Conan the Barbarian was introduced in stories written by Robert E. Howard. He first published his short stories in pulp magazines beginning in 1932. He wound up completing 21 stories before he ended his own life in 1936.
While only 17 of his stories had been published before his passing away, L. Sprague de Camp set out to bring the entirety of his stories to publication when he began managing the license in 1967. With the backing of Lancer Books, Conan the Barbarian had a new wave of popularity beginning in 1966. De Camp touched up and edited the older stories as well as introduced brand new tales to the franchise. With the help of Lin Carter and others, he unearthed the previously unpublished stories and completed many of Howard’s incomplete stories.
At the height of Connan’s revived popularity, Marvel Comics began creating a brand new set of adventures in their comic books. With art from Barry Windsor-Smith and a story from Roy Thomas, the first comic launched a long line of series that lasted for years. This series continued strong for decades, only ending in 1993 after 275 issues.
With Connan’s comic book series running strong, Mego saw it fit to add him to their World’s Greatest Super Heroes toy line. Thus, they created an 8-inch-tall action figure that depicted the muscled barbarian. This figure featured both a wild mane of black hair and a faux fur loincloth. Otherwise, this toy came with an axe accessory as well as a sword in a scabbard on his belt.
All of this built up to one of Connan’s greatest moments to shine in the public eye. In 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger cemented his place as a leading man when he took on the titular role of Conan the Barbarian. This former Mr. Universe managed to make it look like the comics and stories came to life in the film. The success of this film directed by John Millius launched both Connan and Schwarzenegger into stardom.
Thus, Connan quickly returned to theaters in 1984 with the sequel film, Conan the Destroyer. Even though Schwarzenegger once again reprised his role, the film did not receive the same fanfare as the original. Still, this sequel film directed by Richard Fleischer was successful enough to prompt a spin-off movie, Red Sojna in 1985.
In the wake of this movie, Remco decided to create a single action figure of the muscle-bound warrior. This toy seemed to mix the aesthetics of the movie with the Marvel Comics character. It also had a strong resemblance to another barbarian-type character that had been making waves in the toy aisle, He-Man.
With the final Conan book being published in 1986, the comics concluding in 1993, and the movie series stopping in its tracks after the spin-off, Conan only remained in the public eye through a few television shows in the 90s. During this time, a cartoon series named Conan the Adventurer was produced by Jetlag Productions along with Sunbow. This series ran for two seasons from 1992 to 1993. By the end of its run, it had aired 65 episodes.
Along with this cartoon series, Hasbro took on the license to create their brand of Conan the Adventurer toys. This toy line only had one series that popped up in 1992. There were 8 around 7-inch-tall action figures of various characters from the series. These figures included Conan the Adventurer, Conan the Explorer, Conan the Warrior, Greywolf, Ninja Conan, Skulkur, Wrath-Amon, and Zula. Each of these action figures featured special action gimmicks and weapon accessories. Hasbro also produced 3 horses that Connan could ride. These ridable horses were Demon Hunter, Demon Hunter Battle Stallion, and Thunder Battle Stallion.
A new era kicked off when Dark Horse picked up the license and began producing their take on the character in 2003. This era harkened back to the bloody and violent tone of Howard’s original stories. By the time Dark Horse stopped creating Conan comics in 2018, there were 240 issues full of barbarian action.
Dark Horse’s new comic book series inspired McFarlane Toys to create a new generation of toy collectibles. This new toy line had two series. The first series only carried the Conan the Barbarian name while the second gained the Hour of the Dragon subtitle.
There were six six-inch scale action figures within the first series of toys. This series featured Belit, Conan of Cimmeria, Conan the Indomitable, the Fire Dragon, Skifell, and Svadun. McFarlane also produced six action figures for the Hour of the Dragon series. This series featured Conan the Warrior, King Conan of Aquilonia, the Man-Eating Hunter of the Pits, Pallantidesof the Black Dragons, Xaltotun the Undead, and Zenobia.
Conan the Barbarian also returned to movie theaters with this new wave of popularity. This new take on Conan was directed by Marcus Nispel and produced by Millenium Films. This time around, Jason Momoa, who later gained even greater fame in Game of Thrones and Aquaman, played the part of the muscle-bound barbarian. Despite the high production value of this film, it did not meet expectations when it came out in 2011.
Even though no new toy lines appeared along with the 2011 movie, Conan would not stay away from the toy aisle forever. In recent years, two companies have produced new waves of Conan toys.
Super 7 has produced a series of Conan toys in their Ultimates line, averaging around 7 inches tall. Complimenting these action figures are a few accessories like the Throne of Aquilonia set. Super 7 has also been the first company to bring fans of the 1982 film toys of their favorite characters. They have made action figures of various versions of Schwarzenegger’s Conan and Thulsa Doom. They plan to release a 4th wave of these action figures, featuring King Conan, by winter 2023.
Then, Mezco Toys has also produced a collector-tier 1/12th scale Conan the Barbarian action figure. This toy set out to reflect the art of one of the most famous artists that have focused on Conan: Frank Franzetta. They have also produced a 1/12th scale figure of Conan the Conqueror.
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