HERO HISTORY: Captain Action

by

Or – “The Amazing 9-In-1 Superhero!”

When I was a kid, there was no filter between toys, cartoons, comics and movies, nor would we have wanted one.  We could watch the cartoon adventures of the same characters in our comics (though their adventures were often tonally different) and buy the appropriate tie-in toys at the local TG&Y store when we were done.  Of course, this isn’t a Facebook post about how things were better when we were younger, this is all about the comics.  When evil rears its ugly head, sometimes you need a hero with versatility, one who isn’t merely one man with a mission.  In some extreme cases, you need a man who is actually more than a dozen heroes all at the same time!  This, then, is your Major Spoilers hero history of Doctor Clive Arno, Captain Miles Drake and Cole Drake, each known in turn as…  CAPTAIN ACTION!

The story of Captain Action begins in the mid 1960′s, soon after the Hasbro toy company hit it big with a toy known as  “America’s Movable Fighting Man: G.I. Joe.”  Ideal Toys wanted to see if they could cash in on the “action figures” (as G.I. Joe was one of the first times that a toy was marketed as such, since conventional wisdom would have it that boy children wouldn’t play with dolls) and turned to Stan Weston, designer of G.I. Joe, who came up with…

What’s truly fascinating about this particular advertisement is that the original Captain Action lineup included both Marvel and DC hero costumes, something that I’m certain would never happen these days.  The Cap figure came with a minicomic of his own that served mostly as a catalogue for the toy’s accessories: costumes that transformed him into the other heroes, like Batman…

…Captain America, with realistic M-16 machine gun and laser pistol, which Captain America totally has…

…and even TV’s Green Hornet.

Captain Action’s sidekick, the cleverly named Action Boy (even though Captain Action Jr. would have been better, came with his own line of sidekick uniforms, as well!

Sadly, for fans of the Green Hornet, Action Boy never received an official Kato costume kit back in the day, but I digress.  Captain Action’s adventures defending Earth against the creatures whose heads look suspiciously like sperm were only the forerunners of a much more impressive battle, which begins in media res with a madman named Krellik searching for a lost cave of wonders, not realizing that he is being stalked by our hero…

Cap and Krellik engage in a spectacular battle, utilizing god-like powers before the bald badman escapes into an underground tunnel, while Captain Action remembers how they ended up battling in amazing Wally Wood technicolor art in the first place…

The mysterious coins don’t make sense at all, coming from five different cultures, but more importantly, they transfer massive energies to the man who carries them, as Clive Arno discovers when he hefts a jeep into the air!  While trying to clean the coins (using ionized radiation, because it’s the Silver Age and radiation fixes everything), Arno and Krellik find themselves transported into the company… of GODS.

Well, not gods, really, but ancient alien creatures whose presence on Earth caused ancient civilizations to believe they were gods, some of them taking on multiple roles across multiple pantheons.  Krellik tries to kill Arno and use the power to take over the world, but the coins rebuff him, declaring him unworthy, until he discovers the coin of Chernobog, described as the Slavic god of evil.  (I really like the thought that was put into the character’s backgrounds here, especially given that there’s no way he could transform into Spider-Man or Nick Fury in these DC-published adventures.)  Clive Arno plans to become the newest superhero sensation, but Krellik has ideas of his own, moving to outwit his partner and destroy Captain Action’s reputation before he even gets started!

As a phony Captain Action, Krellik robs the Metropolis Museum, running afoul of that city’s protector.  Before things get ugly (seeing as how Silver Age Superman has no defenses against magic, and Krellik is pretty much a nuclear dynamo of sorcery), Clive and Carl Arno make their public debut…

Holy crap but Wally Wood could draw, couldn’t he?  Captain Action and Krellik cycle through a wide variety of powers, each fighting as cleverly as he can, but the villain escapes, which brings us back to reality, just in time for Krellik to attack the Captain with ancient weaponry, powered by the same forces as the coins!

Wanna know what’s more awesome than a Wally Wood drawing?  A Wally Wood/Gil Kane drawing, showing massive displays of power, as Krellik tests the coins he has stolen from the unconscious Captain A…

With Krellik in possession of the most powerful coins, the Captain has to work smarter, rather than harder, combining his remaining power-coins to counter Krellik’s brute force…

Captain Action is massively out-classed, with the powers of Hercules, Helios and more against him, but he refuses to back down, picking his strikes and channeling the powers of the remaining coins ingeniously…

The public battle against Krellik helps to convince the public that C.A. is not the menace that Krellik’s sabotage painted him as, and a clever ruse using false coins, finally gives Captain Action the upper hand against his opponent, using his archeological knowledge to win the day.

Without super-powers, Krellik proves to be a coward, and no match for Clive Arno’s two-fisted all-American Silver Age know-how.

With his duplicitous former partner no longer a factor (even if he worries that Krellik might return) Captain Action’s life seems to be smooth sailing.  Of course, even he couldn’t know of the evil lurking in Belgium!  Okay, it’s not Belgium, but the strange experiments of his colleague/father-in-law, Doctor Stefan Tracy, are about to bear a very bitter fruit…

Doctor Tracy is transported, transmogrified and transformed, changed from normal human scientist with terrible taste in clothing into a monstrous blue-hued figure with an open skull and terrible taste in clothing…

The planet is buffeted by tectonic forces, worldwide earthquakes and catastrophes accompanying Tracy’s transformation into Doctor Evil.  Along with the massive cost of the disaster and the death toll comes another unexpected consequence:  The destruction of Captain Action’s power coins!

Strangely, it seems that the merged coins now give Captain Action and Action Boy the ability to immediately transmute ala Captain Marvel, and the heroes leap into action to save innocent lives.  Doctor Evil, for his part, uses his newfound telekinetic powers to increase the chaos, even putting Action Boy in the hospital, before Captain Action comes to him (not realizing that Tracy has been turned into a hateful alien thing) for assistance…

Captain and Doctor meet in combat, pausing only for the Doctor to demand ONE… MILLLION… DOLLARS… before Doctor Evil teleports away at the moment of his defeat, searching for assistance.  What he finds, is a planet of people who look like him, likewise transformed by the forces of the universe, and looking for a demagogue to run their world for them.

Doctor Evil sends alien monsters to destroy the planet, but Captain Action and Action Boy are ever-vigilant against his schemes…

…although it does make you wonder what happened to Superman.  Doctor Evil’s next plan is even more insidious, as he recreates the form of Captain Action’s deceased wife, a woman who is revealed to be Doctor Evil’s own daughter!

The spectre of his dead wife nearly breaks the Captain’s resolve, and her cries for him to join her by killing himself shake Clive Arno to his very core…

Action Boy’s quick thinking shakes his father’s heroic reserve, pulling Captain Action out of his funk long enough to convince the aliens that Doctor Evil is a nutjob, causing them to pull their support of the blue-headed madman.  But, a hero’s work is never done, so when a paramilitary lunatic begins attacks on American factories, this looks like a job for Captain Action!

The villain’s plot is stopped not by C.A. and A.B., but by his own son, who recognizes his father’s evil, and sabotages his machinery with fatal consequences…

Powerful stuff, there.  Sadly, this version of Captain Action had no further recorded adventures, but in another reality a few layers of time/space away, a man named Miles Drake likewise stood against evil and Doctor Evil…  until the realities of post-Cold War America made it seemingly unnecessary.

Though lacking the super-coins that Clive Arno carried, Miles was no second-rater, acting as the primary envoy of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Directorate, protecting the American Way and such, but utilizing much more espionage training than ancient sorcery…

Drake really shows the Captain Action roots, with abilities that seem one part Batman, one part Nick Fury, and a little Captain America thrown in, fighting for freedom wherever there’s trouble (or maybe that’s the other doll…  ‘Scuse me, “action figure”) and doing so with style and panache.

An actual Captain and former Navy SEAL, Captain Action discovered a hidden cache of alien technology that heralded an invasion by a force known as The Red Crawl.  These alien creatures parasitically control the minds of those in power, and the battle against their evil eventually led to a victory for Captain Action, after 20 years of  conflict.  Their technology even allowed for the reverse-engineering of genetically engineered superhumans, whose powers made his spycraft obsolete.  Captain Action retired to a desk job, only for the evil heroes to reveal that they were themselves controlled by the Red Crawl, leading to the destruction of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Directorate, and the announcement of Captain Action’s death.  But, there is another…

Cole Drake was a child of privilege, raised from birth to take his father’s place as the primary agent of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Directorate, but his own behavior led to near-disaster, and his removal from A.C.T.I.O.N.  With his father deceased, and the organization gone, Cole set off on a path of vengeance against the “heroes “of the world…

One of whom is, apparently, Maynard G. Krebs of Krypton.  Cole’s use of his father’s plastiderm allows him to take on the image and powers of superheroes (Hey, that’s a great concept!  They should make a doll of that…  Excuse me, “action figure”) in order to defeat them at their own game as the new Captain Action!  Of course, thins in this reality aren’t as cut-and-dried as they were in the other, as we find when we meet a somewhat worse-for-wear Action Boy…

Cole’s battles against the heroes of the world go better than he has any right to expect, especially given the massive powers given by the Red Crawl, but he acquits himself quite well in battle, proving himself worthy of the name Captain Action…

Unfortunately, even he isn’t  match for what is, essentially, the Justice League of America, and falls at the hands of Savior (the Bob-Denver-looking Superman feller), leaving the fate of the world in doubt.  Luckily for Cole, you can’t keep a good Captain down…

The original Captain Action even built his own hall of mirrors, a trap to capture the very heroes that are seeking to destroy him, which led him to fake his own death in the first place.  Even the mighty Savior is surprised by his return…

The Captains manage to combine forces, and Miles reveals that Plastiderm will actually allow anyone who shares his blood (meaning Cole) to use the superhumans powers against them, and sends Cole undercover as a member of the President’s Secret Service team…

Those Red Crawl aliens look awfully familiar, don’t they?  Cole proves to still be headstrong, and breaks his cover against orders to save the President from being corrupted by the aliens.  This does NOT go over well with the elder Captain Action…

As anyone who ever contemplated working side-by-side with your dad will attest, the Captains Action don’t always see eye-to-eye in their battle against horrible alien creatures, with Cole’s strong-headedness clashing with his father’s meticulous nature, but in the heat of battle, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

One of the running gags between father and son comes at the expense of the original Captain’s iconic, and frankly brilliant, hat.  Cole jokes many times that the main reason he never wanted to be Captain Action was because he hated the hate, which is why it becomes quite ironic when a young British A.C.T.I.O.N. agent has the opposite reaction…

Agent Nicola Sinclair works her way up through the ranks, eventually becoming the British equivalent of Cole’s position as Lady Action!

Never underestimate the awesomeness of being a secret super-spy in a leather miniskirt, by the way.  Austin Powers will never steer you wrong, even if he did end up stealing Captain Action’s main nemesis somewhere along the way.  The Captains Action and their distaff British member even end up teaming up with one of the Captain Action doll’s action figure’s alternate selves in The Phantom…

And, even though it didn’t happen in continuity, I had to share this awesome C.A./Green Hornet team-up image, which made me a little bit irritated to note was the cover of a comic that contained no Green Hornet whatsoever…

As an aside, while we don’t know a whole lot about the new Action Boy (other than the fact that his name has been changed to Kid Action for legal reasons), we have discovered that he, like Cole, has to deal with the spectre of parental angstiness…

All in all, the magic of Captain Action comes in both literal and metaphorical varieties, painting him in all incarnations as a hero who fights the good fight because not everyone can.  Whether empowered by ancient artifacts or just plain technological James Bondery, Captain Action will always be ready and willing to go toe-to-toe with evil (or, even Eville, which is a French evil, I think) and protect mankind against even blue-skinned horrors or the man who played Gilligan, befitting a hero whose whole gimmick is being ALL the other heroes at once.

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “Columns” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of Captain Action have appeared from Moonstone Comics and DC Comics as well, and are completely worth the digging it will take to find the original issues.

Next up: “You stand motionless under the moon, in the silent swamp…”

Watch.

The.

Skies.

(SCIENCE!)