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Return to Action

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The evolution of the comic book toy tie-in is a bumpy road. Sure, today we have the Marvel Legends line from Hasbro and the DC Universe Classics from Mattel, both of which capture the comic book heroes in exacting detail. But there were a lot of up and downs getting there. 

You had the pretty good Toy Biz Marvel figures and the horrible DC Total Justice figures in the 90s. In the 80s, we got the great DC Super Powers line from Kenner and the underwhelming Marvel Secret Wars line from Mattel. And the 70s provided us with Mego’s legendary World’s Greatest Superhero line, which contained heroes from both comic companies.

But many might say that the best comic book toy line came almost a decade before. That is when Ideal put out its Captain Action line.

The Captain Action line first hit toy department shelves in 1966 and was Ideal’s answer to Hasbro’s popular G. I. Joe action figures. Whereas G. I. Joe was a more realistic military man, Captain Action had more of a sci-fi bent. He had a wide array of space aged weapons and accessories. But the comic book connection comes in with the various costumes manufactured for the figure.

Like Mego some years later, Ideal held the license for both DC and Marvel characters (and King Features Syndicate to boot). However, unlike Mego, where if you wanted to own a Superman figure and a Spider-Man figure you’d have to buy two separate dolls, with Captain Action, all you had to do was buy their costume for your Captain Action figure.

This is how Captain Action’s legend grew. In reality, he was 13 figures in one. If you got tired of playing with him as Superman, you’d change his costume to Captain America. Don’t feel like playing as Steve Canyon? Put his Captain Action uniform on and let him be himself.

The first year of Captain Action saw nine costumes—Aquaman, Batman, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, Steve Canyon, Captain America, Sgt. Nick Fury, The Phantom and Superman. The next year not only brought four more costumes—Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, Green Hornet and Tonto—but also a nemesis with the Dr. Evil figure and a sidekick named Action Boy who you could turn into Robin, Aqualad or Superboy with the change of a costume.

The Captain Action toy line was discontinued in 1968, but not before events were set in motion to bring about his first comic book appearance.  DC Comics published a five-issue series that year. Unable to tap any of the other licensed heroes Ideal had the rights for, DC made Captain Action into a world-spanning archeologist.

Captain Action might have left the public eye in 1968, but he stayed alive in the hearts and minds of the kids who grew up playing with him. A company called Playing Mantis licensed Captain Action and recreated the toyline, minus the DC and Marvel costumes,   in 1998. This incarnation lasted until 2000.

The license then moved to Captain Action Enterprises, LLC. In 2007, Moonstone licensed the property from them to adapt into a comic book. The comic company then put out an open casting call, accepting submissions from the general public to find the creative team.

Writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Mark Sparacio won the contest and earlier this year Moonstone came out with a Zero issue of the series which established the new status quo. Captain Action now lives in a universe inhabited by superpowered beings. However, the good guys have been taken over by the evil Red Crawl. Cap now has to take down the most powerful beings in the world before the Red Crawl takes over everything.

It has been four decades since the original Captain Action toys were discontinued. But the character never left the consciousness of his fans. Now, nostalgia has helped bring Captain Action back to influence a new generation. It appears one of Cap’s hidden powers is immortality.

Also out this week:

Amazing Spider-Man #573:

The last month and a half have been pretty rough for Spider-Man. A fight broke out at the shelter Aunt May works at. Problem is that fight was between Venom and the brand new Anti-Venom. If that wasn’t bad enough, Norman Osborn sent the rest of the Thunderbolts after Spidey, including the psycho Bullseye. But wait, it gets worse!  Since his team wasn’t getting the job done, Peter now has to deal with Norman Osborn’s alter ego, the Green Goblin. “New ways to die” is right!

  “Brand New Day” has been a little hit-or-miss with me. But the one consistently good spot for the series has been Dan Slott. And Slott paired with John Romita Jr. is a marriage made in Heaven. That’s what takes this arc from being good to being very good.

Dan Slott (W), John Romita Jr. (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Superman and Batman Vs. Vampires and Werewolves #1:

A series of mysterious deaths have plagued the DC Universe. Dead bodies are found completely drained of all their blood. Other corpses have been found ripped to shreds. This can mean only one thing—werewolves and vampires are on the loose. But the DC Universe is home to Batman and Superman. Certainly they will be enough to put an end to these evil slayings, right? Don’t stake your life on it.

This concept, clearly stated in the title, seems to be so simple that it is amazing that no one has thought of it before. Two of comics’ biggest heroes fight against two of the biggest monsters to haunt popular fiction. And just in time for Halloween as well! How can you go wrong with that!

Kevin VanHook (W), Tom Mandrake (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Chronicles of Herbert West #1:

Devil’s Due was supposed to be crossing their Hack/Slash book up with the Re-Animator movie series, thinking that since the H.P. Lovecraft character, Herbert West—the basis for the lead character of the movie—was in the public domain, then the movie featuring that character was in the public domain as well. They are quickly finding out the difference between trademark and copyright, and we may never see that team-up.

They should have done what Zenescope did—focus on Herbert West and minimize the “Re-Animator” name. Looking at the cover, you can tell who the character is supposed to be, but they have plausible deniability if they are sued. They can say they based the story on the character, which anybody can use, and not the movie. Smart thinking.  

Joe Brusha & Ralph Tedesco (W), Jason Craig (A), Zenescope Entertainment Inc., $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Ultimate Origins #5:

When they said “everything was connected,” they weren’t kidding. The history of the Ultimate Universe from World War II to present day was essentially a long line of dominos with one event leading into another. Nick Fury is tied to Captain America is tied to the mutant population is tied to the Hulk being created is tied to Spider-Man.

Rumor has it that the upcoming Ultimatum series will spell the end of the Ultimate Universe as we know it. That would be a shame because with this series, we finally see how much different the Ultimate Universe is from the Marvel Universe. Brian Michael Bendis has written an epic which ties all that we have read together and takes it in a unique direction. Fans of the Ultimate Universe that missed this series really missed something special.

Brian Michael Bendis (W), Butch Guice  (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

Halloween: The First Death of Laurie Strode #1:

Being the lone survivor of an attack by a serial killer is a horrible thing. Guilt and shame cling to you wherever you go. It’s much worse for Laurie Strode, because the serial killer that killed all her friends and almost took her life was her brother, Michael Myers. This causes her to be constantly paranoid and makes her think that Michael is still stalking her. She should see a psychiatrist, right? Too bad the one she sees, Dr. Loomis, believes she is really being stalked.

It’s that time of the year again, and about time for a return from the man that made Halloween famous. This time, the legend of Michael Myers takes on a new dimension as the story is looked at through a different perspective. Fans of the film series definitely should pick this series up because it tells them what really happened between Halloween 2 and Halloween: H20

Stef Hutchinson (W), Jeff Zornow (A), Devil’s Due Publishing, $3.50.  Three-Issue Miniseries.

Final Crisis: Rogue's Revenge #3:

Libra really wants the Rogues to join his Secret Society, but they have been fighting him all the way. They cut through Libra’s gang of doppelganger rogues like a hot knife through butter and show no signs of changing their mind. But when the target of their revenge comes under the protection of Libra, they will have to come to a decision—will they submit to Libra’s will or will they go out in a blaze of glory to try and get to their prey?

This miniseries proved without a shadow of a doubt that you really can go home again. Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins recapture the same vibe they had when they worked on The Flash and created one exciting series.  

Geoff Johns (W), Scott Kolins (A), DC Comics, $3.99. Final Issue.

X-Men: World's Apart #1:

Storm’s genetic make-up is responsible for her being a mutant and a choice made her an X-Man. She will always be a mutant and always be an X-Man. That’s just the way it works. But love made her a wife and a queen. She believed that these two worlds would never come into conflict. But when a murder is committed by a mutant in Wakanda, she must choose a side. Which will she choose—what she is or what she has become?

Storm has always been one of the favorite X-Men when done right. Under a skilled writer, she is a multi-faceted character with depth and layers. It is good to see her in the forefront once again. I just hope she is used correctly. 

Christopher Yost (W), Diogenes Neves (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also is the comic review editor for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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