Author Robert E. Howard’s character Conan, popularly referred to as Conan the Barbarian, has had more toys than you might realize. First there was his Mego figure in the 1970s, who was pretty cool except for his Mary Tyler Moore hair. Then there were the Masters of the Universe-inspired Remco figures in the 1980s. Both the Mego and Remco efforts were based on the Marvel Comics version of the character. In the 1990s there were two short-lived Conan cartoons, Conan the Adventurer and Conan and the Young Warriors (the latter sounds like a 1970s progressive rock band, but I digress). Adventurer got a toy line by Hasbro.¹
Oddly enough, the most well-known piece of Conan media in history didn’t get any toys at the time it came out: the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, a breakout vehicle for California’s current governor (who keeps the film’s iconic sword in his office). Mattel bought the license, but legend has it they took one look at an early reel of the film and got cold feet after seeing all the boobs and beheadings. (Did I just create a new sub-genre of fantasy?) Instead, Mattel dropped the license and moved forward with their Masters of the Universe concept, and the rest is history.²
Once the Adventurer line had come and gone in the early 1990s, there were no Conan figures for nearly a decade. While Schwarzenegger’s Conan was a perennial request among fans of McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs line, McFarlane had such a hard time getting the rights to Arnie’s likeness they went in a completely different direction, creating a line of figures based on the original REH stories—which, in this former English major’s opinion, was pretty damned awesome. Despite the lack of articulation, I’m quite fond of the Conan the Warrior/Man-Eating Haunter of the Pits duo.
A few years later and more Conan figures appeared on the market. The first was based on the Marvel Comics version and was created by “Marvel Toys” (formerly ToyBiz) as a Marvel Legends-style two-pack; Conan was packaged alongside his Marvel Comics archenemy, Wraarl, a.k.a. the Devourer of Souls. Meanwhile, NECA had scored the Conan the Barbarian license and Arnie’s likeness. Fans were rewarded with four figures from the movie: two gladiatorial Conans, a “War Paint” Conan from near the end of the movie and a bronze variant of the “War Paint” figure. Like the McFarlane figures, they were virtually statues.³
Finally, years after those figures came out, NECA has given us one last figure from Conan the Barbarian: Temple of the Serpent Conan. And what do you know–he’s arguably the best figure in the line, too.
Packaging: TOS Conan comes in the same clamshell packaging as his predecessors in the line. I like the use of the movie poster rather than just photos of the figure (and I’m kind of bummed we didn’t get a “Movie Poster” Conan).
Design & Sculpt: The sculpt is based on an early scene when Conan and his pal Subotai first meet Conan’s love interest, the warrior Valeria. Conan is holding the sword in a “high parry” position, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the scene, based on how Valeria is holding her own weapon–but it sure looks cool.
After examining the figure, I believe the legs and boots are actually a re-use from the “War Paint” Conan (which doesn’t mean they’re not well-sculpted). The upper body is all-new, however, and represents that rarest of Conan figures: one wearing a shirt. OK, it’s sleeveless, but still, we’re making progress. It’s that rare look for the character that makes the figure all the more appealing.
The sculpt, done by Kyle “Tankman” Windrix, is as good as it gets. Windrix captures the younger Schwarzenegger–before The Terminator and Commando and Predator and California’s budget woes–in perfect detail. Every bit of leather, every muscle, it’s all there.
Plastic & Paint: NECA has become a leader in the area of paint applications, and for the most part Conan is no exception. The work on the face and hair is particularly good, and the wash on the leather of the shirt looks great. Really excellent work on the upper body.
However, the pants come off just a bit too glossy, making it look more like a statue than its mere lack of articulation would suggest. (I can imagine some of you protesting that it’s light years better than, say, a MOTUC figure, but I don’t compare every figure to every other figure–I grade them on the type of figure they are and how they compare to the rest of the manufacturer’s similar output, and their peers’ output of similar product.)
Articulation: Sadly, Conan is very limited here. He has swivels at the wrists and the top of the boots and ball joints at the neck and waist. It’s just enough to let you mess around with the figure’s one pose to make it perfect, but you’ll never get him into another one. It’s a bummer that we couldn’t even get a Conan as articulated as NECA’s Terminator 2 figures.
Accessories: Conan comes with one accessory–the iconic Atlantean sword. The pommel is removable so you can take it out of his hands. That’s a nice touch, but kind of pointless without another weapon to put in there. Even if it didn’t appear in this particular scene in the movie, it would have been nice to have his father’s sword to swap in.
Quality Control: No problems.
Overall: I have a pattern with NECA figures like this. I see the figure and my initial reaction is, “That looks great, but it’s not articulated, so I’ll skip it.” Then I go back and look at it, again and again, until finally I break down and buy it. I display it for a few months, then eventually get bored with its lack of articulation and toss it in storage, where it usually waits until it gets sold on eBay someday.
Will that happen with Conan? Call me an optimist, but I hope not. I’m probably a bit too fond of the property to do that this time, and this was the one Conan from the line that I just had to have.
Industry-leading sculpting and detailed paint applications? Check. “Action” figure? No.
¹ There was also a a short-lived Conan live-action TV series, Conan: The Adventurer. The colon implies the title of the series is “The Adventurer,” though whether or not Conan is the titular adventurer is evidently open to debate. It starred the big dude who hits Maximus in the stomach with a wooden sword in Gladiator. But it didn’t get any toys, so who cares.
² MOTU had almost certainly already been percolating in the Mattel offices when the Conan agreement was first made, but Conan Properties thought something was fishy and would later unsuccessfully sue Mattel, claiming He-Man was a rip-off of Conan.
³ I interviewed NECA head honcho Randy Falk about this line for ToyFare, and originally he hoped to make a more articulated Conan in the style of their God of War figures, but evidently the line didn’t do well enough for that to happen.