I've given the disclaimer before that I don't claim to be omniscient with regard to the Silver Age and I got a handy reminder recently. Now I know you're going to find this difficult to believe, but I was introduced to a title that I didn't even know existed. Incredible, eh? Now I'll grant you it was a pretty obscure magazine and it only lasted for five issues, but it is solidly in the Silver Age and seeing as how Christmas is nearly upon us, it seems like a fine idea to profile a unique offering from our favorite era where things were done just a bit backward. You'll soon see what I mean as we take a look at the short and sweet comic book life of Captain Action. I suppose technically I'm reviewing issue #1 from October/November of 1968, but that story happens to spill over into issue #2, so I'll include that, along with a little data on the remaining 3 issues, since, thanks yet again to your Silver Lantern webmaster, I have all 5 in my possession and due to the short duration of the series, it's unlikely that there would be a reason to do one of them separately, but hey, never say never.
Now, getting back to my "backward" comment above, the situation with Captain Action was that, contrary to how things often worked, he began as an action figure and the comic came later. In fact, this is the only instance I've ever seen of DC publishing a comic book character under license, in this instance from the Ideal Toy Corporation. Again, I'd seen ads for this hero in his corporeal form in some of the old comics, but I had no idea he'd been tapped to headline a comic book, so I needed to do a bit more research than usual before sitting down at the keyboard this time around. The web, as you know, is a wonderful thing, and I got my quick study on the good Captain from a segment at this website: http://members.aol.com/actnboy/castory.html. Check it out for more detail, but I'll synopsize here. Captain Action was launched by Ideal in 1966 as their answer to Hasbro's G.I. Joe, but while ol' Joe was pretty much limited to kicking enemy butt wherever it might be found, Captain Action was designed to be multiple characters in addition to his basic persona through the readily available costume and accessory kits, sold separately, of course. Among others, he could be transformed into DC heroes Batman, Superman and Aquaman. Marvel Comics' Captain America, Sgt. Fury and Spider-Man. Newspaper strip favorites Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Steve Canyon. Plus radio-born stalwarts The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. In the following year of production, a sidekick in the form of Action Boy was introduced and he, too, could be made over into DC's Superboy, Robin or Aqualad. He even came with a pet panther! Still later, Captain Action got his own set of heroic wheels. The Silver Streak was an amphibious unit with 3 wheels and two spring-loaded missiles as factory installed accessories.
Unfortunately, even with all this nifty gear, Captain Action didn't have the staying power of his rival, G.I. Joe and Ideal canceled the toy line in 1968, which explains in part the short life of the comic book version of this hero. It does beg the question though as to why DC was invited to the party so late. As you'll soon see, they had some of the better talent working on this series. Since we're on the topic, let's see who produced these magazines. Issue number one, entitled, appropriately enough, "Origin of Captain Action," was drawn by Wally Wood with story credits going to Jim Shooter, he of Legion of Super Heroes fame and possibly the youngest writer to ever claim the title. Young Jim began work for DC when still in his early teens. Interestingly enough, the team changed beginning with the very next issue. The great Gil Kane, who did a large body of work in the Green Lantern title, among others, began doing the art work with the assist of Wally Wood and by issue number 3, Kane was also writing the stories. The first letter column, "Action Line" even carried a letter from Kane, congratulating Julius Schwartz on his taking over the editorial detail (from Mort Weisinger) for the magazine and also thanking Julie for tapping him as the new writer. As an aside, in only one of the 5 issues was there an ad hawking the action figures, namely issue number 2.
Okay, I'd say that's plenty of background information. Let's see how DC brought an action figure to the pages of the Silver Age. As you noted on the cover scan, the Captain is pushing none other than Superman aside, proclaiming that this is a job for Captain Action and company! Unlike many of what I've referred to in the past as misleading covers, there is a brief cameo appearance by the Man of Steel within this debut issue. So without further ado, let's flip that cover by Irv Novick and see what's doing.
The splash page shows a dramatic scene. Our hero is lying unconscious under the oppressive boot of another costumed figure who gloats, "Ha! Ha! Well, Captain Action, you've just lost your first case...and your last! Your crime-fighting career is over before it began!" The story itself begins with just as much drama as we are whisked away to a shoreline in Greece on the Aegean Sea. The same oppressor from the splash page, clad in a green, form-fitting costume and resplendent with his hairless head is walking along the beach, searching for a cave. Two panels later, he is under attack by our hero, who is blasting away at the green garbed Krellik with some sort of force emanating from his left hand. Krellik replies to the Captain's admonition to halt with, "Wha? Professor Clive Arno! Or should I call you Captain Action?" The battle is underway as Arno leaps into the air, a sunburst emerging from that same lethal left palm while Krellik, through some weird power of his own, levitates a nearby boulder to act as a shield. He then wields the rock as a weapon, only to have it smashed to gravel by the Captain. As Captain Action attempts the knockout blow, Krellik uncovers a cave entrance and quickly retreats inside, lodging another boulder between them.
It is at this point that the writer shifts the scenery on us with the following text: "Hold it, reader! You have just witnessed D.C.'s newest hero in action for the first time... but where did he come from? Who is this man called Captain Action? How did he get his amazing abilities? For the answers, we must switch scenes to an archaeological site somewhere in the mountains of central Spain, a few weeks earlier..." The two men who were locked in combat on the previous pages are working together as colleagues at the dig, where some amazing artifacts have been discovered. Amazing due to the fact that there appear to be items from across the globe all in this single location, to include examples from India, Norse rune markings and even a pyramid by either the Aztecs or Mayans from the Americas. Professor Arno then discovers an ancient chest with a number of coins inside, each emblazoned with the likeness of gods. Once again, it's a potpourri of images including Greek, Norse, Hindu and Aztec deities. Arno also notes that he feels a tingling sensation in his hand when holding the coin bearing the face of Vidar, Norse god of strength. Next, he staggers outside, feeling strangely, with Krellik in tow. For some reason, probably apparent only to Jim Shooter, Professor Arno decides to lift a jeep over his head, demonstrating that with the coin in his pocket, he now has the strength of a god. Krellik, with an incredible grasp of the obvious, excitedly states that the coins must all carry great power and could make them millionaires. Swept up in the moment, he soon declares that they could rule the world with the aid of the mysterious discs. Professor Arno, keeping his head, suggests that they clean the corrosion from the coins before doing anything so hasty. Utilizing their handy machine that emits ionizing radiation (don't go on an archaeological dig without yours!) they place the coins beneath it's beam, which abruptly causes a strange reaction, hurtling both scientists into a space and time vortex. They land in the same lost city before it fell into ruins. In the next blink of the eye, they find themselves inside the pyramid where a high level meeting is taking place under the throned figure of Odin. Krellik and Arno are apparently invisible to the gathering, so they simply listen and observe as Odin speaks. He addresses the assembly with a short history lesson, explaining that they, the Elders of Apsu, came to the Earth ages ago, to dwell in peace. While they had no plans to mingle with man, it inevitably happened and as they attempted to aid the human race, they were looked upon as gods and were given different names by different cultures. The Lord of Thunder, for example, was Thor to the Norse, Zeus to the Greeks, Jupiter to the Romans, Bel to the Babylonians, Donar in Germany, Pverun among the Slavs, Indra in India and Lei-Kung to the Chinese. Odin continues that the decision has been made to leave this planet with honor before interfering further with human affairs and thereby violating cosmic law. Before departing, though, he suggests that each of the assembly leave a token of their power in the coins created by Vulcan. Then, someday, a worthy finder will reawaken those powers in this world. Our pair of archaeologists then fade away as part one of the story closes.
Part Two finds the duo back in their tent. Arno theorizes that while it felt like they'd been transported away, the coins more likely placed them into a hypnotic trance so that they would understand their origin and purpose. With that, the good Professor decides to call it a night. Krellik, however, is drawn back to the coin cache like a moth to a flame. Unfortunately for him, just like a flame, he gets his little paw burnt as he tries to help himself to the coins. Arno reminds him that the coins will only work for the worthy, not a thief. Krellik skulks away and soon encounters a coin of his own in the ruins. That of Chernobog, the Slavic god of evil. He soon finds the coin gives him the powers of sorcery, giving him the ability, among others, to seize the other coins without penalty. He heads back to Arno's tent to relieve him of the other coins when he finds Clive designing a costume for Captain Action. Deciding to deal with him later, Krellik departs.
Several weeks pass and Arno is back in the states, where he inspects the work he'd ordered, including the purchase and renovation of the old city museum, newly renamed the Arno Archaeological Museum. An adjoining building has also been purchased for Arno's home along with some special modifications. The Professor is also delighted to see that his son, Carl, is home from school with his pet panther in tow. Later, when Carl discovers the tunnel connecting the house to the museum, his father reveals his new persona in the spanking new uniform of Captain Action. Unexpectedly, Carl shuns the new hero as a malefactor, showing his father a newspaper with a photo of Captain Action looting a museum. The baffled Captain soon concludes it's his old friend Krellik in disguise. Vowing as his first official task to take Krellik to justice, Arno, like all self- respecting heroes, promises to get an outfit for Carl, too. While the name of Clive's home base isn't revealed in this story, we soon join Krellik in nearby Metropolis, where he's wreaking havoc at a museum that formerly employed him, just like his other recent targets. As Krellik begins to help himself to some of the artifacts, ignoring the ineffective efforts of the police, who should arrive but Superman? Krellik is supremely confident, since the source of his powers are magical, something the Last Son of Krypton is unable to shrug off, but before the Man of Steel can engage, another costumed figure intervenes in the form of the real Captain Action. The full page panel is a duplicate of the cover wherein Arno brushes Superman aside while Action Boy and Khem, the panther, are beside Arno. Soon the battle is on as both men wearing the Captain Action uniform bring their numerous powers to bear. Krellik soon decides that he needs to formulate a plan and so he melts through a wall and escapes. Captain Action and Action Boy then depart, leaving a perplexed Superman demanding an audience with Arno, which is ignored. Cheeky little devil, isn't he? Back at home base, Arno utilizes the coin of Odin to deduce Krellik's whereabouts and decides to take him on solo. He is armed with a few coins, cached in his hollow belt buckle as he begins his search. Moments later, Krellik bursts forth, armed to the teeth with ancient, mystical weapons left by other mischievous deities. The final panel brings us full circle to the scene on the splash page with Captain Action blacked out and on his back with his foe closing in for the kill, which of course necessitates our going to issue #2 where Gil Kane takes over the artist's seat. The story resumes with Krellik relieving Captain Action of the 4 coins he had in his buckle. They are some of the most formidable, to include that of the sun god, granting the power of blinding light and limitless heat; lightning from the coin of Zeus; tremendous strength from the coin bearing the likeness of Hercules and finally the speed of Mercury. Armed with these new powers, Krellik decides to leave Arno stranded and powerless on the Greek shoreline as he plots his next move.
As Captain Action revives, he reveals that he had one coin concealed in his hat as he prepares his own plans to stop the wicked Krellik. Krellik, in turn, has disguised himself and entered the Arno home under false pretenses to try and steal the rest of the coins of power. When Captain Action arrives, he finds Carl groaning amidst the wreckage of his home. Despite his best efforts, the villain failed to find the hidden entrance to Arno's headquarters and the rest of the coins. Retrieving a few of the remaining discs and musing to Carl that Krellik is probably now beyond the powers of the Justice League, the Captain tracks down his nemesis again and with Action Boy at his side, engages to retrieve his coins and subdue his former colleague. After another full scale battle that utilized multiple god-like abilities, Krellik again retreats with his famous fade-through-the-wall trick. In solitude he then conjures another disguise as part one ends.
Part two has our hero on duty at his museum. Unbeknownst to Professor Arno, Krellik has him under surveillance through his magical means. The Captain is soon needed to meet a problem in the heart of the city. Leaping into his newly crafted Silver Streak ("The fastest thing this side of the Batmobile!") he heads for the scene of the crime where, naturally, Krellik is dealing disaster. Another brief skirmish and Krellik again slips away. Later, yet another brief brawl and another escape into his new phony persona. Krellik is trying to keep the Captain off balance until he can follow him back to his headquarters and get to the coins he so desperately seeks. Using his sorcery, the villain assumes the form of Carl Arno and follows Captain Action into the museum, where Arno opens a display case of ancient coins. Resuming his natural state, he knocks Captain Action aside and scoops the coins up, only to discover that they're fakes, planted by Arno to trap his foe. The battle is on yet again and Captain Action is able to recover the four lost coins, but that is all as Krellik escapes for the last time. Carl soon arrives and his father fills him in on the events of the afternoon, warning his partner and son that they'll doubtless be hearing from Krellik again. The two-issue story then ends.
So, what do we get with Captain Action? As I mentioned earlier, we have a hero, already established as an action figure a couple of years before his comic book debut. I wouldn't have envied Jim Shooter or later Gil Kane one bit in trying to flesh out a character who has already been around for awhile, but with no particular background. Using mythology to create both his powers and his nemesis was an interesting twist and while the endless fist fights and escapes and blasted terrain wore thin, I think they did well with the cards they were dealt.
When Gil Kane took over the storylines with issue #3 + splash page, none other than Dr. Evil was introduced. Once again, they were working with an existing character that had to be given an origin, powers and a personality sufficiently sinister to merit his name and bearing. Kane's extensive work with Green Lantern and his space going adventures are apparent, particularly in this issue and Dr. Evil even looks just the littlest bit like a Guardian of the Universe gone terribly wrong. As an additional twist, the final panel of that issue reveals that Dr. Evil is Arno's father-in-law and therefore the grandfather of Action Boy. Issue #4 introduced the late Mrs. Arno and of course issue #5 was the final appearance in print of Captain Action. Krellik, of course, was never to be seen again and while I must concur with some of the letters sent in that some of Kane's work seemed to be a bit on the preachy side and somewhat given to character angst, it would have been interesting to see which direction he'd have taken the character given more opportunity than just issues three through five.
Considering all the restraints, including licensing a character and building his comic book "soul" from the ground up, I think those given charge of the short-lived Captain Action did an admirable job and I'll give the series an 8 overall.
Please feel free to drop me a line any time at email@example.com. Don't overlook the guest book and poll while you're at it and may you find your very own Captain Action under your Christmas tree this year or whatever it is you desire.
Please come back again in about two weeks where you'll find the first Silver Age Sage of 2002 waiting for your reading pleasure.
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