Today's toy collectors who love super heroes are spoiled rotten. They have more choices from more companies than ever before, and they also have a huge pool of figures available in the secondary market. Spoiled rotten. There was a time when this wasn't the case, and this was before the 90's, before the 80's and even before the 70's. It was the 1960's, and the often-turbulent decade gave birth to not only the action figure as we know it, but also the super hero action figure.
GI Joe was the first action figure, and the other big toy companies of the time wanted to cash in on the same thing. Ideal was one of the bigger companies at the time and saw a chance to enter the same market and not imitate but actually challenge Hasbro for it. The result was Captain Action, the first super-hero action figure that was not only a hero in his own right, but could also change into a plethora of other, established heroes.
Anyone who takes an interest in superheroes and their toys, or rather toys of them, will want to check out Captain Action - The Original Super-Hero Action Figure from Two Morrows Publishing. The book is written by comic book editor and author Michael Eury and is available directly from Two Morrows for $20 postpaid. The book is a hefty 175 pages in a trade paperback format, which is impressive for a line that only lasted a few years!
Before we can cover the actual book, a few words need to be said about the publisher, Two Morrows. If you read comics and you read any periodical about them, you should be reading one published by Two Morrows. They have a wide range of magazines and now some books, and quite honestly they are the best thing available. Comic Book Artist is one of their magazines, and it won the Eisner Award for best comics-related periodical and for good reason. They are just that good. Now, onward!!
This is the best reference on Caption Action available, in print or online. It's also one of the best reference works for any toy line available. It does have the advantage of a relatively small line (when compared with GI Joe) but it goes the extra mile. The biggest complaint is that most of the pictures are black and white, but this is answered by having several pages with color images of all the toys and the accessories and playsets are shown in color.
The layout is very logical and it starts naturally enough at the beginning. The concept of Captain Action (originally Captain Magic) was the brainchild of Stan Weston. The name may not be instantly familiar, but he would later go on to another toy company, Mego, and come up with another super hero line, World's Greatest Super Heroes. Some of the most interesting things to read are the memos and letters covering the initial marketing of Captain Action, and they provide a rare glimpse behind the scenes at some of the internal documents from the company.
From there the book covers the toys in depth, from the first Captain Action figure to the release done by Playing Mantis in an attempt to revive the line. All the toys are covered in encyclopedic detail along with tips for frequently missing or broken parts and ways to tell the older, vintage figures from the re-issues. All the figures and outfits for Captain Action are there along with Action Boy and Dr. Evil (the original, not the Austin Powers villain). There is also a section on Captain Action custom figures and it showcases a few customizers and their work on Captain Action.
Captain Action is the heart of the book, there is a chapter on his sister line the Super Queen figures. The Super Queens are famous because, like the Edsel, they were a total failure. These figures were the Prospector figure from Toy Story 2 of the line, both the least selling and now the most sought after because of their rarity. The book covers this short line (only four figures) since it was released around the same time as the good Captain and Ideal manufactured them.
Since Two Morrows is known mostly for their comics work, it would be remiss not to cover the five issue series that was marketed by DC to support Captain Action. The section covers the comics and was built around a series of interviews with comics legend Gil Kane. It's a nice section and refreshing to see some coverage of the material that helped to flesh out the character rather than simply information about the toys.
The book is well-researched and contains plenty of images of all the Captain Action toys, and many sketches and penciled artwork used on the packaging. Much of that artwork was done by Murphy Anderson, and he contributed plenty of concept sketches and penciled art to the project.
This is a well-written and researched book that covers the genesis of the super hero action figure with clarity and wit. If you like to know about toys or if Captain Action interests you, this belongs on your bookshelf. If you don't like toys, why are you reading this?