Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Classics - Captain Action #1

For whatever reason, most comic book adaptations based on movies, TV shows or toys leave me cold. I've felt that way since I was a kid - a comic book version of even a beloved TV show always seemed pale next to the real thing.

So I wasn't really expecting much when I picked up the first issue of Captain Action, which was cover dated October-November 1968. I was a big fan of the toy, so I was quick to snap up the comic even though I had been disappointed many times in the past by similar ventures.

The cover (which has been credited to Irv Novick) didn't promise anything special, even with a guest appearance by Superman.

Ah, but then I opened the comic - what a surge! The interior art was by the legendary Wally Wood, and while the art seems a bit rushed in places, it's still outstanding work, loaded with Earth-shaking fights, dynamic figures and imaginative storytelling.

It was completely different from the usual DC fare at the time - as proof, check out this explosive panel from page two, as Cap takes on the evil Krellik.

The script by Jim Shooter, doing his best Marvel-inspired action-packed comic.

The challenge with the character is that the comic book character couldn't be the same as the toy. The action figure was able to "transform" into other characters - Batman, the Phantom, the Green Hornet, Captain America, and so on. Since those characters are all owned by different companies, the couldn't be used in the comic - so Shooter had to dream up a different power source.

The solution is to have archaeologist Clive Arno discover ancient coins that were imbued by the gods from all the pantheons with individual powers - so if he holds the coin of Odin, for example, he can tap into that god's wisdom. With Vidar's coin, he has great strength.

It was a clever idea that opened up a wide variety of powers and situations for the character. He was opposed by his former assistant Krellik, who finds the coin of the god of evil and plots to steal the rest of the power coins.

Their battles are imaginative and powerful, and this issue is a heck of a lot of fun (even if a few plot points are a bit silly).

Captain Action didn't have a long run - only five issues at DC - but they all featured outstanding and unique stories and art. Sadly, Wood only drew the first issue - after that, Gil Kane took over for the rest of the run - and if you can't have Wally, Gil's not a bad consolation prize.

I'm not sure why the comic was canceled so quickly. Perhaps sales were poor, maybe the toy line was fading out by then - whatever the reason, it's a real shame, and I'd love to see these stories collected somewhere, somehow. They're too good to sit unappreciated on the shelf.

Grade: A



Ed Catto said...

And if you'd like to help get this great series reprinted, there's a facebook fan page designed for that.
Fans are encouraged to send post cards to Dan DiDio and Jim Lee asking for these great Gil Kane/Wally Wood series to get the HC DC reprint treatment!

Here's the link:

Chuck said...

Ed, thanks for the info, and good luck with that project! You'd think if there was enough support to do a Showcase edition for the Elongated Man (which I bought), they could make this happen.

One of these days I'm going to have to break down and join this thing they call Facebook...

Anonymous said...

Reasons CAPTAIN ACTION was cancelled only after five issues?
Licensed properties cut into the
profit margin for new titles. You have to pay the license holder up front to use the property and hope that sales offset that cost. DC has a history of short-run comics
based on licensed properties, BOB
HOPE and JERRY LEWIS being the successful exceptions.
Also, DC introduced several new titles around this same period (ANTHRO, SECRET SIX, ANGEL & THE APE, BAT LASH, BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY, BROTHER POWER THE GEEK, etc.)
and all were gone in a year's time.
DC would point to the low sales figures, but I would contend that
these titles were not given a chance to find a place in the market, and just stomped out before
they blossomed.
DC would do this again in a few
years, when new title after new title was published and cancelled
withing a few months. (I could give
you a list of failed '70's titles,
but this has gone on long enough.)

Sam Kujava
(A frustrated DC collector)

Chuck said...

Sam, sounds like we hit on a sore spot here! But you're right, at the time DC seemed to be throwing everything against the wall and then not waiting to see what stuck. Not a very sound business plan.

But I do think the licensing costs tend to be the determining factor on comics like this - why pay someone else for a character when you can create your own?