With a change of clothes and mask, Captain Action could alter his identity into some of the mightiest heroes on the planet.
The basic 12″ Captain Action figure – introduced by the Ideal Toy Company at the 1966 Toy Fair – came with a form-fitting captain’s outfit, a sword, and a ray gun, making Captain Action ready to fight both ancient Romans and futuristic aliens.
Alone, the Captain was indeed a man ready for action (and fully-poseable action at that), but the toy’s real hook was its bevvy of accessories.
Nine separately-sold sets could turn Captain Action into famous figures from the comics – Batman, Superman, The Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Aquaman, Flash Gordon, Captain America, Sgt. Fury and Steve Canyon.
Each new set came with the proper outfit and accessories, but the identity-swap wasn’t over yet – to complete the transformation, Captain Action donned a customised mask moulded with the hero’s features.
The prospect of owning ten different heroes for the price of one (well, one plus nine new accessory packs) was enough to overcome any qualms about buying a “dress-up doll”.
Kids scooped up the Captain, and Ideal responded to their enthusiasm by releasing new additions to the Captain Action line in 1967.
New suits were a given – Buck Rogers, Tonto, Spider-Man and The Green Hornet – but the toy-makers also brought out a new sidekick in Action Boy and a new nemesis in Dr Evil (no relation to the later Austin Powers character).
Both of the new characters shared Captain Action’s gift for role-playing, donning the garb of Aqualad, Superboy, Ming the Merciless, and more.
The line also expanded to include play accessories (parachute, survival vest, etc.), the multi-purpose vehicle The Silver Streak, a carrying case play-set, and even a short-lived Captain Action comic book from DC.
Alas, like many of the good ones, Captain Action’s multi-faceted career was all-too-brief. The line was discontinued in 1968, and Captain Action’s separate identities all moved on to toy lines of their own.
The action figures and their outfits became hot collectors’ items, and devoted fans continued to produce home-designed costumes and accessories to expand the Captain’s repertoire. And when all else failed, desperate fans realised that since they were the same size, the Captain could trade wardrobes with that other 12-inch action figure, GI Joe.
Finally, in the late 90s, retro toy kings Playing Mantis unveiled a new line of Captain Action figures, including The Lone Ranger, The Phantom, The Green Hornet and sidekick Kato.