Captain Action – Character Background Part Two

The History of Captain Action, Part II: Captain Action Returns!!!

By Joe Ahearn with Cynthia Green and Jon Stout

Part two starts a more personal part of this story. After a trip to my parents’ attic, I became interested my old toys – especially one of my own favorites from when I was a boy, a little-known superhero by the name of Captain Action. Before long, I had entered the collectors’ market, reading magazines like Collecting Toys and Toy Shop and re-buying missing pieces from my old G.I. Joe sets. Along the way, I came across Cotswold Collectables, a company selling reproduction G.I. Joe pieces in addition to vintage products. I began to wonder – was it possible to bring back Captain Action as well?

In early 1996, I discovered that the trademark for Captain Action was owned by Karl Arts Publishing (I would eventually acquire the trademark for myself in 2005). Around the same time, I began to see articles about the Captain pop up in the toy magazines I read. That April, I came across a piece in Collecting Toys Magazine about a little toy company called Playing Mantis that specialized in reproductions of rare 1960’s die-cast car lines.

That was where it all really began. I decided to contact Playing Mantis with my idea. After a year of investigation, follow-ups and other hurdles, Playing Mantis hired me as a consultant to the line, for which I will be forever grateful. My initial responsibilities at the company included researching background information and finding vintage pieces to be purchased for reproduction. During my time at Playing Mantis, I also made the initial contacts to license the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon and the Phantom, and hired classic Silver Age artist Carmine Infantino to do the packaging artwork.

PM Boxes CA

At one point, I was fortunate enough to meet Murphy Anderson, creator of the original Ideal artwork. Unfortunately, Playing Mantis never got around to hiring Murphy for the line, but I was at least able to introduce him to my good friend Michael Eury. As a result, Murphy ended up doing some superb artwork for Michael’s book, Captain Action: The Original Super Hero Action Figure.


Eury Book 1Playing Mantis launched the new Captain Action line in 1998. Their products included reissues of Captain Action, Dr. Evil, and Action Boy (now dubbed Kid Action). Our accessories included uniforms capable of transforming the Captain Action into the Lone Ranger& Tonto, Flash Gordon, the Phantom and the Green Hornet & Kato. And now for the first time Dr. Evil could now disguise himself as Ming the Merciless and Kabai Singh.

PM Uniforms

Playing Mantis  also planned sets for  Kid Action –Speed Racer, Johnny Quest & Hadji. Dr. Quest, Race Bannon, Dick Tracy , Racer X and James Bond were planned for Captain Action. Dr. Zin and Captain Terror were planned for Dr. Evil. Unfortunately, these products would never see the light of day.

PM Quest & Racer

While Playing Mantis did have some success with the line, they were unable to license the characters owned by DC and Marvel. Without Superman and Spider-Man, the line was unable to truly flourish, and Playing Mantis was forced to shut down production in 2000. In  my mind, the Playing Mantis line was a success as I had managed to bring one of my childhood heroes back to life, even if for just a short time. But was this the end?

Not on your life! You can’t keep a good hero down!

Read what happens next in Part 3.

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