“In 1965, Ideal was at the height of its design of an action figure to combat the wide popularity of Hasbro’s 12” GI Joe. What they came up with was Captain Action. Instead of focusing on military outfits, they wisely went with something even more popular – comicbook and television heroes.”
That is a quote from the Captain Action page at Toysyouhad.com. (There is also an official Captain Action website that is currently down for repairs. Maybe by the time you read this, it won’t be.) As you can see, GI Joe was much larger in the 60s than he is later; about the size of a Ken doll. Caption Action was also Ken-size and came with his outfit consisting of boots, a military hat, and a jump suit with CA, within a triangle made of tri-color arrows, on his chest. He also had a gun and a rather nasty-looking knife. But there were other outfits you could buy. According to Toysyouhad.com, “The initial outfit line consisted of nine disguises: Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Captain America, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Steve Canyon, The Lone Ranger, and Sgt. Fury.” (Not sure about this Sgt. Fury business. He does not appear in the comic.) It is not until the release of the 1967 figure that Tonto, Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, and Spider-Man are added. (Toysyouhad.com also notes that the Spidey costume is rare and “The gem of any Captain Action outfit collection. This set included Spider-Man jumpsuit, face mask, spider light, utility belt, spider grappling hook with rope and handle, spider saw (go figure) spray tank with hose, spider, and boots. Where they came up with the saw, we may never know.” The grappling hook and spray tank are pretty weird too.)
It is also in 1967 that Cap’s sidekick Action Boy is added. Action Boy had a space suit costume besides his regular beret and jumpsuit look. He could also dress up as Superboy, Robin, and Aqualad.
In 1968, Ideal added the Dr. Evil figure (Okay, not that Dr. Evil.) and DC Comics published a Captain Action comic book that lasted five issues. In 1969, the fun was over as Ideal stopped selling the characters. But in 1998, the characters were revived, only to disappear again in 2000. In 2008, Moonstone Books began a new series in which they also introduced Lady Action. And in 2010, TwoMorrows Publishing released the definitive book, Captain Action: the Original Super Hero Action Figure written by former DC editor (and Spider-Ham writer!) Michael Eury. All of which is beyond the scope of this review because, as far as we are concerned, it is 1967 and Ideal has released a promotional mini-comic. It is 6 ¾” by 3 ½” with one or two panels per page. I have emphasized every item that Ideal is trying to sell you; they are shown in their boxes during the course of the story, just as you’d find them in the store. (“You too can own this exciting Captain Action accessory…”)
The cover shows Captain Action and Action Boy pounding away on some aliens in what is the only page in the comic that is not selling you something (besides Captain Action and Action Boy themselves). I love the big grin on Action Boy’s face as he wails away on an alien. And now…
It’s Jimmy’s birthday and he just got a Captain Action figure, an Action Boy figure, plus all the other outfits and accessories. He puts his Captain Action up on a shelf and looks at the “Captain Action Videomatic Ring that comes in every Ideal super-hero outfit box” that he has put on his finger. When he turns his hand, the picture of Captain Action turns into other heroes. Jimmy is so jacked by this that he falls asleep and dreams…
Captain Action is in his headquarters “atop the world’s tallest mountain.” So, like, Everest? He sees a fleet of rockets entering Earth’s atmosphere so he dons his power pack but when he flies up to meet them, they shoot at him. So, CA returns to his headquarters and sets up his Inter-Galactic Jet Mortar and shoots back. Figuring this is an invasion of Earth, he puts on his Inter-Spacial Directional Communicator to send a warning around the globe. “Got to slow them up,” he says, “Make them think they’ve got plenty of opposition,” so he puts on the Batman outfit.
Now, apparently, in this story, Captain Action gains the abilities of whoever’s costume he wears. He uses his grappling hook, bat-rope reel, and rocket (included with the costume) to take out one of the rockets, then he returns to headquarters where he switches to his Buck Rogers outfit complete with solar gun.
It occurs to me that everyone may not know who Buck Rogers is. Created by Philip Nowlan, Buck first appeared in the novella “Armageddon 2419 AD” in 1928. A year later, Nowlan collaborated with artist Dick Calkins to put Buck on the newspaper comic pages. The strip appeared off and on until 1983. Buck also appeared in Big Little Books, radio shows, movies, and TV series (one in the 50s, one in the 70s-80s). According to Wikipedia, “Frank Miller was slated to write and direct a new [Buck Rogers] motion picture…However, after The Spirit became a box office and critical failure, Miller’s involvement with the project ended.” Which is interesting.
Captain Action uses the solar gun to “foul up their steering systems” but then immediately shucks his Buck Rogers suit (and tosses it aside so that we see it flying in the air behind him) when the aliens attack with a missile. He dodges it and dons his Flash Gordon outfit complete with ray pistol.
Flash Gordon was created by the great Alex Raymond and first appeared in the comic pages in 1934. While Alex Raymond is long gone, the Flash Gordon strip still runs. Flash has also appeared in other media, perhaps most famously in the movie serials starring Buster Crabbe. These things were shown in the 60s on Saturday morning TV in the Washington DC area introduced by Willard Scott (if anyone remembers who Willard Scott is) on a cheap rocket cockpit set wearing a cheesy SF space uniform. I remember it well.
There was also an X-Rated 1974 film spoofing Flash called “Flesh Gordon” which I have to admit I saw in the theater back then.
As Flash, Captain Action uses the ray pistol to set one of the ships on fire. “Wonder what they think of America’s heroes now?” he says. (What did they think of them before?) Just then, a magnetic ray strikes Cap and yanks him right out of his Flash Gordon clothes, pulling him outside. Fortunately, he has his 4 foot working parachute on so he can float safely to earth. But he doesn’t get that far. Instead, he puts on his Superman outfit which gives him Superman’s powers and he flies right through another alien rocket. (If you want to ask where the Superman outfit came from in mid-air, you might as well ask where the parachute came from.) But, Cap is pummeled by missiles and decides, “They’re…too many for me! I’ll need reinforcements and plenty of ‘em to beat back this mission.” While alighting on the ground, he strips off his Supey costume figuring to get the aliens down to earth so “we can put up an all-out battle down there!”
So, he arms the populace from his 10 piece weapons arsenal and they all look like typical 1960s American guys in suits. (I thought he was in the Himalayas but…oh well.) Some of these guys look like the last people you should give weapons to but that may be true of Americans in general. He also gives out vests from his 10 piece survival kit.
The alien rockets land and the aliens get out. (Playing right into Captain Action’s hands.) They are goofy-looking characters with egg-shaped heads, one eye, and a limp antenna that flops this way and that depending on the direction Cap hits them.
With the aliens earthbound, Cap puts on his Captain America outfit complete with shield and a gun with which he shoots one of the aliens in the hip with a “Pow Pow.” Then he changes into his Steve Canyon outfit between panels which magically puts him in an Air Force jet with which he fires at the aliens from the air.
Steve Canyon was Milton Caniff’s follow-up to his vastly popular Terry and the Pirates. Canyon premiered in the funnies on January 13, 1947. He was a World War II vet who started an air-transport business but soon rejoined the US Air Force and stayed there until 1988 when Caniff died and the strip ended.
Another quick change to his Aquaman outfit in which he battles the aliens who landed on the water. He repels the aliens who try to get to land with his Captain Action Silver Streak Amphibian craft. (And, yes, he’s back in his Captain Action outfit, too!) Back on land, he changes into his Green Hornet outfit and uses his gun to shoot one of the aliens. Seeing an alien tank coming, he changes into his Phantom outfit and leaps at the tank, knocking the aliens from their perches. Then into his Lone Ranger outfit to shoot a couple more aliens and snatch a ray gun away from them. And, then, quickly, into his Tonto outfit in which he shoots a branch off a tree with an arrow while riding Tonto’s horse Scout. The branch falls and clobbers an alien. He leaps at a couple more, taking them on with his fists.
Before we get to the big moment, coming right up, let’s recap a few of these characters. First, the Phantom, created by Lee Falk and appearing in the funnies in 1936. The Phantom can legitimately be called the first costumed hero in comics. Falk also created Mandrake the Magician and he wrote the Phantom until his 1999 death. The strip continues to this day.
The Lone Ranger, Tonto, and the Green Hornet all came out of WXYZ radio in Detroit. (The Ranger and Tonto first appeared in 1933 and the Hornet in 1936.) They were created by WXYZ owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker and they decided to tie them together by making the Lone Ranger the great-uncle of the Green Hornet. Which I always thought was kind of cool.
Back to our story where “The sinister spacemen knew no fear…till Spider-Man spun his web…” Yes, Cap has changed into his Spider-Man outfit and he has two aliens trapped in a giant web. He leaps onto the shoulders of one of the aliens and says, “You’re not getting away from Spider-Man!” But then the scene shifts to Action Boy and that’s it for Spidey. Two panels total.
Action Boy uses binoculars to watch the alien officers who have some invasion plans. They are on a rolled-up piece of paper just like Earth plans! Action Boy leaps into the fray, socks one of the officers and steals the plans. Then he introduces himself to us, saying, “Hi, readers! I’m Captain Action’s partner, Action Boy! And you can change me into other great super-heroes, just by putting their face masks and costumes on me!”
He doesn’t mention the big black dog he has on a leash but the dog disappears anyway as soon as Action Boy takes on other personae. First he gets into his Superboy outfit in which he throws a lion at the fleeing aliens. (The lion does not appear to be one of Superboy’s accessories.) Then, he wears his Robin outfit in which he swings in and kicks a couple of aliens. Then, he dons his Aqualad outfit, goes into the water and tips over a boat with four aliens in it. (What are they doing in a boat? Helping to sell the Aqualad costume!)
The aliens have had enough. They get into their rocket ships and take off…defeated! Which is when Jimmy wakes up. (Remember Jimmy?) Stretching, Jimmy says, “Huh? It…it’s been a dream…but what a wonderful dream!” Then he turns to look at the reader with Captain Action in one hand and Action Boy in the other and finishes the pitch. “And the best part is I can make the dream come true anytime I want! Just change the face masks and costumes on Captain Action or Action Boy…and I have any other great super-hero I pick!”
Did I say that was the end of the pitch? Not quite. On the inside back cover, Captain Action plugs the Ideal board games Hands Down, Tip-It, Ka-Boom, Mousetrap, Careful, Slap Trap, Cold Feet and Snakes Alive! (I neglected to mention that he plugged “Super City” on the inside front cover.) On the back cover, he plugs Motorific Action Highway. Hey, nobody pretended this was anything other than a pitch for just about everything in the Ideal Toy Company catalog.
So, it’s pretty much 32 pages of advertising every outfit and accessory that fit Captain Action and Action Boy but what advertising! Ideal actually bothered to hire a competent writer and decent artist (they are not credited; perhaps Michael Eury knows who they are) to put together a story that, for all its obvious faults, still works even as it sells all its products. Yes, it’s a pretty standard alien invasion with no characterization of any kind but who has time for that when you have to plug a different accessory and outfit on every page? And it’s an effective plug. You can’t read this little mini and not wish you had the full set. That Jimmy must be the luckiest kid alive!
Goofy aliens getting their butts kicked by your favorite comic book, strip, and radio show characters (including Spidey!) Lots of cool merch, including the mini-comic itself, which is a gem for any collection. How can it be anything but five webs?
Now, we’re getting somewhere! But more 1967 oddness remains. It’s time for the Merry Marvel Messenger!