Striking cover art from Mark Wheatley

This week’s cool comic is not only a great retro superhero/spy epic, but it’s also a great excuse to talk about one of my favorite childhood toys, which I’ve been doing in this blog since the early days over five years ago.

The Captain Action Winter Special, from Moonstone , includes three great comic adventures and one cool prose team up.

First up is a Captain Action “Classified” tale called “White Lies,” set in the 1960s when Captain Action was not only engaging in espionage during the Cold War, but was also clandestinely fighting the alien menace known as “The Red Crawl.”

This story is a pure spy adventure, with a few James Bondish sci-fi trappings. Written by Kenova’s own man of adventure, Beau Smith, this is a brisk tale of the original Captain Action as he deals with a double-dealing femme fatale, a hulking Russian spy and an even hulkinger Yeti while trying to recover “Olmstead’s Orb,” a jewel with occult powers.

Gorgeous art by Ed Barretto

This tale is a perfect tribute to the Cold War spy adventures, complete with an exotic setting (The French Alps) and a few lovely womenfolk with whom our hero commiserates.

The art, by Smith’s buddy, Uruguayan comics master, Eduardo Barretto, is perfectly suited to the story. There is a dedication to Warren Tufts and Al Williamson, but Barretto’s art looks like a perfect blend of the best of Jose Luiz Garcia Lopez and Joe Kubert. His layouts are dynamic and the finished art is just absolutely beautiful. This short story alone is worth the price of the book.

However, there’s more. This is a “Winter Special,” after all.

Lady Action, in action

The second story is a modern-day spies-in-snow story starring Lady Action, a recent and popular addition to the Captain Action mythos. In this story, written by Tony Lee with art by Rene Maniquis, Lady Action has her vacation ruined by an agency mistake that turns loose a pack of snow-ninjas on her, with blood in their eyes. It’s essentially a classic chase scene, with some witty banter and a nice punchline. The story is great fun.

Rounding out the comics is “Cold Courage,” a story featuring Action Boy’s pet panther, Khem. Written by Joe Gentile,with art by Giovanni Tempano, this is a Jack Londonesque story of a panther fighting off a bear to save a missing scientist. Also set in the snow (this is a Winter Special, you know), this story is filled with exciting panther-on-bear action…I mean that in the most wholesome way possible…and, like the other two stories, it really brings the Winter mood to the forefront. Very nicely done.

An alternate cover features The Green Hornet

Wrapping up this Winter Special is a short prose piece that teams up Captain Action with The Green Hornet.

Written in a pulp-inspired tone by Matthew Baugh, “Reflections In Green” plays up Captain Action’s skill as a master of disguise to weave a story filled with so many twists that it’s nearly impossible to see the story’s resolution coming.

Baugh does a great job of working in classic elements from both Captain Action and The Green Hornet. Kato is in the story, as is Dr. Eville. Like the rest of the book, it’s great fun.

Speaking of great fun, there is another development on the Captain Action front. It’s now official that Captain Action is returning to toy store shelves later this year, and in keeping with the 1960s Captain Action gimmick of being able to dress him up like famous superheroes, Round2 Corp and The Captain’s stewards, Joe Ahearn and Ed Catto, have inked a deal to provide uniform sets, complete with rubber masks, to turn Captain Action into Spider-man and Captain America.

The original Captain Action, an Ideal Toys product using uniform sets sold separately, could become Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Captain American and many other heroes. A 1999 revival by Playing Mantis was hampered by the inability to land the big-name characters from Cap’s heyday, and the revived toy line had to make due with lesser-known characters like The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon and The Green Hornet (not that these weren’t great sets).

Now Round2, which is owned by Thomas Lowe, the former owner of Playing Mantis, has been able to score a license from Marvel Comics. Not only will they have access to two of the original characters from the 1960s Captain Action line, but next year they will add Iron Man and Thor to the line-up. That all four characters have movies on the way can’t hurt.

There are a lot of improvements to the uniform sets this time. Each uniform set will include part of a uniform for Hawkeye, the Archer, a minor Marvel character who will be featured prominently in the upcoming “Avengers” movie. collectors who buy all four upcoming Marvel sets will be able to outfit their own Hawkeye figure as well.

These sets will also include replaceable hands with the characters gloves molded to match the way they’re supposed to look, and instead of just one rubber mask, each set will include two masks, one as the hero, and one unmasked as his “secret identity.

The Captain America set even comes with two styles of shields: The triangle-shaped shield that he used in his earliest adventures, and the classic round shield that most folks recognize (there’s one hanging on the set of “The Colbert Report”).

These will hit stories later this year, and I’ll be writing about them repeatedly here in PopCult in a naked attempt to get free samples to review.