I swear to you that a look back at toys isn’t going to solely cover wrestling related ones, but M.U.S.C.L.E. Men was an immensely satisfying toy line that in addition to being a fun toy in itself, incorporated aspects of collecting, creating 8-year-old obsessives and priming them for a Pog, Beanie Baby, and Pokemon card filled future.
If you’re looking for a deep dive into the history of Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere (M.U.S.C.L.E.) Men, look elsewhere on the Internet (after reading this, of course!). I’m not going to get into the Japanese history of this toy because that wasn’t part of my experience with it as a child. Instead, I’m going to focus on my personal memories interspersed with some facts related to the toy’s release and run.
M.U.S.C.L.E. Men launched in 1986 (“Men” isn’t actually part of the name, but that’s what I always called them, so deal). They were first introduced in Japan, based upon a manga called Kinnikuman, but like I said I didn’t know that at the time so it’s been mentioned and now we move on. They were small, hard plastic figures, about an inch tall, and flesh colored. Subsequent releases featured a number of colors, including red, purple, and orange, so it was almost like you had different stables of wrestlers, even though the characters were just repeated in a different shade..
There were two factors that really made M.U.S.C.L.E. Men stand out. The first was the character variety. Character types ran the gamut from traditional looking professional wrestlers to aliens, mythological creatures, and demons. The figures were very inexpensive (a four pack was a dollar), so you could pack a lot of variety into a couple of bucks. My preference shaded towards the ones that looked more like traditional wrestlers and ones that resembled superheroes. I also liked the flesh colored ones best, mostly because they were the first available so I became used to them.Given the relative cheapness of the characters and the medium the designers were working in, the variety was very impressive. In all there were 233 wrestler designs. Some of my favorites were Planet Man, King the 100 Ton, One Million Magnitude, and Muscleman himself, the face of the line.
Like the WWF Superstar toys I covered in an earlier post, the other factor that made M.U.S.C.L.E. memorable was the wrestling ring, or as it was called, the “Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Ring Wrestling Arena.” As I mentioned before, the figures were hard plastic, so they didn’t have any give to them. You were reduced to smashing them together and not much more. With the ring you still smashed them together, but it added the wrinkle of two clamps jutting out from opposite sides of the ring. You and a friend would each place a M.U.S.C.L.E. Man in a clamp, and then each would manipulate a knob that jutted out of the ring, essentially smashing the figures into one another in a side to side motion (or I manipulated both because my sisters were too caught up in playing with something dumb like Cabbage Patch Dolls or Barbies). You get knocked out first, you lose. In case I didn’t weave a clear enough visual tapestry for you to follow, think Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Same concept.
Alas, M.U.S.C.L.E. Man’s flame burned too bright, and the toy line was discontinued in 1988 (also according to something I saw online Mattel maybe didn’t actually have the rights to produce them, which likely hastened the demise). I like to think that they were just too weird and wonderful for this cruel world. If you want to re-live the magic or experience M.U.S.C.L.E. Men for the first time, you can pay way too much for them on eBay.
Did you collect M.U.S.C.L.E. Men? Which ones were your favorites? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.