I don’t remember asking for it, though I probably did. In either case, there it was in my Christmas stocking. A plastic trash can-like container filled with little pick men. No, not men. Wrestlers. Little pink wrestlers. These were the M.U.S.C.L.E.s, and on that Christmas morning (1985, maybe?), they had arrived.
No, not arrived. Invaded. Invaded is undeniably the correct term for the onset of the M.U.S.C.L.E.s. It was the term used by the commercial. It was a term suggested by the full M.U.S.C.L.E. name (Millions of Unusual Creatures Lurking Everywhere). And it was the only term that can describe they way these pink wrestlers hit the collective conscious of middle schoolers in the mid-80s.
The M.U.S.C.L.E.s were based on a Japanese manga called Kinnikuman and had some sort of sizeable backstory. We had no clue. At least I didn’t. As far as I knew, the M.U.S.C.L.E.s were nothing more than what the box called them: unusual creatures who liked to wrestled. As I catalogued the 10 unusual figures that came in the trash can, I invented a story of my own. I figured the most human-looking of them, a guy with a chiseled body and bulbous head, was the hero (which he surprisingly was; that figure was Kinnikuman himself, the star of the manga) and that the one with the horns was the villain and that the others fit somewhere in-between. I gave them names (nothing more complex than “Pyramid Guy”) and powers and stories of their own. And then I made them do what they were born to do: fight.
And could the M.U.S.C.L.E.s ever fight. They could fight mammoth battles, throwing punches and delivering body blows and doing everything else the average and above-average wrestler could do. They managed to do all this despite the fact that they were only two inches tall and had no joints whatsoever. In fact, they could do all this because they were only two inches tall and had no joints whatsoever. Most actions figures of the time were larger and had several points of articulation. But all that did was make them hard to manipulate; you spent most of your time just posing and positioning them. M.U.S.C.L.E.s, in contrast, could be easily twisted and turned and stood up and everything else. Want to make one M.U.S.C.L.E. hit another? All you had to do was pinch him between two fingers and twist, driving his fist into another M.U.S.C.L.E.’s face. The odd truth about M.U.S.C.L.E.s was that their simplicity made them a much more enjoyable toy.
It also allowed them to enjoy other toys. The size and ease of the M.U.S.C.L.E.s allowed them to fit into whatever toy playset or vehicle you had. My M.U.S.C.L.E.s explored the Star Wars Dagobah set and rode on my Wheeled Warriors Beast Walker. They also fell into Mom’s sewing machine and I think one found his way into the microwave. Sadly, he did not find his way out. The M.U.S.C.L.E.s were actually the Tribbles of the toy realm: they multiplied quickly and spread all over your house until they could be found anywhere and everywhere.
In addition to the 10-piece trash can pack I got for Christmas, M.U.S.C.L.E.s could be bought in 4-count blister packs (which had the advantage of allowing you to see which M.U.S.C.L.E.s you were getting) and a 28-count box. There was also a wrestling ring, a wrestling belt, a poster, and an NES game. Soon, blue, red, and purple M.U.S.C.L.E.s joined the pink ones, and knock-off M.U.S.C.L.E.s figures joined the fight as well (Monster In My Pocket and Z.O.M.B.I.E.s). There were also C.U.T.I.E.s for girls (Coolest Ultra Tiny Individuals on Earth). And then the invasion just ended, ended as quickly as it began. The M.U.S.C.L.E.s stopped multiplying and started disappearing. Where they went, I do not know, but I’m sure that wherever they are now, they are wrestling.