“Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank the Valley of Gnarl and the founding of Eternos, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. Hither came Vikor, the He-Man of the North, black-haired, sullen-eyed, axe in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of Eternia beneath his booted feet…”
–Tu-Tor, Royal Scholar
“Stop filling my little boy’s head with all that nonsense, Tu-Tor. He-Man’s just a myth.”
There’s a persistent, but untrue, legend that Masters of the Universe (MOTU) was originally developed as a toyline for the movie Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which came out in May 1982. This much is true: Mattel entered a licensing agreement with Conan Properties, Inc. (CPI) in July 1981 to produce toys based on the film, and in January 1982, Mattel backed out of the deal.* A month later, Mattel debuted their company-owned Masters of the Universe toyline at Toy Fair. CPI then sued Mattel for copyright infringement and, for reasons I’ll discuss in a later post, lost the case.
However, it appears that Conan and MOTU weren’t quite through with each other. Enter Vikor, a Classics figure based on an early piece of concept art by Mattel designer Mark Taylor. While I wouldn’t accuse Taylor of directly ripping off Conan, there’s clearly a resemblance between Vikor and Conan as he was depicted by Barry Windsor Smith in his Marvel comic (right down to his wearing a necklace, a detail absent from the original Robert E. Howard stories but a distinctive feature of the Marvel depiction).
Look, Vikor is Conan. It’s obvious. We should just count ourselves lucky that we got a Four Horsemen-sculpted Conan as part of the Masters of the Universe Classics line. For many of us, it’s a dream crossover. You might ask: how can Mattel get away with it, particularly given their notoriously fastidious legal department? Remember that court case they won? That’s why.** Mattel is apparently confident CPI won’t try to come after them again, given the results of the previous lawsuit. But had CPI made a better case back then, there might be no Vikor–and possibly no MOTUC–today.
Then there’s the question of the name “Vikor.” Where did it come from? I wasn’t sure, and my attempts at researching it came up empty, so I turned to former MOTU comic artist, Hasbro designer and noted He-Man historian Emiliano Santalucia for the story.
“What we know is [Vikor] was a name that appeared on some paperwork Mattel has, among other possible names for the main hero of the line. Another was Megaton Man,” Santalucia told me in an email. “We never knew if [Vikor] was ever attached to that specific illustration–personally, I believe it wasn’t. Interestingly enough, Roger Sweet says the name was Vykon–he may be remembering it wrong, or that could be just an alternate version of the name proposed.”
Packaging: I still think Mattel should reduce that big logo so that the heads can be seen fully. If you’re a MOC collector, you can’t see the horns on Vikor’s helmet. But it’s nice that the axe and shield are front and center.
But I do like the “Powers of Grayskull” sticker, which places Vikor alongside He-Ro, King Grayskull, and the upcoming Preternia Disguise He-Man.
I should mention, getting this figure out is a pain, thanks to the way the fur cape and sword (on his lower back) are threaded through the blister. Be careful you don’t bend the sword too much.
Design & Sculpt: Vikor features the best sculpting we’ve seen on a MOTUC figure so far. Period.
Look how much care was put into this figure. The headsculpt is entirely new. It’s worth noting the face actually looks even more like Conan’s traditional comics look than Taylor’s art does. The helmet features a fairly intricate ornament along the brow and even has tiny dents on it.
The right biceps is new, featuring a brown strap that I’m not even sure is visible on the original art, meaning Mattel spent money on something they easily could have skipped. Obviously the forearms are new, featuring wrist-cuffs complete with metal chains, a feature from the art that raises intriguing questions as to Vikor’s back story–when was he chained? Is he a freed slave a la Conan the Barbarian (bearing in mind the sketch predates the film)?
The loincloth is new, and man, is it nice to have something more natural-looking than furry underwear. And finally there’s the fur cape, also entirely new, which is held on to the body via the necklace. And lest we forget, the back of the loincloth is brand-new as well, and features a small sheath for his sword, to replicate the concept art.
From a design point of view, Vikor features two changes. First is the new ankle joint, which covers the round peg joint entirely. While this is clearly better from an aesthetic point of view, my understanding is that it also tightens the joint. I can say that my Vikor’s ankles were rock-solid (but did still have a decent amount of side-to-side motion).
The other change is the switch from the “barbell” style neck peg to one anchored on a crossbar in the torso (you can see a graphic illustrating the difference here). Supposedly this type of joint caused, by Mattel’s own admission, the infamous “bobblehead” problem on female figures like the Goddess and Teela; so why they’d bring it back on the male figures is beyond me.
That said, contrary to some reports I have not noticed a significant reduction in the range of motion on my Vikor’s neck. My bigger concern is for the long-term durability of the joint. Vikor’s head is very tight, and I worry the new peg is thinner and therefore weaker and more liable to snap. Suffice to say that having taken the photos for this review, I don’t intend to remove his head ever again.
Plastic & Paint: Again, sometimes Mattel really brings their A-game to this line, and Vikor is a great example of that.
The head has some of the best work, from the metallic sheen of the helmet, to the golden gleam of the ornament, to the naturalistic color and texture of the horns, which even have brown tips. The paint apps are clean, and the eyes are properly centered.
Looking at the pics, you’ll notice that the skin tone of the arms and legs is slightly lighter and more yellow-ish than that of the torso. It’s the sort of thing that looks noticeably worse in photos than it does in person. It isn’t something I care about much, but some of you do so I thought I’d mention it.
The loincloth is fairly pliable, though it does impede the articulation just a bit close to the thighs. The fur cape is fairly stiff, which is a bit disappointing, since it tends to hang a little oddly as a result.
My only complaint about the paint is that it’s unfinished around the edges of the wrist-cuffs and the biceps-strap, leaving flesh-tone.
Articulation: Vikor features the standard MOTUC articulation: ball joints at the neck, shoulders, and hips; swivel joints at the biceps, wrists, waist, top of the thighs, and top of the boots; and hinges at the abdomen, elbows, knees, and ankles, with some good side-to-side “rocker” motion in the ankles as well.
The fur cape somewhat limits with the articulation of Vikor’s head.
Accessories: Yet another thing I love about Vikor. Vikor’s sword, axe, and shield are based closely on the concept art, but what I love about them is their oddly “futuristic” look with their slender, banded handles. They don’t look like typical barbarian weaponry–they’re just a bit too smooth and slick, as if they’d been produced by mechanical means. They add an appropriately MOTU-esque science fiction touch to an otherwise very barbaric figure. Perhaps these were weapons left behind by He-Ro or Hordak during their war on Eternia.
The shield looks more traditional, with a certain Mongolian flair.
It needs to be noted that these weapons look great. In particular, they have a neat dry-brush that makes the weapons look used without being aged. It’s a bit unevenly spread, as it covers the entire shield while being centered on the haft of the axe and the hilt of the sword, but it’s still a nice touch.
Quality Control: I had no problems with my Vikor, but again, I’m a bit concerned about that neck peg.
Overall: I love this action figure. I love Conan, I love MOTU, and heck, I even love Vikor as a concept. The sculpting, the look, the weapons…let me put it this way. One of my friends is Jake, a diehard Conan fan who occasionally comments here on the blog, but nonetheless really only collects G.I. Joe. I showed Jake Vikor and asked if he wanted me to get him one, and he said yes. So even casual fans wanted this figure.
Vikor is the first figure out of the MOTUC gate for 2011, and already he’s in contention for my Favorite Toy of the Year. Well done, Four Horsemen & Mattel.
* The oft-repeated but, to my knowledge, unverified story is that when Mattel executives were given a preview of the blood-drenched, R-rated Conan the Barbarian, they got cold feet and tried to terminate the licensing contract. I haven’t found any reliable accounts about this, however, so for now it remains hearsay. I will say it sounds plausible.