The History of Captain Action, Part I: The Rise of Captain Action
By Joe Ahearn with Cynthia Green and Jon Stout
In 1966, Captain Action leapt into action as the original super hero action figure who had the ability to change into other superheroes, including Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Lone Ranger, Tonto, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Steve Canyon, Sgt. Fury and the Green Hornet. The character was the latest concept from toy and idea man Stan Weston, who just two years before had helped Hasbro create the G.I. Joe line. Weston had been the first to propose the idea of an articulated figure in the form of a soldier. From there, Hasbro’s Don Levine and his team brought to market America’s moveable fighting man and the first modern action figure for boys.
Hoping to repeat his success with G.I. Joe, Stan and his company, Leisure Concepts, took the idea of a new 12-inch articulated action figure to Ideal Toys, Hasbro’s competitor. Stan called his new concept “Captain Magic,” a many-in-one hero who could adopt the guise of other heroes licensed to Leisure Concepts. With the exception of changing the name, Ideal approved Weston’s pitch for production.
The original line included the Captain in his blue and black uniform, his hat, belt, boots, lighting sword, and ray gun. Separate uniforms and accessories allowed him to become Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Captain America, the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, the Phantom, Steve Canyon and Sergeant Fury. In 1967, a new wave of costumes added Spider-Man, Tonto, Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet, and a blue uniform variation of the Lone Ranger. The new sets also included a collectible flicker ring in each box.
Captain Action proved popular enough to return in 1967, accompanied by two additional characters. The new line included the Captain’s sidekick, Action Boy, who came equipped with junior superhero uniforms that allowed him to change into Superboy, Aqualad and Robin the Boy Wonder. Ideal also gave Captain Action a mortal enemy, the blue-skinned, bug-eyed alien, Dr. Evil!
The company also released new accessories for the Captain himself, including the cool Silver Streak Amphibian, a hybrid land/sea vehicle, and various items intended to give the Captain more of his own identity, including a four-foot-wide working parachute, a jet mortar, a weapons arsenal, a jet pack, a directional communicator and a survival kit. Ideal also introduced the Action Cave, Captain Action’s official headquarters, and Dr. Evil’s Sanctuary, both of which doubled as a carrying case for uniforms and equipment.
The line saw a decline in sales in late 1968 as the superhero craze began to lose steam. With Batmania and the Saturday-morning cartoon shows fading away, Ideal discontinued the Captain Action line. The character disappeared only two and a half years after its initial release.
Despite the product line’s relatively short lifespan, the Captain and his associates have since become among some of the most fondly remembered and expensive action figures on the collector’s market. Mint, still-in-the-box Spider-Man and Green Hornet sets are extraordinarily rare, with only a handful in existence today. Pieces from the original Captain Action line currently fetch thousands of dollars on eBay. Collectors also highly rate a number of rare items related to Ideal’s marketing drive, including a floatable swim ring, a set of playing cards, a Ben Cooper Halloween costume, five Captain Action comics released by DC, an Aurora model kit, and a special Dr. Evil’s Lab gift set.
The Silver Age might have been over, but Captain Action was not forgotten…