Tuesday, September 15, 2009
CAPTAIN ACTION & STEVE CANYON
About a year ago, my pal Todd Fox asked me why there was a Steve Canyon costume for Captain Action. To catch up those outside my esoteric enclave, Steve Canyon is a comic strip hero created by Milton Caniff and Captain Action was an action figure produced between 1966-68. You bought the basic Captain Action figure and then bought costumes/disguises/uniforms to turn him into other super-heroes like Superman, Batman and Flash Gordon.
Todd's question intrigued me. I doubted that the young boys who were fans of Captain Action would also be fans of the Steve Canyon comic strip. The "Steve Canyon" TV series (currently available on DVD)had been off for years and the merchandising associated with the show was long gone. He had no cartoon or comic book, so what was the connection?
I decided to research the problem at my favorite library, the Cartoon Research Library and Museum at OSU. It was also during this visit that I interviewed library curator Lucy Shelton Caswell. I looked through boxes of material relating to Steve Canyon and Captain Action, most of it correspondence between Caniff's agent, Toni Mendez, and Ideal, the toy company that made Captain Action.
Some of this research has made it into a terrific new book - Captain Action: the Original Superhero Action Figure. The book, by comics maven Michael Eury, gives you everything you ever wanted to know about this beloved line of toys. It has a history of the toy, complete character biographies and pictures of every toy and ancillary item in the Captain Action line. Steve Canyon gets plenty of coverage, equal to that of Superman and other better-known characters. If you're a Captain Action collector, or recall him from your childhood days, this book is a must-have.
Eury's origin of Captain Action (C.A.) finds the Ideal toy company looking to compete with Hasbro's popular G.I. Joe line. With C.A., you didn't have to buy multiple figures to have different adventures. Using the basic figure as the template, you could make him become other heroes. My friend Jim Alexander, a Captain Action fanatic and contributor to the book, theorizes that in trying to compete with G.I. Joe, Ideal wanted to some military characters the toy could become. Thus we had Sgt. Fury (army), Steve Canyon (air force), and even Flash Gordon (astronaut). Gordon, along with Canyon and the Phantom, were all comic strip heroes used for Captain Action, so maybe more young boys followed the adventure strips than I realize.
Another possible reason for choosing Canyon is that Ideal was also the licensor for toys from the 1958/59 "Steve Canyon" tv series, specifically the Jet Helmet and the Glider Bomb. Based on that existing relationship, it was simple enough to modify the old contract to fit the new Captain Action deal. Like the fervor surrounding the TV series, enthusiasm for Captain Action didn't last very long and the line ceased production in 1969. The book details how that brief boom created a special bond between child and toy that engendered loyalty and resurging interest into the present day. Eury has done toy collectors a huge favor by creating this comprehensive and entertaining document that is fun without being frivolous and definitive without being dry.