Captain Action was an action figure, from 1966, equipped with a wardrobe of costumes allowing him to become Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Aquaman, the Phantom, The Lone Ranger (and Tonto), Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Sgt. Fury, Steve Canyon, and the Green Hornet. Captain Action was the Ideal Toy Company's answer to Hasbro's GI Joe — although the protagonist dolls of both toy lines were created and designed by the same toy- and idea-man, Stan Weston.
Toy developer Stan Weston went to Hasbro's Don Levine with the idea of an articulated doll in the form of a soldier — a basic figure, and with limitless accessories. Levine and his Hasbro team took the concept, making it into G.I. Joe, the first, modern, action figure for boys — and the first to carry the action figure generic name, an attempt to remove the term "doll" from a toy for boys. Weston took his money from the G.I. Joe venture and founded his own licensing company, representing DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and King Features Syndicate.
After the success of G.I. Joe, Stan Weston's company, Leisure Concepts, then brought the idea of a new, articulated, twelve-inch (305 mm) action figure to Ideal Toys Corporation, who were seeking an action figure of their own, to remain competitive in the toy market. Weston proposed Captain Magic, a many-in-one hero, who could adopt the guise of several heroes, all of whom Leisure Concepts represented. The name was changed to Captain Action, and first marketed by Ideal in 1966.
The figure itself had a rather sad and worried expression, a strange shaped head (so the masks of the various heroes would better stay in place over it) and a more detailed musculature than G.I. Joe's. The original Ideal base for the line was Captain Action in his blue and black uniform, with lightning sword and ray gun included in the box. Separate Superman, Batman, Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Captain America, Sgt Fury, Steve Canyon and Aquaman costumes (with accessories) were available; the next wave (1967) added Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet, and Tonto, with a Blue Lone Ranger variation (matching the still popular Clayton Moore series) and collectible flicker rings in each box.
In 1967, Captain Action proved popular enough to expand the line, adding a partner, Action Boy, and an enemy, Dr. Evil, a blue skinned alien with large bug eyes and an exposed brain, wearing a modified Nehru suit and sandals. Also, a vehicle called the "Silver Streak," a two foot long amphibian car with missile launchers, was added, large enough for both the Captain and sidekick. Several sets meant to be used by Captain Action in his Captain Action identity was designed for the character as well: a four foot working parachute, a jet mortar, a jet pack, weapons arsenal, and several other secret weapons to add to the Action Cave, which the special box for the Streak could convert into. Both the Captain and Dr. Evil received "secret lairs," which doubled as carrying cases for the figures, but which are now quite rare. All this was an attempt by Ideal to build the "Action" line and focus on Captain Action as a hero in his own right, rather than just a base figure for other heroes.
After just a few years, the Captain Action line declined in sales, in 1968, Ideal Toys discontinued it. Though Captain Action was produced for only two and a half years, the characters and accessories have become amongst the most fondly remembered, and expensive to obtain on the collector's market, action figures of the era.
Throughout the 1970s, Captain Action leftover uniforms and boots were used on knock-off, blow-molded figures from China (where the original was cast and assembled) and Ideal itself reused the original body molds to rush a Star Wars-like toy to the market, The Knights of Darkness, in 1977. Captain Action collectors would buy the figure (cast in black plastic) often using the hands to replace the sometimes missing hands of the vintage figures. The Ideal Toy company's Knights of Darkness toy lines were deemed copyright infringement by LucasFilm, and resulted in a failed lawsuit by George Lucas.
After 30 years off the market, Captain Action was revived in 1998, by retro toy company Playing Mantis. Captain Action as the Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon (with a new figure, Ming the Merciless), Green Hornet, and new to the line Kato returned along with Dr Evil. The line met with lackluster sales, and a retooling had the costumes issued separately, along with a revived Action Boy (now called Kid Action, due to Hasbro owning the rights to the name Action Man) and the addition of retro long box packaging. It made little difference in the general sales and the line was discontinued. The second coming of Captain Action ended in 2000.
Currently, Captain Action Enterprises holds the licensing rights to this toy icon, recently inducted into the Toy & Action Figure Hall of Fame. CA Enterprises is working to produce a wide array of new Captain Action items, including statues, toys, comics and apparel.
In addition to the Nicieza book, Moonstone Books is also releasing Captain Action: Classified, a collection of original prose stories edited by Richard Dean Starr and featuring top-selling authors of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mysteries.