Classic Toys: M.U.S.C.L.E by Mattel
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Originally posted @ http://rtxproductions.blogspot.com
Line of toys: M.U.S.C.L.E (Millions of Unusual Creatures Lurking Everywhere)
Years Produced: 1985-1989
Manufacturer: Mattel (United States)
If you were a kid growing in the 80’s then you most likely had oodles of these things laying around your bedroom or you knew someone who did. These classic toys were no bigger than an inch or so tall and were offered in almost every color in the rainbow. These figures were offered up as humans, aliens, monsters, brick walls, lizards, skulls, and even televisions, and they could be found on peg hooks in stores all over the United States. They were Millions of Unusual Creatures Lurking Everywhere (or M.U.S.C.L.E for short) and they were one of the most popular toys of the 80’s.
The origin of these little “wrestlers” started in 1983 in Japan where they were known as Kinkeshi (owned by Bandai) and they quickly gained a loyal following and eventually Bandai ported the line over to the United States via Mattel as M.U.S.C.L.E circa 1985. The line of toys proved profitable for Mattel and eventually accessories such as a wrestling ring and a championship belt would become staples in toy stores and department stores alongside the tiny little figures. Eventually a videogame for the Nintendo Entertainment System saw release and eventually the figures would see a rebirth in the late 80’s in multiple different colors aside from their original pink/bubblegum style palette. The M.U.S.C.L.E brand became a huge hit in the U.S and it seemed like everyone I knew had buckets of these things, which led me to believe that there were literally thousands of these little figures but in reality there was only 236 “official” figures in the line. There were some knockoff toys made by smaller companies around the same time but the material they used to make the toys was much harder and they had a more glossy shine to them which gave them away as fakes and not produced by Mattel. As the 80’s came to a close these toys eventually faded away from most store shelves but could still be found in their carded 4-pack packaging in odd-lot stores and various toy stores here and there. I remember seeing a lot of these guys lose in bins at flea markets and at yard sales in the mid 90’s, it’s like these little plastic wonders didn’t want to completely leave the public eye. Personally, I haven’t come across these guys anywhere but on eBay in probably 15+ years now and it took a good while for them to fade away in the flea market scene and from thrift stores. These days you can pick these guys up loose in groups or singular characters for fairly cheap on eBay but if you want a complete set or to get some of these guys sealed in their factory packaging then prepare to shell out some big bucks.
Speaking of the factory packaging, M.U.S.C.L.E was marketed in some pretty awesome ways. First and foremost was the blister pack of 4 which retailed for between $.99-$1.99 back in the day, but my favorite was the small “trashcan” style packaging that housed 10 figures and sold for about $6.99. They also came in boxes where one box housed the good guys and the other had the bad guys. I’ll always remember the box the championship belt came in and I remember wanting it so bad but my mom never got it for me and the only way I got to play with it was at a friends house who had one. I even kept trying to trade him stuff from other toy companies back circa 1987 or so and eventually asked for it for my birthday but was unable to secure one for myself. As for the figures themselves I had hundreds of them, some characters I probably had 10+ of the same one, and I remember keeping them in a giant tin bucket in the corner of my room near my closet and playing with them quite often but never as they were intended. They were professional wrestlers meant to have intergalactic matches over the fate of the world, but I think I used them primarily as enemies for generic green army men or as monster fodder for my G.I Joe figures. But I loved them and have fond memories of my dad buying me the 4-packs from local department stores when we would go shopping, and I’ll always remember my mom buying me a “trashcan” or two from the toy store. As for the huge bulk I accumulated I’m fairly certain I acquired from friends via trades or was given some by someone. I honestly can’t remember how I got them all but I remember having hundreds of the original pink ones and dozens of the multicolored re-releases.
Something of note that popped up in the early 2000’s was that one of the figures known as Satan-Cross was extremely rare and possibly not even a part of the original 236 officially released characters. One rumor I remember was that Satan-Cross was created for the line and then scrapped due to his name involving the devil but by the time Mattel realized what they had done they already sent several trucks worth of the figures out to retailers. Having stopped production of this figure and preventing any more from going out, Satan Cross was said to be in limited supply having less than possibly 500 floating around in circulation. To add fuel to the fire of such rumors was that Mattel left Satan-Cross off of a poster they produced showing all 236 figures in the line. Another rumor that began to circulate in the mid 2000’s was that due to the figure having a hole in his back Mattel felt that kids and parents would be confused as to why and return the figure to Mattel with complaints. For those wondering, the hole in the back of Satan-Cross is because he was supposed to merge with another character to create a more powerful entity. The final (and most recent) rumor about Satan-Cross is that he was the first and only figure created for a second series of M.U.S.C.L.E toys but that Mattel cancelled the line in favor of re-releasing their existing figures in different colors, which they eventually did do, and that Satan-Cross (along with 2-3 other super rare figures) was mistakenly placed in “trashcan” packs toward the end of the lines success. To this day the “rarity” of Satan-Cross remains a hot topic among M.U.S.C.L.E collectors and fans with some claiming he’s extremely rare and owning one is the holy grail of collecting these toys, while others refute such claims and say he’s as common as the other 236 figures in the line. Either way it’s an interesting topic and adds to the lore and history of these toys.
Eventually M.U.S.C.L.E would make a comeback in the U.S circa 2002/2003 with a television show, video game, and a new line of action figures. The new toys were nothing like the classics from the 80’s, this time they were bigger and looked more like the Jakks WWF/WWE figures that were being produced at the time with movable limbs and multicolored outfits. Bandai couldn't, and wouldn't, match the popularity the brand had in the 80's and the new line of toys and merchandise quickly faded into obscurity. Some years back, and much to my surprise, I stumbled across multiple forums and online groups dedicated to the preservation of the original line of M.U.S.C.L.E figures as well as a large collectors market via eBay and other online auction sites. It would appear that some 30+ years later that M.U.S.C.L.E still has some nostalgia power and has left an impression on those who let them into their lives as children of the 80’s. I know it still does for me.
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