Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The Black Canary raised a question mark in my childhood mind because she functioned as both a member of the Justice Society of America and Justice League of America. DC Comics had gone to the trouble to explain that the Justice Society existed in another dimension on the planet Earth-2 and those old heroes were closing in on Social Security when they would occasionally meet up with the Justice League members. When I was reading JLA in the early 70s, The Black Canary was a youthful member of the team, but I had also read that she had been a youthful member of the JSA back in the 40s.

Actually, it was explained in the late 60s, before I started reading Justice League, that The Black Canary had been with the JSA, then swapped dimensions to work with the JLA. Somehow in the dimensional move, Canary stopped aging. Later on, DC came up with some more of their b.s. to say that the current Black Canary was actually the daughter of the original Black Canary. Whatever guys.

The Black Canary was one of only two female members of the Justice Society, Wonder Woman being the other. Canary came along later in the JSA run, replacing the usually annoying and always useless Johnny Lightning. Ironically, Black Canary got her start in Johnny Lightning’s feature in Flash Comics, then took over his feature. I guess DC realized that a hot, butt-kicking female superhero would bring in more sales than a nebbishy boob with a red, sentient lightning bolt for a friend.

She also benefited by joining the JSA later, when the writers seemed more open to having a female who was an equal partner with the men. The first female member, Wonder Woman, was made “secretary” and spent most of her time back at headquarters typing up minutes and making coffee. The Black Canary would have none of that, and was always up front with the guys fighting crime.

Since most of my memories of Black Canary are rooted in her later incarnations as JLA member and Green Arrow’s wife, I decided to give my custom action figure version a more modern interpretation. Besides, I couldn’t find a female figure with a Betty Grable hairdo. I was really taken with the headsculpt on the action figure based on Abbey Chase from the Danger Girl comic, so I used her as the main figure. The black leotard and fishnet stockings were purchased from the FemBasix line at Old Joe Infirmary. The leather vest with lapels was also part of that line. The purple, pirate-style boots are courtesy of Classic Plastick, and the purple collar I made from fabric that I painted purple and applied a Velcro fastener on the back. Since Abbey Chase’s hands were already molded with black gloves, I painted them purple to match the boots and collar.

All in all, a pretty simple custom, but quite effective, in my opinion. Next time, I’ll show you a more complicated project involving Dr. Fate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Golden Age Sandman

When DC Comics started putting out 100-page comics in the early 70s, I was truly thrilled. Granted I had to do some extra begging with my mom or dad to get them to shell out the 60 cents cover price versus the 20 cents for a regular-sized comic, but I would carefully explain that the added reading value provided by these jumbo size magazines outweighed the added expense. I think my dad was an easier mark than my mom because he recognized that these books were padded out with reprints of Golden Age comic stories from when he was a child. Seeing these old characters reproduced triggered a sense of nostalgia and the latest issue of Detective Comics or Adventure Comics was all mine.

I loved reading these stories from the infancy of comicdom. While the artwork was generally much cruder than what was being produced in the 70s, the stories had a certain simplicity and sense of fun that was missing from the more socially aware comics of the day. To me, comics in the 70s were being written for baby boomers who were already in their teens or 20s. Like much of the entertainment back then which catered to that demographic, I always felt a little lost and forced to catch up in order to understand what was being presented. Comics from the 40s were written for kids, so they spoke to me in a direct way.

I also enjoyed how the characters seemed completely human and frequently fallible, although they always saved the day in the end. Golden Age writers like Gardner Fox and John Broome understood how to blend comedy with suspense, and their stories had a light, breezy quality painfully absent from post-Silver Age comics. These superheroes operated by the seat of their pants and their costumes looked like some hastily assembled Halloween outfit. The most curious of these early superheroes was The Sandman.

Years later, it became clear to me that The Sandman was a knock-off of The Green Hornet, with his green suit, fedora, mask, cape, and gas-gun. He even had a trusty sidekick who knew his identity like Kato, only Sandman’s accomplice was his girlfriend Dian Belmont. I didn’t make any of these connections as a child; I was just fascinated by his creepy mask. To protect himself from the knock-out gas that he sprayed from his gas gun on unsuspecting bad guys, he wore a stylized gas mask which gave him a sinister air. At first glance, I thought he was a villain, but soon realized that, not only was he a good guy, he had an easy-going, average guy humor about him that I found entertaining. I also liked that he had a cool girlfriend for a partner rather than some smart-alecky kid sidekick. And he was a member of the Justice Society of America to boot. That’s why, when I set out to make an action figure collection based on the JSA, I started with The Sandman.

Of course, the mask was going to be the trickiest part of the exercise, so I saved that task for last. The first piece I found was his cape, which I took from a Star Wars Count Dooku figure. In most renderings of Sandman, his cape is purple, but that just seemed too garish to me, and in some of the early comics, the cape was a more realistic brown. Therefore, I felt fine with using a brown cape. The fedora was a Dale Van Slyke creation I bought on eBay, and the brown shoes I got from Old Joe Infirmary, along with the cream colored shirt and polka-dot tie.

The green suit was a real problem. At first, I sought out a white suit that I could dye green, but I came across this curious Civil War outfit on the Cotswold Collectibles Web site. Apparently, there was a Confederate unit that wore a green uniform. I bought it and was able to adapt it into a 40s style suit by simply turning out the lapels in a different way. I equipped him with a gas gun which was simply the gun used for the Playing Mantis Green Hornet costume created for Captain Action.

The Sandman was coming together nicely, except for that main piece: the mask. I attempted to create a mask using Sculpy, but the results were not pleasing. Then, as luck would have it, Sideshow Collectibles put out a series of 12” figures based on characters from the movie Hellboy. One of the characters, Kroenen I believe, had a mask similar to Sandman’s, so I bought the figure and quickly set about modifying it to look like The Sandman. While the Kroenen mask was completely smooth on the front, Sandman had a strange looking breathing apparatus which I needed to fabricate. I ended up using pieces I cut from a 1/6th scale assault rifle. When you buy as many action figures as I have over the years, you always have a pile of tiny weaponry on hand for customization. Anyway, after affixing my make-shift breathing piece, I painted the mask to match the colors from the comic. Here is the end result:

During the 40s, as The Sandman’s popularity waned, he underwent a makeover which put him in a more conventional yellow-and-purple unitard. Dian was killed off and her nephew became Sandman’s new sidekick. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby took over the artwork, and the character suddenly bore a striking resemblance to Kirby and Simon’s other creation, Captain America and Bucky. Although this boosted the character’s popularity at the time, the original, mysterious looking Sandman was the image that was used when the character was revived in the 70s. You can’t beat something as unique as the Golden Age Sandman.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I promised in my first blog post that I would discuss my ongoing project of creating custom action figures based on the original Justice Society of America. I guess it’s long overdue for me to get started.

As most comic fan knows, the JSA appeared from 1940 to the early 50’s in All-Star Comics and featured an ensemble of second-stringer super heroes banding together to tackle a major threat. Although Superman and Batman were listed as honorary members, they never actually participated in any of the stories. The JSA was designed to showcase the lesser known heroes on DC’s roster. In fact, once a character, such as The Flash, became popular enough to have his own title, he left the JSA. All the JSA members were languishing in back-up features, and their participation in each JSA story was essentially as a back-up player.

You see, the early comics were 64 pages in length with about 54 pages devoted to actual comic content. In All-Star Comics, the JSA would have a story which would span all 54 pages, but the story was cleverly divided into chapters (6 or 8 pages in length) in which each member of the JSA completed a solo task contributing to the overall completion of the mission. Each chapter was drawn by the artist who normally drew the character in his/her other features, so there was no visual continuity at all. You would go from the highly detailed artwork on a Hawkman chapter into the amateurish artwork on a Dr. Midnite chapter. An opening and closing chapter, which set up and concluded the story, was drawn by one artist who had to render all the heroes. These were the oddest looking chapters in each comic, especially if the artist couldn’t quite capture the proper look of certain heroes.

Anyway, I never got to see any of these stories until the late 90s when DC Comics started putting out the hardcover compilations of the early All-Star issues. My first encounters with JSA were during the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups in the 70s. About once a year, Justice League of America would team up with the JSA which, in the DC Universe of the time, existed in a different dimension called Earth-2. The JSA members had aged normally since the 1940s, so they appeared in the 70s as gray-haired, wrinkled old fogies who still had rock hard bodies with which to fill out the tights. I thought the whole thing was a bit odd, but since I had enjoyed reading reprints of stories featuring the Golden Age super heroes, I found it amusing to see them as older but still active. Then I read Jim Steranko’s History of the Comics and learned about the All-Star Comics which I described earlier. I wanted desperately to see how these book-length comic stories worked, but there was no way I could afford any of those old comics even if I could get to a comic show to buy them. I didn’t even know about comic shows back then, and comic stores were rare. Twenty-five years later, I finally was able to read the stories and I got a huge kick out of them. Shortly thereafter, I got into making custom action figures, and I knew I wanted to create my own 12’’ JSA.

The thing that intrigued me the most about the Golden Age heroes was their costumes. Since super heroes were a new invention in the late 30s and early 40s, their costumes were based on any number of references from wrestlers to pirates to early literary heroes like Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Unlike the Silver Age heroes who took their cue from the big guys Superman and Batman, the Golden Age do-gooders had unique, if not a little clunky, styles. They almost looked like they put together their outfits using leftovers from the attic, which heightened the reality of the characters for me. This also made the prospect of creating custom figure versions all the more interesting. By far the oddest looking member of the team was Sandman, so I naturally had to start with him. In my next post, I will describe the creation of my Sandman action figure.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


A while back, I talked about the build-it-yourself Stony Smith I bought on eBay. Apparently, in the 90s, Marx Toys went into production on a new line of Stony Smith action figures when the buyer backed out, leaving them with a bunch of unassembled pieces. They’ve now resurfaced on eBay where you can get the pieces to assemble your very own Stony Smith, provided you cannibalize rivets and bungee cords out of other Marx figures (Marxman Bros. has since begun offering the hardware to build or repair Marx figures). The other issue was that the head and hands in the kit are not for Stony Smith, but for Marx’s other army guy Buddy Charlie. Since both figures are quite different, the head and hands don’t really work with the body parts. I ended up using the head and hands off an old, beat up Marx figure to complete my makeshift Stony, but I wanted to find some use for those head and hands.

The answer came to me as I sorted through the pile of action figure odds and ends that I have compiled. You see, the tricky part about acquiring pieces you want on eBay is that you often have to purchase auction lots which also contain stuff you don’t really want. Over the years, in my passion for collecting Captain Action stuff, I’ve built up a collection of random Captain Action body parts. The weird thing is that, while there are plenty of bodies, torsos, legs, and upper arms, the heads, forearms, and hands are extremely hard to find. The Buddy Charlie head and hands could fit nicely onto a Captain Action body, but I still needed forearms.

Through the Web site Cotswold Collectibles, I could purchase rivets, pegs, and bungee cords to assemble an action figure, along with body parts modeled after the vintage G.I. Joe figures. They had G.I. Joe-style forearms, but the issue was that, while G.I.Joe’s forearm was designed to receive a connecting peg from the upper arm, Captain Action’s upper arm was designed to receive a connecting peg from Captain Action’s forearm. Therefore, in order to connect a G.I. Joe forearm to a Captain Action upper arm, I needed a joint in the middle with pegs that would fit into each end.

Since I don’t have a lab in which to create plastic parts, I went to my brother who fashioned a wooden joint in his workshop. Basically, the joint was shaped like a bulbous vase, with a fixed peg that fit into the upper arm.

We then cut a slit in the rounded part of the joint which could receive a plastic peg. After drilling a hole through the joint to line up with the hole in the plastic peg, we were able to attach the peg to the joint with a rivet. This allows the plastic peg to move up and down. With the joint inserted into the upper arm, we could then attach the forearm to the plastic peg, creating a complete arm with articulation at the elbow.

Here's how the painted head and hands look attached to a mostly Captain Action body with G.I. Joe forearms:

Granted, the joint looks a little rustic and makes the arms slightly longer than they normally would. However, once you cover the arms with clothing, you really don’t notice anything. After attaching all the parts into a completed body and painting the head, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with my new creation. I was reminded of how Army hero Sgt. Fury was transformed into the quasi-spy Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and thought about creating Buddy Charlie, Agent of S.O.M.E.T.H.I.N.G.O.R.O.T.H.E.R.

Then I remembered that, in body anyway, he was more Captain Action than Buddy Charlie, so I decided to make him Captain Action’s red-headed step-brother, Commander Blaze!

How 'bout that?