Top Ten Thursday #4

Do you guys remember Top Ten Thursday? Don’t worry. I didn’t either. I stumbled upon it and thought, “Maybe I should try and bring this back?”

M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting is undoubtedly one of the strangest toys to collect. It is incredibly finite, almost nobody ‘had the full set’ as a kid, it lacks almost all the other traits of classic 80’s toys, and even today there’s no proof of anyone having a Master Set. That doesn’t even factor in the tiny, polluted pond bullshit of modern M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting.

Aside from the polluted pond, I kind of like all those oddities. In fact, the oddities and mysteries are probably my favorite part of being a M.U.S.C.L.E. collector. And that’s the theme for this installment…

Top 10 Oddities

#10 – Working Mother

I’m so old, that this was found using Oakland University’s intranet. I was originally able to find a text-only version of the article. The fuzzy memory is how I got the actual magazine. I’m 75% sure it was through an inter-library loan. There’s also an outside chance I own it.

That’s not meant as a weird humble-brag, I just can’t remember. If I have it, then it’s buried with other M.U.S.C.L.E. ephemera – and I’m not digging to check.

My favorite part of this oddity is the picture of the figures. Back when I did the write-up I was still trying to use third person. Infinity years later I can comfortably say, “I 100% believe they emptied a single 10-pack and snapped the picture.”

I really appreciate how the photographer stood up the #107 using the #217 figure. However, what the fuck is happening in the picture? Why are they all circled around #223? What scenario was the photographer trying to create? Crime scene? Gang initiation?

#9 – X-2 “The Futuristic Goalie”

If Satan Cross’ price is almost entirely built on some magical mystique, then why don’t people still care about X-2? Actually the answer is probably as simple as saying, “Well, does anybody care about the Light Bulb Guy?”

No, and super valid point. But I would still argue X-2 is a little different. I know he’s not an actual figure from Mattel, but he was actually considered a “Super Rare” back in the earliest days of M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting. He might be the most underappreciated footnote in M.U.S.C.L.E. history. And if you like the later Kinnikuman sculpts, then you’ll love the figures from the Ramenman spinoff – which always remind me of the shared-universe Scrap Sandayu figures.

With all of that said, my love of this figure might be 100% nostalgia based. He might be my physical representation of the earliest days in the M.U.S.C.L.E. community. (I don’t think I’m the only one.)

#8 – The Textbook

There are a few things that just amaze me about this textbook. One, that anybody ever identified it. Only a M.U.S.C.L.E. collector seeing this book would care. It is simply amazing that it actually happened. And if Gilbert hadn’t discovered it, then I don’t think we would ever know about it.

Two, I think it shows how quickly and thoroughly M.U.S.C.L.E. disappeared from public consciousness. Collectors, including myself, like to say, “Well, it was a top ten selling toy of 1986.” But we all know Mattel dropped it that same year. We also know that different color plastic was the biggest investment in the brand Mattel was willing to make. That’s not really a strategy for a true juggernaut brand. If M.U.S.C.L.E. had been more recognizable, then I don’t think you see it on that cover.

And my favorite part of that silly book was talking to the photographer. Why did I bother that poor man? What did I think I was going to discover? Looking back I really have to give credit to Ryan for being so kind and indulgent. It has to be one of the strangest calls he has ever received, but it is a very cool M.U.S.C.L.E. oddity.

#7 – Uniao Festas Figures

The world of counterfeits and knock-offs is more complex than you would expect for a silly toy like M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. However being unpainted, unarticulated, and relatively small and simple made it an ideal toy to rip off – especially for those $0.25 machines that endlessly beckon children at stores, diners, and just about anyplace that can fit a gumball machine.

In the counterfeit category the FLAF’s are easily my favorite. And MUSCLEMANIA is my favorite knock-off. My favorite straight-up copy, and incredible oddity, are the Uniao Festas figures.

There’s incredible charm in seeing where these these figures specifically came from, but that’s just the cherry on top. I love everything about these silly figures – especially the colors. They give off much more of a “box of crayons” feel because of their vibrancy and variety. And the bright colors really compliment and work with the balloons from the header card. Even the clown, who should be terrifying, works in this combination.

I would open a Class A French-Canadian 4-Pack before I would open one of these. Not a joke; 100% a fact.

#6 – PEZ HiWay Hauler Custom

Not a real M.U.S.C.L.E. item. Doesn’t have any value. And most collectors would never know about it or, rightfully, care about it.

I don’t care. I love this weirdo. I probably love it because it is the only “original” custom M.U.S.C.L.E. item I have ever created that wasn’t a complete embarrassment. I don’t think I have ever shared some of my cringiest creations. (I’ll try to dig one out and post the embarrassment on Instagram.)

When I saw that Pez dispenser I instantly knew it needed to be a M.U.S.C.L.E. hauler. I think the connection was so easy for me because it felt like it could have been an 80’s PEZ. I’ve purchased newer Hauler-type vehicles to customize, but it never happened because they felt too new.

#5 – Jaguar Muscle’s Journal

I know I have said that certain LRG threads are fun to revisit because they make me smile. But this isn’t a LRG-lovefest. This is a very specific oddity that always makes me smile: Jaguar Muscle’s Journal.

The Fan Fiction section of LRG was, as far as I always knew, kids writing really bad fan fiction. It was largely ignored. But for some reason I made a silly, but not mean, comment in the thread. Once I received a serious response, I was hooked. Can you believe that silly thread almost spanned a full decade?!?!

Here’s what I love about this oddity. The writing is terrible, but they are undeterred. I get that. I can say the same about my experience with this website. They didn’t fight some honest criticism. I think that is as cool as it is rare. But then it gets weird (and I 100% don’t remember all the details). I think the writer made a second account pretending to be someone else and “rebooted.”

This thread encapsulates the M.U.S.C.L.E. experience for me: passion, stupidity, perseverance, and completely unnecessary shenanigans.

#4 – Toyfare #128

It’s probably bad picking two magazines for this list. But it’s my list. Feel free to do it better and you can be the author of Top Ten Thursday #5.

The passage of time has made me appreciate this M.U.S.C.L.E. oddity more and more. When it was first published I was excited that my friends had contributed. I was excited to see M.U.S.C.L.E. getting some attention. And I was happy with a pretty ok price guide.

Years later it is interesting to know that this issue is pretty close to the end. Only 35 more issues would be published. I think it is somehow fitting that M.U.S.C.L.E. didn’t get any significant love until the magazine was winding down. And this rather simple write-up probably marks the official end of simple M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting.

The Color Code had been broken, but was reserved for hardcore nerdy collectors. The Class System was publicly introduced about a year after this publication and that, for better or worse, certainly changed things too.

If the X-2 is my “my physical representation of the earliest days in the M.U.S.C.L.E. community,” then ToyFare #128 marks the end.

#3 – Childhood M.U.S.C.L.E. Pictures

I don’t have a single picture from my childhood with a M.U.S.C.L.E. figure in it. My pictures from childhood are almost exclusively people posing together on a couch or standing together for a picture. Apparently that’s what my parents thought should be captured when you had to save your valuable film. Each picture had to count.

Maybe that’s why I love these pictures so much. Somebody, with M.U.S.C.L.E. figures in the frame, thought, “I should capture this.”

My last hope of a M.U.S.C.L.E. discovery are some ancient VHS tapes. I used to make movies and my toys often stepped in for the big special effects shots. I can remember I made a Blob movie. In the climatic battle I wanted the soldiers to shoot up the Blob. I wanted to show blood pouring out from the Blob’s body as he was shot. (What was I thinking? The Blob wouldn’t bleed.)

My mom didn’t want me to stain the floor (or anything else) red. So I decided Paprika would be a good substitute with its red color. She might have said paprika was too expensive or maybe there wasn’t enough. I’m not 100% sure, but I was allowed to use cinnamon. I’m pretty sure it would make Action Figure and Space Creature Party look like Citizen Kane.

#2 – The Non-Poster Figure Mysteries

The figures themselves are largely inconsequential to me. A keshi placeholder is perfectly fine for me, but the mysteries – that’s where it is at for me.

Given the available date, Joe Morrison’s explanation should be the leading explanation. But it doesn’t make any sense. None.

Why would a retailer purchase more of an unknown product only to receive an unknown, unmentionable promotional item that even buyers wouldn’t be able to identify? That’s just bad business and M.U.S.C.L.E. was only ever about the money. It was picked because it was turnkey. I have never been able to find another example of any promotional product that was released, in standard packaging, without any promotional support.

Plus, everything else is so deliberate. This is the one area that Mattel decided to play fast and loose. Unlikely.

I think the answer is far more simple than we all ever imagined. Joe said Marketing (the largest driving force supporting M.U.S.C.L.E.) had their first choice of figures to create. However, Operations had final say for logistical purposes. Mattel wouldn’t have invested in and created new molds – especially because they wanted a turnkey product.

Operations is left with figuring out assortments using the existing Parts and Trees. The injection molding process was obviously less computerized in the mid-1980’s. Operations needed skilled workers to make it happen and block certain figures in the Parts and Trees. They needed to balance the remaining unblocked cavities to maintain quality (which I have always heard is very important to Mattel). Part 21 could have been especially problematic, which is why we have some many Non-Poster figures from that Part. It helps explain why the second Tree only had two figures.

We’ll never know the full story for Non-Poster figures, but I think some of the more outrageous theories (e.g., Sales Samples) are obviously wrong. We’re probably closer to a basic understanding than any other time in M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting history. I believe some of that understand simply comes from time. Little odd bits of data that helps steer our ideas. I love all those little oddities, and I think we’ll keep finding them. I hope so.

#1 – The People

I have to be careful. A Top Ten list of collector-type could be its own list. What I’m really talking about is how M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting is filled with fascinating characters. I think my fascination with the people (and they range from great people to horrible scammers) has helped to keep me in the hobby.

Of course, human behavior is also my job. I am an industrial/organizational psychologist – basically a business psychologist. If a company has any issues with the humans inside their business, then I can help. I love observing behavior. I love trying to understand it. Some days I think I should have been a clinician, but I’m not that touchy-feely.

That’s why M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting behavior is so interesting to me. Some of my favorite M.U.S.C.L.E. conversations have been with Soupie. Our work shared similarities, we were both fascinated with collecting behavior, and we were both Color Code super nerds.

The bad behavior is equally interesting. Truly my favorite sentence a seller can utter is some version of, “I can’t sell it for less; it’s not worth my time/energy.” Then maybe you shouldn’t be trying to sell it?

Early in my career I had a client I couldn’t quite figure out. Very, very long story short, I started to believe he was an actual psychopath. It lead me to this book and then down a rabbit-hole of antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Turns out I was right, and was a huge help to my career.

You wouldn’t believe how prevalent I see many of these behaviors in M.U.S.C.L.E. scammers and shitbags. I’d love to point some out, but there’s that god damn Goldwater Rule – plus I’m not really a complete asshole. (Oh god, it would be such a good post. 😭 )

Equally fascinating to me are all the good people. Chuck changed my entire relationship with M.U.S.C.L.E. figures and my family. He literally turned my hobby into a family hobby. His selflessness was aspirational.

For as much bitching as I do, you might expect me to say Chuck and the good people are the exception. While every good person isn’t necessarily transforming lives, our tiny hobby is mostly filled with them. And that’s one way I try to do some good. I want to point out the scammers and bullshit. Those people are the exception and most people, rightfully, aren’t expecting it. I’d rather all of us weirdos interact and be odd together without worry.

And that concludes the fourth Top Ten Thursday. I intentionally omitted pictures this time. Hopefully that encourages readers to go to each item I mentioned. And maybe that will make TTT different? I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

If you would like to share a Top Ten list on Thursday, then email me your write-up. Thank you in advance to anyone that wants to share a list!

  1. #1 by Pete V on March 18, 2021 - 4:32 pm

    I came close to having a full set when I was a kid. At one point, I had all of them with the exception of the mammoth guy, the football guy, and the two that came with the ring. I didn’t have or know about SC until I got the Internet. After I had begun to take my Muscles into school and sell them for a quarter each, I ended up with an orange mammoth from a kid who traded it to me. I later got a light blue football guy.

    Nope, you’re not the only one that thinks that in regards to X-2. 🙂

    Childhood M.U.S.C.L.E. pics… I don’t have any photos from my childhood of them either. I have very few childhood pictures of toys or me with toys in spite of them being a huge part of my life growing up in the 80’s. I find it odd. I do remember attempting to photograph toys when I was a kid, but not having any luck since closeups would always come out blurry beyond recognition. My dad took some great pictures of his military models outside, I’m guessing in the 70’s. I still have some of them. I think my favorite toy related picture that I’m in is one of my dad and I war-gaming with some of his military miniatures on our living-room floor sometime during the early 80’s.

    One of my favorite oddities (At least I think it’s an oddity.) that wasn’t mentioned is the sticker sheet with M.U.S.C.L.E. on one side and C.U.T.I.E.S. on the other. I kept the scans of it from the auction. It was amazing to see a previously undocumented M.U.S.C.L.E. related item show up like that. One of the neat things about it is how the artist colored them. Obviously, they had no idea what the characters looked like in the Kinnikuman animation, etc. I have a bag of damaged figures and I’m thinking of painting four of them in the stickers’ colors.

  2. #2 by Chad Perry on March 19, 2021 - 12:20 pm

    Really? That’s amazing!

    I’m glad at least one other person loves X-2.

    That sounds like an awesome picture with your dad. I know I’d love to see it. I imagine other people would too. Is there anywhere you can share it (if you want)?

    And thanks for the sticker reminder. I’m overdue on that write-up. But, if I’m being 100% honest, I don’t really like it. I can understand liking it, but it just doesn’t do anything for me.

  3. #3 by Pete V on March 19, 2021 - 4:32 pm

    I’ll email you a scan of the photo so you can at least see it sometime today or tomorrow along with a little info on it.

(will not be published)