Captain Action #1
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Wally Wood
The second day of our Captain Action Advent Calendar brings us the vintage 1968 DC Comics first issue of Captain Action. This comic is somewhat historic because it not only has legendary artist Wally Wood and writer Jim Shooter at the helm, but it was also one of the first times that Jim Shooter was actually credited on a comic. He wrote about that in one of the modern Captain Action comics and regarded that as one of the only reasons that he really was glad he was a part of the Captain Action mythos.
Apparently at the time, Ideal (Captain Action’s original parent company) had saddled poor Jim, who was just a teenager, with an awful lot of demands about things that needed to be in the comic. Shooter also had to flesh out the origin story for Captain Action, who at the time, had no real bio to speak of. He simply was an action figure that could be transformed into other famous comic characters. With all that being said, Shooter was actually able to come up with a really neat origin story for Captain Action. In fact, it’s a story that I prefer over a lot of the other versions of the Captain. At least in concept, if not necessarily execution.
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The comic is immediately an eye catcher with that bombastic cover of Captain Action pushing Superman out of the way. DC was infamous for these sorts of covers and often they don’t even reflect what the heck happened in the comic, but in this instance this is actually a panel from the book. We start off with a battle between Captain Action and a man named Krellik. I’m reminded of TNA’s Rellik (that’s killer spelled backwards!) immediately. In fact the very first page is what I suspect was originally planned for the cover, as it’s Krellik standing over Captain Action saying that his career as a superhero is over before it even started. I assume someone then realized that nobody reading comics would know who Captain Action was, but if they put Superman on the cover, it would get kids to buy it.
Anyway we see some of the battle between Krellik and Captain Action, as they use amazing powers to try and defeat one another. Then we flashback to just moments before where the Captain and Rellik duke it out. Immediately you’ll notice that these guys have incredible powers that most don’t associate with Captain Action. He shoots laser beams out of his hands, as an example.
Krellik calls the Captain an idiot for warning him before he attacked (which was pretty stupid) but Action says that he is like a rattlesnake and gives a warning before he strikes. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but hey, who am I to criticize Stone Cold Captain Action?!
Then we flashback once again to even earlier. This is when Captain Action was but a mere mortal named Clive Arno (CA, get it, wink-wink) and Krellik was still, well Krellik. They are apparently both archeologists, but Krellik is mostly a jerk. They discover some ancient coins, which Arno points out are of many different eras and parts of the globe that wouldn’t all be together. Krellik doesn’t care, but when Arno discovers that they give him magic powers, Krellik is more interested.
Arno, who seems rather obsessed with cleaning these ancient coins, decides to use a super powered radiation cleaner on them. When he does, that transports them back in time to where Odin and all the gods are gathered together to make these coins. Apparently although they can see this past, they aren’t able to interact. Sort of like Al in Quantum Leap.
Odin and the rest of the gods are leaving Earth, feeling they’ve meddled too much in human affairs. Before they leave though, they want to put a bunch of their magic powers into these coins as a parting gift for humanity. That kind of seems like a bad idea, but Odin doesn’t care what I think. We get a great looking Odin and even a cameo by Thor in this comic. I wonder if DC was trying to jab Marvel with this since they could have their own Thor and company? Either way, the guys are transported back to their present time with this unique knowledge.
Arno decides to hit the hay, because he’s tired and discovering those coins is great and all, but brother’s gotta catch some Z’s. Krellik tries to steal the coins, but he receives a shock instead. Apparently the coins will only go to someone who’s worthy and Krellik clearly isn’t worthy since he didn’t blast the coins with radiation to “clean” them. Frustrated, he goes back to the dig site and finds his own coin, OF EVIL!
When Arno comes home, he arrives without Krellik, who “mysteriously” disappeared. While he was away, he had his assistant in America build a Bat-Cave of sorts in the Arno Archeological Museum. Apparently Clive Arno is loaded, begging the question why he didn’t decide to be a superhero before he had powers, but I guess everyone can’t be Batman. When he gets there, he finds his son, Carl (who graduated 5th in his class) and reveals the Captain Action Cave and his new costume. Carl freaks out and informs his Dad that a criminal named Captain Action, wearing the same costume, has been globetrotting with robberies and mayhem.
Captain Action is pissed and tracks down Krellik, who’s committing another crime in the real Captain’s costume. Krellik seems awfully bitter to me, by the way. I mean he got a coin with super powers, why does he have to go out and try to tarnish the good Captain’s name? Nevertheless, SUPERMAN shows up to do battle with the Evil Captain Action. Prompting the real Captain Action to shove Superman out of the way and tell him he’s got it handled (hence the cover) and goes after Krellik.
Krellik escapes, but then Superman wants to talk with Captain Action. Does the good Captain agree to talk to Superman? Does he accept his help? Does he even bother to explain what the heck is going on? Nope, he gives Superman the cold shoulder and completely blows him off for the second time in a matter of minutes. Captain Action is kind of a dick in this comic.
The Captain tracks Krellik down and now we’re back to the battle that started this comic. Apparently in the interim, Krellik has stolen some more ancient items that also have super powers. Now it’s not just coins, but all sorts of stuff. Why would the gods leave so many items of magic powers littered across the planet? Well as Hercules the Legendary Journeys taught us:
The ancient gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued mankind with suffering and beseiged them with terrors.
Krellik has the power of Loki and they both continue to namedrop various gods of various religions that give them power. I’m almost surprised that Krellik didn’t use stuff like the toilet brush of Hera! I’m sure she left it behind, chocked full of magic powers. The two exchange a variety of moves on one another, using every power you can imagine.
And then Krellik gets the better of Captain Action and we have to buy ANOTHER comic to find out what happens! Jeesh, no wonder Jim Shooter didn’t much care for his first Captain Action comic. The Captain comes off a bit like a selfish jerk, he hamfistedly introduces his son and their pet panther and when the Captain isn’t dismissing Superman he’s getting his butt kicked! This is an auspicious start for sure. Thankfully the comic only cost 12¢ back in 1968 when it came out, so you don’t have to break the bank to find out what happens in issue #2.
Overall, the comic is a lot of fun and the idea of a bunch of mythical gods giving their powers into various coins is a great concept. It helps explain why Captain Action can imitate other superheroes (though that’s not a focus of these DC stories) and creates a situation where he could use certain coins to help him in various missions. It’s really a neat idea and the setup that villains could steal his coins and do heinous crimes is also quite nice. Sadly it’s not executed very well and in a couple comics down the line it’s practically retconned, but that’s a story for another time.