Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

GI Joe, Johnny West and Captain Action: The Holy Trinity of Action Figures

Ten Years of PopCult

Today is the tenth anniversary of The PopCult Blog, written by Rudy Panucci. Every hour, on the hour(sort of), we’re going to bring you one of our favorite posts from the preceding decade. Some are significant “firsts,” while others are deeply touching or overwhelmingly goofy. We’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Okay, for this post I’m cheating. I’m cramming four posts into one. From eariler this year I’m giving you the post with the headline you see above. As a bonus, below that you’ll get one post from each of those legendary action figures, taken from various points in PopCult’s history.

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Photo by Mykol Blackwell

The PopCult Toybox

This week in the PopCult Toybox we’re going to catch up with three titans of the 1960s 12-inch action figure scene, GI Joe, Johnny West and Captain Action.

We will learn why GI Joe no-showed his fiftieth anniversary last year, the cool NEW Johnny West figure set that commemorates his fiftieth anniversary, and the very busy Captain Action Enterprises crew as they gear up for the Good Captain’s golden year in 2016.

Derryl DePriest (photo by Mark Otnes)

Derryl DePriest (photo by Mark Otnes)

First up, with GI Joe, we have a very good interview with Hasbro’s Derryl DePriest. Mark Otnes of The Joe Report and Patches of Pride caught up with Derryl at the 2015 JoeCon a couple of weeks ago, and heard firsthand why Hasbro is focusing on other action figure lines.

It’s a little sad reading the logic behind Hasbro’s moves, but it’s not hard to understand why Hasbro sees the future of GI Joe in other scales than 1/6. Collectors of 12″ GI Joe, after being a bit spoiled in the late 1990s, simply did not support collector-centric product like 2004’s Fortieth Anniversary line, and more recent attempts to revive interest in the scale failed to perform at retail. DePriest does point out that Hasbro’s “Titan” 12-inch figures with limited articulation (I panned them when they were first released) are among the best-selling action figures on the market right now. While that’s sort of depressing, it does give one hope that we will see a revival of quality 12″ action figures at mass-market retail in a few years, once the children of the 1990s are feeling the pangs of nostalgia.

The "Lost" Talking Sailor

The “Lost” Talking Sailor

All is not lost for GI Joe. The Official GI Joe Collecto’s Club has four exciting new figures on the horizon. After this year’s membership figure, the glow-in-the-dark Dr. Isotope, the club will release the other two of their “missing talkers” collection, the Talking Action Sailor and the Talking Action Pilot. Each figure will say ten phrases when you pull its string–two more than the original figures said in 1967, but using actual recordings made at the time. Next year’s membership figure will be an updated version of Mike Power, Atomic Man.

Much of the information we have comes from Mark Otnes and The Joe Report, and we want to thank him again for the great reporting he’s done in service to the hobby.

Cotswold Collectibles' "Scorpion's Surprise Uniform Set"

Cotswold Collectibles’ “Scorpion’s Surprise Uniform Set”

Speaking of great work in service to the hobby, we’d be failing you if we didn’t tell you about Cotswold Collectibles, and the incredible work that they’re doing keeping the 1/6 collecting community supplied with figures, uniforms and accessories. If you are a fan of the original GI Joe, particularly The Adventure Team, you owe it to yourself to visit Cotswold’s Elite Brigade and see all the cool new toys you can get.

Photo by Mykol Blackwell

Photo by Mykol Blackwell

Next up we have the ole’ cowpoke himself, Marx Toys’ famous cowboy, Johnny West. Johnny turns fifty this year, and thanks to a perfect storm of business deals, mold rediscoveries and Facebook interactions, there will be a special fiftieth anniversary Johnny West figure, made from the original molds. Actually, there already is one, I just haven’t gotten mine in the mail yet.

Next week I will bring you details on how you can order this cool new version of Johnny West for yourself, but first I want to give James Wozniak of Classic Recasts, Terri Coop of Circle X Ranch (she holds the Johnny West trademarks) and Jean Zabre, whose family controls the molds, for making this project happen. After James ships out all the pre-ordered figures, these will be available to the general public.

Kudos also go out to Scott Stewart of Stewart’s Attic, who helped make this project possible, and to Mykol Blackwell, from whom I mercilessly swiped the accompanying photos and who illustrated the Johnny West coloring book.

Photo by Mykol Blackwell. This shows off the figure, accessories, cool box and the certificate of authenticity signed by Terri Coop and James Wozniak

Photo by Mykol Blackwell. This shows off the figure, accessories, cool box and the certificate of authenticity signed by Terri Coop and James Wozniak

I will write a detailed review of this figure once I have mine in hand, but I will tell you that Johnny’s body is molded in dark grey, as opposed to the caramel color of the original, and his soft accesories are dark teal (rather than brown). Hard accessories are silver-pewter-colored. It’s a striking color combination, one that hasn’t been seen before, and it looks like this will open the floodgates of new toys using the original Marx molds. Molds have been located for Sam Cobra and his accessories, Stony Smith, and the body of Fighting Eagle. Virgin vinyl and plastic was used, so this will be a sturdy, high-quality figure.

For a series of figures that hasn’t been marketed for almost forty years, Johnny West, the Best of the West and the other 12″ Marx action figures seem poised to make the most unlikely comeback since vinyl records.

You can't get much cooler than a Captain Action Footlocker

You can’t get much cooler than a Captain Action Footlocker

Captain Action with the CRKTLab C2E2 esclusives

Captain Action with the CRKTLab C2E2 esclusives

Lastly we come to the baby of the group, Captain Action, who doesn’t reach AARP age until next year. Despite retailer resistance delaying the continuation of the main Captain Action 12″ figure and uniform sets, Captain Action Enteprises is keeping the fires stoked with a ton of Captain Action products. I am eagerly awaiting my Captain Action Footlocker, made for CAE by the folks at 3rd Son Books. This is a wooden footlocker, modeled after the 1960s GI Joe footlocker, with vintage graphics. I will review it in depth once it arrives at PopCult central.

Likewise, I’m waiting on the C2E2 exclusive vinyl art figures from CKRTLab. Earlier this month in Chicago these cool little guys made their debut, and a full review will come your way once they show up in my mailbox. A detailed review of the Go Hero/Executive Replicas Lady Action will turn up in PopCult in the next three weeks. We will also let you know when Zica Toys begins their Kickstarter for their 4″ Captain Action and Silver Streak vehicle.

Available soon from Marshal Made Collectibles

Available soon from Marshal Made Collectibles

Free Comic Book Day is this weekend

Free Comic Book Day is this weekend

Captain Action will also grace the cover of The Overstreet Price Guide, and this Saturday you’ll find him on the cover of Overstreet’s special Free Comic Book Day edition of Comic Book Marketplace.

Another exciting development is the licensing deal that Captain Action Enterprises made to allow Jase Marshall, of Marshall Made Collectibles, to sell Captain Action elastic replacement kits as well as newly-sculpted custom heads that update and pay tribute to the original Captain Action and Action Boy headsculpts from the 1960s. We will alert you as soon as the heads go on sale.

That’s actually a heck of a lot of activity for three toys from fifty years ago. It proves that it’s not just kids who played with these guys originally, but also younger folks who have been bitten by the bug who love these 12″ tall action figures. It’s a testament to the originality, creativity and imagination with which these cool hunks of plastic were imbued.

You can expect to read more about the holy trinity of boys toys from the 1960s in the coming weeks (and months and probably longer) here in PopCult.

Sunday Evening Video: More JoeLanta 2013
March 24, 2013

Above you see twenty-two minutes of highlights from JoeLanta 2013, which you should be well familiar with by now if you’ve been reading PopCult. This special video capsule includes interviews with two of the convention’s organizers, Buddy Finethy and David Lane, and with prominent 1/6 scale action figure collector, Dave (Tanker) Matteson.

Among the scenes from the convention are brief snippets of the Hobby Roundtable, film festival, Team Trivia, the parachute drop, Swapapalooza, the diorama displays, the dealer’s rooms and an entire song by Radio Cult.

Extra special thanks and credit must go out to Radio Free Charleston Big Shot, Melanie Larch, who provided most of the stable video footage seen here. Your PopCulteer was so hyper, being at his first GI Joe Convention, that his camera work was shaky as hell. Seriously I was lucky to hold it together enough to do the intros and interviews.

If you want to know more about JoeLanta, visit their website, watch the video, and go back and read the last two week’s worth of PopCult. I’ve barely shut up about it. If you really want more info on JoeLanta, check back next year. I am definitely returning in 2014.

A long wait for EVIL!
September 14, 2005

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When I was a kid, there was one toy that I wanted more than anything—the Dr. Evil Gift Set! It was really called the “Dr. Evil Lab Set”, but “gift set” sounds so much funnier when matched with “Dr. Evil.” Anyway, this set filled me with an early instance of what I have come to call “toy lust.” I haven’t managed to lose that affliction as an adult, either. I wouldn’t write so much about toy collecting if I weren’t so heavily under the influence of it.

This is not the lame Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. I’m talking about the REAL Dr. Evil–the blue-skinned guy with the bug eyes and exposed brain who came from Alpha Centuari to fight Captain Action. (The guy in the movie is just a bald parody of Lorne Michaels.)

The blue Dr. Evil was Captain Action’s worst enemy! Super-intelligent and capable of destroying the world, he could kick the movie Dr. Evil’s butt.

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Recalling Captain Action

As a reminder, since not many people remember him, Captain Action was a GI Joe-sized action figure made by Ideal Toys. His gimmick was that you could buy costumes (with cool, head-covering rubber masks) that allowed you to dress Captain Action as an impressive variety of other superheroes. A quick change of clothes and the Captain could turn into Superman, Batman, Spider-man, The Phantom, The Green Hornet, and other larger-than-life icons. He was one of the coolest toys every made.

But I digress.

refCADrEvelLabSetSmallFor Christmas 1968 I really wanted the Dr. Evil Gift Set. It came with Dr. Evil, two disguises, a lab coat, and the evil hypnotic eye. In 1968, I already had Captain Action and I really wanted a bad guy for him to fight. Santa (in the form of my parents) had the not-so-good Doctor on lay-away at Arlan’s Department Store (now the site of Sport Mart on the South side of the Patrick Street Bridge. But before they could pick him up, Arlan’s burned to the ground. Nobody else in town had Dr. Evil, so for Christmas, and I wound up with a Marx Chief Cherokee. Talk about a letdown.

Evil Reappears

Fifteen years ago, a mint-in-box Dr. Evil Lab Set would set you back more than two grand. I haven’t checked the price lately, but I think that if you want one now, you have to sweeten the pot with your firstborn or a kidney or something. So I went without Dr. Evil in my collection… until 30 years had passed.

In 1998, a company called “Playing Mantis” was making a name for themselves by bringing back some of the beloved toys from the ’60s and ’70s. They’d already revived Johnny Lightning cars and the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, when word leaked out they were thinking about bringing back Captain Action.

I was jazzed. After tracking down and pestering their PR person, Suzi Klimek, I got the story in TOY TRADER Magazine and scooped the toy press in trumpeting the return of one of the most collectible toys from the ’60s superhero boom.

And because I was writing a monthly column about action figures, I was sent complimentary copies of Captain Action and Dr. Evil to review.

I waited 30 years to get my hands on Dr. Evil, and of course I gave it a glowing review. You don’t want to cross Dr. Evil!

Even without the goodies from the Lab Set (just to get the Hypnotic Eye on eBay will cost you more than a Kia), this was a very satisfying moment. As I type this, Dr. Evil is watching over me from his spot of honor in my office.

And that’s why I collect toys. It’s either the warm, fuzzy feeling of recapturing my childhood, or the trauma caused by not getting Dr. Evil when I wanted him. One of these days I’ll tell you about how it took me 25 years to get a DEVO “Duty Now For The Future” T-shirt.

Marshall Johnny West Rides Again
July 13, 2010

My fondness for Marx Toys’ Johnny West action figure line has been well-documented here before. That’s why it’s a real treat to announce that, for the first time in years, you can buy a brand-new Johnny West action figure. Noah and Terri Coop’s New Marx Toy Company has just made “U.S. Marshall Johnny West” available to order.

You can order Marshall Johnny directly from the Magic Marxie website. The cost is $44.99, which gets you a high-quality action figure, molded in the familiar Johnny West caramel brown color (with a reconfigured plastic that will last much longer than the original figures) plus 18 accessories, instructions, a bonus Magic Marxie figure, and a surprise mail-in offer. This all comes in a sturdy, 1974-style “Best Of The West” box.

You can check here for more cool deluxe Marx action figures.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    Great article, Rudy. Like you, I have no love for those poorly articulated “Titan” figures. It’d be nice if we got something cool in this scale from any of these fine lines.

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