REVIEW: CAPTAIN ACTION
Captain Action has a lot more special meaning to me than most of my action figures. Now, that's not to put any of them down. I'm very pleased to have the extensive collections that I do. I greatly enjoy G.I. Joe, DC Universe, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Star Wars, Marvel, and everybody else that I have. But Captain Action is more special.
You see, the original Captain Action was the very first action figure I ever owned. And it wasn't easy to get him. My parents were rather vehemently opposed to my owning any action figures (yeah, that worked out well in the long run). Although I never really received an explanation for this, I suspect they simply didn't like the idea of their young son playing with "dolls".
I didn't lack for toys. I had any number of toy cars, everything from plastic to Tonka steel. I had blocks, later graduating into Lego, a generous supply of art materials, and other similar items. But no action figures.
Admittedly, in 1967, the term "action figure" was still relatively new. It had been coined on behalf of the original 12" movable fighting man, G.I. Joe. And I REALLY didn't have any G.I. Joes. My parents were even more opposed to my having any of those figures, or even any toy guns.
I've never quite understood that. Despite the time period and what was going on in the world at the time, I don't believe my parents were anti-military. If it amounted to anything, I suspect that it might have been this -- with the Vietnam War in full swing, with no apparent end in sight, and the draft still in full effect, it probably didn't take too much for them to see the possibility of their son being drafted into the military.
Ultimately, I would have two action figure lines in the late 60's -- Captain Action, and Major Matt Mason. My parents never seemed to mind Major Matt Mason. The other big topic in the news at the time besides the war was space exploration, and our plans to get to the moon. Major Matt Mason was a fairly realistic astronaut figure, who came with a number of allies and some very interesting equipment and playsets, a great deal of which I had. The one figure they didn't want to buy me was the alien Callisto, but I eventually got him. If Mattel ever brought this line back, I'd be all over it.
And Captain Action? That took a little more work. There was something about a 12" action figure with a cloth costume that just screamed "doll" to them. On the other hand, I was a huge fan of the 1960's Batman TV series, the campy live-action one with Adam West and Burt Ward, along with the likes of Frank Gorshin in green tights as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith with an extended honker as the Penguin, and Cesar Romero refusing to shave off his mustache to play the Joker. I also tuned into reruns of the 1950's Superman series, the one that starred George Reeves. So I was already into super-heroes.
And, as it turned out, two of Captain Action's original costumes were of Batman and Superman. And I was well capable of being a stubborn little kid at times. Finally, my parents relented, and I received Captain Action, and the Batman costume.
Not too long after this, I got Action Boy, and the Robin costume. I eventually had all three of the costumes for Action Boy, with Aqualad and Superboy being the other two, and a number of costumes for Captain Action, including Batman, Superman, Flash Gordon, and Captain America.
By this time, however, Captain Action was on his way out. I hadn't gotten in on Cap right at the outset, and costumes were becoming hard to find. At my young age, I had no knowledge of sales figures, the average lifespan of toy products in the stores, or anything like that. I'd certainly never heard of the International Toy Fair. Ultimately, there simply were no more Captain Action items to be found. For that matter, Major Matt Mason ended not long after. It seemed that once we actually got to the moon, interest waned.
Admittedly, this didn't stop me from continuing to play with the figures which I had. Sadly, none of them really survived my childhood. The only toy currently in my possession that dates back even close to that far is a Mego Superman.
Captain Action returned in the late 1990's, courtesy of a number of people at a toy company called Playing Mantis. Cap's original manufacturer, the Ideal Toy Company, no longer existed, and someone managed to secure the license. This Captain Action would be a faithful reproduction of the original, right down to using an original Captain Action figure to remake the body parts. He would also eventually be joined by his original sidekick, Action Boy, now renamed Kid Action, no doubt for some legal reasons, and his arch-enemy, Dr. Evil.
Need it be said I was more than happy to bring Captain Action back into my collection. I was even more pleased to bring in Kid Action, since he was in his original red-and-blue costume. The Action Boy that I had owned as a kid was the silver spacesuit version, and for whatever reason, the silver coating wore off over time, leaving a relatively thin white fabric underneath, and leaving me with an Action Boy that looked like he was running around in his long underwear.
This late 90's incarnation of Cap, however cool it may have been to those of us who could remember it, was not a commercial success. Unfortunately, Playing Mantis was unable to make a deal with either DC or Marvel for costume sets, which left Captain Action with a wardrobe that was based largely on characters that he did have as costume sets in the 1960's, but they weren't exactly the A-list players. The Green Hornet; The Lone Ranger; Flash Gordon -- fine and well, but still, not enough to maintain the line for very long.
Attempted expansion into costume sets that Cap had never had before, unfortunately never came to fruition. This would have included characters from Speed Racer, and there were even plans to produce -- not a set of costumes -- but actual figures, using the Captain Action and Kid Action bodies -- based on the classic animated series Jonny Quest. As a longtime fan of this amazing show, I still feel a wave of disappointment when I look at pictures of prototypes of these figures. It would've been amazingly cool.
Fast forward now to the present day. Playing Mantis has gone the way of Ideal. Two longtime fans and collectors named Joe Ahearn and Ed Catto, who had loaned their vintage toys to Playing Mantis when the company was reverse-engineering the figure and uniform sets, filed for the Captain Action trademarks once they had been abandoned, with the full support of Playing Mantis.
Also enter Tom Lowe, who had owned Playing Mantis until he sold the company to the RC2 Corporation, formerly Racing Champions (and since picked up by another company). Lowe left the board of RC2 after feeling increasingly frustrated over the fact that the only Playing Mantis line they wanted to continue was Johnny Lightning, a series of die-cast cars. When Lowe left, he took a number of licenses with him, including the action figure licenses Playing Mantis had possessed -- including Captain Action.
Lowe started the Round 2 Corporation, which includes a sub-group called Forever Fun, which includes the more nostalgic action figure and toy licenses Lowe has access to, which includes Captain Action. If you look at the package for the new Captain Action, it has the logos for both Round 2 and Forever Fun on it.
Then we have the little matter of the character of Captain Action, and here's where things tend to get even more convoluted than the business side of things. Captain Action's additional media presence was extremely limited when he was first around. There was a small comic book packed in with the figures and the costume sets, but this was as much advertising as storytelling. It presented Captain Action fighting off an alien invasion, by making the aliens think that every hero in the world had united against them. Of course, Cap accomplished this by disguising himself in all of the various costume sets that could be purchased. Action Boy and his costume sets turned up, as did the various accessory sets that could be purchased for Cap's own use. There was no sign of Dr. Evil.
As a multi-page advertisement, it worked pretty well. As far as presenting any sort of background information on Captain Action himself -- forget it.
Arguably, one has to suspect that Ideal Toys simply didn't see the need. Captain Action was the basic figure. Once you had him, you were supposed to go after the costume sets. It was far better to promote Captain Action being able to disguise himself as Superman, Spider-Man, the Green Hornet, and everybody else in the line-up, than to get into any personal details on the character.
However, that doesn't mean that something didn't develop. DC Comics produced a short-lived Captain Action comic, which had a five-issue run and was basically notable for three things -- giving Captain Action a real identity and origin story; guest-starring Superman in the first issue; and being illustrated by the already legendary Wally Wood, and later Gil Kane.
In these stories, Captain Action was Clive Arno -- an unusual name, but the initials matched. He was a widowed archaeologist and museum curator who discovered a series of "coins of power" in a buried city, each one bearing the likeness of a mythological god from the Greek, Roman, or Norse pantheon, that conveyed special powers to whomever possessed the coin. Arno was soon joined by his son, Carl Arno, who of course became known as Action Boy.
In 2008 Moonstone began a new series and created a new back-story for the character. Captain Action was now Miles Drake, a former Marine who discovers a cache of alien weaponry during the Vietnam War. The weapons are connected to a race of alien parasites called the Red Crawl, who have been taking over world leaders in a bid to dominate the earth. The Red Crawl's main representative on Earth is Dr. Eville (based on Dr. Evil from the original Ideal toy line).
Drake becomes an agent of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Directorate, a secret agency operating outside the government and dedicated to defending earth from the alien menace. The name of the organization in an acronym for "Advanced Command for Telluric Interdiction Observation and Nullification." Brother, somebody must've spent a few sleepless nights coming up with that one.
Eventually, the A.C.T.I.O.N. directorate is able to use the alien technology to create superheroes and the Red Crawl is apparently defeated. The series also tell the story of a second Captain Action, Miles's rebellious son, Cole Drake, who inherits the heroic identity in the 21st Century. It is revealed that the Red Crawl was never actually defeated and that the superheroic Protectors are actually under their control. Cole must struggle against the renewed alien menace and the rogue superheroes.
The stories of the original Captain Action are told in the 1960s where the character is a costumed super spy. The identity-changing aspect of the toy line shows up in Captain Action's ability to use a material called "plastiderm" to disguise himself as almost anyone. In the modern stories the younger Captain Action used the most advanced "plasmaderm" which allows him not only to assume someone's likeness, but any powers they possess. Thus Captain Action is finally able to change into other superheroes, though this only works for original characters within the comics. Obviously, characters from other companies such as Superman and Spider-Man are not going to be present. The exception to this has been a crossover adventure with the Phantom whose adventures Moonstone was also publishing.
Moonstone has featured a similarly revised Action Boy. In this version he is Sean Barrett, the son of a famous naturalist whose identity is assumed by Dr. Eville. His stories also take place in the 1960s. Moonstone has also created an original character, Lady Action, who works for the British branch of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Directorate. Both Action Boy and the newly introduced Lady Action (a.k.a. Nicola Sinclair), have been featured as back up stories in the Captain Action comic. Lady Action also debuted in a one shot comic of her own in 2010, and continues to play a pivotal role in the Captain Action ongoing series.
To be honest -- I haven't been reading. I picked up the first issue of this comic, and as it was set in the present day, and inasmuch as I wasn't terribly fond of the "new" Captain Action's new costume, with the sort of ridges and seam lines and such on it that I would've thought had gone out in the 1990's (and should we be shocked or just annoyed that the "new DC" has brought them back?), I opted not to continue reading. Might well have been a mistake on my part. Certainly the list of well-regarded comics creators that have worked on the title reads like a "Who's Who" of comicdom, with names like Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, Murphy Anderson, being mentioned. And, as far as that goes, I've always liked the character of The Phantom, too. If I'd known they were going to include classic stories and bring in Action Boy as they did, I might have stuck with it. But you know what they say about first impressions, and Moonstone's first impression with Captain Action -- well, didn't impress, I'm sorry to say. Might have to track down some of these trade paperback collections mentioned in the back of the comic book that's included with the new figure.
That's right, there's a comic book included with the new Captain Action figure! Published by Moonstone, it presents two short stories of the classic Captain Action. They read like a cross between a James Bond story with mild super-hero overtones -- insofar as the protagonist is dressed in tights. Captain Action is presented as confident to the point of cockiness, but manages to come out on top nevertheless. His tag line seems to be, "God, I love this cap... it's me." The comic also features a full-page pin-up of Captain Action and Action Boy by Murphy Anderson, doing their best impression of Carmine Infantino's legendary rooftop illustration of Batman and Robin. There are also character profiles of the Classic and Modern Captain Actions, as well as Lady Action, in the back of the book. On the whole, it's a very nice bonus.
So, how's the figure? Very impressive, really. And the first thing that needs to be mentioned is that this figure is categorically NOT a precise remake of the original, the way the 1990's Playing Mantis edition was. This is an entirely new figure.
Clearly, the new Captain Action is intended to represent the modern take of the Classic Captain Action. For starters, he has a new headsculpt. And if there's one thing that Captain Action certainly needed, it was a new headsculpt. The original Captain Action headsculpt -- well, I hate to say anything negative about my first-ever action figure, but in retrospect, the original Captain Action headsculpt had a facial expression that looked -- worried. Not brave, not bold, not determined, but worried.
In fairness, I think Ideal kept some of the facial details to something of a minimum, so that the figure could wear the masks that would transform him into other characters a bit more plausibly. But that still didn't do any favors to the original Captain Action. Heck, I remember even thinking that to a certain degree when I was a kid. I started leaving the Superman mask on him even when he was otherwise dressed as Cap, just because it was a more heroic looking face. The cap covered the spit-curl.
Not even repainting some of the facial details, giving the eyes greater detail and reworking the eyebrows a bit, which Playing Mantis did, were quite enough to really make Captain Action look as heroic as he deserved to.
So, Captain Action has an all-new headsculpt. While it is reminiscent of the original, it's far more heroic. After reading the comic book and getting a handle on the personality infused into the classic Captain Action by the modern comics, I'd say that the new headsculpt definitely fits. Captain Action looks heroic, and just a bit cocky.
The hairstyle is the same, looking slightly matted down because of the cap (something else Ideal did, I'm sure, to ensure good mask fit from other characters). The hair does have more detail to it than before.
Many of the facial details are similar. The slightly broad nose, the hint of crow's feet around the eyes. The basic structure of the face is extremely similar. It's the expression that's different, and it makes all the difference. The eyebrows are arched downward, rather than slightly upward. The eyes are slightly larger, a little further apart, and painted with far, far greater detail than before. And there's just a little bit more of a hint of a grin on his face than before.
Honestly, as odd as it sounds, it's the positioning of the eyebrows that makes the greatest difference. That, and a somewhat greater clarity to the eyes. But really, it's the eyebrows. The resultant expression, a combination of heroic determination, confidence, and cockiness, could readily be translated as Cap saying, "Yeah, come on and try something. I'm the hero of this story, dirtbag."
Of course, Captain Action is wearing his classic costume. This includes his famous cap, and I've had some people identify it as a naval cap, while others think it's a pilot's cap. I'm more inclined to go with the naval definition, since there is a silver emblem on it that has an anchor in it. But I can see a resemblance to a pilot's hat as well. It's molded from flexible plastic, dark blue in color, with a black brim, and a silver band with red detailing on it above the trim. Much like the other aspects of this figure, the intent behind this newly-made cap was to respect the original, while making sure it had all the detail capable in modern toy-making.
Captain Action is wearing his classic cloth uniform. I have to wonder how long it took Ideal, back in the 1960's, to sketch out an impressive super-hero costume, that was also something totally original, that didn't step on anybody else's previously established design. And back in the 1960's, new super-heroes seemed to be coming out every other month. And then they had to do it for Action Boy as well, coming up with something that looked original AND worked well with Captain Action. On both counts, they succeeded.
Captain Action's costume features a black neck that tapers down the sleeves, a dark blue front and back, black trunks, dark blue leggings, and black boots. In the center of the front of the uniform is Captain Action's emblem, an inverted triangle bordered with red, yellow, and green angular arrows, black in the center, with the letters "CA" imprinted in white. Obviously, all of these details are present and accounted for, and look just as they did on the original.
A few details have been enhanced. Captain Action's original belt was dark blue, with a blue buckle with a yellow lightning bolt on it. Cap's new belt is white with a red stripe in the center, with a silver buckle with a yellow lightning bolt on it. Why the change? I do seem to recall a few early sketches or pictures of Captain Action, possibly prototype designs, where he did have such a belt, but somewhere along the way it was changed to blue. The white belt is obviously a good bit more prominent, but not disagreeably so.
And Cap has two silver lightning bolts on his boots. If one looks at the original Cap, he has molded but unpainted lightning bolts on his. The ones on the new boots are also much better defined from a sculpting standpoint.
The fabric used for the new Captain Action's costume is lighter than the original. This concerns me a little bit, as I would hope it's as durable. One might tend to be a little concerned about it getting caught on some plastic "flash" on the figure, and getting a run in it. The costume is also fastened in the back by a strip of Velcro. The original figure's costume used a series of snaps. Interestingly, the Playing Mantis figure also used a stronger fabric, and snaps. Velcro over snaps doesn't really bother me. The strength of the fabric is a bit of a concern, and if there's one slight problem area, it's with the sleeve cuffs. The hems on the cuffs are so close to the edge of the sleeve, that the remaining fabric doesn't want to tuck under the sleeve very well. Overall, the costume seems to be a somewhat tighter fit than the original, as well. Appropriate enough for a super-hero, but I hope the fabric is sturdier than it feels.
Let's consider the physical design of the figure. One thing becomes immediately obvious, especially when one compares this Captain Action to the Playing Mantis version -- Cap's been working out. He's much more broad-shouldered. The original Captain Action measures 3-1/4" from shoulder to shoulder. The new Captain Action measures 3-3/4". At this scale, that's pretty noticeable. The new Captain Action has a very slightly wider torso than before. The arms are slightly larger as far as musculature is concerned, and the legs are very slightly longer, making the new Cap fractionally taller than at least his Playing Mantis predecessor.
One thing that's always gotten me about Captain Action is the length of his arms. They're just a little too long from a standard human anatomy standpoint. Admittedly, this is perhaps something that's not always that easy to duplicate, and for that matter, people are different. Still, I've seen action figures over the years, even within the same lines, where arm and even leg length tends to vary. Some figures that aren't even trying to be stylized come up with results that if you saw a person with those bodily proportions in real life, you'd hope he was getting medical treatment for his unfortunate condition. Nevertheless, Captain Action really does have pretty long arms, and this has been maintained.
The rest of the body is a completely new piece of work, with a clear emphasis on increasing articulation. The overall detail is excellent, and the design is very impressive. Captain Action is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists (a considerable range of motion here), mid-torso, waist, legs, an upper leg rotation very near the hip, knees, and ankles, again with a considerable range of motion.
Some additional features. The elbows and knees are double-articulated. Usually I don't like to see this, because I think it's needless, and more often than not, it doesn't even work very well. Much to my utter astonishment, Round 2 has found a way to make it work, where it doesn't look all that bad. Granted, it helps that the figure is wearing a cloth costume which covers almost all of his articulation points, but even in the open, it doesn't look that bad, and works pretty well. It's still not something I'd want to see on a lot of lines. One thing Cap has in his favor is size. He's a 12" scale figure. You can get away with more at that size simply because you have more plastic and "more room to work". This sort of thing doesn't work as well and certainly doesn't look as good at the 6" or 4" scale.
Captain Action's hands are removable. This is useful when it comes to the costume sets, since with costumes where gloves are a component, the gloves are really additional hands. Also, the hands are molded from a very flexible plastic. And the feet are sculpted with such detail that the big toe is actually separate from the other. It's cute, but a little pointless, unless Round 2 is hoping to add Tarzan to Captain Action's repertoire of costumes. Still, I can't argue the detail work.
And here's a hint -- it's a lot easier to remove the uniform if you remove Cap's hands first.
Any complaints on this? No, although it was a near thing. When I purchased the figure, I noticed that his head was tilted slightly to one side. I figured, "No problem, it's got to be on a ball and socket, I'll just adjust it when I open it." Except when I opened it, the head would not adjust. It would turn from side to side, but this seemed to be the extent of its movement. Truly, I had a hard time believing this. The figure was otherwise so well made, I couldn't believe that the head movement would be this deficient, and that quality was so lacking that it would be tilted to one side the way it was. I was reluctant to force it, concerned about breaking it, and even forcing it didn't seem to do much good. Finally, a few days later, I made one more attempt, heard an audible "pop" (which made me afraid I had broken it), and from that point on, the head worked just fine. It IS on a ball-and-socket design, and has just as extensive a range of motion as the rest of the figure.
Hopefully, you will not encounter a similar situation with your figure, but if you do, it can be remedied, although as with any such situation, I recommend caution. Ultimately, though, no complaints whatsoever about this excellent figure.
Captain Action comes with a nice supply of accessories. He comes with his lightning bolt sword, a fancy gun, a holster for the gun that looks as though it clips to the bent, and two other small item, one of which may be a small clip-on belt holder for his sword, although it's a heck of a tight fit, and the other -- I'm really not sure, but I think it may be a communicator, with a flip-top part on it, not unlike the sort used in the original Star Trek series. The gun and the apparent communicator, especially, have a definite retro look to them, while clearly utilizing modern levels of detail -- much like the figure himself.
Now, one question remains to be asked: What makes anyone think that Captain Action will be a success this time around? Well, most people tend to think that what kept him from being a success last time around was the fact that neither DC nor Marvel was interested in supporting Captain Action's return, which left Cap dependent on more obscure heroes for his costume sets. And while longtime Captain Action fans might have gotten a kick out of the likes of the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger, and Flash Gordon, it just wasn't enough to maintain the line.
This time around, Captain Action DOES have the support of Marvel Comics! One would suspect that neither Marvel nor Hasbro see Captain Action as any great threat to Hasbro's action figure product, since Captain Action is a larger and different sort of action figure, and at the moment, his retail presence is limited to specialty comics shops, and Toys "R" Us. I doubt it's a coincidence that Captain Action returned just in time to take advantage of the premiere of the Avengers movie, especially given his costume line-up.
The first two costumes available for Captain Action are SPIDER-MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA. I do expect to obtain these, and as such time as I do, I will review them. These are the two Marvel heroes that were part of Captain Action's original wardrobe lineup. Add to that, costume sets representing THOR and IRON MAN are also in the works. These are characters that have never been part of Captain Action's retinue of heroes, and I'm looking forward to the results.
Additionally, if you buy the deluxe costume sets, which are only available through specialty shops, you can assemble the necessary costume components for a fifth Marvel hero -- HAWKEYE!
Is it any coincidence that all of these characters have either had hit movies, and/or (more "and" than "or", since even Spidey gets a cameo) are featured in the Avengers movie?
Now, I'd like to think that Round 2 might be able to make a deal with DC at some point -- provided the costumes can be kept in the classic vein. But I am certainly of the opinion that Captain Action picked the perfect time to return and bring his Marvel Universe wardrobe trunk with him! Every one of these characters has had at least one blockbuster movie to their name, and they look to combine for another. Hopefully, that success will rub off on Captain Action.
So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely impressed. This figure is not entirely a remake of the original Captain Action, but we've been there, we've done that, I've got that figure, and I'm sincerely glad I do. This is a new Captain Action, entirely respectful to the original, but definitely stepping into the 21st century, with a lineup of costumes based on some characters that have certainly seen success outside of the comics pages in recent times.
Captain Action holds a very special place in my life, given his presence in my childhood, and I'm sincerely delighted to see that he has returned. I hope that this time, he'll be around for a good while.
CAPTAIN ACTION definitely has my highest, most enthusiastic recommendation!