Monday, March 24, 2008


Moebius Models, in conjunction with Captain Action Enterprises, has finally released their long-awaited Captain Action model, a reproduction of the original Aurora model issued in the late 60s. The model kit mimics the original in every detail possible, from the box art to the instruction sheet provided inside, but Moebius also provides some added options for those Captain Action fans who were never quite happy with the original.

When Captain Action Enterprises first announced that the kit was in development, one issue that was discussed on the Yahoo! Captain Action list was the fact that the face on the original model did not look like the action figure or the artwork on the box. In fact, it didn't look like much of anything with its bland, simplistic features more at home on a totem pole than a figurine. In response to this criticism, Moebius Models enlisted Terry Beatty to create an alternative face sculpt which looked more like the actual artwork on the box.

A second alternative element was the creation of a nameplate for the base which used the familiar Captain Action logo. The nameplate provided with the original model used a rather bland font, perhaps to suggest a hand-chiseled design like an actual stone sculpture. At any rate, the modeler has the option of building the model with the original face and nameplate, or use the alternative elements.

I pre-ordered two kits since I wasn't sure whether I wanted to build the original version, the alternative version, or both. Due to production delays, I waited almost a full year before finally receiving my two kits, but I think it was well worth the wait. After opening one of the kits and examining the pieces, I chose to build the alternative version. While I'm not entirely convinced that the new face looks exactly like the box art (and it's certainly nothing like the action figure), it's still a much more interesting face than the dead-behind-the-eyes original.

These kits are limited editions with only 1,000 being made, so the price was far higher than your usual hobby shop kit. Therefore, I was determined to take my time and build the thing properly. Mind you, I've built many a model kit over the years and I think I'm pretty competent at it, but I can also make some messy mistakes when I get over eager and rush along in a mad dash to get it completed. The kit comes with an instruction sheet, designed by CA fan Jim Alexander, which looks remarkably like the old Aurora instruction sheets while incorporating details about the new elements. The sheet tells you to follow their point-by-point instructions to assemble the model correctly, but I have one word of advice there:

The instructions tell you to assemble the upper body section, then the lower body section, and glue the two assembled sections together. Trouble is, the bottom part of the upper body assembly has pegs which fit into holes along the top of the lower body assembly. If you allow your two assembled body pieces to thoroughly dry before fitting them together, you can't fit the pegs into the holes. I would suggest instead to assemble the lower body section first. Next, glue the face piece to the back part of the upper body, and then glue the front and back pieces of the upper body assembly together while simultaneously fitting the two halves to the assembled lower section. Otherwise, you'll have to pry the two sections apart again to glue them to the lower section. I was lucky and was able to fix the problem without damaging the pieces, but not everyone may be so lucky, so you have been warned!

Other than that small quibble, the model came together fairly easily and was a fun project. Although there are relatively few pieces, it is a big model and will require some time to paint and assemble. Be sure that you make sure pieces are securely glued together before moving on with assembly as the sheer weight of these large sections can cause them to fall out of position.

So, after 40 years of lamenting the fact that I would never have a Captain Action model to build, I finally have one to call my own, and I think it's a big improvement over the original. I'm so grateful to Moebius Models and Captain Action Enterprises for making this rare model kit accessible to those with modest budgets!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


This entry is way off the mark for this blog, but it is my blog after all, so what the hell. I just finished reading Eric Clapton’s autobiography and I feel like a raw nerve. It’s not because of his dissertations on the purity of blues or the numerous guitars he’s owned or all the famous people he’s known, it’s because of his journey through serious drug and alcohol addiction and his emergence on the other side.

I don’t know exactly why I picked up the book. It was my wife’s book. Unlike me, she has a love for blues and blues-infused rock. I’m more of a pop or folk-oriented rock fan. To put it simply, I’m a Beatles fan rather than a Rolling Stones fan. I always found Clapton grating in interviews with the way he babbles on about the blues. I thought Cream was ridiculous. Just to have the audacity to call the band Cream (as in “cream of the crop”) was annoying enough. Then seeing the concert footage of those rambling guitar solos, which always sounded like musical masturbation to me, just sent me over the edge. Only stoners can get into music like that where the pointless runs up and down the fret board are only background noise for their altered states of being.

The gossip of Clapton's own substance abuse problems also were a negative tic in my book. I’m still wrestling with issues I have over my late father, an alcoholic who never fully broke his bond with the bottle. While I understand the disease from years of dealing with my dad and his numerous trips to rehab, I have little patience for addicts. The fact that Clapton got clean later in life was a point in his favor, but I still wasn’t sold.

I did enjoy the original Layla by Derek and the Dominos, but then Clapton had to ruin the memory by putting out that awful acoustic version which was mercilessly repeated on rock radio stations. I felt sorry for him when his son Conor met such a tragic end, but was put off by his capitalization of the event when he released Tears in Heaven. Just didn’t care for the guy very much.

Anyway, I was looking for something to read and I usually like biographies, especially about people who lived through interesting eras in pop culture, so I thought I give it a try. I almost took the attitude, “Let’s see what the man has to say for himself.” Well, he had a lot to say, and I was impressed with the way he said it.

Written in an honest, straightforward manner, Clapton takes you through his humble beginnings, his love of the blues and his pursuit of a career in music making. He also recounts the public life and musical accomplishments of which we are all aware. I completely disagree with his perspective on music, but since I’m only an avid listener and not a musicologist, I have no quibble one way or the other about such things. The part that drew me in was when he discussed his descent into heroin addiction, his recovery, and his descent into his new addiction to alcohol.

What strikes me most when I observe addicts or hear them recount their experiences is that they all exhibit the same personality traits. Their backgrounds and experiences are different, but the behavior patterns are always the same. The maddening part for me is that they are so much in denial about it. Protecting their addiction becomes more important than saving their relationships or their lives. It’s a clear path the hell and they are looking the other way.

That tendency to dismiss or marginalize the reality of it is what I find most off-putting when I hear or read testimonies from addicts. Even those who are clean may still dilute the truth as a way to protect their own self-image. Clapton takes no such easy road, and I found his honesty so refreshing. One line that walloped me like a ton of bricks was when he talked about his first wife Pattie, “However much I might have thought I loved Pattie at the time, the truth is that the only thing that I couldn’t live without was alcohol.”

After going through various rehab adventures with my dad, he managed to stay sober for 23 months when I was 12 to 14 years old. Then, during the Christmas holidays in 1978, he fell back into drinking. I had gone through his on-again-off-again drinking bouts countless times, but this time was particularly devastating, and for years I could not quite figure out why. It wasn’t until a few years ago, long after my dad’s death, that I realized what it was. On some subconscious level, I realized that my father’s need for alcohol outweighed his love for his wife and children. Pretty hard notion to swallow at age 14, so I never allowed myself to articulate it until I was an adult. However, from that Christmas onward, I treated my father as an obligation. Someone I had to love and care for because he was family. He was no longer the dad I looked up to and admired. Because his love was conditional, mine had to be as well.

The inspiring thing about Eric Clapton was that he finally got it. He’s been sober 20 years and continues to work the 12-step program that is so essential to remaining clean. This was something my father could never bring himself to do. He knew all the right things to say and how to pretend that he was okay, but he never could truly do the hard work it took to stay sober. In the epilogue, Clapton writes, “My family continues to bring me joy and happiness on a daily basis, and if I were anything but an alcoholic, I would gladly say that they are the number one priority in my life. But this cannot be, because I know I would lose it all if I did not put my sobriety at the top of that list.” If only my father could have learned that lesson, maybe it would’ve all been different.

Seeing the travails of addiction through the eyes of the addict, depicted in such an honest and forthright way, was a harrowing and ultimately cathartic experience. I even came to realize that Tears in Heaven may have been helpful to others rather than a crass way to cash in on tragedy. This is so much more than just another pop star tell-all. I would recommend it to anyone who is wrestling with addiction or who is struggling with a loved one who is addicted.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


If you were a kid in the 70s, Whitman Publishing Company was probably your publisher of choice whether you knew it or not. Whitman produced the Big Little Books, along with various hard and soft cover books aimed at a pre-teen audience. Most of the books were based on movies, TV shows, and comic book titles which were sure-fire favorites with kids. They even repackaged unsold comics into economical three-packs, sealed in flimsy plastic bags that hung from spinner racks in discount stores and book stores. Chances are, if you did any reading as a kid back then, you read Whitman books.

During the summer of ’72 when I crossed the threshold into age eight, I was becoming an avid reader. I was at that awkward reading stage, however, where basic books like “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Cat in the Hat” didn’t really cut it anymore, but I wasn’t quite ready for the Hardy Boys. This is where Whitman bridged the gap. I was already hooked on comic strips and I particularly loved Dick Tracy. During one of my numerous trips with Dad to the Read’s Drug Store (now known as Rite Aid), I found a Big Little Book on the magazine rack titled, Dick Tracy Encounters Facey. This was the first Big Little Book I had ever seen, and I was curious about it. Not only was it quite small (perfect for my pudgy little hands), it had an illustration on each right-hand page and text on each left-hand page. It reminded me of the picture heavy children’s books I was familiar with, but it also had a grown-up feel with its blocks of text and chapter breaks. Just flipping through the book, I saw enough pictures of interesting action and familiar faces like Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem that I had to have it. Another round of begging with my dad, which wasn’t so bad since he was usually pretty amenable to buying me reading material.

My dad had to stop off at a couple more places before we went home, so I stayed in the car and read my curious little book while he did whatever. Funny how you could leave an eight-year-old alone in a car back then and not fear any trouble. Different world.

Anyway, I finished reading the book in a few days (always was a slow reader even then). The story involved a criminal known as Facey who was a master of disguise. He started out doing petty crimes for larger criminal gangs, then decided to go solo as his confidence grew. Meanwhile, Dick Tracy and his partner Sam Catchem worked the case, did the forensics and so forth, but couldn’t catch a break. Facey became so self-assured that he even had the guts to masquerade as Tracy himself, walk into the police station, and take away evidence that might lead to his capture. Of course, like all criminals, he pushed his luck too far when he kidnapped the daughter of a world leader. Tracy and Catchem finally tracked him down to his lair and busted him. Facey disguised himself to beat the rap, but Tracy blew his cover by putting him in a shower and washing off his make-up. Pretty entertaining stuff.

I was so taken with the book that I had to tell my best friend Nick about it. When I ran into him, he was carrying a book himself and this one had Superman plastered on the cover. Titled Superman Smashes the Secret of the Mad Director, this book was the size of a regular, mass-market paperback, but it used a similar format as my Big Little Book. That is, lots of pictures and large print, but here the text was on the bottom half of the page and the illustrations were on the top of the page. Only difference was this book had black-and-white drawings rather than the full color pictures my Tracy book had. As I told Nick about my book, he told me how cool his book was as well.

“When you’re done with it, maybe we can swap books?” I suggested.

He agreed. I felt so mature. We would exchange books and each get to read two books rather than only one. How civilized. I was growing up. A few days later, on a Friday afternoon, Nick handed me his Superman book and I quickly dashed into the house to retrieve my Dick Tracy book. I was so thrilled. I had never read a Superman story before, not even in comic book form. I made a point of reading the book as fast as I could so that I wouldn’t hang onto the book for too long. That would be rude after all, and we were acting all mature and stuff. The entire weekend, I carried the book around with me and read through a few pages every chance I got. Even while I was playing with my friend Johnny, I would pull the book out of my back pocket and read while he went to the bathroom or ran an errand for his mom. Sunday night, I barreled through the rest of the book and felt quite pleased with myself for finishing a 166-page book so quickly (never mind that half the book was pictures and the print was extra-large).

Looking back, the story was one of the oddest things I’ve ever read. A famous movie director in the Otto Preminger/Eric Von Stroheim mold comes to Metropolis to film a Medieval epic. The tyrannical director, subtly named Max Malice, has a reputation for creating period films of tremendous accuracy, so Clark Kent and Lois Lane are assigned to cover the filming of the movie. They finagle bit parts on the film, Lois as a handmaiden and Clark as a serf, and report for costume and make-up. They are surprised to find out that all actors must wear contact lenses. Clark notices that Malice is putting special lenses on the cameras as well. Somehow these special lenses cause all the reality elements (e.g., city skyline, crew, light stands, etc.) to disappear and the flimsy sets suddenly appear solid and totally real. Also, all the actors lose their memories and actually believe they are in the Middle Ages, except Clark of course, whose Kryptonian physiology must be resistant to the magical contact lenses. Malice dresses as a court jester and encourages the actors to act out the scenes he wants. He talks a couple of thuggish types into fighting Clark and later, the brutes kidnap Lois. Incensed by this attack on his woman, Clark can no longer stay in character, so he transforms into Superman to stop the thugs from running off with Lois. Meanwhile, Max Malice decides that capturing Superman’s escapades on film are more interesting than his original script, so he races madly all over the set in a motorcycle, filming the action from the sidecar while a helicopter captures the action from the air.

As Superman fights with the thugs and generally destroys the set, Malice screams that he is capturing the best footage of his career. What kind of film he could cobble together from these random shots of destruction, I have no idea. Anyway, Superman finally puts an end to the whole mess by burning the film with his heat vision. The rest of the story deals with Clark trying to convince Lois that he’s not Superman even though he disappeared during the whole time that Superman was around. Stupid woman falls for it again.

Although my eight-year-old brain accepted the story at face value, my 43-year-old brain gets a headache from it. How these lenses could make plywood sets look like solid rock and make people believe they were in the Middle Ages is thoroughly mindboggling. Also, Max Malice’s playful ruse to get some good action for his movie seems slim justification for Superman to trash the set and burn Malice’s film stock. Malice slinks away like a chastened criminal without questioning the fact that Superman has cost the studio millions of dollars in damages and lost time. As usual, Superman uses excessive force under the slightest provocation and gets away with it. Little wonder I was Batman fan.

Okay... so I finished the book and excitedly went to Nick after school that Monday to tell him so, hoping that he had also finished my book and we could swap back. Nope, Nick hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. I feigned understanding; we were being civilized after all. I told him he could hang onto it as long as he needed, but I was clever enough to keep his book hostage in the meantime. Days turned into weeks. Nick kept making excuses. After awhile, I gave up asking. I still had his book and sooner or later, he would want it back. I just had to be patient.

Flash forward 35 years: I still had that Superman book collecting dust on the book shelf. I didn’t like it and didn’t particularly want it, but I wanted my Dick Tracy book back, so in some insane twist of logic, I held onto it. That book sat on four different book shelves in four different houses. I haven’t seen Nick in at least 25 years, but I kept hoping my Dick Tracy book would show up. He would finally cave into the guilt and send it to me in an unmarked, plain brown wrapper. I, in turn, would track him down and rightfully return his Superman book. It would be the mature thing to do.

Christmas 2007: Among the gifts that my lovely wife had given me, there was a small, hard package. I curiously peeled away the wrapping. It was a slightly worn copy of Dick Tracy Encounters Facey. I gingerly, but joyously, flipped through the pages, instantly recognizing the illustrations and the story. There’s Facey getting his makeup washed off in the shower! Tears brimmed around my eyelids. I was reunited with a long lost friend. My thoughtful wife had brought my torment to an end.

Nick, you still aren’t getting your book back.