Wednesday, 28 September 2016


Playing Mantis Captain Action, with professionally
produced, shrink-wrapped replica of original box

Apparently, CAPTAIN ACTION creator STAN WESTON was
one of a trio responsible for G.I. JOE - which is interesting (to me) be-
cause, in Great Britain, G.I. Joe was rechristened ACTION MAN.  As a
lad in the '60s, I don't  recall seeing Captain Action (or Captain Magic,
as he was originally going to be named) on sale in this country, but I knew
about the character through the adverts in comics issued by NATIONAL
MAN and BATMAN, etc.  I instantly coveted this wondrous item, but it
wasn't until toy company PLAYING MANTIS re-released IDEAL's
iconic action-figure in 1998 that I finally managed to acquire one.

DC Comics published a title based on the character in the latter
half of the 1960s, but its brief five issue run indicates that it wasn't
as popular as anticipated.  Featuring art by WALLY WOOD and GIL
KANE, and written first by JIM SHOOTER and then by Kane himself,
the comics boasted some spectacular cover art, which I now unselfishly
share with you here.  They're scanned from my very own copies which I
obtained many years ago, but should still be relatively easy to obtain
from back issue specialists in comicbook stores and on eBay.

The ad below (drawn by KURT SCHAFFENBERGER) comes
from DETECTIVE COMICS #359 ("The Million Dollar Debut
of Batgirl!"), but the previous owner has defaced The PHANTOM
figure by drawing stripes on his costume.  Tsk!  Some people, eh?

I'd be interested in the reminiscences of American readers who had
this toy when they were kids, and whether any Brits actually managed
to get their hands on one back in the '60s.

And, if you're lucky, you may still be able to get this great book
(below) all about Captain Action from your local comicbook store.
This is the first printing, but I believe a revised and updated edition
was made available a year or two back.


TC said...

I remember reading an article in a "Soldier of Fortune"-type magazine about British Special Forces units and their wide range of skills. It said something like, "These soldiers are as versatile as Action Man." At the time, I didn't know exactly what that term meant, but I did wonder if they meant an "action figure" like G.I. Joe or Captain Action.

I'm not sure when the term "action figure" started. Maybe with Caption Action/Action Man. Or a few years earlier, with G.I.Joe. I remember ads that called G.I.Joe an "action soldier." (Of course, they carefully avoided calling it a doll.)

Otherwise, my comments will have to be basically the same as when this post was previously published. Two of my classmates in elementary school were superhero/comic book fans, and the three of us sometimes played with these action figures. That's about it, as far as reminiscences go. I don't have any particularly charming or interesting anecdotes about it.

I had costumes of Superman, Flash Gordon, the Phantom, the Lone Ranger, and Captain America. I think they later brought out costumes of Spider-Man, the Green Hornet, and Buck Rogers.

I had the first two issues of the DC comic. #1 had art by Wally Wood, and #2 was by Gil Kane.

The DC version was an archaeologist who discovered magic coins that gave him super-powers. They had been left behind by space aliens who had visited Earth B.C.E. Naturally, the aliens were taken for gods by the primitive people, and our mythology was based on them. This was in the late 1960's, when Von Daniken's books were starting to popularize the "ancient astronauts" theory (although the idea had been used in science fiction long before that).

As I recall, when G.I.Joe first came on the market, there was a huge demand for it, and every seven year-old boy in America wanted it. I don't recall Captain Action (or Major Matt Mason, or Johnny West) being as popular, although they presumably made a respectable profit for the toy companies.

"G.I. Joe" is an American nickname for a soldier, and I suppose it would have no meaning in Britain (just as "Tommy Atkins" would be unfamiliar to a lot of Americans). By the 1970's, anything military had become politically incorrect in the US, and I believe Hasbro marketed the figures as "Adventure Joe," "Action Joe," or "Super Joe."

Kid said...

I've read that G.I. stands for Government Issue (or General Issue. depending on the source), so you're right that it wasn't a familiar term in Britain. However, before Action Man was released in 1966 (2 years after Joe), I used to look at those Andy & George ads in American comics and wish we Brits had a toy like that. Strangely, the ads said that Joe had 21 moveable parts, but he actually only had 20. I think the reason Hasbro acquired the Action Man name a few years ago was because they were trying to lose the mainly military associations of the figure, although kids could still buy military outfits for him.

Phil S said...

Captain Action was the gold standard for superhero toys. Being that it was the first Marvel action figure. And you could transform him into DC and other heroes! I didn't have one but a went to a birthday party and the boy had the Spider-man one. Strangely I don't think Cap was a huge success. He was only for sale for a few years and didn't make it out of the 60s. I don't know why seeing as how GI Joe made it.
There has been a re issue of the figure plus new Marvel costumes. I have Captain America and am looking for Iron Man. Sales were hurts when Toys R Us and other retailers decided not to carry Cap in stores. You had to scour eBay or the Internet of local comic shops.

Kid said...

There was another issue of Captain Action a few years ago, which was tougher-looking and didn't look like George Bush, which I assume is the one you're referring to, PS. I'll have to see about tracking one down some day. Incidentally, Playing Mantis released the Ideal version again (after their first reissue), but this time with a better painted head. It was the original head - just more detailed in the paint department. I've got both.

Philip Guest said...

Back in 1976, I was on holiday in Hong Kong with my family. As a kid, I was a keen Action Man collector. When I saw the Captain Action figure and the superhero outfits that were available...that was it. A plea to my parents to front me some pocket money and they were mine.

The CA figure came in a cardboard box - no costume included. I picked up the outfits for Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Spiderman, Batman and Captain America. The quality was really good, although a couple of the items - Spidey's grappling hook and Flash's "guidance gun" - broke as soon as you reached for them. The outfits came with a lenticular ring, which switched between CA and the character.

Sadly, my CA and his outfits are lost in time and jumble sales. Cheers for bringing back some good memories, though!

Kid said...

I'm amazed that Captain Action and his outfits were still available in 1976, PG, but I suppose it was either old stock or Ideal continued to manufacture the product for the foreign market perhaps. I always coveted The Phantom outfit for some odd reason, but I managed to get The Lone Ranger outfit when Playing Mantis reissued it in the late '90s or so. Apparently the figure was available in Scotland (where I live) in the '60s, but I never saw it and know of only one person who did.

You should get the book - that'll bring back loads of good memories I'm sure.

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