REVIEW: CAPTAIN ACTION SPIDER-MAN COSTUME
Most everybody in the action figure collecting world knows that the first official action figure was G.I. Joe, Hasbro's popular action soldier (and sailor, and pilot, and Marine...). But the first official super-hero figure, who came along not long after, back there in the 1960's, was named CAPTAIN ACTION.
A product of the Ideal Toy Company, Cap was a character unto himself, but he was also the basic figure for which a series of costumes could be purchased for this 12" man of action, enabling Cap to disguise himself as a wide range of super-heroes, and other pop-culture characters that, perhaps stretched the definition of "super-hero", but whom were popular nonetheless.
It was really an impressive gathering of heroes, given the ownerships and copyrights. For the first time ever, characters from Marvel Comics and DC Comics, then known as National Periodical Publications, could be found in the same concept. This would happen once again in Mego's World's Greatest Super-Heroes line in the 1970's, and really not at all since that time.
Captain Action could be outfitted as Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Captain America, Spider-Man, Sgt. Nick Fury, as well as characters not affiliated with the "Big Two", such as The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Steve Canyon, and the Green Hornet.
Cap had a healthy run of several years, but then pretty well vanished from the radar for several decades. But he was never that far from the minds of many longtime toy collectors.
He was certainly never far from mine. Captain Action was the very first action figure I ever had. My parents didn't really want me to have action figures. You can see about how well that worked out in the long run. But they just didn't want their son "playing with dolls". I never had the original G.I. Joe. There was something about the notion of a dress-up soldier that REALLY bothered them. But through persistence -- and a few tantrums -- I was able to get Captain Action, as well as his sidekick Action Boy, and their arch enemy, Dr. Evil.
The only other action figure line I really had as a kid, before the "Mego explosion" of the 1970's, was Major Matt Mason, an astronaut toy line from Mattel. Mason didn't seem to bother my parents as much as Captain Action. I think among the factors were that Mason's astronaut suit was molded as his body, so he wasn't a "dress-up" character; he was somewhat smaller than Cap, about 6" in height, so perhaps he seemed less doll-like; and at the time, we were very much involved with, and interested in, the "space race" to put a man on the moon. Mason represented something fairly true-to-life. Need it be said my parents were very reluctant to get me the alien Callisto...
Few of my childhood toys actually survived my childhood. I have a Mego Superman around here, and that's about it. He's the oldest action figure in the place. Cap and his cohorts didn't.
In the 1990's, Playing Mantis attempted a revival of Captain Action. They based the new figures entirely on the originals, and brought back Cap, Action Boy, now known as Kid Action, and Dr. Evil, who would now have costume sets of various villains, something the original did not.
Unfortunately, Playing Mantis was unable to secure a costume license with either DC or Marvel. Both were producing their own action figure lines at the time, through other companies, and didn't want to dilute the toy license too much. This meant that Captain Actions costume sets were limited to characters which, generally speaking, Captain Action did have as costume sets in the 1960's, but which unfortunately no longer had the same degree of popularity. There just weren't enough fans to care about the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger anymore.
There were plans to produce new licenses. Kid Action would've gotten a costume set for Speed Racer (this was well before the live-action movie), and there were even plans in the works to use the Captain Action and Kid Action bodies to produce, not costumes, but actual figures, based on the classic Jonny Quest animated series. Being a huge Jonny Quest fan myself, I would've loved to have seen this happen, and the prototypes, which I have seen photos of, looked amazing. Sadly, they never came to pass. Hail and farewell once again, Captain Action.
But, you just can't keep a good man of action down for long. A company called Round 2, and involving many of the same individuals that brought back Captain Action in the 1990's, have seen to Captain Action's return once again! I reviewed Cap a while back, and that product review can be found elsewhere on this Web Site.
This time, Cap is an entirely new figure. The headsculpt, while respectful to the original, definitely has a more heroic demeanor to it. The body is slightly larger, a good bit more muscular, especially in the torso, and more extensively articulated. Captain Action also has some strong media presence this time around, giving him more of a personal identity than ever before.
But, more significantly, this time around, Captain Action's producers were able to arrange a deal with Marvel Comics for costume sets! Right out of the gate, costumes for Spider-Man and Captain America, the two prominent Marvel characters that Captain Action had costumes for back in the 1960's, were offered, and costume sets for Iron Man and Thor are in the works, two characters never previously worked into the Captain Action line.
And with that live-action Avengers movie breaking every box office record you could ask for, Captain Action's timing for a return couldn't have been better.
I purchased the SPIDER-MAN costume set for Captain Action. Now, I should mention, that there are two versions of the costume sets available. There's the standard versions, which can be found at Toys "R" Us, and there's the deluxe versions, which can be found at comic shops and specialty stores. These deluxe versions have a few more parts, a few more bells-and-whistles, and include various parts to eventually give Cap a costume of yet another Avenger -- Hawkeye. However, since I'm being a little more selective with the costume sets I plan to buy, and price being a factor, I went with the basic version.
I'm sure I don't need to explain that much about Spider-Man to you, but let's have a brief look at his origin and history.
Created by writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Steve Ditko, he first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962). Lee and Ditko conceived the character as an orphan being raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and as a teenager, having to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence in addition to those of a costumed crimefighter. Spider-Man's creators gave him super strength and agility, the ability to cling to most surfaces, shoot spider-webs using devices of his own invention which he called "web-shooters", and react to danger quickly with his "spider-sense", enabling him to combat his foes.
In Forest Hills, Queens, New York City, high school student Peter Parker is a science-whiz orphan living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. As depicted in Amazing Fantasy #15 (Aug. 1962), he is bitten by a radioactive spider at a science exhibit and "acquires the agility and proportionate strength of an arachnid." Along with super strength, he gains the ability to adhere to walls and ceilings. Through his native knack for science, he develops a gadget that lets him fire adhesive webbing of his own design through small, wrist-mounted barrels. Initially seeking to capitalize on his new abilities, he dons a costume and, as "Spider-Man", becomes a novelty television star. However, he blithely ignores the chance to stop a fleeing thief, and his indifference ironically catches up with him when the same criminal later robs and kills his Uncle Ben." Spider-Man tracks and subdues the killer and learns, in the story's next-to-last caption, "With great power there must also come—great responsibility!"
He has since been a rather troubled super-hero, often at odds with the public he has sought to protect, due in no small part to the ongoing scathing editorials of J. Jonah Jameson in the newspaper The Daily Bugle, and only in recent years has he become a team player, joining a couple of incarnations of the Avengers.
Spider-Man has become one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world, and has been used to sell toys, games, cereal, candy, soap, and many other products. Spider-Man has become Marvel's flagship character, and has often been used as the company mascot. When Marvel became the first comic book company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991, the Wall Street Journal announced "Spider-Man is coming to Wall Street"; the event was in turn promoted with an actor in a Spider-Man costume accompanying Stan Lee to the Stock Exchange. The character has starred in a host of animated series and live-action movies, and has an extremely popular ride in Universal Studios Orlando -- despite the fact that Marvel Comics is now owned by Disney.
Along about now, I'd usually say, "So, how's the figure?" This time, and I think this is the first time I've ever had to say this, I have to say -- So, how's the costume?
Extremely impressive. Now, I'm going to be blunt here. I wasn't nearly as impressed with the Captain America costume. I have nothing against Captain America, certainly. I just wasn't quite as impressed with his costume set. Perhaps this is the bane of having once been a graphic artist, but it was astoundingly obvious to me that the stars-and-stripes on the costume set had been printed on somehow. Okay, maybe that's to be expected. But somehow, it just looked a little too obvious to me. I also wasn't all that impressed with the mask sculpt. It was adequate, but it looked as though the sculptor had tried to come up with a blend of something fairly true to life, while throwing in a little bit of Jack Kirby's distinctive style, and it just didn't work too well.
Now, while the Spider-Man costume does use printing on the fabric, at least to get the webs and the red spider emblem on the back in place, it's nowhere near as obvious, and the red and blue sections of the costume are separately cut and sewn. In other words, the costume just looks better made, even if some of the same techniques are used. And you can look on the inside of the costume, and see that actual blue fabric was used for the sleeves and leggings.
The costume consists of a fabric bodysuit with a length of velcro in the back, rubbery plastic boots, gloves which are actually replacements for the hands, and a rubbery mask/hood.
The costume has a definite classic look to it, and nowhere is this more evident than the mask. I am extremely impressed with this. Honestly it looks like they had John Romita, Sr., Spider-Man's best known artist from the early days, come in and sculpt this mask. It looks exactly like how he drew the character. It's perfect.
The web lines on the mask are sculpted in, and painted black. I have no idea how they did this so neatly. I've seen plenty of Spider-Man figures from multiple companies over the years, where they try to "blacken" the web lines by wiping black paint over the figure, and then wiping most of it off, hoping enough will stay in the web lines to make it look cool. Sometimes this works. Sometimes you end up with a mess.
This mask is not a mess. If this was done by paint-wiping, then it's the absolute neatest job of the practice that I've ever seen in my life. If it was done by other means, I'd love to know what those other means were.
Spider-Man's distinctive eyes are also sculpted onto the mask, and just as neatly painted. It's here especially where you really see the classic Romita influence.
The plastic gloves and boots are similarly neatly painted, with their web lines. Here, it's a little more obvious that this may have been done with black paint wipes. But once again, it's the absolute neatest job of this procedure that I've ever seen. The hands on the gloves are positioned differently. The right hand is in a fairly neutral position, but the left hand is in Spider-Man's iconic "web-shooting" position. Both hands have flexible fingers, although this is just because of the plastic they're made from, and isn't really indicative of distinct articulation.
Then there's the fabric costume. Let's face it, friends, Spider-Man's costume isn't the easiest thing in the world to duplicate in real-world fabric. Apart from the fact that it doesn't follow the "traditional" lines of shirt-trunks-leggings, you've got that intricate web pattern running through the red sections. This has likely given fits to costume makers almost as much as it has to animators over the years.
I've never even seen the original Captain Action Spider-Man costume set in person, so I can't comment on how Ideal might have managed it in the 1960's. In the 1970's, Mego managed it by just sewing together a one-piece body-suit that had originally been made out of white fabric and had the costume design printed on it. This worked reasonably well as long as the costume parts were cut and sewn with a decent degree of accuracy, which generally they were. Toy Biz and Hasbro have had their own takes on a fabric Spider-costume since that time, with decent success.
I have to say, though, that this Captain Action costume is truly superb. Although some of the elements take a cue from Mego, and are white fabric imprinted with the necessary colors, the entire costume isn't like that, and most notably, the various sections of the costume are cut and sewn individually, which really makes the costume look more true to life.
About my only criticism is the webbing under the arms. I know this is a traditional aspect of Spider-Man's costume, and it's been just as difficult for various toymakers to work out. In this case, a very fine net-like fabric was used. This works agreeably enough, but it was also imprinted with this metallic web design, which generally looks red, but in some light almost turns pink. It's a little weird, and just a little too -- Barbie-ish in my opinion.
So, how well does the costume fit? Not too badly, although honestly it's pretty tight, much more than the Captain Action costume. Part of me wonders if this is because the costume was not placed on a figure soon after its manufacture. It's not terribly difficult to get it in place, however. Really, the trickiest part in either removing the Captain Action costume or getting the Spider-Man costume on, is getting either costume past Captain Action's very broad shoulders. Once you do that, it's not too bad.
The toughest part of the Spider-Man costume is snapping the glove-hands in place. It's not hard to remove Cap's hands -- and in fact it's easier to remove his costume if you remove them at the outset. But snapping the gloves on is a lot trickier, because the peg hole is so far down in the glove. You really can't see it, so you just sort of have to do your best. Once in place, though, the gloves look fine.
Somehow, I expected the mask to be a serious fiasco to get into place, especially after the gloves -- but it's actually fairly easy. The trickiest part is getting the front of the mask past Captain Action's jaw line, but once this is accomplished, it's a very good fit, and wasn't terribly hard to get onto his head at all.
So, how well does Captain Action come across as Spider-Man? Not too badly at all. Very effectively, really. The absolute worst thing I can say about the costume is that his ears stick out a little bit, but that's a minimal matter at best.
Overall, Captain Action makes a very effective Spider-Man, and given the considerable articulation of the figure, including double-joined elbows and knees, a practice I usually frown upon but which Cap gets away with a lot better than some, and a generous amount of articulation in his torso and elsewhere, Captain Action has a level of articulation that's as good as, if not somewhat better than, most "actual" Spider-Man figures out there. The gloves don't have any wrist articulation in them, which is a bit of a disadvantage, but not a serious one.
The costume set comes with two accessories. One is a "newspaper front page" of the Daily Bugle, offering a reward for photos of Spider-Man. The other is a very tiny camera, of the sort that Peter Parker used to take photos of himself in action as Spider-Man. This camera is so small it looks more like it's in scale with 4" action figures, not a 12" one, and is one of those very little accessories that I generally recommend stashing in a Ziploc bag so it doesn't get lost.
One other point I would like to mention, regarding the boots, and in this case I mean both the Spider-Man and Captain Action boots. I've noticed a problem developing, where if you leave Captain Action standing on any given surface for an extended period of time, he tends to stick to it. His boots even peeled the finish off a wooden table I had him standing on! I don't really know what sort of plastic was specifically used to make his boots, but it seems to be a bit unstable. I don't know what this may mean for the future of Captain Action's boots, or if Spider-Man's (or anyone else's in this line) are susceptible to similar effects, but I doubt it means anything good. At the very least, be cautious where you stand him.
So, what's my final word? I never had the original Spider-Man costume for the original Captain Action. I sort of got into Cap a little late in his run, and costume sets were starting to get scarce, and if modern collector prices are any indication, Spider-Man was a toughie to begin with.
I'm sincerely pleased to have that costume set now, and I am pleased that Marvel Comics was willing to make a deal with the Round 2 company to allow them the use of their characters for the new Captain Action line. I think there's plenty of room on the shelves for everybody, and Captain Action is a distinct figure, and I don't see as how his costume sets are going to hurt anyone else's Marvel toy products.
The new Captain Action definitely impresses me, and so does the Spider-Man costume. If you're a Captain Action fan, or a Spider-Man fan, then you definitely need to consider both the Captain Action figure, and the Spider-Man costume set! You won't be disappointed.
The SPIDER-MAN COSTUME SET for CAPTAIN ACTION definitely has my highest recommendation!