Review > Scarabus (Gothitropolis, Four Horsemen)

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It’s taken over two years for me to review this figure. There are a lot of reasons why, but “sheer procrastination” is probably the most honest one.

For those who don’t know, Scarabus was made and sold by design-studio-turned-toy-company The Four Horsemen. They started out as sculptors for McFarlane Toys in the mid-1990s. They were responsible for many fantastic and memorable figures. In 1999, they left McFarlane to form their own design studio and were swiftly contracted by Mattel to revamp the Masters of the Universe toyline. The result was Millennium (200x) MOTU. Mattel not only gave the 4H credit for their work on the line, but – in stark contrast to McFarlane – actually used the Horsemen as a selling point to collectors.

Flash forward to 2006 – Millennium MOTU is defunct and Masters of the Universe Classics is two years away. The Horsemen found themselves with a sizable fan base thanks to their work on MOTU but, aside from DC Super Heroes, no high-profile toyline to work on. And so they created the FANtastic Exclusive, a website where collectors and fans were asked to vote on a character that the Horsemen would turn into an action figure. Fans voted on the character, scale, articulation, accessories, and more. There was a wide breadth of characters and lines presented, but somewhat predictably, given the Horsemen’s MOTU-loving fans, the voting had a strong bias toward fantasy characters. The first winner was Xetheus, a minotaur; the second was Ramathorr, a giant elephant-man; and the third was Scarabus, a dark wizard.

Technically, the first two characters were part of the “Seventh Kingdom” toyline, a pseudo-medieval fantasy realm. Scarabus was part of a separate line called “Gothitropolis,” a futuristic world of science and dark sorcery. However, Scarabus fits in perfectly with the fantasy look of the first two figures, which I suspect is why he won.

Producing Scarabus was an expensive proposition for the Four Horsemen, and it was only a few months ago that they broke even. Horseman Eric “Cornboy” Mayse cited the cost of petroleum (which is in the plastic, paint, packaging, and shipping) as the main reason for rising costs (though I suspect the rising price of labor in China is a contributing factor). The fourth FANtastic Exclusive figure, the Raven (also from Gothitropolis), was selected three years ago, but the 4H found the cost of producing him even more prohibitive than Scarabus. Eventually they turned to Kickstarter, and the rest is history. (Most of the preceding information comes from Cornboy’s appearance on the Collector Connection.)

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Full disclosure: I never voted for Scarabus – at least, not in the first round. I remember voting for Xetheus the first year, and then every year after that I voted for a blue gargoyle, also from Gothitropolis. I still don’t get why that gargoyle didn’t draw in the fantasy-oriented fan base. He was basically Lord Dactus. It also perplexes me why NECA is making the Spider Gremlin before the Gargoyle Gremlin from Gremlins 2, but I digress.

I consider Xetheus (the FANtastic Exclusive minotaur) one of the greatest action figures ever made. It has an amazing sculpt, superb paint work, excellent articulation and great accessories. Unfortunately, the second FANtastic Exclusive, Ramathorr the elephant-man and his variants, had a ton of quality control issues. I’m happy to report that Scarabus represents a return to the quality of Xetheus, although evidently at quite a cost, as mentioned above.

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The packaging, like most things about Scarabus, is great. The back features an extensive biography for the character and the Gothitropolis universe, cross-sell photos of the Scarabus variants, full credits for everyone involved with producing the figure, plus some amazing artwork by Nathan “Baena” Baertsch. The best part about the packaging is the backing card can be removed and replaced easily. That’s always a big plus for collectors who enjoy packaging but also prefer to open their toys.

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Open the card and you’re rewarded with Scarabus and his immense pile of accessories. Here’s the parts list:

  • 1 Scarabus figure
  • 2 open hands (attached to figure in package)
  • 2 fists
  • 2 hands for gripping accessories
  • 2 “fire” accessories for hands
  • 2 alternate faces
  • 2 articulated “insect legs” that attach to the back
  • 1 staff
  • 2 interchangeable heads for staff
  • 3 alternate costume parts for Timekeepers

That’s, as they say, a lotta toy.

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I’ve always considered Mandarin Spawn to be the gold standard for action figure sculpting. While any of the Horsemen are capable of such great work, Eric Treadaway’s sculpt for that figure is in my mental Hall of Fame. And so it means something when I say Scarabus is very close to or perhaps on par with Mandarin Spawn, but with the added bonus of more articulation.

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I really can’t do justice to this sculpt with mere words. At times I’ve looked into getting some basic art criticism training, solely so I can have some sort of vocabulary to discuss work like this. What you’ll notice most immediately on this sculpt are the details. The Four Horsemen have spent the last five or six years giving us great, but stylistically simplistic sculpts for Masters of the Universe Classics and DC Universe Classics. This is what happens when the Horsemen can really run wild. It’s why so many fans still pine for the return of Millennium MOTU.

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The cape is removable, although the slender look that results isn’t nearly as imposing. On the other hand, the cape is made from a fairly strong material and doesn’t have much give, which limits posing options.

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In terms of paint applications, Scarabus again represents a master class for other toy creators. Just looking at the photos, you can see why producing this figure could have bankrupted the Horsemen. The only negative I have to say about the paint work it’s a bit easy to scratch, particularly the matte black parts such as the hands.

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In terms of articulation, Scarabus features:

  • A ball-hinged neck. The cape really limits the range due to the big ram horns, but if you remove the cape you can get a lot more out of it.
  • Ball-hinges on the “insect legs” that attach to his back. The pegs that plug into the holes on the back are very loose, and the legs tend to fall off with the slightest jostling, especially if the cape is on. It’s really annoying.
  • Ball-hinge shoulders
  • Swivel biceps
  • Hinged elbows
  • Ball-hinge wrists
  • Swivel waist
  • H-hinge hips. As you can see from the photo above, when you push the thighs forward, the robes stay attached. It looks really odd, and I wonder whether not attaching the robes would have looked better. This is why I generally hate characters with robes (Hasbro got it right with Darth Maul, using a mix of soft plastic and fabric – though I’m not sure that would work nearly as well with any color other than black).
  • Swivel thighs. These are stuck on my figure, and I don’t think the benefit is worth risking breaking the peg.
  • Hinged knees
  • Ball-hinge ankles

While there is a lot of articulation, much of it is limited by the figure’s design. If you remove the cape, you can do a bit more with him, but again, it might look a bit odd. In theory, the figure is super-articulated, but in practice this isn’t really a figure you’re going to put through its paces. It feels more like a DC Collectibles figure than a DC Universe Classics figure in that regard.

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I listed all the accessories above. The hands are fairly easy to swap out, and the pegs are strong. You’ll want to be careful fitting the staff into his hand because it’s easy to scrape the paint, and the grip is actually too tight to hold it where the black bands are on the staff. The green “flames” fit on his fingers perfectly, however, and look totally awesome. It’s the kind of accessory that should have been included with every Spawn figure ever made.

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If you happen to own a Timekeeper, you can dress him up in the alternate outfit included with Scarabus.

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The last FANtastic Exclusive figure, the elephants and their variants, suffered greatly from quality control issues. I haven’t run across any of that here. This figure is as well-made as the first FANtastic Exclusive figures, the Minotaurs (which rank among the finest action figures I’ve ever owned).

When these were produced back in 2011, $30 seemed like a steep price. In the two years since, Marvel Legends have crept up to $20 apiece and MOTUC is at $27, so now $30 seems dead-on or perhaps even a deal considering the quality and the number of accessories. (Of course, the Horsemen couldn’t produce this figure for $30 today – even the upcoming Ravens are roughly in the $33-apiece range, with fewer parts and paint applications on the whole.)

Unfortunately, today the Four Horsemen are sold out of Scarabi. If they can afford to do so, I think they should put Scarabus back into production. Given the aftermarket prices the demand is there, and there may be a new cadre of fans (thanks to the Ravens Kickstarter) who would love to own Scarabus and, heck, the Minotaurs or perhaps even the Elephants too. I know I’d pick up one or two more Minotaurs given a second chance.

Scarabus, like Xetheus (the Minotaur) before him, is one of the finest action figures ever made in the 6″ scale. If you don’t own one, you’re definitely missing out.

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Comments now closed (6)

  • i have to disagree with one of your observations here poe… "I’m happy to report that Scarabus represents a return to the quality of Xetheus" my xetheus' articulation was not nearly as firm and in place as scarabus, not even on day 1. xetheus suffers, or mine does, from ankles that are just loose enough that i basically have to pose him standing straight up and down to keep his chest weight over those hooves. i can pose scarabus a lot diversely, shifting his weight between hooves with greater stability. his joints are much tighter, and i can feel the ratchets all over.

    now, that said… you should free up those thigh swivels. they helps enormously in being able to keep his hooves on the ground, so you can get more poses out of his legs. i would argue that he's much more posable than a DCC fig, easily as so as a DCU fig, despite the lack of ab crunch. it does sadden me to hear that your bug legs pop out so easily. i mean this in the nicest possible way, but are you sure you're popping them all the way in? i have scarabus and 4 of the variants and the legs are all kept in the sockets, even when they've gone into storage, and i've had no issues keeping the legs in. it could be a QC thing, but check the fit first, that might be it.

    personally, i love the evil bastard. i took the cape off of haures' shoulder armor (it's glued, but it's glued around three tabs, and not glue terribly well, so a little pull and it comes off, but it can be popped back onto the tabs if you want the armor and cape together again) and was very happy w/ that. i did have, like yourself, one leg where the mid-thigh swivel had paint fused, but i freezer tricked and get her working. other than that, i've had no issues. after the brittle weapon issues w/ aluxxandra and the timekeepers, i was beyond pleased to see that scarabus got such a huge upswing in the QC department, firm but flexible weapons, tight articulation, and that sculptwork… it's hard not to look at motuc through a 7th K or gothitropolis lens and muse on what could be, if the horsemen were given free range to make motuc everything it could be. it's also beyond insulting when TG repeats the manta that the horsemen send him statues and that the mattel team works out the articulation… cornboy himself said that's not true, and we know from their in-house lines that horsemen articulation is as good or better than a lot of what mattel has given us over the years.

    lastly, it goes without saying that if you've got more than one of the scarabi, the swappability of faces, heads, bug legs, armor, weapons, make for it's own form of play. my boys went nuts when i got them in, seeing all what could be swapped between figs… this is why i laugh every time i hear how action figures have lost out to video games on the mass market. if the average 10 year old got some of the figs i've got, they're blow a head gasket. scarabus was a great example, he had no press, no commercial tie in, no recognition from my kids, yet i literally couldn't unpack them fast enough, and he was sturdy enough that i didn't feel like i had to worry about them breaking him. the only thing that scared me at first was them swapping out the spearhead for the scepter top, but after testing that myself, i handed it right back to them and we had no issues. hell, some of the toys specifically made for their age group didn't hold up that well to their play!

    • That's great to hear your kids liked them so much. They're definitely awesome figures.

      As for Xetheus, my Keeper of the Black Labyrinth is a little loose, but he's mostly fine.

      I'll see if I can loose up my Scarabus's thighs. Wow, that sounds dirty.

  • There really needs to be a way for the 4H to get some reissues of the Minotaurs and Elephants. Even if it's just Xetheus and Ramathorr.

    And holy crap I had no idea the Scarabus figs were going for so much on eBay. Not only that but it seems they're super scarce. The figure is very awesome and shows as you said why there are still those that want articulated MOTU Millennium figures.

  • I have a Scarabus (purple and silver version; I think it’s the Dormant version), and I love him, but I desperately wish they’d release the damn elephant again. I consider it my greatest failing as a man that I don’t have that toy.

    • I think they'd still have to do some retooling on that figure. Even the second run had issues – for example, the pegs that attached to the hip ball joints were too small and the legs popped off easily.