The PopCult Comix Bookshelf
Captain Action: The Classic Collection
by Gil Kane, Jim Shooter, Wallace Wood
forward by Mark Waid
ISBN-13 : 978-1684058907
$29.99 (discounted at Amazon)
I’ve been writing about one of my favorite childhood toys, Captain Action, since the first month of this blog, and I actually first told you about this book more than three years ago. It was finally published over the summer, and your PopCulteer finally found the time to dig into it, so now I get to tell about it all over again in (spoiler alert) this rave review.
Captain Action was a 12″ action figure that could be dressed up as a variety of superheroes, using outfits (each sold separately). Thanks to the less-sophisticated licensing deals of the day, Ideal Toys was able to offer outfits for the Captain featuring heroes from DC Comics, Marvel, King Features Syndicate and more. It was a great gimmick and the toy line did good business until the 1960s superhero boom went bust after a couple of years.
However, during that time DC Comics picked up the license to produced a comic book based on Captain Action. It lasted five bizarre and intriguing issues, and those make up the bulk of this book.
Captain Action: The Classic Collection collects the entire five-issue run of the comic book, complete with covers and bonus material.
Since the character was pretty much a blank slate, much of his mythos had to be created out of thin air by the writer of his first two issues, a teenaged Jim Shooter (later to be a controversial editor at Marvel and Valiant Comics). Shooter, under the guidance of editors Mort Weisinger and Julie Schwartz, came up with his secret identity (Clive Arno), his job (Archeology Professor with a Museum named after him) and a source of super powers (magic coins imbued with the power of the gods).
Shooter also gave him a super villain, Krellik, because he didn’t have a nemesis in the toy world (Dr. Evil hadn’t showed up yet). The series featured spectacular art, with the first drawn solo by the legendary Wally Wood, and the second with Wood’s inks over the equally legendary Gil Kane.
Wood was one of the premiere EC Comics artists and had just come off a run as a major part of the creative team of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Kane was a major player in DC’s Silver Age revival, having designed and drawn the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, The Atom and many others. Both men had long, illustrous careers that have warranted multiple books, so I’m not going to go into greater detail.
After the first two issues, which told the origin of Captain Action and gave us a great Silver age super hero action story, Shooter was gone. With the third issue, Kane took over as both the writer and penciller (and he even inked the fourth issue himself). It was at this point that the series took a turn toward the psychotronic.
With Gil Kane in charge (under the editing of Julie Schwartz), Captain Action became one of the first truly psychedelic superhero comics. Dr. Evil was introduced, but instead of simply being his “enemy from Alpha Centuri,” as the toy was identified, Dr. Evil in the comics was an alturistic scientist mutated by an accident who becomes a god-like blue-skinned alien with an exposed brain and telepathic powers…who now hates humanity.
Captain Action is very much a work of its time, and when Kane took over writing the book, the influences of Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, and a culture that was experimenting with all kinds of ways to expand your mind were in the air. Kane’s stories are cosmically aware, yet are still filled with superhero action and great comic book melodrama.
Kane would later co-create Adam Warlock for Marvel, with Roy Thomas.
I don’t want to spoil these stories for anyone who hasn’t read them yet, so I’ll just say that the presentation is fantastic here. The color recreation is perfect and the reproduction crisp and clear. Some pages were originall printed with half-page ads, and rather than leave those blank new clever fake ads for Captain Action products take their place.
Letters pages from the original comics are included, and we see fan letters from future professionals Martin Pasko, Klaus Janson and more.
A short section at the back of the book includes samples of the full-page comic book ads for the toys and some of the mini-comics that were included with the figures and outfits. Plus we get a few pages of original art and pencilled pages.
This review is a bit pointless for collectors of Captain Action, because the book was released in June and they probably all have it already, but anybody interested in late-1960s cutting-edge mainstream super heroes should own a copy of this terrific and long overdue collection. It’s a real gem of a short-lived superhero comic, and this is the first time it’s ever been reprinted or collected.
Captain Action: The Classic Collection can be ordered from any bookseller and most comic shops by using the ISBN code, or go with Amazon for a discounted price.
Captain Action was the very first action figure I ever owned, back in the 60s. I had, for a brief time, the original DC comics, as well. I’m very pleased to see that they have been collected into this superb book. Also impressed that the publishers got to use the issue that guest-starred Superman!
Better a little late than never! Thanks as always for your support of all things Captain Action