Tuesday, September 26, 2006


At the risk of sounding a little weird, I always looked at my childhood experience with Captain Action as “the action figure that got away.” For reasons I still don’t know, my Captain Action disappeared rather quickly from my life. The fact is, I lost a lot of toys as a tot, and my favorites had the highest mortality rate, thanks primarily to the fact that I insisted on carrying them around everywhere and usually left them behind when my attentions were diverted elsewhere. I recall sitting in the child’s seat of a grocery cart, playing with one of my Major Matt Masons and dropping him. I called out, but my mother was too preoccupied with her shopping to realize what had happened. I still can see in my mind’s eye the image of the intrepid space explorer left on the surface of an alien world near the canned vegetables, disappearing into the mists of time.

My Captain Action figure must have met a similar fate, but I have no memory of it. I do, however, remember how he entered my life. In my town, we had a discount store called Two Guys. They had the most amazing toy department, far better than any of the larger department stores of the day. The Corgi cars were displayed in a glass case like fine jewelry, and the latest G.I. Joes were shown off to great effect in a display case where they were arranged in exciting dioramas. The department itself took up an area similar in size to the KayBee stores you now see in the malls. This was the first place I flocked to when we went to Two Guys, unless my mom insisted on dragging me through the women’s clothing section (oh, the horror!).

So anyway, the Two Guys toy department was the place where I saw all the great Captain Action stuff laid out. For those who don’t know, Captain Action was a multi-level toy. He was a super hero in his own right, complete with a sidekick, Action Boy, and a blue alien arch-villain named Dr. Evil (no relation to the Mike Myers’s creation of 30 years later). Captain Action had accessories like G.I. Joe, but his were more James Bond in style, like his anti-gravitational power pack, inter-spacial directional communicator, inter-galactic jet mortar, and his amphibian super-car The Silver Streak. That was one level: he had his own super hero persona. The second level was that he could also change into other established super heroes. There were no less than 13 different costumes, from DC favorites like Superman and Batman to Marvel guys like Spiderman and Captain America. Like a lot of kids in the late 60s, I was a huge fan of the Batman t.v. show, so the opportunity to dress up an action figure as Batman was a big thrill. I had to have Captain Action and at least the Batman costume.

The problem was that, I started on this obsession early in 1969, so Christmas was a long way off, and my birthday was not until August, so the chances of getting such a high ticket item for no particular reason other than I wanted it just wasn’t going to happen. I talked constantly about Captain Action to my parents, but the usual response was the expected response: “Maybe for your birthday,” or “Maybe you can ask Santa.” When you’re four years old, even a month is a lifetime. I couldn’t bear to wait.

As luck would have it, I came down with a really nasty fever that winter. I was completely wiped out, hardly able to move or eat. I think some chicken broth was about all I could stomach. One evening, as I lay on the living room sofa covered in several blankets, praying for the ability to screw off the top of my skull and pour ice water over my brain, my dad came home a little later than usual. He handed me a paper bag with the Two Guys logo imprinted on the side. He had a habit of getting me small gifts when I was sick, so I was expecting a coloring book or a puzzle. Instead, I pulled out a long box with Captain Action emblazoned across the front in bold red letters. For a few moments, I had no awareness of my fever. I opened up the box and found the man himself pinned in place by cardboard inserts. I freed him from his prison and equipped him with his trademark Captain’s hat, laser gun, and saber shaped like a lightning bolt. Captain Action was now officially in charge of ridding the Patterson household of evildoers, wherever they may lurk.

Over the following months, I really bonded with Captain Action in a way that was different from any other action figure. I think it had to do with that incredible head sculpt. Nowadays, it’s quite common for even the most mundane action figure to have a distinctive head sculpt, but in those early days of boy dolls, the heads tended to be pretty generic. G.I. Joe had no personality at all, and every G.I. Joe, even the African-American one, had the exact same face. Captain Action was distinct. He had a tough but friendly countenance, with a slightly bewildered expression, like he was always puzzling over some problem to overcome. You could sense that he took his job seriously.

Sadly, I don’t think my Captain Action made it to the end of the year. I probably left him at a relative’s house, or unknowingly discarded him in a store like Major Matt Mason, but he was soon gone. I have a photo here of me with my family and my maternal grandmother on Christmas 1969. I’m holding a figure dressed in the Captain Action Batman costume, but I suspect that is a G.I. Joe wearing the costume. I got both the Batman and the Captain America costume that Christmas, but Cap wasn’t around to wear them. To make matters worse, Ideal stopped producing Captain Action that same year, so I couldn’t get another one. For 30 years, I was haunted by the memory of Captain Action. I held a special place in my heart for my dearly departed friend. It wasn’t until 1999, when my then fiancé got me the new reproduction Captain Action and Dr. Evil figures for my birthday. They weren’t as precisely recreated as I had hoped, but I felt like I was reconnecting with my old friend. The experience kicked off my renewed interest in action figures that carries on to this day.

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