Captain Action and Son. Artists: Gil Kane and Dick Giordano.


Original medium: Toys/animation
Produced by: Ideal
First Appeared: 1966
Creator: Stan Weston
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Captain Action resulted from a confluence of popular culture trends. G.I. Joe (no relation) was popularizing dolls for boys, called "action figures", and the Batman TV show was spreading the '60s revival of superhero interest in comic books to the culture at large. Meanwhile, Barbie was demonstrating that a toy …

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… could use a large wardrobe if its manufacturer was interested in selling a lot of accessories.

Captain Action could be put into use under his own name, or he could dress up like any hero whose promotor was willing to license the property to Ideal Toys for that use. The first Captain Action figures had costumes to make them look like Aquaman, Captain America, The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon or any of several others. Later expansions included Spider-Man, The Green Hornet and Buck Rogers.

The idea for the toy was generated by a promotion company, Leisure Concepts, which was founded by Stan Weston, with money he made from his first big success, G.I. Joe. Weston followed Captain Action with a sidekick, Action Boy, and an enemy, Dr. Evil. Both Action and Evil had Secret Lairs that were sold separately, as well as any number of outfits they could wear, as well as vehicles and weapons, all separately sold of course, that they could be equipped with if the user was affluent enough.

The practice of spinning action figures off into Saturday morning TV shows had not yet become the norm, but Captain Action was still licensed to DC Comics. DC's first connection to the character was to produce a half-height comics version of him to be included in the box with the toy. But as of November, 1968, the cover date of Captain Action #1, his adventures were part of their regular line. To cement the relation, Superman guest-starred in that first issue. Jim Shooter (The Legion of Super Heroes) wrote the story, and Wallace Wood (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) drew it.

The comic book version owed little to the character represented by the toy. Judging from its prior use, readers may well have expected a superhero whose schtick was that he impersonates other superheroes, even if his repertoire was necessarily limited to those owned by DC. Instead, they got a whole new character, perfectly content with his Captain Action togs. He started out as archeologist Clive Arno, who found ancient coins while on a dig, which gave him powers from a mixed bag of various cultures' mythological gods. Like many other comic book characters, acquiring such powers was his cue put on a costume and rearrange his life to include time for evil-bashing.

His son, Carl, became Action Boy. The father of his late wife underwent an experience much like a superhero origin, which drove him mad, and he became Dr. Evil. The three cavorted through five issues of the comic, which ended July, 1969. By that time, Gil Kane (Green Lantern) was both writing and penciling it, with Wood providing inks.

By that time, the whole Captain Action franchise was in serious decline. In fact, it had begun to slip as early as 1967. By the time the DC version began, Ideal was already dropping production on the line

In 1998, Playing Mantis, which specialized in retro toys, revived Captain Action, with Action Boy renamed Kid Action. Its success was less long-lasting than the original's, ending in 2000.

Captain Action has recently been re-licensed for comics, but so far, the new comic books haven't outlasted even the meager success of the original series. Recently inducted into the Toy & Action Figure Hall of Fame, Cap now faces a renewed future of merchandising possibilities.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Ideal Toys.