After successfully creating and selling GI Joe to Hasbro, Stan Wenston set out to create even more collectible toys. During this time, he founded a brand new company, Leisure Concepts, that gathered various licenses for pop culture characters, especially superheroes. So, he was well prepared to help Ideal Toy Corporation in creating a brand new 12” action figure to compete against GI Joe.
His original concept was called Captain Magic, but that name would evolve into Captain Action by the time the toys were ready to launch. With the help of Stan Wenston’s licenses, Ideal was prepared to launch a single action figure that could become various other characters. To achieve this, they designed a series of costumes and masks that the base Captain Action toy would wear. They also specially designed his head so that it was narrow enough to easily fit inside the masks.
The base Captain Action toy wore only a blue and black uniform with a tri-color upside-down triangle logo. He also wore a blue cap along with black boots. However, this outfit could be easily swapped out thanks to the various outfit accessory packs.
His selection of costumes allowed him to become many popular comic book heroes. Originally, he only had the option to become heroes like Superman, Batman, Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Captain America, Sgt. Fury, Steve Canyon, and Aquaman. However, his second wave of toys expanded the selection to include Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, and Tonto. These outfit packs included a mask, boots, and a small selection of accessories.
As the line continued, Ideal added even more characters and even a side-line to the mix. As with most superheroes, Captain Action gained a side-kick, Action Boy. They also released a character who would act as his nemesis, Dr. Evil. Meanwhile, Ideal introduced a brand-new toy line for the girls, the Super Queens Posin’ Dolls. Unlike the Captain Action Figures, these toys did not feature swappable outfits. Still, the Super Queens represented characters like Batgirl, Mera, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman.
Ideal also introduced a 2-foot-long vehicle that both Captain Action and Action Boy could easily ride in. The Silver Streak became the official vehicle for Captain Action. They also introduced two different secret layer playsets that also served as carrying cases. One of these playsets functioned as the secret base for Captain Action and the other was Dr. Evil’s.
Due to declining sales, Ideal discontinued the original run in 1968. Still, it was possible to obtain the accessories for the Captain Action figures since they were sold in markets like China for bootleg figures. Ideal later repurposed the mold to create the Knight of Darkness toy line in 1977. However, they never returned Captain Action to toy store shelves.
At the height of the toy line’s popularity, DC published a 5-issue comic book series that began in 1968. It featured illustrations from artists like Wally Wood and Gil Kane. Meanwhile, Jim Shooter and Gil Kane helped write the issues.
Since some of the outfits were from licenses that had nothing to do with DC or were from competing comic companies, the comic removed any references to the costume swapping. In exchange, Captain Action gained a magical coin that granted him powers from mythological deities. He also gained a secret identity: Clive Arno. Action Boy also appeared in the series as the alter ego of Carl Arno. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil had been Captain Action’s father-in-law before he went mad and turned evil. The series concluded in July 1969.
The decline of the comic book series was mostly attributed to the slowdown of superhero excitement. For a time, the Batman series left the public wanting more superheroes. However, as it reached its final season, all parts of the genre also lost traction. This shift also heralded a downturn in interest in the action figures.
For a brief moment in 1980, Captain Action almost had a chance to shine again in DC’s comics. In the “Whatever Happened To…?” series, the likeness of both Captain Action and Action Boy would have popped up with new names: Captain Triumph and Javelin. Unfortunately, the editors did not believe they had the rights to follow through with this idea.
Captain Action officially returned to stores in 1998, this time produced by Playing Mantis. Captain Action had a small choice of outfits: The Lone Ranger, Tonto, The Green Hornet, Kato, and Flash Gordon. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil could be decked out as Ming the Merciless.
They also created a small series of outfit accessories that the figures could wear. There were outfits for the Green Hornet, Kato, The Lone Ranger, Tonto, The Phantom, and Kabi Singh. This toy line also brought back Action Boy. Since Hasbro had begun using the name, Action Boy was released with a brand new name: Kid Action.
Playing Mantis’s revival of Captain Action had some success. It lasted a few years before it vanished in 2000.
Still, that was not the end for Captain Action. In 2005, Captain Action Enterprises began producing new merchandise for Captain Action.
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