The History of Captain Action, Part I: The Rise of Captain Action
by Joe Ahearn with Cynthia Green and Jon Stout
In 1966, Captain Action leapt into action as the original super hero action figure who had the ability to change into other superheroes, including Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Lone Ranger, Tonto, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Steve Canyon, Sgt. Fury and the Green Hornet. The character was the latest concept from toy and idea man Stan Weston, who just two years before had helped Hasbro create the G.I. Joe line. Weston had been the first to propose the idea of an articulated figure in the form of a soldier. From there, Hasbro's Don Levine and his team brought to market America's moveable fighting man and the first modern action figure for boys.
Hoping to repeat his success with G.I. Joe, Stan and his company, Leisure Concepts, took the idea of a new 12-inch articulated action figure to Ideal Toys, Hasbro's competitor. Stan called his new concept "Captain Magic," a many-in-one hero who could adopt the guise of other heroes licensed to Leisure Concepts. With the exception of changing the name, Ideal approved Weston's pitch for production.
The original line included the Captain in his blue and black uniform, his hat, belt, boots, lighting sword, and ray gun. Separate uniforms and accessories allowed him to become Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Captain America, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, the Phantom, Steve Canyon and Sergeant Fury. In 1967, a new wave of costumes added Spider-Man, Tonto, Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet, and a blue uniform variation of the Lone Ranger. The new sets also included a collectible flicker ring in each box.
Captain Action proved popular enough to return in 1967, accompanied by two additional characters. The new line included the Captain's sidekick, Action Boy, who came equipped with junior superhero uniforms that allowed him to change into Superboy, Aqualad and Robin the Boy Wonder. Ideal also gave Captain Action a mortal enemy, the blue-skinned, bug-eyed alien, Dr. Evil! The company also released new accessories for the Captain himself, including the cool Silver Streak Amphibian, a hybrid land/sea vehicle, and various items intended to give the Captain more of his own identity, including a four-foot-wide working parachute, a jet mortar, a weapons arsenal, a jet pack, a directional communicator and a survival kit. Ideal also introduced the Action Cave, Captain Action's official headquarters, and Dr. Evil's Sanctuary, both of which doubled as a carrying case for uniforms and equipment.
The line saw a decline in sales in late 1968 as the superhero craze began to lose steam. With Batmania and the Saturday-morning cartoon shows fading away, Ideal discontinued the Captain Action line. The character disappeared only two and a half years after its initial release.
Despite the product line's relatively short lifespan, the Captain and his associates have since become among some of the most fondly remembered and expensive action figures on the collector's market. Mint, still-in-the-box Spider-Man and Green Hornet sets are extraordinarily rare, with only a handful in existence today. Pieces from the original Captain Action line currently fetch thousands of dollars on eBay. Collectors also highly rate a number of rare items related to Ideal's marketing drive, including a floatable swim ring, a set of playing cards, a Ben Cooper Halloween costume, five Captain Action comics released by DC, and a special Dr. Evil's Lab gift set.
The Silver Age might have been over, but Captain Action was not forgotten...
The History of Captain Action, Part II: Captain Action Returns!!!
by Joe Ahearn with Cynthia Green and Jon Stout
Part two starts a more personal part of this story. After a trip to my parents' attic, I became interested my old toys - especially one of my own favorites from when I was a boy, a little-known superhero by the name of Captain Action. Before long, I had entered the collectors' market, reading magazines like Collecting Toys and Toy Shop and re-buying missing pieces from my old G.I. Joe sets. Along the way, I came across Cotswold Collectables, a company selling reproduction G.I. Joe pieces in addition to vintage products. I began to wonder - was it possible to bring back Captain Action as well?
In early 1996, I discovered that the trademark for Captain Action was owned by Karl Arts Publishing (I would eventually acquire the trademark for myself in 2005). Around the same time, I began to see articles about the Captain pop up in the toy magazines I read. That April, I came across a piece in Collecting Toys Magazine about a little toy company called Playing Mantis that specialized in reproductions of rare 1960's die-cast car lines.
That was where it all really began. I decided to contact Playing Mantis with my idea. After a year of investigation, follow-ups and other hurdles, Playing Mantis hired me as a consultant to the line, for which I will be forever grateful. My initial responsibilities at the company included researching background information and finding vintage pieces to be purchased for reproduction. During my time at Playing Mantis, I also made the initial contacts to license the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon and the Phantom, and hired classic Silver Age artist Carmine Infantino to do the packaging artwork. At one point, I was fortunate enough to meet Murphy Anderson, creator of the original Ideal artwork. Unfortunately, Playing Mantis never got around to hiring Murphy for the line, but I was at least able to introduce him to my good friend Michael Eury. As a result, Murphy ended up doing some superb artwork for Michael's book, Captain Action: The Original Super Hero Action Figure.
Playing Mantis launched the new Captain Action line in 1998. Their products included reissues of Captain Action, Dr. Evil, and Action Boy (now dubbed Kid Action). Our accessories included uniforms capable of transforming the Captain and his sidekick into the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, the Phantom and the Green Hornet. Meanwhile, Action Boy received costumes for Tonto and Kato, while Dr. Evil could now disguise himself as Ming the Merciless and Kabai Singh. We also planned sets for Speed Racer, Johnny Quest, Dick Tracy and James Bond. Unfortunately, these products would never see the light of day.
While Playing Mantis did have some success with the line, we were unable to license the characters owned by DC and Marvel. Without Superman and Spider-Man, the line was unable to truly flourish, and Playing Mantis was forced to shut down production in 2000.
However, in my mind, the Playing Mantis line was a success. I had managed to bring one of my childhood heroes back to life, even if for just a short time. Along with my friend and partner, Ed Catto, I was more resolved than ever to bring the Captain back into the public eye. In the years since, we've seen the Playing Mantis re-issues become collectables in their own right. We've also forged exciting alliances with a number of individuals and companies with an active interest in Captain Action and his legacy. We plan to continue allowing the Captain to do what he does best - to bring joy to the lives of old friends, and to inspire a generation of new customers and collectors to keep our hobby thriving.
The History of Captain Action, Part III: The Action Never Ends… Captain Action Now!
By Joe Ahearn with Cynthia Green and Jon Stout
After the Playing Mantis captain Action line ended, I moved on and brought another project to Playing mantis a couple of years later — a collaboration between myself and another fella named John Detrich. We came up with a die-cast line of monster cars for kids we called CREEPSTERS which we worked on with Playing Mantis until they sold their Company to RC2/Ertle. Shortly after this I received a call out of the blue from Playing Mantis’s old legal dept. which lead me to a scenario whereby I was able to get the rights to Captain Action!
Around this time i had befriended Ed Catto who was a fellow CA collector I met online through the Yahoo Captain Action collector’s chat group. We found out we lived near one another in NJ, and would occasionally get together. Soon after I got the CA rights I met with Ed and he was so enthusiastic about it, I asked him right there and then to partner with me and thus Captain Action Enterprises was born!
Since 2005, Ed and I have been relentless in building the Captain Action brand. The first thing we decisded was to reintroduce back to the world of comics which we did in 2008 through Moonstone Books. Comic book fan favorite writer Fabian Nicieza wrote a 5 issue mini-series to return Captain Action to the public eye. Once it was announced, evreyone wanted to join the party. We got great cover art from industry greats like Paul Gulacy, Murphy Anderson, Thomas Yeates , Ed hannigan and the late great Dick Giordano, as well as then new comer Mark Sparacio who provided both interior art and painted cover art.
From there we went on to develop other projects for Captain Action such as an on line shop, a re-issue of the original Aurora model kit, a collectors statue, trading cards, Mego -style figures, a coffee table book, Medicom Be@rbricks and many other collectible items.
Captain Action Enterprises has been a staple at the NY Comic Con for the last several years, with our Lady Action spokes model engaging all of the fans and we have also made appearances at many other conventions including San Diego Comic Con and C2E2 in Chicago.
Much to our delight Captain Action Enterprises continues to grow and prosper. 2011 will see Captain Action return once again as a 12 inch action figure with character uniform sets based on Marvel characters, and will be sold nationally in ToysRus and our deluxe line through specialty retailers as well. Wave 1 will include Spider-man and Captain America, with more to follow in 2012!
Also in 2012 Captain Action begins anew in the comics with a brand new action packed series coming your way from a dynamite new publisher! In the meantime, we plan to continue allowing the Captain to do what he does best – to bring joy to the lives of old friends, and to inspire a generation of new customers and collectors to keep the legacy of Captain Action going strong . Stay tuned–The action continues!