M.U.S.C.L.E. Basic Toyline Info
What are M.U.S.C.L.E.s? What's their story?
M.U.S.C.L.E.s, also called MUSCLE men or MUSCLE things, are small, 2-inch PVC figures from the 80s with an "intergalactic wrestling" theme (M.U.S.C.L.E. is an acronym for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere). They were most likely released in late 1985. The toyline included "hundreds of different figures" and various accessories (see the links to your right for details).
M.U.S.C.L.E. toys originate from Japan, where they were based on characters from the cartoon and manga stories of Kinnikuman. The basic story was that Kinnikuman (Muscleman in the states) was a wrestling champion, and other intergalactic wrestlers battled him for the championship. Kinnikuman's face was actually a mask which he could not remove. For more information regarding the Kinnikuman characters, check out The American Kinnikuman Information Archive. The Kinnikuman toy line in Japan was not only limited to small PVC figures (like the American M.U.S.C.L.E.s), but also included many other sizes and styles of figures and toys. Some of these toys are covered in the Kinnikuman Collecting links, while others can be viewed in the collections of MUSCLEheads.
Part of the Kinnikuman line was released in the US as M.U.S.C.L.E.. The Kinnikuman character development and plot lines weren't implemented in the American M.U.S.C.L.E. line. In fact, the only characters specified were Muscleman and Terri-bull (Buffaloman in Japan).
Although M.U.S.C.L.E.s lasted for only a few years in the US, the Kinnikuman phenomenon continues today in Japan, with more toys and comics/TV shows being released all the time.
How do you know when M.U.S.C.L.E.s were released?
The M.U.S.C.L.E. commercials were first aired in late 1985, according to (the apparently now-defunct) JoeGuide.com, which implies that MUSCLEs were publicly available around that time.
Could JoeGuide's date be wrong? Possibly, but consider that JoeGuide claims a MUSCLE commercial with colored figures ran in fall 1986. And I wrote a journal entry that gives a specific date to my first colored MUSCLE purchase: September 16, 1986 (yes, I did keep a diary of toy acquisistions). So, it seems that JoeGuide's dates are probably accurate.
Additionally, this journal entry dates my first recorded MUSCLE purchase Feb. 7th, 1986. On that date, I counted my collection at 62 MUSCLEs. I didn't buy them all at once: I specifically remember my first MUSCLE purchase was the Mighty Maulers 28-pack (because it had Tortle in it). So, my first MUSCLE purchase was earlier than the beginning of February 1986, which is certainly close enough to lend support to a late-1985 release schedule.
Finally, M.U.S.C.L.E. trademarks were registered by Mattel in August 1985, and the trademark states that it was first used in commerce on July 17, 1985.
While Rare M.U.S.C.L.E. Stuff reports that M.U.S.C.L.E.s first appeared in Mattel Catalogs in 1986, that may or may not reflect the actual release year of MUSCLEs. It could be that not all of Mattel's product for the whole year was shown in the catalog. Late-year releases might not be ready for Mattel to include them when the catalog is constructed in the beginning of the year (much like how toy companies don't show all their year's product at Toy Fair). So, MUSCLEs could have been released in late 1985, but first shown in the Mattel catalog in 1986.
What M.U.S.C.L.E. toys/assortments were available?
M.U.S.C.L.E.s were available in three assortments: 4-packs, ten packs (garbage cans) and 28-packs. The line had one playset in the Wrestling Ring, a carrying case known as the Battlin' Belt, a board game, a Nintendo video game, and a mailaway poster.
M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures AvailableHow many M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were available total?
This is a great question, and much debated among M.U.S.C.L.E. fanatics. 233 M.U.S.C.L.E.s are shown on the poster, but is that it? No, not exactly. The Wrestling Ring came with two figures not on the poster: Muscleman and Terribull. The Terribull is a completely new figure, while the Muscleman is a slightly different version of #141 (see "What's the difference between the poster and the Wrestling Ring Muscleman (#141 vs. #234)?" below for details). Many other reports have surfaced of about rare figures not found on the poster, but the only one that has been confirmed to be in American M.U.S.C.L.E. packaging is the four-armed gladiator, called Satan Cross. So, 236 different confirmed M.U.S.C.L.E.s exist.
Adding to the confusion, a few super-rare M.U.S.C.L.E.s have popped up in the M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting community. You can read about them in the Super-rare M.U.S.C.L.E.s section.
What's the difference between the poster and the Wrestling Ring Muscleman (#141 vs. #234)?
The poster Muscleman (#141) is slightly larger and has a circular belt buckle; the Wrestling Ring Muscleman (#234) is smaller with a rectangular buckle. See the comparison scan above for details.
What's the deal with Satan Cross? Why isn't that figure on the poster?
No one's quite sure... but for information regarding Satan Cross, check out the Satan Cross page.
What about the Goalie (X-2)?
The Goalie was actually neither a true American M.U.S.C.L.E. nor a Kinnikuman Kinkeshi. He was a character from Ramenman, a Kinnikuman spin-off cartoon that inspired a toyline very similar to the Kinnikuman Kinkeshi. The Ramenman figures were produced in slightly different colors than Kinkeshi and molded in a firmer plastic. However, Ramenman plastic has a decidedly different consistency and color than M.U.S.C.L.E. plastic.
How many different M.U.S.C.L.E. colors were there?
M.U.S.C.L.E.s were at first only available in flesh, but Mattel decided to release the same figures in multiple colors in a failed attempt to revive the toy line. The M.U.S.C.L.E. Color Wheel above shows the 9 different M.U.S.C.L.E. colors that were widely available, usually referred to as Flesh, Magenta, Neon Green, Blue, Sky Blue, Purple, Red, Orange, and Neon Orange. Many collectors have variations on these colors, but those variations are mostly attributable to either imperfections in the plastic or sunlight fading. The plastic of colored M.U.S.C.L.E.s feels exactly the same as that of the flesh ones. Grape-colored M.U.S.C.L.E.s were also available, but only with the M.U.S.C.L.E. Board Game. See "Were the grape and green M.U.S.C.L.E.s exclusive to the board game?" below for details.
Which M.U.S.C.L.E.s were available in which colors?
Apparently, MUSCLEs were injection-molded along a "tree", which shot plastic through branching tubes to many MUSCLE molds at once. Because the MUSCLEs in a batch were connected and injected with the same batch of plastic at once, all the MUSCLEs in a batch were the same color. This is important because we can then predict which MUSCLEs were made in which colors, depending on what colors we find of other members of this batch.
MUSCLEs are assumed to belong to the same tree if they all appear in the same Kinnikuman Part. So, if you know that, for example, MUSCLE #21 and #26 belong to Kinnikuman Part 2, and you find a magenta #21, you can then assume that there was a magenta #26. Some colors for some parts weren't made at all.
Of course, all this was worked-out by others, specifically Soupie and Universal Ruler Supreme. In fact, Soupie has devoted himself to the herculean task of visually documenting each MUSCLE in all its colors. For more information about MUSCLE colors and to view which MUSCLEs were available in which colors, check out the MUSCLE Colors Image Archive.
Were the grape and green M.U.S.C.L.E.s exclusive to the board game? What about the colors themselves?
This pic shows the board game figures, which were, to the best of my knowledge, the same figures for all board games. The grape figures were the only grape-colored M.U.S.C.L.E.s of the line. The grape figure molds, however, were on the poster and as such, also came in other colors.
The green color was not exclusive to the game, but I think that at least one of the green figures may have been exclusive. The game's green Terri-bull had the Wrestling Ring figure's mold. Since that mold was exclusive to the ring and not available in any other packs, I think that it's reasonable that the green version of him would be exclusive to the game. It's very difficult to verify that any of the green figures were game exclusives, though, since the color was widely used for M.U.S.C.L.E.s, and the molds were all poster M.U.S.C.L.E.s and available in a wide variety of colors (save the Terri-bull, of course).
Buying/Trading M.U.S.C.L.E. ThingsWhere can I buy M.U.S.C.L.E. toys?
eBay and other online auction sites have plenty of M.U.S.C.L.E.s for sale. Other than eBay, your MUSCLE purchasing options are limited. You can also try buying MUSCLEs from other collectors at the Little Rubber Guys Forums.
How much should I be paying for M.U.S.C.L.E. toys?
The current market value varies widely, usually within the range of 30 cents to one dollar each. For beginning collectors, I suggest buying the M.U.S.C.L.E.s in a large lot rather than many smaller lots. Larger lots almost always cost less per figure, and it will give you plenty of trading fodder. Satan Cross has experienced a wide range of values, but he usually can be found for between $20 and $40. The Super-Rares usually cost an exorbinant amount (in the hundreds of dollars), unless the buyer lucks out.
Some specific poster M.U.S.C.L.E.s may cost more, and M.U.S.C.L.E.'s "value" is primarily attributable to collector demand. The Hand (#153), Spinning Top Sunshine (#195), Meat (#60, #189), and the Announcer (#162) are usually some of the more popular M.U.S.C.L.E.s and and may demand a higher price. Additionally, those figures in different colors may command a higher price as well. But specific prices for individual M.U.S.C.L.E.s is somewhat problematic, as each collector has his own favorites for which he's willing to pay a premium.
I saw this toy on your site... can I buy it?
Ah... no. :P None of my toys featured on this site are for sale. See "Where can I buy M.U.S.C.L.E.s?" above for details on purchasing M.U.S.C.L.E. collectibles.
How can I trade M.U.S.C.L.E.s?
MUSCLEheads congregate online at LittleRubberGuys.com. It's a great site for trading, as well as participating in M.U.S.C.L.E.-related discussions and debates.
Which M.U.S.C.L.E.s and M.U.S.C.L.E. toys are hard to find?
Much of M.U.S.C.L.E. collecting depends on the demand of the collectors, instead of the supply of M.U.S.C.L.E.s. Although some M.U.S.C.L.E.s are considered "hard to find", that is primarily attributable to collector demand since most M.U.S.C.L.E.-related items are mass-produced. As a quick, perhaps overly-generalized summary:
- Poster M.U.S.C.L.E.s, flesh or colored (in general)
- Carded 4-packs
- Sealed 10-packs
- Opened 28-packs
- The Wrestling Ring and the ring figures
- Board Game and its Grape M.U.S.C.L.E.s
- Satan Cross
- Battlin' Belt
- M.U.S.C.L.E. Poster
- Nintendo Game
- Certain Colored M.U.S.C.L.E.s
- Sealed 28-packs
- Certain Colored M.U.S.C.L.E.s, like purple Hand
- Nestle Quik M.U.S.C.L.E. can
- Nestle Quik M.U.S.C.L.E. Tube School Promotion
- Hotwheels M.U.S.C.L.E. Hauler
It should be noted that the above list has nothing to do with monetary value.
Misc. M.U.S.C.L.E. InfoIs a M.U.S.C.L.E. collection a good investment?
No. But that's okay, no collectible is a good investment. I've collected many things over the past 20 years (comics, cards, toys, etc.), and they all follow the same market trend. At first nobody knows about the collectible, and the prices are reasonable. As more people think it's "cool", the prices rise. Eventually, everyone loses interest for whatever reason, and the prices level off briefly, then plummet back to the original market value.
Anyone who thinks that toys are good investments has not been collecting for very long. Veteran collectors will remember old lines that were "super-collectible" and "great investments" when they were first released but are now essentially worthless, like Playmates Star Trek and POTF2 Star Wars. This is because toys (or any other collectible for that matter) have no real value. They are only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them.
Not only do toys make poor investments because the market is extremely volatile and guaranteed to crash, but also because you have to maintain your toy inventory, which can be very cumbersome for large collections. So, I recommend that you collect because you enjoy collecting, not for investment purposes.
How can I tell the difference between fake M.U.S.C.L.E.s and real M.U.S.C.L.E.s?
Fake M.U.S.C.L.E.s (called "bootlegs") generally exhibit a lighter hue and are constructed of a more rubbery (and flimsier) plastic than M.U.S.C.L.E.s. Also, bootlegs are usually slightly smaller than M.U.S.C.L.E.s and don't have the Y/S*N*T trademark. You can read more about bootlegs and see some pics of them here.
Additionally, TheGodbeast has constructed a few reproduction M.U.S.C.L.E.s. Although they maintain the same level of detail as normal M.U.S.C.L.E.s, they are cast using a harder plastic in weird, non-M.U.S.C.L.E. colors such as clear, glow-in-the-dark, and "outer space". You can see some examples of his work on his site. You can also check out these custom Tortles.