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‘Captain Action: The Classic Collection’ HC (review)

Written by Jim Shooter, Gil Kane
Art by Gil Kane, Wally Wood
Introduction by Mark Waid
Published by IDW Publishing

 

I go back a long way with Captain Action.

He wasn’t the first “action figure” I ever had. That was Daniel Boone. But Ideal’s Cap was the coolest, even though my lower middle-class family couldn’t afford all his extras. The only costumes I ever had were Batman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Superman. Never got the Silver Streak car either but I did get the parachute one year—just between you and me, it didn’t work that well. I dutifully climbed the stairs to the third floor of our building over and over and tossed Cap out a window over our back yard only to watch him plummet to the ground again and again.

But I loved the DC comic book! Talk about different!

1968 was when DC started experimenting and we started getting homegrown stuff like Hawk and Dove, Beware…the Creeper, and Bat Lash. It was into that environment that Captain Action was licensed by the publisher. But what could they do with him as his entire schtick was that he could become OTHER characters, and only a handful of those other characters were owned by DC?

Enter teenage Jim Shooter, a name I already knew from letter columns in Adventure Comics and the Superman titles. With Wallace Wood on board as the artist—his first solo work for DC in years—it was decided that Cap would have coins which gave him the powers of ancient gods. It was quite an unusual and original concept and it worked, eventually being refined down to only certain coins, worn in a ring.

Set squarely in the DCU from the outset, as witness the brief appearance of Superman in that first issue and mention of the JLA later on, Cap nevertheless seems on his own in the literal earth-shaking catastrophes of later issues.

Captain Action ran only five issues, disappearing suddenly as Ideal’s sales faded on the figure. The first two issues told the origin of Captain Action and Action Boy and their fight against Cap’s power-mad counterpart, Krellik. The next two present the origin of Dr. Evil (based on another Ideal action figure) and his attempts to conquer the Earth. In both those arcs, the villains get away. The final issue predicts the rise of a sadly now-familiar figure about whom Action Boy says, “He’s not even running for office. He just gets everybody inflamed and gloats when any damage is done.”

And then it was over. Just like that. The rights lapsed so DC could never reprint the issues and the appearance of Superman made it tricky for anyone else who gained the rights to do so. So what turned out to be an unplanned mini-series, developed a cult following over time.

It took more than half a century, during which time Captain Action has been giving new life in numerous new comics and stories, but here we come to IDW’s Captain Action: The Classic Collection; complete with Superman.

The book, of course, is beautiful, and its stories still hold up. Wood’s art or inking on all but one issue gives the whole thing a sheen but once Gil Kane gets rolling, it’s his Adams-inspired layouts and his semi-psychedelic attempts at outdoing Ditko or Steranko that make it all so hard to forget. Kane was one of conservative DC’s mainstays but he was also a bit of a maverick, known to criticize other artists and to be first in line to try something new.

The digital recoloring in this book is quite good, matching fairly well the originals without the garishness that often accompanies modern recoloring. Edited by IDW’s reliable Scott Dunbier and with the active participation of the folks from Captain Action Enterprises, this volume is a labor of love and that clearly shows.

A learned (as always) intro from Mark Waid, detailed credits, some original art pages, and promo and ad work from Kurt Schaffenberger, Murphy Anderson and Chic Stone round out the book. Sadly, Stone’s mini-Cap comic—actually packaged by Marvel, I believe, couldn’t be reprinted here in its entirety, presumably because IDW would have had to license the likes Steve Canyon, Flash Gordon, Sgt. Fury, and Spidey, too!

If Cap was ever a part of your childhood, you’ll want to revisit him here. If you traded your copies of the comics to your cousin Herman for a ride on his bike, here’s your chance to get ‘em back. If you’re a Silver Age comics fan, here are some good ones you may not have seen before. If you’re only into comics for their art, then you should really be thrilled because in 1968, Wally Wood and Gil Kane were both known for pushing the envelope!

Don’t just sit there! It’s time for ACTION! Captain Action: The Classic Collection.

 

Booksteve recommends.

 

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