Sunday, December 15, 2013

CAPTAIN ACTION: THE FIRST SUPERHERO ACTION FIGURE

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This post was inspired by several incidents. First off, this classic toy from the 60s is back again. I bought one for my great-nephew Carson (named after Johnny Carson), because I was born to late to have one of the originals. I bought it  and a Spider Man costume back in January of this year. last month, Retrospace featured a comic book ad for Captain Action toys. Yesterday, Pam of Go Retro posted a clip she found on You Tube of a family's Christmas home movies from 1966. She mentioned that in her post on Facebook, that a little boy in clip received Superman and Lone Ranger action figures as presents. Before even watching the the footage, the boy had received a Captain Action with a Superman outfit and a Lone Ranger outfit, because in 1966, Captain Action was the only superhero action figure.


The history of Captain Action is interesting. Most people saw Captain Action as Ideal Toys' oddball knock off of Hasbro's G.I. Joe. The truth is both were the creation of the same guy, Stan Winston. He took the money he earned from G.I. Joe and created a company to licence famous characters for toys. He pitched an idea to ideal called Captain Magic, a soldier who could change into various comic book superheroes. He would go the "accessories sold separately" route, but with the emphasis that had made Mattel's Barbie a success: clothes.

The backlash against "war toys" and the sudden success of the Batman TV series, as well as Saturday morning cartoons about Superman, Lone Ranger, Captain America and Aquaman, Ideal ran with Captain Action. Besides outfits of the five superheroes mentioned above, Captain Action could also dress as The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon and Sgt. Nick Fury.

Now, The Phantom and Flash Gordon still make perfect sense to us in 2013, because they are still in newspapers as well as  having been the subject of movies with the last thirty years. Sgt. Nick Fury and Steve Canyon may not seem like good choices. Sgt. Nick Fury and Steve Canyon were obviously included for the G. I. Joe fans. The Sgt. Fury outfit was basically camo fatigues, a helmet and guns. Steve Canyon's outfit was a pilot jumpsuit, helmet with oxygen mask and parachute. Ideal had been successful with Steve Canyon toys during the height of the character's popularity in the 50s, when it was in newspapers, comic books and a TV series. About the time Captain Action was introduced, Marvel Comics changed Sgt. Nick Fury into Secret Agent Nick Fury of SHIELD. Steve Canyon shifted from adventure strip about a jet pilot to soap opera strip about an aging jet pilot with a mild case post-traumatic stress disorder.

Captain Action was a hit, so Ideal added outfits for Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet and Spider Man. Here began more problems along the line of the Sgt. Fury and Steve Canyon dilemmas. The Green Hornet TV show was cancelled about the time the outfit hit the stores and the Buck Rogers comic strip was cancelled after the outfit was released. Spider Man had a successful cartoon on TV but didn't sell well. For one thing, it didn't look quite like Spider Man and one of his accessories was a hand saw (?). The original Spider Man outfit is highly collectible. One smart change to the original outfits was to change the Lone Ranger outfit from the red shirt and black jeans used in the newspaper comic strip to the blue jumpsuit he wore in the movies and TV shows.


Idea also added a Action Boy doll that could be dressed as Robin, Aqualad and Superboy. They also added the Silver Streak vehicle and Dr. Evil, Captain Action's creepy looking mad scientist arch-enemy. Sadly, in 1969, Ideal dropped Captain Action. The superhero craze was fizzling out and replaced by space travel toys inspired by the real life moon landings. Another problem was the cost of licensing of characters and a few missteps such as Buck Rogers and Green Hornet hurt financially. Unlike G. I. Joe, who reinvented himself as an adventurer with a fuzzy beard and kung-fu grip, Captain Action disappeared into toy history.

One thing you will notice when you see the 60s Captain Action in the uniforms, by today's standards, they don't look very good. Of course, this was the first and only superhero action figures available in the 60s. Baby Boomers had no choice. 

A company called Playing Mantis revived Captain Action in the late 90s. As with Ideal, the Playing mantis found Captain Action to be very costly. Another thing about Playing Mantis was they sold the Captain Action doll and uniform together in many cases. Playing Mantis ceased production by 2000. They only made Green Hornet, Flash Gordon, Lone Ranger and the Phantom, as well as Kato, Tonto and Ming the Merciless. No DC or Marvel characters were produced which is a shame considering the 90s uniforms were an improvement over the 60s uniforms.

In April 2012, a company called CA Enterprises released a new version of Captain Action. The new incarnation of Captain Action comes in both the classic look as well as a white and blue Arctic Adventure suit. The superhero uniforms are all Marvel characters (Captain America, Spider Man, Thor, Iron Man and Wolverine). They are well designed and great looking, unlike the original 60s uniforms.

They say things eventually come back and Captain Action is a good example.

Here is the original TV commercial.

 


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