In February 1928, the pulp magazine Weird Tales published a story by reclusive New England author H.P. Lovecraft titled "The Call of Cthulhu." While the story was praised by authors such as Conan creator Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft himself didn't think much of the story. But from the pulpy pages of that flimsy magazine, a future merchandising empire was born.
The figure [...] represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.
- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"
The history of how H.P. Lovecraft went from obscure pulp author to the veneration he receives today has been covered ad infinitum elsewhere, so I won't bore you with the details (for once). Suffice to say that in the pursuit of his literary ambition Lovecraft melded supernatural and science fiction in a way that's still influential to this day. Lovecraft began by writing traditional horror tales with supernatural threats, but eventually he turned to science and invented scientific explanations for common supernatural folklore and phenomena. In "The Call of Cthulhu," the titular monster is not a spawn of Satan but an ancient alien with vast psychic powers who slumbers in a strange city beneath the sea, both alive and dead (Schrödinger's Cthulhu?), because "that is not dead which can eternal lie."
Lovecraft's works are largely out of copyright, though the publisher Arkham House lays some claim to the publishing rights and lashes out with its lawyer-like claws at anyone who attempts to put the texts online for free. Wizards of the Coast, who own the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying franchise, own a few trademarks for gaming products. But when Jerry Macaluso, founder and until recently president of SOTA Toys, discovered that no one had ever sued producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, From Beyond), he decided to go ahead and fulfill his (and many other fans') dream of superbly sculpted Lovecraft-inspired action figures. Titled "Nightmares of Lovecraft," the line also includes Dagon (from the eponymous short story) and the Ghoul from "Pickman's Model." The prototype Cthulhu first debuted at the 2004 San Diego Comic Con. I was elated upon seeing it, but it would be more than two years before the damned thing (har har) would see production.
Cthulhu comes in a giant window box. The graphics, I have to admit, aren't particularly attractive, and the background of the box is black
so it's hard to see the figure. Not ideal for MOC collecting. However, the box packaging means there are no twist-ties, always a plus.
First off - yes, the thing is small. He's about five inches tall to the top of his back-spikes, but he's bulky enough that it doesn't feel like a rip-off. He's comparable to those McFarlane dragons, and his sculpt and articulation largely make up for the size issue.
What to say about the sculpt?
Even after all the trouble they went through with production, the sculpt came out great. First, let's give credit where it's due - the box lists Jerry Macaluso, Alexi Bustamante, Jon Stevens, and Aaron McNaught as sculptors, those it's not clear whether they sculpted only Cthulhu or if all of them worked on the entire Nightmares of Lovecraft line.
Whichever of those fine gentlemen sculpted the Bloated One,
he (or they) definitely took their cue from the "octopus" aspect of Lovecraft's description; Cthulhu is a mass of tentacles and suckers, spikes and ridges. The detail is amazing. He has a round, lamprey-like mouth behind the face tentacles and an Elder Sign on the palm of his right hand. Unfortunately, it's the pentagram-like Elder Sign of August Derleth's Lovecraft pastiches, not the leaf-like image of Lovecraft's own design. Also, I'm compelled to point out that Lovecraft's description states Cthulhu has claws on his feet as well as his hands; SOTA's Cthulhu has only tentacle-covered stumps.
But I believe Macaluso and company weren't going so much for accuracy as they were creativity.
Jerry is a film industry guy (a job he has recently left SOTA to return to full-time), and this, I believe, is his vision for a cinematic Cthulhu, something we might see in a blockbuster adaptation by, say, Guillermo Del Toro. The overall effect of the sculpt gives the figure a thin, spindly look, not quite in keeping with Lovecraft's description, but definitely a change from the paunchy Horrorclix statue. Ironically, while Wizkids' design may be truer to Lovecraft's description, I think SOTA's bizarre, disorienting figure might be more faithful to Lovecraft's intention - to suggest something completely alien to human experience. He certainly evokes Lovecraft's famous description of "a mountain" that "walked or stumbled."
The paint applications are something of an issue. SOTA has admitted to having problems with its factories, and paint is a serious issue with the upcoming third wave of their Now Playing line.
Many fans have said that the paint apps on Cthulhu do not hold up next to the prototype, and while I agree that's true, the prototypes always look a lot better than the production pieces, and Macaluso himself has stated that the production Cthulhu looks as it was always intended to. But at one point he also said Cthulhu would have a gloss wash to give him a "wet" look a la Abe Sapien, and that's just not the case. Personally I don't mind; I think a gloss wash would have been too much. But I know at least one fan (Rustin) who was sorely disappointed by its absence.
Ultimately, the paint applications aren't as sharp as what you get with McFarlane's Dragons. The green flesh tone and the black wash are good. But the details are often sloppy, such as Cthulhu's "eyebrows" and the bony claws on his hands and wings. For $8 more than you're paying for a McFarlane dragon, it's hard to justify this kind of paint work. There are no accessories. A base would have been appreciated, but given the price point it's just as well.
That said, what you do get
is some decent articulation. While Cthulhu's legs are permanently fixed, he does have balljoints at the shoulders, wings, and neck. He also has swivels at the wrist and at the base of each head-tentacle. The head-tentacles may even have balljoints, but I can't tell, so it's effectively a swivel. The head-tentacles are also bendy, which is probably the coolest feature of the articulation. The arms and the tentacles are the only (to use a McFarlane term) "useful articulation"; the wings have a limited range in which they look good, and the balljoint neck, while appreciated, is really only for correctional purposes. Also, it should be noted that the shoulder and wing balljoints have an ugly bright-green joint.
So, is it worth $20? To a diehard Lovecraft fan like myself, yes. To a casual collector, the size and the lackluster paint applications may be too much to overcome at this price point. But if you're like me, you'll find the sculpt is incredible, the paint applications look better in person, and the bendy tentacles are cool. And it's freakin' Cthulhu, for Azathoth's sake!
It's been a long wait - did Cthulhu live up to your expectations? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.