mini-poster. Separate costume kits of Superman (two different cape variations), Batman (two different cape and brief variations), Aquaman (two different color variations on outfit), Lone Ranger (four different colored outfit variations), The Phantom (two different gun variations), Flash Gordon (variations to costume and gun holster), Captain America, Sgt Fury (three face mask variations) and Steve Canyon (two different green colored outfits) were available. Each costume kit came with accessories to complement each character. The next wave in 1967, added Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet (two different variations of slacks), and Tonto (two colors to his outfit and weapon variations) with collectible flicker rings in each box. The flicker rings were also added to the first wave of Captain Action character costume kits in updated boxes.















In 1967, Captain Action proved popular enough to expand the line, adding three more box variations of the original character with accessories including a parachute, mini comic and a flicker ring. As well as a partner called Action Boy (which had a second variation that came with a spacesuit), who could change into costumes of Robin, Superboy and Aqualad (for some reason these costumes didn't come with flicker rings). An arch-enemy was introduced called Dr. Evil, who was a blue-skinned alien that came in two variation boxes. Also a line of four female figures called the Super Queens which featured Batgirl, Mera, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman (they were individually based on singular characters and didn't change into outfits).

More accessories came along; a vehicle called the "Silver Streak," that could fit both Captain Action and Action Boy in it and had actual firing missiles. Accessory packs including: a four foot working parachute, a jet mortar, a directional communicator, a power pack, a survival vest and a weapons arsenal. Several playset/carry cases were designed as well: the Silver Streak Hideout, the Action Headquarters (which was a Sears exclusive and came with a Captain Action figure and Batman costume kit), the Action Cave and the Dr. Evil's Sanctuary. Not to mention a Ben Cooper costume, a swim ring float, a swim raft (which is said to be the rarest of all Captain Action collectibles), and a promotion with Kool Pops that had a mail-away Captain Action card game. All this was an attempt by Ideal to build up the toy-line and focus on Captain Action as a hero in his own right, rather than just a base figure for other heroes.












Unfortunately by 1968, the Captain Action line declined in sales and Ideal discontinued it. Even with DC Comics releasing a comic book that year couldn't bring back interest in the character and the series was cancelled after only five total issues. Although the Captain Action line was produced for only two and a half years, it's still a cult favorite among toy collectors today. The figures, costume kits and accessories (many of which are very delicate) have become incredibly expensive and are pretty hard to obtain in the collector's market.


Captain Action 1968 comic ad

Throughout the 1970s, Captain Action leftover uniforms and boots were used on knock-off; blow-molded figures from China (where the original was cast and assembled). Ideal itself also reused the original body molds of Captain Action to rush a Star Wars-like toy to the market called the Knight of Darkness in 1977. As expected, that figure didn't fair well and was quickly discontinued.

After 30 years off the market, Captain Action was revived in 1998, by retro toy company Playing Mantis. In addition to Captain Action and Dr. Evil, costume kits that were released boxed with Captain Action figures were The Lone Ranger (in red and black outfit), Tonto, Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless (with a new flesh-tone Dr. Evil figure), The Green Hornet, and Kato. More boxed costume kits were issued separately: Green Hornet, Kato, Lone Ranger (in blue outfit), Tonto, The Phantom, and Kabai Singh. Also revived was Action Boy (now called Kid Action, due to Hasbro owning the rights to the name Action Man) and retro long box packaging for Captain Action and Dr. Evil. The changes made little difference in overall sales and the second coming of Captain Action ended in 2000.

Since 2005, Ed Catto and Joe Ahearn formed Captain Action Enterprises (they were joined by Michael Polis in 2017). Together they have been producing new Captain Action figures and costume kits, including statues, toys, comics, trading cards, books, collectibles and apparel for a new generation. No matter how tough the challenge, you can never keep a good hero (and toy property) down.


Captain Action Enterprises brings back the Captain Action fun to a new generation.


AND THE EXPERTS SHALL SPEAK CAPTAIN ACTION UNTO THE EARTH

Today, the Captain Action community is bigger than ever. While there are many fans of all ages within the it, there are a select few "older guys" that have become the voices of authority on all things Captain Action (or is it -- Dr. Evil?). These guys grew up during the super hero boom of the '60s and took Captain Action on spectacular adventures when it was the cool new toy on the shelves. Now as adults, they each brought the legend of Captain Action to new generations in their own unique way. If you're interested in Captain Action today, I'm betting at least one of these guys is the reason you're here (including myself). As a special HERO ENVY treat, four of those Captain Action masters are coming out of their "Quick Change Chambers" to titillate you with their words of wisdom. Let them tell you why they love Captain Action and Action Boy so much, why it's a toy line that will never go away and what are their favorite outfits ever!   

And while I'm no expert (actually, I wasn't even born anywhere near the time Captain Action came out), I just want to throw in my two-cents for my favorite Captain Action costume kit. It's none other than the Amazing Spider-man -- the wall-crawlers very first and greatest action figure! It's not only the coolest outfit of the bunch (with the best accessories), but I love it so much that once Captain Action dawns the suit, he instantly becomes my best friend. THWIPP!!!


Captain Action Spider-man and I like to read comics...

...discuss politics on strolls through the city...

...and hang out with his older brother; the 1964 Roy Thomas Spider-man costume.


CAPTAIN ACTION CAME TO MY RESCUE

By Michael Eury

I repeatedly lost my eight-year-old mind in 1966. It was if the Pop Culture Gods smiled upon me time and time again, blessing me with Adam West as Batman, the Monkees, Filmation’s Superman cartoons, Space Ghost, the Green Hornet, and my favorite childhood toy, Ideal’s Captain Action. Whereas my other childhood heroes only visited once a week (twice, in Batman’s case), Captain Action was not limited to a “same Bat-time” period—he was always there for me, to rescue me from boredom or loneliness (or homework). Sometimes he fought evil with his lightning sword, other times he subbed for Superman or Batman or Aquaman. His greatest power, though, was his ability to pique my imagination, teaching me to create a plot and develop its potential—all through play. Decades later, during a bout of career floundering after a stretch as a comic-book editor and writer, the Captain Action history book I wrote for TwoMorrows Publishing helped me reinvent myself as a comics historian. Thanks, Captain Action, for coming to my rescue time and time again.  

My Top Captain Action/Action Boy Costume Kits:
1.     Batman
2.     Robin (the mask looks like a Dick Sprang drawing)
3.     Superman
4.     Superboy (what a goofy array of accessories)
5.     Spider-Man



Michael Eury is the editor-in-chief of the Eisner Award-nominated Back Issue magazine and the author of numerous comics history books including Captain Action: The Original Super-Hero Action Figure. In some circles he's considered to be the living and breathing embodiment of Captain Action (it's a small circle).



MY LOVE FOR ALL THINGS RETRO

By Joe Ahearn

My love for all things retro lead me to a hobby which has turned into a successful business venture. In the mid 1990s, I began recollecting some of the original action figure sets I had as a boy from both G.I. JOE and Captain Action. When Hasbro began to reissue the original G.I. JOE's as collectibles, it lead me to the idea of doing the same for Captain Action.

My Top Captain Action/Action Boy Costume Kits:
1. Batman
2. Superman
3. Captain America (2012 reissue)
4. Spider-Man (2012 reissue)
5. Iron Man (2013 reissue)





Joe spearheaded the Captain’s return to toy shelves in 1998 after a two year battle, brokering the concept to a mid-west toy and collectibles company called Playing Mantis. They had recently had success reviving the Johnny Lightning brand of die cast cars from the 60s and also reissuing all of the old monster and figural hobby kits made by Aurora in the 60s and 70s.  Joe was hired as a product development consultant to the line during its run.  There’s something to be said for being at the right place at the right time and Joe was, allowing him to acquire the rights to Captain Action in 2005, partner with Ed Catto and establish Captain Action Enterprises which continues to grow and flourish most recently adding on Michael Polis in 2017, as a new partner and CAE's Entertainment Brand Manager.


 
TRADITIONAL ITALIAN DINNER

By Ed Catto

My fascination with TV’s Batman was magnified every Sunday. After my family’s traditional Italian dinner, my dad took me to Pauline’s Newsstand, where I could buy one comic each week. I was soon surrounded by superheroes, in comics and in Hanna Barbera and Filmation cartoons. And when Santa Claus left a Captain Action, and several costume sets, under the Christmas tree, there was no turning back for "little" Ed Catto.

 My Top Captain Action/Action Boy Costume Kits (as a kid): 
1. Batman 
2. Aquaman 
3. Superman 
4. The Phantom 
5. Aqualad

My Top Captain Action/Action Boy Costume Kits (as an adult):
1. Buck Rogers
2. The Phantom
3. Lone Ranger
And all the ones Joe Ahearn and I did recently, of course.
 



RETROPRENEUR • SENIOR STRATEGIST BRAND BUILDER • MARKETING INNOVATOR 
Ed loves building brands and helping them find their true potential. With 20+ years total spanning the agency/consulting side, solid, classic CPG grounding and an entrepreneurial stint, Ed possesses a unique, proven blend of marketing, strategy, and business leadership skills. Throughout his career, Ed has always steered his activities to the “fun stuff” – including kids marketing and entertainment, in both the B2C and B2B arenas. Ed is also co-founder and partner at Bonfire Agency, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping brands navigate the geek-infested waters that comprise a universe of passionate pop culture consumers, creators, publishers, retailers, distributors, organizers and advocates – in ways that embrace, not exploit, these passions. Part of being a brand builder is finding new life for old brands. As a self-styled “retropreneur”, Ed brings back old toy and entertainment brands for today’s audiences. Most recently, Ed’s shepherded the rebirth of Captain Action, the original super-hero action figure in comics, collectibles and even a national toy line launching in fall of 2011 at major retailers such as Toys R Us.



DO YOU REMEMBER THIS GUY?

By Wes McCue 

My earliest 'toy memories' are of my grandmother's gift of a set of Bonanza 'Full Action Man' dolls. The term 'action figure' was not yet part of my vocabulary or my Dad's, who was more than a little dismayed that his sons were playing with dolls! Then came Johnny West and the next year- in the wake of Batmania inspired by Adam West's TV portrayal -was all about a new doll that could become Batman... and Superman... and a whole gaggle of comic book heroes! Captain Action! I remember having Batman, Captain America and Tonto sets as a wee lad and when I'd played out their outfits to rags and lost or broken the fragile accessories, a scrap of red fabric became a loincloth and Captain Action changed into Tarzan! 

Flash forward 20 odd years: I'd collected comics including Batman for a few years, 'full-blown adult onset Batmania' for the TV version was reignited by a Starlog magazine interview with Adam West. Then, during an afternoon spent poring over comics and toy talk with an old school chum, he intoned: "You've got a lot of Batman toys but do you remember THIS GUY???" There, swinging at the end of a thin, white Batrope, dressed in gray and blue plastic, twirling in slow motion was... CAPTAIN ACTION!!! It was like stepping back in time to 1966! Immediately Captain Action became the focus of my collecting efforts and, later, the jumping off place for a whole new segment of the action figure milieu: customizing. 

Flash forward another 20... okay, 30 years: I've bought, sold and traded three respectable Captain Action collections, made hundreds of custom rubber gloves, masks and doodads for that stalwart plastic hero and connected with Captain Action aficionados from around the globe. And still I get a thrill from seeking a piece or part for my latest Captain Action collection or crafting a new accessory and hearing from another 'grownup kid', "I love it! It's just like Ideal should have made!" 

My Top Captain Action/Action Boy Costume Kits:
1. Captain Action (the man himself, he's the centerpiece of an Ideal collection)
2. Batman (of course)
3. The Phantom (because 'purple')
4. Space Ghost (I had to make it because Ideal never did)  
5. Ultraman (excited by the Japanese prototype, I made my own) 



Wes was born to William and Mary in December during the Swingin' 60s. Sharing a birth date with Jonathan Frid of 'Dark Shadows', Rick Savage of Def Leppard, 'Charlie's Angels' Lucy Liu and pop sensation Britney Spears. He was enamored early in life with cowboys, spacemen and superheroes by the magic of television and comic books. An idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania was followed by a stint of illustration studies under Donald R. Klopp and Robert A. Nelson. A series of mundane occupations have been intertwined with rock 'n' roll, wine, women & song. At this writing, Wes resides in a mountain cabin in West Virginia where he crafts Captain Action accessories from thin air, chewing gum and melted crayon wax. If you're inclined toward popular culture in general and Captain Action in particular, you can find his group, Classic Plastick, on Facebook




Other Tales From the Toy Chest:

THE HULK ROLLER SKATES DEBACLE
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2011/11/hulk-roller-skates-debacle.html

THE STEALING OF THE SUPERHERO STAND-UPS
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2011/11/stealing-of-superhero-stand-ups.html 

BATMAN COLORFORMS AND MY DAD

MY TOP 15 GREATEST TOYS EVER
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-top-15-greatest-toys-ever.html

THE MANGLOR MESS UP
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-manglor-mess-up.html 

SUPER MARKET SKIRMISH: THE PDQ INCIDENT
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2014/05/super-market-skirmish-pdq-incident.html 

THE TOP 10 GREATEST G.I. JOE FIGURES EVER
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-top-10-greatest-gi-joe-figures-ever.html 

HULK OR HOLOCAUST
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2014/07/hulk-or-holocaust.html

THE WRANGLING OF WRESTLEFEST
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-wrangling-of-wrestlefest.html  
 

MY TOP 10 GREATEST TOY LINES EVER

 

   John "The Mego Stretch Hulk" Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, BACK ISSUE, RETRO FAN and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John still thinks he's really Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at johnstretch@live.com or follow on twitter at @Elastic_Hulk and have some fun.

 www.heroenvy.com

15 comments:

  1. Great information John! And perfect for the holidays!!

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  2. I've been waiting for a new article and you didn't disappoint.

    Although Captain Action was a little before my time, they were always considered the older brother to Mego figures. I could never understand why anyone would want to dress CA as the hero, I wanted the hero! Not some fake imposter!

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  3. LOL! Great email sent to me by comic legend Roy Thomas about this article:

    I gave up playing with toys when I was 30...and I'm afraid CAPTAIN ACTION was never my cup of tea. Maybe it was the cap he wore.

    Thanks,
    Roy Thomas

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  4. I have the whole run of Captain Action comics. I thought they were pretty good. It was written by Jim Shooter and Gil Kane, with art by Gil Kane and Wally Wood. That's an awesome amount of talent in five issues.

    The problem for the title is that the Captain Action doll (which I had) could be transformed into several heroes (well, if you could afford all the costumes). And only a few of these were heroes owned by DC. So the comic book could not feature any of those other heroes--and, in fact, only Superman makes a guest appearance in the first issue. The way I always envisioned Captan Action's power was that he could assume the look of these other heroes--and maybe even gain their powers--a la Dial H for HERO. But this Captain Action is a regular super-hero with his own set of powers gained from a box of coins--a kind of bargain basement Captain Marvel, with the powers of the gods.

    At the very least, DC should have had Captain Action and Action Boy disguising themselves as other DC heroes. But I guess, DC wanted to keep the amount of guest appearances to a minimum since this was a licensed character that they didn't actually own. Had I been editing the comic book, I would have paper doll cut out pages in the comic, like there were in SUGAR & SPIKE--so readers could cut them out and put the costumes and masks of other characters on Captain Action, Action Boy and Dr. Evil.

    On its own merits a pretty good comic book for DC in 1968. But when judged against the expectations of a young boy, rather underwhelming, given what it could have been. And only five issues is not a lot.

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  5. Yeah this character was a hard sell, as an action figure although they licensed great characters and gave them some fun unusual accessories. the costumes and masks always just looked odd.
    As a comic book character on his own, without all the licenced characters, he was never that interesting.
    Although his rocket-ship-car-boat vehicle the Silver Streak has a pretty great 60's design.

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  6. I had a Captain Action when I was a kid. I had the Superman, Batman and Captain America outfits. I thought the fact that an action figure wore masks to become a character was pretty cool. A very versatile figure. Even as a kid I thought that the Captain's default face was kind of goofy looking though. Thank goodness for the masks.

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    1. I guess the ideal thing was to have a Batman or Superman doll in full costume--the same as G.I. Joe. So Captain Action was just a halfway measure toward getting the real thing. The Phantom was kind of hip in that I dug his crazy striped trunks and eerie head design--and he had a neat gun and holster with skull on the belt. So he was neither the worst nor the best of all possible heroes to have--I think Steve Canyon would have been the worst for me when I was a kid.

      In hindsight it would probably work better if you could just take off one head and put another head in place. Because, as I recall, it didn't look that good when you put one over top of the other. I like the larger dolls. I guess because my sisters always played with Barbie dolls (and Tressie) and those were the same size as my G.I. Joe dolls. So they could exist in the same world. The clothes didn't always fit, but some of Ken's clothes could fit Joe and Captain Aciton.

      I had a Major Matt Mason who looked cool--with lots of fun stuff (most of which I couldn't afford to get). But he was half the size of Captain Action and I didn't like that. And also, while Matt had full articulation, this proved to be a problem, because his arms and legs were essentially wire inside rubber. And, of course, I kept bending his arms and legs until all that twisting made them fall off. So he didn't last very long.

      The thing I didn't like about most of the male dolls was their painted on hair. Some versions of Ken had felt for hair (given he had a crew cut), which was more realistic. I envied my sisters' dolls that had real hair. And it's even worse when I see dolls/action figures that have painted on clothes. I grew up watching my sisters dress their dolls in assorted clothes and this was the advantage of the original G.I. Joe and Captain Action.

      Joe, being the first such doll like this, set my expectations. The basic doll was your starter and then, with presents from famly and special purchases, you could add more and more in the way of outfits and accessories. The ideal thing would be to have one doll with many costumes--given I liked to make up stories and create different characters for the stories I wanted to act out. So a big wardrobe of costumes and disguises would have been Ideal.

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  7. Captain Action wasn't a hard sell for me--except that I was the fifth of five children in a working class home where we only had enough money for the essentials. I did get Captain Action as a Christmas present, but I got the Phantom given to me for his other costume. I was not a fan of the Phantom. I wanted Batman or Superman. However, the costumes were made of the finest material--I loved the Captain Action costume more than any other doll's costume, because it was so well made with a stretch fabric that fit the doll perfectly. We never called dolls action figures--we were secure enough in our pre-manhood to know these were dolls just like our sisters had. And he had a smart captain's hat made of rubbery material that fit snugly on his head.

    While I resented the Phantom, that costume did prove useful. The rubber head mask would fit over top of Captain Action's head and was form fitted to the contours of his face. I discovered that I could take ordinary plasticine and press it into the interior of the Phantom face mask and skull cap, to form a perfect replica of Captain Action's head. So I could literally make as many Captain Action heads as my supply of plasticine would allow.

    I still believe that the Captain Action doll was the best doll ever made. I only wish that I had been one of those rich kids who owned every costume, as well as Action Boy and Dr. Evil. What fun adventures those rich kids must have had. All I had was my imagination and a stupid Phantom costume.

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  8. Isn't the Ideal Superman from 1940 the first?

    -Jill Mahoney

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    1. That was called a doll. And that was before the American males' feelings of masculinity were threatened by people knowing they played with dollies, just like the little girls.

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  9. Well done, John! Lot of info crammed in and great pics, never get tired of gawking at the Captain and his superhero disguises. Kudos!

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    1. You're a renaissance man Wes!

      I'm just not very sure at what??

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  10. Any story on the face of Captain Action? Like, why was he so ugly?

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    1. I always thought he looked a bit like Maxwell Smart.

      His head looked too small, but it had to in order to fit inside the... other heads... which looked too big. But still good fun.

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  11. Great article as always John.

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