It’s time for another update on Captain Action, which longtime PopCult readers may know as one of my favorite toys from my childhood. I first wrote about Captain Action and his nemesis, Dr. Evil, way back in the first month of this blog, almost nine years ago, and since then we’ve seen him revived as a MEGO-sized figure, a model kit, a comic book, a pulp novel series and as a full-blown 12″ action figure with outfits that allowed him to become famous Marvel Superheroes, just as the original figure could.
There were revelations at San Diego Comic Con last week that prove that these are indeed interesting times for the good Captain. Resistance from mass-market retailers means a major delay, and possible cancellation of the planned DC Comics sets featuring outfits to turn Captain Action into Superman and Batman. That’s a pretty huge blow, but it’s not the end of the line for Captain Action.
Captain Action Enterprises has expanded the scope of the Captain Action concept beyond simply selling 12″ figures in the mass market. Captain Action will be featured on the cover of the next Overstreet Guide to Comics, which remains the industry standard price guide for comics. An annual publication, this means that Captain Action will be highly visible for the next year.
Also in the next year we will see a four-inch scale figure series, complete with a new version of the rare Silver Streak vehicle, plus we’ll get “Action Elite,” a partnership with the folks who produce high-dollar premium format action figures. The good news is that there will be new 12″ product. The bad news is that it will probably cost around $150 per figure.
We may also see the “Amazing Heroes” line of 5″ figures, which will include Captain Action, but that project is at the mercy of Kickstarter and may face delays.
I believe there will also be additional comic books from IDW, which has done a lot to raise the visibility of the character. The series of pulp-style novels by Jim Beard continues. There is also an animated series in the works with a lot of talented creators working on it, so that could also help convince retailers to give Captain Action another chance.
Working against Captain Action, aside from the fact that CAE is a small company that doesn’t have as much clout as Hasbro or Mattel, is the way the toy has been handled by Toys R Us.
When CAE and Round 2 Corp revived Captain Action with the Marvel license in 2012, Toys R US enthusiastically supported the line, and was rewarded with great sales when the new Captain Action and uniform sets that let kids dress him as Spider-man and Captain America hit stores. In April, 2012, Captain Action was the top-selling specialty toy at Toys R Us.
Unfortunately, Toys R Us responded to this success by increasing their orders and asking for a new figure variant for the second wave of outfits. The increased orders and hastily-assembled new figure caused a strain on the factories in China, and the figures shipped later than originally planned.
By that time, Toys R Us had some management changes, and botched the distribution of this new, larger order of Captain Action, Dr. Evil, Arctic Captain Action and outfits for Thor and Loki. Only 45% of Toys R Us stores got these figures in time for the 2012 Christmas season. Many, like the store here in Charleston, never got the second wave at all.
This left Toys R Us with a sizable number of unsold units. That, coupled with the fact that the third wave was to include an Iron Man outfit, caused Toys R Us to cancel their orders for the third wave, which was to have a variant Captain Action and outfits for Iron Man and Wolverine.
By this point, in 2013, Iron Man was a dirty word with Toys R Us. Toys based on Iron Man 2, from 2011, simply did not sell. The nation’s top toy chain had warehouses full of unsold Iron Man action figures, and made the decision not to accept any more…of any kind.
At the time, Toys R Us was quite open to the idea of carrying new Captain Action sets based on DC Comics characters, for which Round 2 had obtained a license to make toys.
However, there was yet another management change at Toys R Us earlier this year, this time at the very top, and the new regime decided to blow out their overstocked warehouses and slash orders for new products. Unfortunately for Captain Action Enterprises, this meant that the unsold Captain Action figures (which Toys R Us had already paid for) would be dumped at a ridiculous discount–well below cost–and that has hurt the chances to place Captain Action with another retailer. It also means that Toys R Us is not interested in the planned Superman, Batman, Joker and Braniac outfits now.
Wave three was produced and sold through comic book stores as a way to amortize the loss of Toys R Us as a retailer. I don’t believe the sales were stong enough to allow the line to continue as a comic-book-store-only series. There simplay aren’t enough comic shops that sell enough toys to make it a viable market for an action figure like Captain Action. In order to keep the quality high and the price low, at least one mass-market retailer is needed to keep this line going.
Because of the blowout prices going on now at Toys R Us, that’s less likely to happen now. Just last week on a road trip, I was able to pick up an Arctic Captain and a Dr. Evil for ten bucks. That was for both, not each. That was an eighty percent discount over their original prices. The buyers at Target, Walmart or K Mart will look at that and wonder why they should buy an action figure and try to sell it for twenty bucks when Toys R Us is selling them for as low as four dollars.
At the very least, the timing is bad for Captain Action as a mainstream toy right now. But all hope is not lost.
Eventually, Toys R Us will sell out of all of their Captain Action figures, and the prices on those will shoot up on eBay. The premium format line, which faces a bit of an obstacle because the retail price will probably rival the cost of some vintage pieces, could establish and rehabiliate the brand. Maybe in a year or so, when the track record of Captain Action includes “sold out at $150″ instead of “blown out at four bucks,” toy buyers might be more open to a twenty-dollar version with DC Comics outfits.
CAE is already on the right track. The recent Tonner Doll of Lady Action has been a hit at $180. The first release in the Elite line will also be Lady Action, and she’s a sharp-looking action figure. If all goes according to plan, Captain Action will have a shot at returning to the mass market. It may take some time, and we may have to wait until they can coordinate the release with a certain upcoming movie with Superman and Batman in it, but I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic.
Meanwhile, I have to take my hat off to Ed Catto and Joe Ahearn, of Captain Action Enterprises, for going above and beyond the call of duty to revive Captain Action. It takes a lot of persistance to keep at this in spite of all the odds. Social media has allowed an almost instant and panicked reaction to all this, but they’ve responded in a calm and reasoned manner.
I’m going to repost most of their response to a fan here:
“We too surely do feel the frustration about the timing of the Round 2 DC sets. According to the original plan, we should be making Wave 8 by now!
A few of the guys out there tend to bash everything in public forums, and denigrate all the efforts we put into various projects, and that- frankly – gets very wearisome. Getting on the cover of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, for instance, is a HUGE deal. We’ll be in every comic shop front and center and in many bookstores. And they’ll be advertising that for the entire next year too. And by doing that, we’ll be right in front of the guys (for a year) who make the ordering decisions for the Round 2 sets.
To a lesser extent, the same thing applies to the Tonner Lady Action, the Captain Action Cat series and all the other projects. We can tell you that the first buyer at Toys R Us told us he saw the Sideshow CA statue and Moonstone series every Wednesday when he bought his comics…and that directly led to them buying in for Round 2.
So when some fans denigrated the SDCC panel because there’s no news – we tend to find that debilitating on a personal level. But hey, In a perfect world we would’ve absolutely had a Batman Prototype up there to show everyone.
As discerning fans, we’ve been defying the odds time and time again with the Round 2 sets. We’re proud to have been able to bring everyone major Marvel characters to add to their collections which was no small feat. Right now, no other company seems to be doing 1/6 scale, let alone classic Silver Age figures, and some of the experts – like the Mattel Barbie line, are faltering. (Sales down 15% vs.YA). And Toys R Us, our lead retailer is struggling. They just had a big round of layoffs and another round is rumored. Round 2 as a company does a poor job at selling licensed toys into other big-box retailers, and beyond that we all know those retailers are having their own troubles.
So the short answer as respects DC is “nothing is for sure”. This whole line was never supposed to happen, and then just about cancelled several times along the way. We were never supposed to secure the DC license and then we did. The comics were supposed to be cancelled and then we took a step up as Dynamite is now our publisher. And as you guys all know by now, there’s lot of things going on behind the scenes too.
We’re sorry that we didn’t have Round 2 Prototypes to share at the SDCC Contest Panel. We wish, probably more than anybody, because we put so much into this – that we were further along with Round 2 sets. But like the kids used to say “I’m not the boss of them” (i.e. Round2). And we’re certainly not “the boss” of the TRU buyer or the Diamond Buyer either.
All we can assure you is that we’ll continue to put way too much time into Captain Action and that we too are excited to see more costume sets manufactured. We have not abandoned 1/6 scale by any stretch of the imagination. As you know we just announced our new Lady Action figure with Go Hero. Maybe it’s not what you were hoping for or maybe you are unable to afford a higher quality figure, but there are a lot of collectors out there who play in this world. If there wasn’t, Sideshow and Hot Toys wouldn’t be in business.
The world is rapidly changing in terms of retailing, television programming and manufacturing. It’s not 1967 now and never will be again, but you already know that. We do know that it is extraordinarily frustrating for many guys on this list, and especially collectors like Ed, who never had a Batman set as a kid. (He’s been called liar about that too, btw) and we can assure you it will be very frustrating for all fans everywhere with a very narrow definition of Captain Action as simply a 12 inch action figure. No property works that focused any more, and while we respect everyone’s right to like what they like, we’ll continue to work as hard as we can to expand the brand and make better things happen for Captain Action.
Right now, as you all are aware we are working hard on getting a Captain Action Animated Series off the ground. This will be a major game changer and greatly impact the things we will be able to do for the brand as a whole going forward and perhaps alleviate some of the product development frustrations by being able to work with bigger and better companies as we move forward.
As always, we are thankful for the support we have gotten.
Joe & Ed”
So, keep your fingers crossed for the future of Captain Action. We’re giving major kudos to Ed and Joe for their candor in an industry where secrecy and obfuscation is the norm. This is not the first attempt at reviving Captain Action. A book could be written about why the 1999 revival failed to click with toy buyers, but this time fans of the good Captain are lucky to have two dedicated collectors helming a more calculated rebirth of this cool toy from the 1960s.