Let Justice Be Done: Captain Action’s New Lease on Life

A comics interview article by: Jim Beard
Debuting in 1966 and ceasing production by 1968, no other toy had such a brief existence yet has become a phenomenon the likes of Captain Action. Riding the crest of the Batmania wave of ’66, Ideal Toys’ answer to GI Joe could transform himself into multiple other heroes, and predating Mego World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, combined licenses from more than one major copyright holder. Captain Action’s stable of identities included not only DC’s major characters and Marvel’s heavy-hitters, it also incredibly enough roped in TV’s Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger and newspaper comic strip heroes such as Steve Canyon and Buck Rogers. And remember, this was long before Wiz Kids’ Heroclix allowed such a mingling of companies and properties. DC also published an official Captain Action comic series, which despite a stellar cast of creators, lasted only five issues. It’s fondly remembered today by fans and pros alike.

Alas, possessing no concrete identity of his own and being beat down by the 800-lb. gorilla of GI Joe, Captain Action’s time in the spotlight was brief, just three short years. Sometime in the late 1970s and early 1980s, toy collectors remembered the dashing Captain and the fun they had with him as children and the phenomenon was born: Ideal’s “Amazing 9 in 1 Super hero” took on new life as one of the most sought-after action figure collectible of all time. Captain Action, along with sidekick Action Boy and nemesis Dr. Evil (yes, Mike Myers owes a debt to Ideal) and all their accessories now go for some of the highest dollar amounts known to toy aficionados.

But the property itself floated in limbo after its 1968 demise, then bounced around to different caretakers (mostly for publishing, not toys), never truly finding a place to grow and evolve. Playing Mantis made the most headway into a Captain Action revival when in 1998 they made a serious bid to manufacture reproductions of some of the figures and outfits and also produced new licensed character costumes for the first time in thirty years. That too came to an end, sadly.

Flash to the present. Enter Joe Ahearn and Ed Catto, two of Captain Action’s biggest fans and now the gentlemen who own him lock, stock, and barrel. They have plans for the good Captain, oh yes plans, and have already set into motion a new comic book series from Moonstone (to be written by scribe Fabian Nicieza) and many new CA collectibles. They’ve got a lot to say about Captain Action and are eager for the chance to both assure CA mavens that they’re going to get it right and to invite potential new fans to see what the phenomenon’s all about.

Let’s swing into action and check in with Joe and Ed:

Jim Beard (JB): What is CA's place right now in pop culture? Is he a "sleeping giant"?

Joe Ahearn (JA): We are surprised just how “big” a sleeping giant Captain Action is! He has engendered such excitement and enthusiasm from a wide variety of collectors, nostalgia buffs, fan boys and genre experts that we’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve found that Captain Action really has a multi-faceted appeal, sort of a classic version of today’s Ben10. Captain Action has been a cult collectors classic for years, as it was the first original Super Hero action figure and is one of, if not the most expensive line to collect on a piece by piece basis. The 2002 collector’s book on Captain Action written by Michael Eury, (currently the editor of Back Issue magazine) was a total sell out for Twomorrows Publishing and any stray copies of the book are selling at a premium now. Further, the Playing Mantis reissues are also becoming more collectable now and are commanding higher prices on Ebay.

Ed Catto (EC): The very name is so ripe with possibilities too. For instance, in the town where I live, I passed along a few of our Captain Action T-shirts to the neighborhood kids, they love to wear them to high school. The Captain fits right into that trendy nostalgia craze– even amongst teenagers who aren’t familiar with him!

JA: Yes, in fact, when I was at NY Comic Con, wearing my CA shirt, two young girls stopped me and said they loved the logo. That doesn’t happen every day!

EC: Additionally, we’re seeing some of these pseudo-retro characters like Conan for Dark Horse, Lone Ranger for Dynamite and Phantom for Moonstone capturing the public’s interest. (In fact, it captures our interest.) We’re not sure if this is a trend or “just stuff we like to buy”.

JB: Well that’s a good point: what will be your own measuring stick for any new CA product you put out there? What will “success” look like?

JA: It’s hard to put a measurement on success as it means different things to different people. However, we feel CA is a success already by the amount of interest we have gotten from the comic and collectors communities. So far, the products we have made available have garnered a great response and we are confident that this trend will continue with Cap’s upcoming splash back into comics.

JB: Give us a rundown of where the property was between Ideal in the 60s and now.

JA: Basically, the property was dormant for a number of years after Ideal discontinued the original toy line in 1969, until the Trademark was picked up by Karl Arts Publishing in the early 90s. Karl Arts didn’t do much with it, except to try to broker their own updated version of Captain Action as a comic book character, which was extremely foreign from the original character. At about the same time, I began recollecting Captain Action and some of my old GI Joe sets and took notice of a resurgence in the 12-inch action figure market. Once I saw the reissues of the original 12 inch GIJOE, I started thinking, “Why not do the same for Captain Action?” After some research and various hurdles, I successfully brokered the idea to Playing Mantis in 1997 and they got Karl Arts on board and thus began the reissuing of the toy line for which I was employed by Playing Mantis as a consultant.

The line ran from 1998 to 2000 and did pretty well, with reissues of The Phantom and The Green Hornet uniform sets most notably, but unfortunately, without the addition of DC or Marvel character licenses to work with (as they were unavailable at the time) it was not possible to keep the line going past the reissues of the less currently popular characters we had already worked with.. After the line ended, Karl Arts inexplicably dropped the Captain Action TM and Playing Mantis picked it up for themselves.

In 2005, Playing Mantis was sold off to RC2 /Ertl, and all of their properties including Captain Action went with it. I queried RC2’s legal department after the dust settled as to the fate of Captain Action and advised them I was interested in obtaining the TM if they were not going to use it. After some persistence, they finally advised me they were not interested in pursuing Captain Action, which did not surprise me because the company’s main focus is die-cast toys. So they dropped the Captain Action TM, and I was able to obtain it by putting myself in the right place when the ball dropped. Not long after that, I teamed up with Ed Catto who was already a buddy through the Yahoo Captain Action collectors chat group. We decided to form Captain Action Enterprises LLC and have been rebuilding the property for almost two years now brokering deals for different collector’s products as can be noted on our website www.captainactionnow.com, and now most recently we have been focused on the upcoming Moonstone comic. So that’s where Captain Action stands today. Whew! I’m out of breath!

JB: It’s a story worthy of its own comic series! What do you think about DC's five-issue CA series? Was it a valid concept for the property?

EC: The DC comic from the late 60’s really shows how this concept attracts the best. You might remember the strong line-up of super-stars it attracted – the great Wally Wood, the legendary Gil Kane and even Jim Shooter. Kane thought so much of the property that he took it upon himself to write, in addition to penciling, the last three issues.

JA: Here’s an interesting piece of comic trivia: at the NY Comic Con this February, Jim Shooter told me the story about how the Captain Action book was his first published credit. The only reason it happened, Jim explained, was because Wally Wood supported him and demanded it.

JB: It is a gorgeous series to look at, at the very least. Now, can you remove the licensed hero characters from a proposed CA comic series, as DC did, and still be "Captain Action"?

EC: Absolutely- and that’s because of the basic concept. Captain Action is more than just a parade of licensed characters; it’s about action and adventure. And it’s especially about empowering the individual and unleashing one’s imagination. When you get down to that core, you realize that Captain Action can go beyond the licensed characters from the original toy line.

JB: You mentioned previously about products you’ve already been offering. Aside from your upcoming comic with Moonstone, what else do you have in store for CA?

JA: Believe it or not – this is really going to be the year for Captain Action!

Our ongoing collector’s shop at CafePress showcases great T-shirts, hats and other custom goodies. We’ve even been selling baby gear with the AB logo – in this case for “Action Baby!” Next up is our re-release of the Aurora Captain Action Model kit. An un-built original of this “holy grail” of Aurora kits would cost a king’s ransom, but we’re making this replica available to the public through Moebius Models, Inc. for a fraction of that price.

Collectors are already lining up after hearing how Superstar Sculptor, Ruben Procopio is developing our Captain Action collector’s statue. We’ve long admired Ruben’s work at Disney as well his Electric Tiki line of classic heroes, and now we’re clearing shelf space in our own homes for this incredible statue.

EC: We’ve been getting nothing but compliments from collectors with the attention to detail our products have had. For example, our recent embroidered patches of Captain Action’s chest emblem are selling briskly online to fan accolades. We’ve also got interest from everything lunchbox manufacturers to PVC figures to a Silver Streak (the Captain’s superhero car) die cast.

And, of course, we’re so excited for our upcoming Captain Action comic series from Moonstone!

JB: Wait! We’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? What about the most basic item of all, the Captain Action action figure? When can we expect him back in articulated plastic?

EC: We are hopeful that we will see Cap back in his classic form as an action figure in the near future. We are currently looking into that possibility with a few interested parties.

JB: Okay, why Moonstone? How did they win the comic book license?

JA: We talked to so many publishers, but Moonstone came highly recommended, from all sides, again and again.
EC: We’ve also been impressed the great care that Moonstone gives their licensed properties, and really think they’ll be the perfect fit for a retro character – with an eye to the future- like Captain Action. In addition, we’re fan boys at heart and love their books, like Phantom and Night Stalker.

JA: On a kitschy note, it’s nice for Captain Action and the Phantom to be together again after 40 years, as The Phantom was one of the original CA costumes.

JB: Err…Wow! I never thought of that! Great point, Joe! As to the preparations for the comic, you and Moonstone put out a call for submissions to amateurs and pros alike? Why? And why ask for submissions at all? Why not search for a creative team quietly?

EC: Captain Action has unique opportunity – it’s a property like no other. When you think about it, the Captain is kind of the American Idol of action figures. It’s all about what an individual can do with the opportunity provided. So, we wanted to give everyone a chance to tell their story -and let the best rise to the top.

JA: And through this, we’ve seen a little bit of everything!

EC: Plus, this makes it fun and a little more participatory for everyone.
We really wanted to give everyone a chance to “play again”, to flex their creative muscles – and in many cases, a chance to be 8 years old again.

JB: Characterize the Captain Action submissions you received.

JA: We were blown away by the thought-provoking and creative concepts generated by this 40-year old character. Moonstone received over 150 submissions for this project. There were so many unique and fascinating treatments that we found it almost impossible to decide. In fact, many of the concepts almost forced us to extrapolate more and more ideas from them. A case of, “Yeah, that’s great. And what if…?”

JB: Aside from Fabian's, where there any pitches that you felt very strongly about?

JA: The very best one was Jim Beard’s, but we heard he was tied in up in a contract dispute with Spielberg.

EC: No, really, we narrowed it down to 5 or 6, but it was unbelievably hard to pick just one. It was kind of like picking just one model with a suitcase on Deal or No Deal. So many were spectacular, and each chock full of potential.

JB: Ah, me, I guess I walked right into that, Joe…you’ll pay for that one, and your little dog, too! Now, what was it about Fabian's pitch that made you say, "this is the one"? What is it in general about him as a writer that makes him suited for CA?

JA: First off, he was a fan as a kid and really understands the essence of the property. Secondly, he was able to strike the right balance between fan and comic professional, giving his story the right touch of nostalgia for die hard fans and twists, turns and surprises for new fans.

EC: Believe us, there’s no one more protective of this property than Joe and I –but when we read Fabian’s treatment – we loved it. We’ve now seen his actual script for the first chapter and can’t wait to see what he has in store for chapter 2. It’s just that good. We also know that Fabian can deliver. We’ve been impressed with so much of what he writes- everything from Action Comics to Thunderbolts to his Valiant work to brilliant obscure work like Marvel’s Outlaw Love last year.

JB: What's the overall plan for your CA comics? Miniseries? Ongoing? Spin-offs? Graphic novels? Web?

JA: We’re confident that we’ll be offering older nostalgic fans a great retro trip with surprises. And for the younger fan, we’ve got a fresh, innovative thrill ride that’s not “your father’s Oldsmobile”. We’re planning on producing a dynamite series out of the gate, and then listening to the fans and seeing what they want!

JB: The last CA property holder (Playing Mantis) wasn't allowed to use the name "Action Boy". Is this still the case? Will the CA sidekick appear in the comics?

JA: Much of that was toy related, based on Hasbro’s “Action Man” line. This is a different situation. In fact, wait until you see what we have planned for this character. We expect Fabians innovative slant will be embraced by both older and newer fans.

JB: Will the traditional CA costume be present? Gotta love the sailor cap!

EC: Yes! - The traditional costume will be in prominent. Without giving too much away – all the classic elements of CA will definitely be there and we’ll be true to Captain Action’s legend.

JB: When is the first issue due?

JA: It’s hard to say, as it depends on scheduling, but we are told that it should be coming out late 2007, or early 2008.

JB: So noted. Now, to wrap this up, tell all the fans and collectors out there why YOU TWO are what Captain Action’s been waiting for since 1968.

JA: In closing, we’re very grateful to all the support we’re getting from the fan community. We take this responsibility of caretaking this property very seriously, but at the same time we want to infuse this whole enterprise with as much fun and excitement as a summer’s day in 1968.

We appreciate all the support from the CA collecting community and from collectors and pros alike. We can’t tell you how many of our favorite pros have come to us saying “I loved this as kid”. We turn around and say “We always loved your work!”

We know that Captain Action is a great property with a great logo that really stands out. We’re committed to making the most exciting part of the Captain’s 40 year history the new adventures that are just about to be told. Let Justice Be Done!

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