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By Thomas Wheeler

The fine folks at Master Collector have allowed me to present a series of reviews from toys technically past, but which might still be in the hearts and minds of many collectors. CAPTAIN ACTION is certainly in mine.

The original Captain Action, produced by Ideal in the 1960's, was the very first action figure I ever owned. Yep, despite my support of the original 3-3/4" G.I.Joe figures, I never really had the original 12" G.I.Joe as a kid. But I did have Cap. I got him in 1967, after quite an amount of cajoling, pleading, and probably a few temper tantrums. My parents weren't too keen on their only child "playing with dolls", it seemed.

Captain Action was the super-hero world's answer to G.I.Joe. 12" in height, nicely detailed and well articulated, Cap's main gimmick was not that he could represent the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines, but that you could buy other super-hero costumes for him, which included plastic face masks, and turn him into Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, even characters such as The Lone Ranger and Green Hornet. Each costume set included a generous supply of accessories.

And since many super-heroes had kid sidekicks back then, so did Cap. Captain Action's sidekick was known as Action Boy. There were two versions available. The first came with a red and blue super-hero costume. The second one, which I owned, came in a silver and blue space suit, a nod to the space race of the late 60's.

I mention that because I came in towards the tail end of Captain Action's run. As such, finding costumes for him wasn't that easy. I had Batman, Superman, Captain America, and Flash Gordon. I would loved to have had Spider-Man. I did manage to get all three costumes for Action Boy, which included Robin, Aqualad, and Superboy.

Of course there was a villain, a blue-skinned ugly horror named Dr. Evil -- no relation whatsoever to the bald geek from the Austin Powers movies -- thank God. My parents REALLY didn't want to get me that one, but eventually I did own him (I can only imagine what their reaction would've been if Todd McFarlane had been producing toys back then, but I would like to think that even as a child I would've had the good taste to avoid his bizarre stuff).

Captain Action was sort of a generic character, but DC Comics did produce a six issue Captain Action comic book, which gave the character an identity, made Action Boy his son, which was unusual in those days, and granted both characters certain super-powers based on some ancient coins they had found. The comic book is notable for its artwork by comics legend Wally Wood.

The Captain Action toy line had a healthy run through a mid-to-late 60's, but didn't even make it into the 70's. However, that was not the last time we would see Captain Action and company. The nostalgia boom in the toy world that started in the late 90's would see a brief return of everybody's favorite multi-purpose super-hero.

Since the Ideal Toy company was no longer in existence, Playing Mantis acquired the rights to produce figures and costumes based on Captain Action. Acquiring the rights was one thing. Producing the figures was another. No molds from the original toy line existed. Playing Mantis was forced to beg collectors to temporarily surrender some of their toys so that the figures could be reverse engineered and new molds created from samples of the original toys.

The results were fairly decent, but would need a little tweaking along the way. The first releases of Captain Action and Dr. Evil had horrible paint jobs, especially around the eyes. This would later be corrected, with Cap, especially, getting more intricate eye paint than even his 1960's incarnation. Also, the first versions of Captain Action had sealed-on fabric insignias on their uniforms, unlike the metal ones used for the original toy. This was done for safety reasons, but a few Cap "purists" out there screamed loudly enough so that Cap was eventually given his original metal insignia for his uniform.

Alas, there was a problem with Action Boy that could not be resolved. The name "Action Boy' had been tied up by another company and could not be used. This resulted in the figure being renamed "Kid Action", with a tolerable alteration to the insignia on the figure's uniform, switching from an "AB" lettering to "KA". It actually comes across very effectively. And, since I never owned the original red-and-blue uniform version of this figure, I was only too happy to get this one.

For the record, the original silver space-suit version of Action Boy had a bit of a problem that I suspect would keep it from passing any safety standards today. The silver whatever-it-was attached to the material had a penchant for peeling off. The inevitable result was an Action Boy dressed in blue and a distinctly thinner white fabric, which made him look like he was running around in his long underwear (even more than the average superhero). It also resulted in lots of little silver flecks everywhere. Fortunately I was well past the age of being inclined to put such objects into my mouth. Lord only knows what this stuff actually was...

Alas, the return of Captain Action and company didn't last very long, I think because of two problems. Unlike G.I.Joe, not enough people remembered Captain Action. And there was the costume issue. The original Captain Action had been able to make use of the very recognizable worlds of both DC and Marvel Comics. Since those lines were tied up with Hasbro and Toy Biz, respectively, Playing Mantis had to make do with what they could get their hands on -- and unfortunately, it wasn't much.

In fairness, they made a substantial effort, even introducing several new characters within the concepts they could acquire, even adding a few villain costumes for Dr. Evil, which was a first. They brought back The Green Hornet, which was arguably the hardest-to-find costume from the original series, and added a Kato costume, so the Hornet finally had his sidekick. The Lone Ranger and Tonto returned, as did The Phantom and Flash Gordon, now matched by their villains Kabai Singh and Ming the Merciless.

But for whatever reason, it just wasn't enough. Playing Mantis made a determined effort to make Captain Action as appealing as possible to those that would remember him the best, but it either just didn't measure up, or there weren't enough Cap fanciers out there. The line died after barely two years.

One of the biggest tragedies in that was that a new line was in the works that a lot of fans would've gladly received, and over which a considerable ruckus was raised for some time in cyberspace. Playing Mantis intended to use the Captain Action and Kid Action body molds to create a line of figures based on the classic JONNY QUEST. There were early thoughts of doing costume sets for Captain Action and Kid Action as well, but the focus would have been on the separate figures, which would not have been marketed as related to Captain Action.

The JONNY QUEST line got as far as prototypes at Toy Fair a couple of years back, and longtime fans of Jonny and friends were practically drooling on their keyboards when the pictures turned up online.

Unfortunately, too many stores (especially Toys "R" Us) had been burned on Captain Action, and didn't want another 12" line based on what they saw as a nostalgia concept from the same company. Playing Mantis made every effort to get the Jonny Quest figures to market somehow, but it just wasn't meant to be, and that's a terrible shame, because Jonny Quest is likely far more popular than Cap (no offense to Cap fans out there, I stand with you as well), and I know plenty of people that would have loved to have had such well-made 12" scale figures complete with cloth outfits. Sometimes, a small-scale all-plastic figure just doesn't quite make it.

Such is the history of Captain Action's brief return to the toy market. It was a noble attempt, and many of us whose Captain Action toys didn't survive their childhoods and who do not have the financial wherewith all to purchase original edition figures, are certainly grateful to Playing Mantis for restoring a pleasant bit of our childhoods. Thank you, Playing Mantis, for bringing Captain Action, Kid Action, and Dr. Evil back to us, however briefly.